By / Jan 20

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a series engaging the authors of new or notable books. Because discipleship and spiritual formation go hand in hand, the goal of this series is to introduce you to beneficial and enriching works in order to better equip you to love God with your mind as well as your heart and strength. Find the entire series here.

In our modern age, our problem “is not that churches are too deep, but too shallow.” That is just one of the insights you’ll find in this interview with J.T. English about his book, Deep Discipleship. English exemplifies the best of what it means to be a pastor-theologian. As a shepherd, he is interested in caring for the hearts and souls of believers. As a theologian, he seeks to help Christians love God with their minds. And far from being at odds with one another, English shows us that sound theology leads to more intimate knowledge of God, the kind that is truly life-changing. Read below to discover even more wisdom from English’s important book on discipleship.

You’re well known for stating that “theology is the most practical thing in the world,” which you do a good job of modeling for readers in Deep Discipleship. Can you unpack that statement for us? Many people think of theology as purely intellectual. Could you explain why you believe theology is actually very practical?

Sometimes theology gets a bad reputation in the church. Unfortunately, sometimes theology can be used in the church to cause harm or to create distance between Christians. I know that when I first became a Christian, the idea of doing theology sounded very academic and intellectual. It wasn’t until I learned what theology was that I realized that theology is for everyone. Theology is, in its most basic form, words about God. Everyone has thoughts, ideas, and words about God—even atheists. I began to realize that theology is not the cold, distant, and intellectual enterprise I had thought, but rather, it was the most practical thing in the world. The question is not, “Are you a theologian?” but, “Are you a good theologian?” At the heart of Deep Discipleship is the hope that every member in our local churches would recapture the idea that they are invited into the task of theology—the task of singing, praying, and glorifying our Triune God.

In the book, you argue that the church has a “discipleship disease” that we’ve often misdiagnosed and mistreated. What is the church’s discipleship disease, and how ought we treat it?

As with any disease, treatment of the disease hinges on correctly diagnosing the disease. In my experience, most churches are primarily interested in lowering the bar for participation in the life of the church. We see people leaving our churches, students leaving the faith as they go to college, and perhaps most importantly a lack of seriousness among our members about what it means to be a follower of Christ. As the church has examined these symptoms of our disease, many have come to the conclusion that we are asking too much, not too little of people. I believe that is the wrong diagnosis. 

Our discipleship disease is not that churches are too deep, but too shallow. People leave our churches not because we have given too much of Christ, but far too little. We are building philosophies of ministry that give people a shallow and generic spirituality when we need to give them distinctive Christianity. We have developed ministry approaches that seek to grow crowds, not grow Christians. In Deep Discipleship, I argue that churches need to adopt ministry paradigms that focus on growing deep and holistic disciples of Jesus.

There are a couple of statements in your book that have taken on new significance since the pandemic forced the church to make some adaptations. You say, “Virtual discipleship cannot create deep disciples” (55), and, “The fastest way to disrupt a journey of deep discipleship is to forsake regularly gathering together with the church” (87). So, in this “time of plague,” as Russell Moore calls it, how can churches continue to pursue deep discipleship when so much has changed?

I am so thankful that so many churches have been able to pivot their ability to preach Christ and make disciples in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In my own ministry setting at Storyline Fellowship, we are constantly trying to think of ways we can stay engaged with our people and our community in the midst of so much change. In light of all of that, I am not of the opinion that church has changed forever. On the contrary, the church has an opportunity to recover the New Testament vision for what it means to be a church. The church is not built on circumstances, the church is built on Scripture. We have the opportunity to recover what it means for us to be the people of God, filled with the presence of God, in the places God has situated us, pursuing the purpose God has given us—to preach Christ crucified.

Hand-in-hand with growing as a disciple of Jesus, you say, is being a student of his Word (108). What are two or three pieces of counsel you would give to Christians (or non-Christians) who desire to develop as readers of Scripture? 

At the heart of being a disciple is to be a learner. We are called to learn the way of Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, through Scripture. No disciple ever graduates from being a student of God’s Word. The best ways to grow as a student of the Bible are to: 1) Read the Bible regularly; 2) Read the Bible prayerfully; and 3) Read the Bible in community.

You’re adamant that the vision of deep discipleship laid out in the book is “scalable, sustainable, and strategic for any church” (187). There are many churches out there that would like to develop more depth in their discipleship practices but are afraid they don’t have enough staff or adequate funding. Can this really be done in any church?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes! I have seen so many churches begin to adopt this philosophy of ministry and they are seeing beautiful fruit in their people. If your discipleship strategy is entirely dependent on staff, you are not making disciples who make disciples. This paradigm shift to deep discipleship invites churches to invest in a vision for the church that is not dependent on more staff, but on creating holistic disciples.

Over the last several decades, there seems to have been a trend in the church that has prioritized community over and above theological education. What, would you say, have been the effects of this? Why should churches recapture a vision for theological education that takes place in the local church?

Community is indispensable to discipleship, but community is not synonymous with discipleship. Over the past decade most churches have gauged their ability to make disciples with their ability to connect people to community. This is a bad metric. If our only goal is to put people in community, it is possible that all we are doing is pooling ignorance. The goal cannot simply be putting people into community, but putting people into specific communities that are learning about the way of Jesus together.

You talk often in the book about your wife, Macy, and the impact that she’s had on you as a disciple-maker, saying that “no one has taught you more about God” than she has. What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned from your wife about God?

My wife is my best friend, and it is true that nobody has taught me more about God than her. Specifically, she has taught me how to joyfully follow Jesus through suffering. Macy is one of the most joy-filled people I know, but she has also suffered immensely. Watching her lean into Jesus through her suffering has been one of the best theology lessons I have ever learned.

You can order Deep Discipleship here.

By / Nov 17

Here’s the truth about the church and COVID-19: the church never closed. The church has been there each step of the way, being the church: staffing the food drives, studying the Word together over Zoom, sewing the masks, praying for the sick, and worshiping across summer bonfires. The church never stopped this year. Whatever legal battles continue to unfold, no pandemic and no executive order could ever stop the body of Christ from functioning.

But herein lies the paradox: coming together physically in community is one of the most helpful acts a church can do to help the hurting. Unfortunately, in the age of COVID-19, it is this precise behavior that puts people at physical risk. Now we have wildfires, police brutality, separation of child migrants, and a host of other natural and humanitarian disasters to contend with, as well. What is the church to do?

Together, we (Jamie Aten and Kent Annan) have studied disaster psychology and worked in disaster ministry around the globe for the last 15 years. We’ve responded to public health emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak; Hurricanes Katrina, Michael, and Harvey; mass shootings; post-conflict zones in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and refugee crises. 

What makes a difference 

Of this combined three decades of experience, we have found that two key postures make more difference than any other when a church is trying to help disaster survivors. Grounding help in humility and practical presence, even when done remotely, increases a helper’s ability to hear, understand, and meet the needs of the person they are assisting. People tend to feel the most comfort when they feel their needs are perceived accurately and when they feel others care about them. Especially during COVID-19, when we cannot always provide physical presence, it becomes more crucial that we show others we care about what is going on in their lives with a mindset and spirit of humility and practical presence.

People tend to feel the most comfort when they feel their needs are perceived accurately and when they feel others care about them.

With this in mind, we spent the last four years field testing and refining a method for evidence-informed, lay intervention for spiritual and emotional care intervention after a personal, regional, or global disaster. We call it Spiritual First Aid, and at the core of Spiritual First Aid is the BLESS method. The BLESS Method takes the “guesswork” out of disaster spiritual and emotional care and makes humble helping and practical presence more “concrete.” It responds to the five core needs:

  • Belonging Needs
  • Livelihood Needs
  • Emotional Needs
  • Safety Needs
  • Spiritual Needs

Our research suggests that it is important to recognize that these are interconnected. Although only one of these needs is listed as spiritual, all of these needs have a spiritual component.

As each core need is assessed, we encourage churches and leaders to carefully observe (attend) the situation and environment, and explore and prioritize needs through questioning (ask). At a basic level, this is about being quick to listen, and slow to speak. When the primary core unmet needs have been identified, helpers can move into intervention: acting on the unmet needs and repeating the action if warranted or possible.

Resources to help meet needs

Our team at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute has created a library of resources to help churches navigate the challenges of this season at We have also created a virtual shelf full of resources for your church at These include the COVID-19 Mental Health Handbook and the Spiritual First Aid Manual, which has step-by-step instructions for identifying and addressing unmet needs from the core categories listed above. 

We also partnered with the ERLC on a special edition of our Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus manual, a step-by-step, research-informed and faith-based planning guide to help churches navigate the challenges of COVID-19.

The good news is that our team’s studies show that taking small steps to practically help others amidst a crisis like COVID-19 can make a big difference. Time and time again our research demonstrates that one way churches help others during difficult times is through spiritual and social support. Moreover, spiritual support and social support helps people find meaning, hope, and comfort in times of crisis. 

Over the past 6 months, HDI has reached over 603 million people and trained 29,620 people around the globe. HDI recently released its 6-month impact report describing how it has helped during the pandemic. 

By / Sep 16

Over the weekend, news broke that two law enforcement officers in Los Angeles were targeted, seemingly at random, as a gunman ran up to their parked vehicle and opened fire. Sustaining life-threatening injuries, the two officers were transported to a nearby hospital. And following the shooting, reports surfaced that a crowd of protestors had gathered outside of the hospital’s emergency room. The crowd apparently blocked the entrance to the emergency room as at least some present screamed and chanted obscenities, including vile expressions of their desire that the officers involved would perish. 

The news was chilling, but the heinous and wicked nature of the attack was solidified after video of the shooting began to circulate online. It was unquestionably a senseless act of violence. But the insanity of the moment was further compounded by the reports that others, with actual knowledge of the incident, then called for the death of the two victims of such brutality. Those actions reflect, in a staggering fashion, the moral cancer infecting American culture today. 

Devastating brokenness

Sadly, this was hardly the only reminder of our world’s devastating brokenness in recent days. For several weeks, much attention and criticism has been directed toward “Cuties,” a new film acquired by Netflix telling the story of a young Sengalese girl torn between two worlds–her family with its traditional Muslim culture and her dance troupe of preteen girls. Originally released in France and highly acclaimed, the film won an award from the Sundance Institute in February. And according to its defenders, “Cuties” aims to reflect the pressures on young women growing up in a hyper-sexualized culture. 

But ahead of releasing the film on its streaming platform, Netflix advertised “Cuties” in a way that played-up and glamorized the sexuality of young adolescent girls. The promotion of the film was obscene. It not only objectified the young women featured, but made an illicit spectacle of underage girls that was tantamount to soft core pornography. Whatever the film’s supposed virtues, the sensual and provocative images of children “dancing” across the screen was rightly met with public (and bipartisan) outcry. Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz condemned the film along with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who claimed “Cuties” would “certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles.”

To return to California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a controversial bill, Senate Bill 145, into law. That bill updated certain statutes related to offenders convicted of sex crimes in the state, specifically of statutory rape. Under the new law, judges in the state may now exercise discretion as to whether or not an offender must go on the sex offender registry in certain cases involving same-sex sexual activity. Defenders of the bill argued that it merely ended a form of discrimination in California’s judicial system by allowing judges to exercise the same kind of discretion regardless of the sex of the victims and perpetrators. But entirely overlooked by supporters of the new law was the fact that the legal “parity” created by this law simply extended the bad law already on the books in California. Expanding protections for adults to sexually exploit and prey upon children is no kind of justice.

These are but a few examples of the moral decay on display all around us. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter what direction you look. The effects of sin and signs of brokenness are everywhere. So how are Christians supposed to live faithfully in a world that celebrates violence and sanctions the sexual exploitation of children? Each day Christians in the United States face myriad problems of unbelievable complexity. What are we to do when the problems are overwhelming and solutions are hard to come by?

Spiritual maturity

Learning to live faithfully in a fallen world requires the development of spiritual maturity. And this is where we find some good news. Through Jesus, God is in the business of redeeming this fallen and broken world. Not only that, but living in this time between the times is not a new problem for the people of God. Since Jesus ascended into heaven, his people have been left with the task of bearing witness to him through our lives, words, and deeds. But each generation of Christians has had to fight to faithfully bear witness amid all kinds of pressures and circumstances–amid every kind of sin and brokenness and evil. And if we are to face these problems, we must prioritize the work of spiritual formation.

Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

It isn’t always clear what the best response is to any particular manifestation of evil. When Disney partnered with China’s communist government to film the movie Mulan–a government which is actively persecuting and potentially perpetrating genocide against Uighur Muslims–after the same company threatened to cease filming operations in the state of Georgia over a pro-life law being considered there, Christians were rightly outraged. But what is the best response? Refuse to see the film? Boycott Disney? What about Netflix? Is ignoring “Cuties” enough? Should we also cancel our subscriptions? And what if our government is itself perpetrating evil?

The point is, answers aren’t always easy or obvious. Addressing such matters requires tremendous wisdom and spiritual maturity. But God has equipped us to prepare for these moments. This is part of the reason Christians have the church, the Scriptures, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the new covenant, we don’t face any of these difficult issues alone. 

For believers, the Spirit of God lives within us and guides us through these challenges. Not only that, but God has not left us to guess by what kind of standard we are to live. He has provided us with the written Word as a revelation of himself, his work, his nature, and his plan of redemption. He has also brought us into his body, the church. As believers, we belong to something much bigger than ourselves. We are children of God and we stand together not only with our brothers and sisters in this age but in every age. We not only learn and benefit from the wisdom and experience of our contemporaries, but throughout church history we see a long line of Christian witnesses from whom we can learn so much about navigating life in a world that is under a curse.

None of us can solve every problem. Nor will we ever successfully eradicate the presence of evil from our world. Only Christ can do that– and has promised to do so upon his return. But until then, we can still work to oppose evil and injustice. We can speak against acts of violence and oppression. And we can speak up for the vulnerable and for those without a voice. Christians should not be surprised when our world displays its brokenness. But we should never forsake an opportunity to show the world a better way.

By / Jul 7

Many pastors are in the midst of an identity crisis. As the importance of religion in the American psyche wanes, along with the unique experience of a global pandemic, churches are experiencing a corresponding decrease in attendance, baptisms, and budgets. Too many pastors find themselves scrambling to apply the secrets of secular business to the local church. Christian publishers have responded by publishing innumerable books each promising a “silver bullet,” multipoint plan that will fix all the issues in the local church. While there is indeed value in strategic planning and discipleship models, many pastors, myself included, have bought the book and tried the plan only to learn that ministry is not reducible to a multistep process. In this setting, Herold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart is a breath of fresh air.

Developing a pastoral habitus

In The Care of Souls, Senkbeil (M.Div. and STM, Concordia Theological Seminary) combines lessons he learned watching his father work on the family farm with over three decades of pastoral experience to provide practical advice to pastors. Senkbeil argues that pastors need to develop a pastoral habitus. Senkbeil defines a habitus as “a pastoral temperament or character worked by the Holy Spirit through his means” (17). Seminaries cannot teach a habitus, nor can a pastor develop a habitus by reading the newest book on pastoral ministry. Pastors refine a pastoral habitus through years spent patiently walking with the church in faithful ministry. Through the failures and successes of his ministry, the pastor slowly develops his habitus.

Senkbeil’s concept of a pastoral habitus is promising. The rigidity of silver-bullet solutions to local church woes is why most multistep plans fall far short of their lofty goals. What works in my church in the Cajun country of Louisiana would almost certainly be an abject failure in a large urban church. Senkbeil’s habitus has much more flexibility. Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach, Senkbeil encourages pastors to be faithful to their calling while acknowledging that pastors fulfill their calling in countless ways. The ultimate goal is faithfulness; however, faithfulness can look different in different settings.

A pastoral habitus begins with understanding who a pastor is and what a pastor should be doing. The pastor is, first and foremost, a servant of Christ. As a servant, the pastor’s highest aspirations are faithfulness and obedience. Senkbeil uses the apt example of a sheepdog and shepherd to illustrate this point. Pastors are to God what sheepdogs are to shepherds. The sheepdog does not know everything that the shepherd is planning. The sheepdog merely does what the shepherd has taught it to do. Likewise, as pastors, we are not privy to all of God’s plans. Indeed, his ways are often inscrutable. He is truly a God of surprises. Our highest goal is to be faithful servants of God our King.

God’s command to pastors is simple and yet complex. God has called pastors to lead Christians closer to himself. On one hand, this charge simplifies ministry greatly. Pastors and congregations have seemingly illimitable ideas of what a pastor ought to be doing. At times, serving as a pastor can feel like being the CEO of a small corporation! In this setting, having the single goal of leading people to know and love Christ is refreshingly simple.

On the other hand, the call to lead people closer to God is incredibly complex. As Senkbeil recognizes, pastors lead people closer to God in many different ways. Pastors will find Senkbeil’s view of Scripture refreshing. Senkbeil argues that one of the ways pastors lead people closer to God is by rightly applying the Word of God to everyday experience. When sitting by a hospital bed, a pastor can lead a person closer to God by comforting them with Scripture. Likewise, pastors can lead people closer to God by helping people understand their identity in light of Christ. In Christ, they are a new creation and have been given victory over sin, and pastors can help people embrace this view of themselves. 

Senkbeil also stresses the importance of the pastor’s spiritual standing. Indeed, pastors ignore their spiritual standing at their own peril. Senkbeil argues that too often pastors focus on the external problems in their church without realizing that most external problems have an internal, spiritual root. As God’s missionaries, pastors and their families are the target of demonic attention and hatred. To lead people closer to God, pastors must have a healthy devotional life full of Scripture and prayer. Indeed, Senkbeil argues that all pastors need a pastor to hold them accountable. 

Leading people closer to God while remaining personally devoted to the faith is a multifaceted undertaking that cannot be succinctly described in a single book. The complexity of God’s simple call on the pastor’s life is why pastors need a pastoral habitus. Senkbeil’s book is refreshingly different from most books on pastoral ministry precisely because he never provides a blueprint for how to establish a pastoral habitus. Such blueprints are simply too rigid to withstand the demands of the pastorate. Instead, Senkbeil provides the basic building blocks. By being faithful to God and their church, any pastor can develop a pastoral habitus tailored to their specific context, and Senkbeil’s book is a welcome companion along the way.

By / Jun 19

Father’s Day is this weekend, highlighting the important part a dad plays in his family. As Christians, we know that we flourish more in the roles God gives us when we take time to cultivate our hearts in a Godward direction. My aim is to provide you with a few on-the-go resources that will be a blessing to your spiritual life and help you grow in the Lord. 


If you are a father who spends a great deal of time commuting, then I would encourage you to redeem that time with a few daily podcasts. Some of the best daily podcasts are published by Crossway. From the Every Day in the Word podcast to their M’Cheyne Reading Plan podcast, you can listen through the entire Bible in less than 20 minutes a day. If you chose to subscribe to a daily Bible podcast, I would also encourage you to listen to a podcast like David Platt’s Praying the Word. Each of these resources can get your day off to a great start.

Beyond resources that are aimed at Christian spiritual formation, if you are looking for weekly resources on news from a Christian perspective, you should check out World Magazine’s The World and Everything In It podcast. Of course, you cannot go wrong subscribing to one of the many podcast resources provided by the ERLC either. Other options would include Brett McKay’s podcast, The Art of Manliness, which hosts frequent conversations on everything from philosophy to productivity. You will likely not always agree with the perspectives of all the participants, but you will certainly learn a lot and be well-informed. 


If you are tech-wise father, I would recommend a few apps to check out. As with the podcasts mentioned above, apps can be a wonderful source of spiritual nourishment. Personally, I use the Dwell app every day in conjunction with a Bible reading plan. The notifications keep me accountable, which has resulted in a wonderful habit of daily Bible meditation. To promote a more consistent prayer life, I use the Echo app, which provides reminders and clear organization for prayers. For those interested in memorizing Scripture, the Verses app makes it easy, fun, and mobile to hide God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against him (Psa. 119:9-11).


Of the recommendations of books, there is no end. So, I want to suggest three high-impact books that I believe will encourage you and strengthen you as a father. First, I recommend Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly. Fathers are often browbeaten by Father’s Day sermons with challenges about how they need to “step up” as men. While I get the sentiment, many fathers are working hard and already carry around a lot of feelings of inadequacy. Ortlund’s book is gospel-salve for broken and discouraged soul. 

When we find ourselves to be weak and in need, we must remember that our greatest resource as a father will be found as Christ’s makes his power perfect in our weakness.

In keeping with the theme of feeling broken and discouraged, I would also recommend David Murray’s book, Reset. Much like Ortlund’s book, yet with exceedingly practical and clear steps, Murray helps his male readers assess their condition and find the help that they need in Christ and common grace. 

As a final recommendation, I would like to encourage fathers to read Jeremiah Burroughs’ Puritan paperback, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. While it is an old book, it is a classic meditation on a major problem that many Christian men face on a daily basis. Contentment in Christ is something that must be learned, and Burroughs is a faithful guide in that process.

The ultimate resource 

Being a father is not easy. We have and will continue to make mistakes. We will sin against our wives and our children. We will fail in our professions. Our brokenness will not go unexposed. Yet, when we find ourselves to be weak and in need, we must remember that our greatest resource as a father will be found as Christ’s makes his power perfect in our weakness. My prayer is that these resources will serve the purpose of reminding us where our ultimate hope lies—in Christ and Christ alone.

By / Sep 20

I once preached a Mother’s Day message from 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9. Paul compares discipleship to the actual practice of a mother nursing her child. In this, the mother is a source of life for her child. Likewise, as Christians, we must be conduits of life-giving spiritual nutrition for those around us.

This has important implications for the way we live. 

First, it matters what we ourselves are consuming. A mother who is nursing has to be careful about her diet because what she consumes will be in the milk she gives her baby. As a Christian, what is nourishing you? Is it beneficial for your growth? Are you taking in the meat of the Word so you can feed others? You see, there is a progression here. You can’t exactly give a baby a steak or pork chops or pizza. A mother has to take in the food, chew it up, digest it, and then her body produces milk. A baby’s digestive system needs the simple formula that milk gives.

When one of our daughters was a baby, she had such digestive problems that we had to purchase very expensive formula. It broke down the proteins so finely that it enabled her sensitive system to process it and get good nourishment. Paul’s comparison to a nursing mother and her baby tells us something about the way we grow. We begin, as spiritual infants, with milk. 

Another Apostle, Peter, picks up this theme: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Notice Peter’s words. We begin as children with the pure spiritual milk of the Word—not diluted or polluted. But, God doesn’t intend for us to stay that way. He intends for us to grow up. To do that, according to Paul, it seems we need to be fed and nurtured by someone more mature than us. Someone who can take the heavy meat of the Word and help us be nourished by it.This is why pastors and teachers and spiritual leaders are given to the Church (Ephesians 4).

Sadly, there are some Christians who are still drinking milk and don’t pursue growth. Paul discussed this, in his frustrations with the Corinthians: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Cor. 3:1-2).

This is a crisis. Imagine if my daughter was still on that expensive formula. When she was a newborn, it was what she needed. But it would be insufficient for her growth now. And so it is with some Christians. They are still drinking milk. They’ve not pursued, with intentionality, the deeper things of God. They are content with milk. And something is wrong. It’s not always a matter of how old you are or how long you’ve been a Christian; it’s the way you approach your spiritual nourishment.

Sometimes you can present a child with food, but he doesn’t eat it. A good parent makes their kid eat. God as a good Father, bring circumstances in your life that force you to look deeply into the Word, to lean on him, and to grow up in your faith. But if you continue to resist, you will not grow. It’s up to you to take your fork and eat.

The Christian life is to be one of giving, of making disciples, of growing up into salvation. It is allowing the gospel to so capture us that we grow up so that we can handle the deep things of God and pass them on to others.

This means you prioritize church. This means you make Bible study, reading, and prayer a habit. I think of Paul, who at the end of this life, was still asking for his books. I’m amazed that my wife, who takes care of four children, homeschools, minsters, takes care of the house, still prioritizes her study of the Word and her pursuit of wisdom. She’s probably read more books this year than many Christians with way fewer responsibilities. Did I mention to you that she’s dyslexic and has a hard time reading?

The truth is that there are many Christians who are still spiritual infants, who haven’t grown much in the last few years, and still need milk. And here’s the tragedy of this, really: God has created each of us to be a fountain of spiritual nourishment, a conduit of his grace to others. But when we fail to grow, we can’t feed others. We can’t help build the church. We can’t be a light in our communities.This was the concern of the writer of Hebrews:

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature ​— ​for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil ( Heb. 5:12-14 CSB).

Do you see what Paul is saying here? It should be a sober warning to all of us. To live on milk means we can’t digest, can’t handle the meat of the Word. And the reason we need to handle the meat of the Word is not so we can be arrogant Bible nerds and know all the ways to pronounce Hebrew words and correct people on Twitter but so we can feed and give life to others.

The Christian life is to be one of giving, of making disciples, of growing up into salvation. It is allowing the gospel to so capture us that we grow up so that we can handle the deep things of God and pass them on to others. There are people in our world God is calling us to feed, to love, to care for, to disciple, to nurture—are we fulfilling our role?  When we don’t grow spiritually, it’s not just a matter of our own malnutrition; it directly affects the community. People may be starving because we haven’t grown enough to feed them.

By / Mar 13

Poverty hits us at every street corner. It’s made plain at every homeless shelter, abortion clinic, prison, and strip club. Yet it also hides in the alleyways. It’s in the secretly porn-ridden gaming device of the nine-year-old boy, the “concerns” of gossiping co-workers, and the silent sin battles of leaders who are petrified by their weaknesses.

Christians are those whose deepest poverty has been alleviated. We were impoverished of righteousness when Christ gave us his. We were made co-heirs with the highest King and imparted with his Spirit so that we might be his ambassadors in the world. Christians may presently continue to dwell in many forms of poverty, but our fundamental reality is in the riches of Christ’s love.

This kind of poverty alleviation that Christians experience—the gospel reversal of death to life—compels us to love God and love our neighbors. The scope of the problem of this kind of poverty literally spans the whole creation. Because of this, the task of poverty alleviation can quickly start to sound like an abstract concept that is untouchable in daily life.

But even though poverty makes the whole creation groan under its power, it is not omnipotent. The God who formed us, saved us, and calls us is strong to restore what is broken, bring justice where there is none, and make life out of death. Because of him and the power of the gospel, we can and must do poverty alleviation in our daily lives. Essentially, this means we must be obedient to love our neighbors. Here are a few ways we can personally work toward poverty alleviation this week:

1. Alleviate poverty through good listening

Relational poverty affects both Christians and non-Christians. If we don’t learn to listen to each other, marriages, friendships, and working relationships will continue to crumble all around us. Regardless of age or status, all people long to be heard and understood. One of the best ways we can love our neighbors now is by listening to them well. Listen to our spouses talk through their days, listen to our kids explain the game they played at recess, and listen to our co-workers share their ideas. We can love our neighbors and acknowledge their dignity by valuing what they have to say. Through listening well, relational poverty can begin to be relieved, one conversation at a time, .

2. Alleviate poverty through giving generously

There is no resource that we possess that Jesus doesn’t look at and say, “Mine.” Regardless of our income levels, there should be substantial giving in our regular budgets. We can give to the local church, to missionaries, and do our research to discover gospel-centered, effectively functioning nonprofits in our communities and around the globe that we can support, as well. Alleviating poverty on the community-wide and world-wide scale begins with the generosity and neighborly love of individuals.

3. Alleviate poverty through serving selflessly

Christ was the ultimate servant. If we can volunteer consistently in this season of life, we should make it a priority. We can serve at our churches and even weekly at a local nonprofit that is doing good work in poverty alleviation efforts. And beyond formal volunteer capacities, we can actively look for ways to serve those already in our paths. Writing encouraging notes, picking up an extra household or workplace chore, or cooking dinner for the family down the street who just had a baby are all examples of things we can be doing now. Poverty and selfishness go hand in hand, so to deny ourselves in service is to love our neighbors and work to alleviate poverty.

4. Alleviate poverty through speaking well

James rightly calls the tongue a world of unrighteousness. If unrighteousness is the deepest poverty this world knows, then the tongue has great power in contributing to or alleviating poverty. We should be slow to speak, thinking first whether our words will promote life or death. We need to consider carefully what our goals are in sharing on social media and regularly pray for our enemies and for those we know facing forms of poverty. Most of all, we should proclaim the gospel message with love and boldness. Only through gospel declaration and transformation will poverty truly be alleviated in the hearts of sinners.

So Christians, we must not let the bigness of the world’s forms of poverty lead us to doubt the bigness of our God. Through the gospel, he has alleviated our deepest poverty and made us his ambassadors in this world. We must work to alleviate poverty in all the ways we can; let’s love our neighbors, and invite them into the riches of Christ.

By / Jul 4

Dietrich Bonhoeffer largely derives his fame from his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazi regime. Under immense stress, Bonhoeffer’s religious convictions prompted him to fight for the true good of the German people against genocidal tyranny. Understandably so, less attention has been paid to his theology and his understanding of private Christian faith. However, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings demonstrate a vital nuance to personal, spiritual practices that ought to inform our private faith today.

Before his involvement in the assassination plot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer retreated to relative obscurity and operated an underground seminary in the German town of Finkenwalde. Here, removed from the political activities of his day, Bonhoeffer gives us the best glimpse of his expectations for personal spirituality.

Practicing spiritual disciplines

To prepare his seminarians for ministry, Bonhoeffer mandated disciplines very familiar to us. Bonhoeffer required his students to read Scripture privately, writing, “we are not permitted to neglect this daily encounter with Scripture.”[1] Bonhoeffer intentionally uses the word “encounter” here as he disallowed that this time would be an academic or pastoral pursuit: the ministers-to-be were not allowed to search for sermon material or use a Greek New Testament; rather, Scripture study was meditative, or prayerful, and enabled the Finkenwalde seminarians “to encounter Christ in his own word.”[2] Thus, the “goal [of Scriptural meditation] is Christ’s community, Christ’s help, and Christ’s guidance.”[3]

Bonhoeffer also insisted that his seminarians fasted. Arguing that it reminded them of their “estrangement” from the world, he regarded this practice as nonnegotiable.[4] Just as prayerful Scripture reading ultimately looks to encounter God, Bonhoeffer does not see fasting as an end in itself but rather a response to faith in Christ, a means of orienting one’s life to God.

However, Bonhoeffer appears to speak out of both sides of his mouth, paradoxically railing against retreat from the world. In Ethics, he writes firmly, “for the Christian there is nowhere to retreat from the world, neither externally nor into the inner life.”[5] In After Ten Years, he develops this criticism a little further:

In flight from public discussion and examination, this or that person may well attain the

sanctuary of private virtuousness. But he must close his eyes and mouth to the injustice

around him. He can remain undefiled by the consequences of responsible action only by

deceiving himself . . . He will either perish from that restlessness or turn into a

hypocritical, self-righteous, small-minded human being.[6]

Developing a moral backbone

How then are we to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s actions and commands? While condemning withdrawal from the world, Bonhoeffer appears to do the very thing he hates, retreating to Finkenwalde and exhorting his students toward inward-focused, privatistic practices.

In her essay “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” Victoria J. Barnett, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, notes Bonhoeffer’s awareness of this exact contradiction: “The Finkenwalde experiment opened up the risk inherent in any kind of internal exile, which is that it becomes a flight into a privatized kind of discipleship.”[7] Barnett thus indicates that while the Finkenwalde period may appear apolitical, Bonhoeffer understood this apparent contradiction.

However, his other writings—as well as more insight from Barnett—provide a fascinating dimension to Bonhoeffer’s personal spirituality which resolves this tension. Rather than seeing spiritual disciplines as a retreat from the world, Bonhoeffer understands spirituality as the necessary foundation for Christian political action.

Retreating to Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer was not neglecting or refusing the world. Rather, Barnett’s essay highlights how he here sought “the creation of moral backbone and the establishment of the discipline his students would need if they were to stay on the right path” under the attractive Nazi regime.[8] Personally, Bonhoeffer saw his meditation not as retreat but the only way he could take certain steps in public life: encountering God personally provided the necessary foundation for political action.

This moral formation via spiritual discipline does not, however, only apply to ministers. Bonhoeffer extends this political dimension of spirituality to the local church because a church consumed with her own desire and self-interest cannot truly love her neighbor. Only by developing contentment and self-control will the church be able to be selfless, to be the church-for-others, as Bonhoeffer puts it.  

Bonhoeffer thus resolves the apparent contradiction and demonstrates a necessarily political or public understanding of private spirituality. Rather than serving as an end-in-themselves, private spiritual practices function as a means to create genuinely Christian public action. Reading Scripture prayerfully may appear an isolated or individualistic practice, but such meditation forms our desires and builds virtue. Fasting similarly generates self-control, enabling—through God’s grace—the Christian to overcome selfish ambition and promoting generosity. Personal spirituality, though seemingly apolitical, therefore empowers the church to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.


  1. ^ The Complete Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Series. Volume 14. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Publish Company (2014). 936.
  2. ^ DBWE 14, 932.
  3. ^ DBWE 14, 933.
  4. ^ DBWE 4, 158.
  5. ^ DBWE 6, 62.
  6. ^ DBWE 8, 40, emphasis original.
  7. ^ Victoria J. Barnett. “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society.” Found in Dem Rad in die Speichen fallen : das Politische in der Theologie Dietrich Bonhoeffers = A spoke in the wheel : the political in the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ed. Kristen Busch Nielsen, Ralf Karolus Wustenberg and Jens Zimmermann. Guetersloh, DE: Gütersloher Publishing House (2014). 361.
  8. ^ Barnett, “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” 361.
By / Jun 6

Fiction has a way of showing us things that would otherwise go unnoticed. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I recently completed C.S. Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters for the first time. I can honestly say, within the pages of this book, I’ve learned lessons that may save my life.

Lewis’ satirical apologetic has been on my to-read list for as long as I can remember, but I’ve put it off time and again over the years. For some reason, perhaps the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I decided to pick up my copy a few weeks ago. My only regret is that I didn’t do so sooner.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis offers us one side of a conversation between two demons as they correspond by sending letters back and forth. We only read the words of Screwtape, a veteran and distinguished human tempter. He writes to his nephew Wormwood, who is a novice in the trade of temptation, attempting to mentor him as Wormwood seeks to secure his first human soul for the purpose of eternal torment.

Entering another world

This wasn’t a book I could read quickly. Most days I limited myself to only a chapter or two alongside my daily Bible reading. And I’m glad I did. Taking the slow walk through Lewis’ imagined world of diabolical ventriloquism taught me to see things I have—at my own peril—ignored for too long.

Lewis’ words literally take you to another world. As I read, I entered a place my mind had not wandered since I was just a child—the dreadful world of spiritual darkness. “I’m a modern man in the modern age. We don’t see or hear tell of demons because those are vestiges of the old world.” Or so I tell myself. Not since I was a boy have I dedicated any real thought (or imagination) to the schemes of the Devil, the existence of demons, or the realities that lie within such a dark and menacing world.

Of course, as a Christian who believes the Bible, I have no problem believing the accounts of Jesus and his disciples encountering people who really were possessed by demons. But, I now realize I had been writing this off as merely a thing of the past. My rationale was simple: the Devil is smart and knows that any apparent manifestation of demons would upset the modern zeitgeist of skepticism. I still think this is true. Probably the biggest mistake the enemy could make in the age of secularism and unbelief is to plainly reveal the spirit world. And this is true, so far as it goes. But it was also the genesis of my very real problem.

A dangerous mistake

Here is my error. For years, I’ve been assuming the absence of visible demonic activity also guaranteed there was no such activity to speak of. I’ve been functionally, and sometimes literally, assuming the Devil isn’t at work today. Instead of wrestling with “powers and principalities,” I was content to chalk all of that up to bad luck or human nature or something else. And here Lewis offers a remarkable course correction. 

Through the voice of Screwtape, Lewis sets forth plausible scenarios chronicling the very “schemes of the Devil” I had so blindly ignored. On page after page, Lewis exposes the subtle nature of temptation and manipulation which the enemy employs against Christians, including me, every day.

Take for instance his words on pleasure. Screwtape notes that any pleasure in its healthy and natural form is actually a gift to humanity from God (whom Screwtape also appropriately refers to as “the Enemy”). To Wormwood, Screwtape remarks,

. . . encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. (44)

How many times have I sought a corrupted pleasure, oblivious to my willing cooperation with the Devil’s ploy? And this is not all. In a later chapter, Lewis points out the manner in which the Devil might use Christianity itself against us. As Screwtape advises Wormwood, “make men treat Christianity as a means.” Aware that God refuses to be used as a convenience, the expert tempter urges his nephew to lead the human to value Christianity, not for its end, but for what it might produce: “‘Believe this not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.”

I’ve succumbed to this temptation. More importantly, there are people around me right now who are trapped in this very lie, and until recently I did not recognize its root. Reading each chapter, again and again I felt the sting of this conviction.

Spiritual warfare

As I return the book to its shelf, I walk away with deep gratitude and heightened awareness. Lewis has become for me a tutor in the craft of spiritual warfare. Due to his effective instruction, I am no longer blind to the work of the enemy. I suspect many Christians are like I was, either blissfully unaware of our involvement in this conflict, or greeting the subject with little more than a casual dismissal. To myself, and those like me, let us remember Lewis’ warning:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (61)

On the subject of spiritual warfare, Lewis is a helpful guide. I’ll remember what he taught: There is an enemy. He seeks my destruction. And this is war.

Reflecting on writing The Screwtape Letters, Lewis remarked, “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment.” The moral universe of Screwtape thrust him into an environment of “dust, grit, thirst, and itch.” And he could only stay there so long. “It almost smothered me before I was done.”

C.S. Lewis allowed his mind to enter such a world in order to awaken those like me out of our spiritual stupor. I commend his work to you, with eyes opened wide.

By / Dec 6