Teach Us to Want: An Interview with Jen Pollock Michel

Jen Pollock Michel has written a book that I wish I'd read a long time ago. It's called Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith. A review at The Gospel Coalition says that the book "is an excavator for the heart; it digs into our foundations and helps us plant new roots." I'm finding the book to be both helpful and enjoyable.

I'm grateful that Jen was willing to answer some questions about the book and about her ministry.

Desire is at the heart of Christian formation, but we tend to focus on belief and behavior more than desire. Why do you think we tend to do this?

We owe our emphasis on rationality to the Enlightenment. When Descartes introduced the idea, “I think, therefore I am,” we began putting cognition at the center of human personality. This philosophical shift affected our theology, and the project of spiritual formation became something very rational. Certainly there are many Scriptures about belief (Romans 10:9, for example), so it’s not unimportant that we believe in Jesus. It’s just that belief must be held in proper balance with what Jesus named as the two most important commandments: love God and love neighbor. These commands make desire central to spiritual formation.

Behaviorism, of course, has long been a part of humans’ attempts at religion. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the ones who measured virtue by externals. They were fastidious about their rule-keeping: washing hands before meals, observing the Sabbath traditions, etc.  As long as they could keep their “behaviors” in check, they assumed all was well. But Jesus disagreed, as we know. He called them “whitewashed tombs.”

Maybe we all prefer to emphasize belief and behavior in spiritual formation because these suggest something we can more handily manage. We feel in control of our beliefs and behaviors. But the moment we mention desire, suddenly, we’re aware of the deep work of transformation needed.  When we talk about desire, it’s as if we put our finger on an exposed spiritual nerve.  Do I want Jesus? Is he my greatest treasure? Those are challenging questions we would sometimes prefer to avoid.

Churches that value truth tend to focus on cognitive models of change. Why is this approach insufficient?

I was raised in a church that emphasized Biblical knowledge, and I currently attend a church that emphasizes good theology. I’m grateful for both! But as you’ve said, Biblical knowledge and theology, when viewed as ends rather than means, will prove to be insufficient. We need to know God’s word, and we need to develop good theology. But we need to do both of these in order than our desires for Christ and his kingdom may be formed. Otherwise, we’re on the way toward becoming Pharisees ourselves. Their example reminds us that we can know a lot, even obey very carefully, and somehow miss the divinely intended point. We can strain gnats and swallow camels (cf. Mt. 23:24). 
We don't usually think of The Lord's Prayer as having much to say about our desires. What made you choose that as your guide?

It’s been many years now that I’ve been studying—and praying!—the Lord’s Prayer. This is funny, I guess. I grew up Baptist, and we certainly did not make it a practice to pray the Lord’s Prayer together! But in my own spiritual life, I’ve loved the prayer for its simplicity. So often, I make things more complicated for myself than they need to be. I tend to get tangled up in my own thoughts. The Lord’s Prayer has been an invitation into what’s most elemental about God’s desires for me and for the world. It’s a prayer I find myself praying a lot, especially when words and understanding fail for a particular situation. When I don’t know how to pray, I remember that Jesus said, “Pray like this!”

But I have to credit Ben Jolliffe, who was an intern at our church for a couple of years, for really shaping the book’s use of the Lord’s Prayer. We were studying the Lord’s Prayer together as a church, and he preached that what we so often get wrong about prayer (and I think, desire) is the tension between, Our Father, and Hallowed by your name. First, there’s this beautiful invitation towards God’s generosity and love when we call him our Father. Jesus is saying, “Ask! You can’t believe how much God wants to give!” But right on the heels of this invitation is this necessary caution: God’s name must be made holy. Don’t ask thinking God owes you your wildest dreams.

When I heard that sermon, I had been working on the book already, but it gave me really clear language for the tension of human desire in the context of faith. We should want from God because he is so unbelievably good. And yet, we should want very soberly, knowing that God isn’t dedicated to the project of making our lives easy and convenient. Instead, he’s committed to his kingdom, his own glory. 

How has a deeper understanding of desire changed your approach to your own spiritual growth?

I use the question, “ What do I want?” as a way forward into understanding my own heart. Here’s an example: maybe I’ve been irritable with the kids. It’s easy enough to confess that irritability. But maybe there’s something worthwhile about digging into the desires, which promote that irritability. Maybe there are good desires that are being obstructed. Maybe one of my children is being persistently disobedient, and God is calling me into greater courage and consistency in my parenting. But maybe I have disordered desires, which need to be confessed. Maybe it’s my insane craving for quiet and order that makes me irritable, and I need to embrace that my children are children and not adults! As I understand what I want, for good or for bad, it informs the way I pray and then act.

Here’s another example: in my marriage, maybe I want greater intimacy with my husband. But maybe I also want to avoid the real work of participating in that growth. Maybe in asking myself the question, “What do I want?” I recognize that at the end of the day, I’m most interested in crawling into bed with a good book! 

When I pray, considering my desires, I can see my heart’s contradictions and bring these before God for healing. I don’t ever trust myself to change my desires. I simply look for God’s grace to be active in their transformation. I ask him to help me want and will what he wants and wills. 

How can we pray for you?

Thank you for this question! Right now, I’m feeling a strong sense that there are important “nos” I must say in order to be faithful to God. Often, we think of calling as the “yeses” we commit to God. But as I’m learning, every “yes” requires many more “nos.” I’d love to have the courage for the “nos.” I confess to wanting to please people, and this often leads me to agree to do things I have no business committing to. Also, I love feeling very indispensable to God’s plans, and there’s nothing that feeds my pride more than that kind of self-importance. Please pray that my desires will be formed for the approval of Christ alone!

Thanks, Jen!

Check out Jen's excellent blog, and read more about her book at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Pastors and Social Media

Daniel Yang is a church planter in Toronto. I'm excited about his work at Trinity Life Church, and have been impressed by his use of social media.

I'm grateful that Daniel was willing to answer some of my questions. I hope you read the interview, but if you do nothing else, skip to the last question and pray for Daniel, Trinity Life Church, and other church plants in Toronto.

Some pastors are suspicious of social media. Why should pastors use it?

I would say that some suspicions are quite valid, actually. For instance, it’s a temptation for social media to be used in a way that can puff up a leader or an organization’s ego. And sometimes what people perceive from social media is quite different from the actual leader or organization. I remember John Piper taking time off twitter to check his heart. I hear Mark Driscoll is doing the same as well.  But with that being said, I think it’s great for leaders to share with their community practical things like what they’re learning, reading, attempting. I love learning from other pastors and planters via their Twitter feed. I’ve filled up my Kindle with great books that I probably would’ve never found on my own.
What advice would you give to a pastor who wanted to use social media effectively?

Let your spouse be your Twitter ghost writer! You’re less likely to tweet your foot in your mouth! But in all seriousness whenever I tweet, blog, or update a Facebook status I ask if what I have to say is genuine and edifying. Occasionally I will chime in on what’s going on in the sports world or complain about the TTC (Toronto transit!), but by in large I treat social media like an extension of my personal ministry. You’ll see pictures of my family because I’m a proud husband and papa first and foremost. You’ll see updates about Trinity Life Church because that’s the flock God’s stewarded me to care for. You also see a lot of quotes or thoughts from what God is teaching me.
But one thing that is healthy to do, because it keeps social media in perspective, is to do regularly fasts.  Read my blog on my 40 Day Internet Detox.
What mistakes should they avoid?

Social media doesn’t show how “successful” your ministry is. Spend more time with people than with Facebook or Twitter. Update your family more on your thoughts than you do your followers. My 9 year old could care less what I’m tweeting and how many likes I get. Keep social media in perspective. Jesus knew it’s possible to appear vibrant on the outside (social media), but dying inside (spiritual integrity).

How much of a budget do you need to promote posts and events on Facebook?

Trinity Life has no media budget. We’ve tried some things to test the waters. It confirmed a lot of the things other churches told us about promoting posts and events. In all practicality, if you’re going to promote a post or event – make sure your post and event is worth promoting and make sure that you already have some sort of fan base in order for it to work. To be honest, we’ve only tried a few times and none of our promotions have been wildly successful.
How can we pray for you and for Trinity Life Church?

Pray that we will continue to love our city and the people of Toronto. Pray that dividing walls would come down. Pray that the seeds of the Gospel would take root and that generations and nations would be changed. Pray that the dream for TLC is to see the Kingdom come and all churches in the GTA flourish. Pray that our little church would be swallowed up by God’s power and presence and a great movement of churches all around our city.

Thanks, Daniel.

Find out more about Daniel at his website or on Twitter.

People-Pleasing Pastors: An Interview with Charles Stone

Charles Stone is pastor of West Park Baptist Church in London, Ontario. He's also author of a new book called People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership. I plan on reviewing this book soon.

I'm grateful that Charles was willing to answer some of my questions.

You found that a large majority of pastors have people-pleasing tendencies. Why do you think this is such an issue among pastors?

I think God gives pastors a heart for people. After all, we are called shepherds. The very nature of our being in the so called “people business” makes it easy be drawn into people pleasing patterns. However, it’s important to differentiate between healthy people pleasing (loving and caring for others which is pleasing) and the unhealthy kind that I write about in the book.

What made you tackle this topic? Did you struggle with this issue yourself?

When I entered ministry I was so eager to please that I began to develop subtle pleaser tendencies on top of the tendencies I took from my childhood. It took years of uneasiness and frustration before I began to realize my tendencies. I wondered if I were alone in my struggle, since so little was written on the subject. So I began to put my thoughts together on this subject. I then surveyed over 2200 pastors and found out that I wasn’t alone. 79% of pastors in one survey and 91% of pastors in another survey indicated that people pleasing affected their leadership at some level.

You tap into some helpful resources, such as family systems theory and mindfulness. What would you say to pastors who may be suspicious of these approaches?

I believe family systems, created in the 60’s and 70’s by a psychiatrist, Dr. Murray Bowen mirrors in many ways a biblical view of describing how we handle our emotions. And mindfulness, the practice of being present in the moment and being aware of our current thoughts, was modeled by Jesus’ life and teaching. He was always present in the moment. In Matthew 6 he used common illustrations of flowers and birds to make people aware of being in the moment. Brother Lawrence who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God provides a good example of a believer who practiced this moment-by-moment awareness of the Lord.

People-pleasing tendencies can be so deep-rooted that some may think it's impossible to change. Why are you hopeful that change is possible?

Jesus is in the business of changing our lives. He promises everything we need for life and godliness. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12.2 that we must renew our minds. As we do that in the power of the Holy Spirit, He will change our unhealthy pleaser tendencies.

Some churches may be threatened if a pastor stops leading in a people-pleasing way. How can pastors help their churches understand that moving away from people-pleasing is healthy for both pastors and the church?

Deeply rooted people pleasing tendencies can actually normalize these patterns in a church. If those cases, I encourage pastors to have their leadership read the book together. I include a team study guide at the end that can help them apply. I’d also encourage such pastors to teach some messages about people pleasing because the issue affects everyone, not just those in ministry.

Thanks, Charles!


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Noah According to Hollywood and the Church

Dr. David Barker

Dave Barker is Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs at Heritage Seminary in Cambridge. In a recent discussion with Dr. Barker, I was surprised by some of his reflections on the movie Noah. He wasn't as negative as I thought he would be. "I wonder if the church does any better with its rendition of the Noah story!" he quipped.

The controversy may have peaked, but it's still worth considering the way we interact with popular culture, and even more importantly, with Scripture. Dr. Barker was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

There's been a lot of criticism of the Noah movie. What did they get right?

Yes, there has been a lot of criticism, but it is a product of Hollywood, not a biblical documentary.  Too many Christians went into the movie looking for more than what could reasonably be expected.  There were a few things in the movie that were really helpful:

  1. the picturing of the flood—it was massive and destructive,
  2. the death and despair of the drowning people,
  3. the portraying of the wickedness of the people at the time,
  4. the conflicted pictures of Noah and Noah’s wife—I thought this was done well even though the movie departed significantly here, and
  5. the portrayal of the actual ark and its construction.

Brian Mattson has argued that Noah is more influenced by gnosticism and Kabbalah than Scripture. Is he on to something?

Yes, he is.  There is a strong extra-biblical influence, no question about it, including a strong “green” agenda, including opposition to eating meat.  However, at the same time, pre-flood, evidently animals were not food for people.  It was only after the flood that meat was approved by God.  But I am not bothered by the extra-biblical influence.  It is a Hollywood movie about a hero from the Bible named Noah and the Noah story.  There has never been a movie made that adhered closely to the written text, just think of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies.

Why do you think Christians tend to soften the horror of stories like Noah's?

First of all, we need to affirm that we do.  All we have to do is look at a children’s Bible story book and we see a happy Noah on a lovely boat bobbing on a placid sea with giraffes sticking out of the top of the ark, and lions, monkeys, and zebras contentedly populating the boat.  Sometime have a look at the Veggie Tales rendition of Joshua and Jericho.

Second, we struggle with a God who would do something like this in response to humankind’s wickedness.

Third, we think that all stories in the Bible need to be made appropriate for children. The problem with this is that most of us never get beyond those Sunday School stories, even as adults.  We need to understand that a lot of the Bible is violent, and not appropriate for children.

Fourth, we don’t know how to read the Bible in its full impact of judgment and hope (I think of the imprecations in the Psalms and from Jesus and Paul in New Testament).

However, I do think that we need to work a lot harder at understanding the hermeneutics of the narrative genre used in Scripture, including its use of hyperbole (cp. Egyptian and Babylonian literature).  And so, in some ways, in softening the horror of stories like Noah’s perhaps we are inadvertently reading narrative more correctly than we know.

How can pastors and churches use the discussion in Noah without becoming reactionary?

I think that there are some talking points from the Noah movie.  But we need to lessen our rhetoric on how the movie got things wrong, and talk about what it got right, and what that reveals about three critical things:

  1. What do we learn about God?
  2. What do we learn about the world?
  3. What do we learn about the people of God?

Thanks, Dr. Barker.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Encouragement for Revitalizers: An Interview with James Seward

Last week I mentioned @ChurchVitalizer. It's my privilege today to post an interview with the man behind the Twitter account, James Seward (who also has a personal Twitter account).


I'm grateful that he was wiling to answer my questions.

What made you decide to start tweeting as @ChurchVitalizer?

Church planting is all the rage these days, something for which I'm glad. I was a founding member of a church plant and my brother-in-law is a church plant pastor. But in our zeal to plant churches we must not abandon the existing churches. I could list a whole host of reasons for this, but I'll limit it to these: 

  1. While church plants often focus on being inter-racial, successful revitalizations are generally better at being inter-generational, a vital component of a healthy biblical church.
  2. Church plants rightly focus on reaching the un-churched around them (though they too often grow by plucking some of the healthiest members from other local churches). But there are many existing churches that are full of unbelievers and people whose faith is anemic. Church revitalization gives you a ready and captive audience that need to hear God's Word.
  3. Given the Bible's high regard for the local church, even the unhealthy ones, it seems like a biblical approach to work with the existing church to make it healthy instead of starting an entirely new enterprise down the street.

The work of revitalization is every bit as tiring and demanding as church planting, though the stresses are often quite different. Yet I've found many of the trending books and voices in social media provide all sorts of support for church planters but offer comparatively little to encourage people doing the work of revitalization. @churchvitalizer is my effort to be a small part of the solution.

What do you hope to accomplish through your tweets?

I hope to offer encouragement and perspective to those doing the work of revitalization.

Some pastors doing revitalization can grow discouraged, hopeless and alone. For them I hope to point them to truths from Scripture that will lift up their heads and help them press on with joy and hope.

Other pastors are unwittingly drawn to the idol of numbers -- the bigger my church is, the better I'm doing. Not only can this cause them to prioritize the wrong things, it also can do a number on their souls and how they think about their church. I hope to remind them of what God has called a pastor to do and to judge their success based on how well they're doing what God has asked them to do.

There are still other pastors who waddle in mediocrity yet hide behind the mantra of "sound doctrine" and "biblical preaching" as excuses to not work hard and grow. For example, he might be arrogant and ungracious but blame people's dislike for him on his strong doctrinal positions; or he might be a weak preacher but blame people's dislike for his preaching on the fact that they can't stomach biblical preaching. For men like that, I hope to point them to resources that have helped me grow better in the work God has called me to do.

A lot of pastors who are doing revitalization are greener pastors. Pointing out common pitfalls and exposing them to resources they might not know about is another goal.

You wrote, "Revitalization is not about taking a dwindling church and growing it, it's about restoring the gospel and God's Word to their proper place." What do you mean by this?

Man judges health very differently from how God judges health. If a church is growing and the budget is being met, we deem it healthy. So when people hear the term "revitalization" they often think of taking a church that is shrinking or not meeting budget and turning those numbers around.

But God judges things differently. His picture of health is given in Ephesians 4:11-16 (among other places). And, at the risk of oversimplifying it, I'd boil it down to two things:

  1. a culture where people are growing more Christ-like by speaking God's Word into one another's lives, and
  2. a church that looks to God's Word for everything - how it's structured, what elements go into the service, how to preach, how to pray, who's in leadership, how conflict is resolved, how sin is dealt with, what is believed, how decisions are made, etc.

There are many big churches with big buildings and big budgets that have built themselves up through effective management, putting on a good show and having a dynamic communicator & awesome band at the front; that doesn't make them healthy.

The church I previously served in had 600 people when the work of revitalization began. It ebbed to 450 before it started to grow again. In the meantime, the culture was slowly but dramatically changing. So when I talk about "revitalization," I'm talking about restoring a church to health based on God's criteria, not man's. It has nothing to do with size or budget.

What are you learning as you pastor Maple Avenue?

I'm a young pastor with much to learn. One lesson I'd like to share.

Early on, I met with fellow Fellowship Baptist pastor Justin Galotti who is doing revitalization in the city. I'd grown accustomed to hearing revitalizer's horror stories about how hard their job was, how difficult revitalization was, how slow their church was to embrace change. But Justin kept talking to me about how strong and capable God is to bring change. His words were full of hope and confidence in God. This reminded me to truly trust God as I labor. As I've done so, I've seen over and over how God is working.

I hope that my interactions with others - inside and outside Maple Avenue - are marked by the same God-centered hope that Justin's words contained.

Thanks so much, James.

Be sure to check out @ChurchVitalizer and @James_Seward on Twitter.