A Gospel-Driven Man: The Friday Five with Jared Wilson

If you're a fan of Twitter, and a Christian, you may well already know that Jared C. Wilson is one of the great people to follow in the Christian Twitter-sphere. He is, by turns, funny, serious and poignant. Jared is a prolific writer, church planter, and conference speaker. He writes regularly at his personal blog, The Gospel-Driven Church, and at his group blog for writers, Thinklings. He's currently the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Vermont, and the author of Your Jesus is Too Safe and the forthcoming Gospel Wakefulness. Jared was kind enough to stop by for today's Friday Five. 

You're a Texan pastoring a church in Vermont. You sometimes speak often about the challenges of doing ministry in a part of the country where the culture is less permeated with the gospel. What's the toughest part about doing ministry in New England? 

The toughest part is relearning how to bring the gospel to a field that is biblically and ecclesiologically illiterate. The Bible Belt is rapidly approaching this point, and biblical illiteracy is actually a problem throughout evangelicalism in every part of the nation, but in New England there is already a generation or two that really has no church background or exposure to the Scriptures. We very often have to start over from scratch.

Just as an example of the difference: In the Bible Belt, Easter and Christmas are normally days of huge church attendance. People who don't go to church the rest of the year feel compelled to attend on these holidays. They may have some church background; perhaps they went as a kid, or are even members somewhere from long ago. That kind of cultural and personal background doesn't really exist in many parts of New England. A few people may be more inclined to accept an invitation to church near these holidays—Christmas more than Easter—but there is no huge attendance bump. There is no nostalgia factor. So we are dealing with a real mission field, where the message of the gospel is a foreign concept.

On top of that, we have the added difficulty that while most people have no knowledge of the gospel or the Scriptures, they have an image of evangelicals as bigoted, intolerant, unintelligent fuddy-duddies. There is no commonly accepted cultural Christianity like in the South, for instance. So the illiteracy matched with the ideological hostility is a hurdle. But the gospel shared from a loving heart is a great jumper of hurdles.

Your first book, Your Jesus is Too Safe, challenges the assumptions of long-time Christians. Do you think the American brand of Christianity is "too safe"? 

Yes. We have crafted myriad Jesuses in our images, to match our personal or ecclesial aims or preferences. We have a convenient version of Jesus for every selfish desire.

But this isn't about hating the American dream or selling all your stuff and being homeless for the sake of the homeless—although if God is calling you to do that, you better do it. It's about finding out what dying to self and orienting around Christ really looks like in our contexts of home, work, school, and church.

You have a forthcoming book, Gospel Wakefulness. What do you mean by that term?

Gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring him more sweetly. It results from beholding Christ powerfully in the gospel in a moment of utmost brokenness. It is, simply put, being astonished by the gospel and then living with that astonishment enduring.

You're a writer who preaches and a preacher who writes. How do you balance writing, ministry, and family? 

I don't like the world balance. It implies these things are equal priority. But if I had a set of scales, family would be on one side, ministry/writing would be on the other, and family would still be "heavier."

I prioritize this way:  Family first, ministry second, writing third. And with those priorities in mind, I have the freedom from my family to minister well and the freedom from my church to write when I want and need to (and travel and speak, within mutually agreed reason). But there is no question that I sacrifice ministry when my family needs me, and I sacrifice writing if ministry needs me.

So it's not about balance. It's about doing what's right. But most people want to know about the practicalities, so here they are. I work ministry Sunday through Thursday, with the understanding that ministry is hardly ever a 9-to-5, 5-day-a-week "job." I spend Fridays with my wife and Saturdays with my wife and kids, and I work writing time into all the gaps, doing the most on Wednesdays if the sermon is mostly done and also on Fridays with my wife's approval.

If you could give one piece of advice to a beginning pastor or ministry leader, what would it be? 

First, make sure you're saved. Second, make sure you can't do anything else!