Christian. Husband. Father. Artist. Missionary.

John O.

You probably haven’t heard of John O. He’s not headlining any conferences, writing any books for Crossway, or getting a lot of attention from sites like TGC or, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be well worth your time to learn a little more about him and his journey as a man, a husband, and a pastor.

So, with that in mind, I sent John a few questions and am delighted to share his response with you:

You’ve been a pastor for how long now?

  • Since 2007, so about 7 years now.  I served two and half years as a college pastor at a church plant in Texas and have been serving as a pastor of Blueprint Church for the past 5 years.

Obviously, in retrospect you can clearly see the good hand of God guiding you into the ministry at such a young age. Would you say, however, that your experience is a recipe for everyone? Is there a certain age one should think about entering into the “ministry”, or would you say it’s more of a maturity/character thing?

  • Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my journey and while I wouldn’t use the word “recipe” (because I think God graciously put me in some pretty unique scenarios) I do think that my experience would be a good template of sorts.  I met a 30 year old pastor when I was a 21 year old college senior who has a burden to see solid churches planted in the urban context.  And I’ve been serving alongside him for the past 9 years.  He trained me in the areas he was particularly gifted in and was adamant about, ensuring that I connected with other leaders that had different skill sets, giftings, and (at times) philosophies than he did.
  • I went from directing high school, to assisting with the college ministry, to becoming college pastor, to leading our small groups to shepherding our launch team, to assisting in the teaching of the church, to becoming the teaching pastor, and so on and so forth.  I was constantly (and incrementally) entrusted with more and more responsibility, given room to both fail and succeed, and then evaluated so that I could learn from both my successes and mistakes.
  • I’ve come to learn that in developing pastors, there is no certain age that makes someone eligible for “the ministry.”  Giving the church both the responsibility and freedom to affirm their own pastors has been the greatest confirmation for me.

Do you think you were ready for what you had gotten into at the age of *insert age you became a pastor*?

  • Was I ready to be a pastor at 23 years old?  Probably not.  Not in the sense that I prematurely forced myself (or was forced into) a role that I had no business being in.  Rather, I don’t think I was ready to pastor at 23 in the same way that I don’t think I was ready to get married when I got married.  There are certain things like marriage and kids that you’re just not completely ready for until you’re actually thrown in.  Once I became a pastor, I saw how inadequate I was (and still am in some senses) and it keeps me on my knees (which has been a good thing).  I often question my own readiness and adequacy even now, and when I do, I remind myself of 1 Corinthians 15:10 & 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.  If you’re desiring to pastor, are a pastor, or are just a “regular” Christian, those are great passages to look up and memorize. 

You’re african american. You’re reformed. Do you feel like you’re part of a sub-culture within a subculture?

  • I remember feeling that way in college when I was first exposed to the truths I’ve come to hold dear to my heart.  However, shortly after that, I started to meet guys all over the US that shared my culture and convictions.  Over the course of the past decade, I’ve begun to feel that guys like me aren’t as rare as I thought they were.  
  • While I don’t feel as isolated as I once did, I do feel that in the larger evangelical (or reformed) conversation, the perspective of the minority is both largely underrepresented and misrepresented.  Underrepresented in the sense that reformed minorities are often pigeonholed into talking about “urban” perspectives or urban issues.  I long to see the day when more minorities are consulted for the contributions they make to the broader evangelical conversation. 

Why Atlanta?

  • Our desire in church planting was never just to be a self-sustaining church that can pay it’s own bills.  Sometimes in church planting, I think that we can see that as success, and from the jump, we never wanted that to be the case for us.  We really wanted the church to be a church that could (by God’s grace) serve as a Blueprint of what it looks like to plant churches in the urban context.  With that being said, we really desired to be in a city that could (and would) serve as a hub for training future church planters to plant churches in the most difficult and desperate urban settings.  There were three primary reasons that drew us to Atlanta.
  • 1. City of natural influence – Atlanta is one of the hip-hop capitals of the world.  It a city of influence for an entire demographic of people in the US.  It’s often referred to as the “black Mecca” or the “promised land”.  With our desire to raise up, recruit, and train future leaders to impact a nation, a city like Atlanta seemed like a no-brainer.
  • 2. Diversity – The United States is becoming increasingly more diverse.  We didn’t want to just be in a city that was diverse, but diverse in a unique way.  Atlanta is one of the few cities in the US that is made up predominantly of a minority group.  It’s a Minority-majority city.  We value diversity, and while it makes a terrible North Star for a church’s mission, it is a great resource, tool and above all else testimony of the greatness of our God.
  • 3. Strong College Presence – There are 6 major colleges within a ten-mile radius. (Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State, Clark, Morehouse, and Spellman).  Atlanta is a city of natural influence for a reason. The strong college presence has helped to give Atlanta a progressive mindset.  Also,  historically, we had success ministering to college students and desired to be in a place where we could continue to steward that unique grace we feel like the Lord granted us.

If you could tell a prospective church planter one thing and one thing only about church planting, what would it be?

- If you’re just an entrepreneur and not an evangelist, you probably won’t make a very good church planter.  However, if you commit to do the work of an evangelist (and see that as your aim) then I think you’re on the right track.

You recently finished up an internship. Why, as a pastor of an already successful church plant, did you think it necessary to do an internship?

  • The reason why I did the internship was because I love to learn.  I’m more of a contemplative thinker and I’m not naturally an entrepreneur or church planter.  I would love to build an entire bridge and test it before actually walking across it.  In church planting, however, you aren’t afforded that luxury often.  I spent almost 5 years building bridges as we crossed them, and by God’s grace the bridges never collapsed and He was extremely faithful to us.  We got to a point in the life of the church where we were on the cusp of making major decisions and I felt that it would serve all of us well if one of us stepped outside of the work we had been immersed in for so long and just got a different perspective.  The elders and congregation of Blueprint were extremely gracious and gave me a 4 and half month sabbatical.  I spent the entire time in DC, reading, observing, processing, and writing.  Internship probably isn’t the best word used to describe the time out there. When people hear internships they usually think about getting coffee and donuts and picking up drycleaning…my time in DC wasn’t like that at all.
  • From 8:30am-5:30pm Monday-Friday for 4 and half months, I was studying pastoral theology, ecclesiology, church history, polity, etc.  I spent those months reading about 40 books, writing over 300 pages of reflection and spent countless hours in conversation around the same topics.  It really helped me to think well about the church and gave me a precision in comprehension and communication about the topics that I lacked before taking the sabbatical.  In a nutshell, it was an investment into the future health of the church.
  • Lastly, I also took the time to be in DC because I have a desire to reproduce something similar in ATL so that other pastors (or future pastors) who want the same development have access to the same type of training in their context.

What is Rebuild?

- You can find out everything you need to know at (what good is a website if we never point people to it?)

Top 3 books (theological)

  • Knowing God, JI Packer
  • The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges
  • Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon

Top 3 books (in general)

  • Enders Game, Orson Scott Card
  • Knowing God, JI Packer
  • ?

Top 3 movies

  • No particular order, and more than you asked for…
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Mission Impossible 1
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Usual Suspects – One of the greatest movie endings of all time
  • Brave Heart

Top 3 tv shows

  • Breaking Bad
  • 24
  • Martin

Finally, is it true that you know The Lecrae? If so, can I give you my demo? Maybe, I don’t know, you could pass it to him or whatever…


Dead People and Online Worship

O’two dark thirty in Mosul, Iraq. Slow night. Little action. I’m playing ping pong in the back room of the level 2 ER when I hear armored truck tires tear into our parking bay and the usual “Medic!” cry for assistance. We run out, open the back door, and find a medic on top of a soldier, pounding away on his chest. He’s been doing CPR for about forty minutes on the way to the Combat Hospital. As we get the soldier in and begin to work on him we can clearly see that he’s dead and has been so for some time. That was the first time I saw a recently dead person, but not the first time I saw someone die. 

The first time I saw someone die was shortly after a two hundred pound bomb blast tore into the Mosul police station just two clicks to my west at three p.m on a friday. I was supposed to be sleeping (night shift and all), but was called in to the ER for the patients that were sure to come. I drug myself out of bed and opened the door to the blow dryer that is all of outdoors Iraq, and I began to make my way to my station where I hear that we are expecting thirty-plus inbound casualties. As they come in to the triage, we could see that many had died on the way, but many were fighting the good fight. It’s go time.

I get assigned to bay six and begin to work on my patient. Airway: Check. Large bore IV: No good. His pressure’s down. Time’s up. Time to drill the IO. Blood warmer: Check. AED: Check. It doesn’t matter; narrowing pulse pressures. The docs are hitting him with everything they’ve got in the crash cart. Everything and the kitchen sink. Nothing. Chemistry has failed us so it’s time for the good ol’ fashion manual chest pump. The machine is registering every pump only faintly, and when I stop, it stops. We keep trying for another ten minutes and then the doc calls it. Time: 3:45 p.m. No one had time to stop and think. We had to keep going. Next patient. Next patient. Next patient. 

I had several more patients who made it that day, and a few that didn’t. My last patient of the day passed around six p.m., and it was then that I stopped and took it all in. I didn’t want to, really. I wasn’t trying to; Osmosis. The reality and depth of the situation left me punch drunk in a matter of seconds. He was alive, then he was dead. I’m not going to exhaust the limits of my writing ability by trying to explain to you what it was like that day. It wouldn’t work anyways. No matter the giftedness of the writer, if you don’t see a person die, you can’t understand it. 

I’m sure some Cormac McCarthy slash Hemingway’esque slash Dickensian writer could do a decent job of making you feel like you were in the room that day, but you weren’t. You weren’t in the room that day. You can’t understand. You didn’t have your hand on his body as he passed from death unto life. You didn’t feel the temperature of the skin change. You didn’t try to adjust his dead weight. The way the blood made my boots stick to the floor. The strange way in which he was breathing as he let it all go. The way you feel when you realize it’s done. You can’t know what that’s like from a book, or movie, or t.v. show. 

Shows like ER (for those stuck in the 90’s), House, and any number of reality t.v. medical shows try to help us know and experience what it’s like to be in that room; the production value, the gritty grimy reality of it all, the fast panning of the cameras, and the intensity of the direction. It all makes us feel like we’re in the room. It makes us feel like we’re injecting the adrenalin with them, but we’re not. It’s superficial. There’s something missing. The reality of what’s taking place in the realest of reality television medical dramas is still a reality for those in that room, and for them alone. The reverberations will be felt by those on the outside of that reality, but that room isn’t there’s. They will forever be outsiders, and so are we with our noses pressed up against the operating room glass, fogging it up as we press in to feel the pulse of that room. Press your nose up against your forty inch flat screen all you want, it still isn’t your room. 

That’s what online “church” is like. That’s the simile. No matter how much you may learn from an online sermon, or how enthralled you may be (or silly you may look), during your living room worship, it’s still just you on the outside of the operating room, nose smushed up against the glass trying to be a part of something that, for all intensive purposes, might as well be an entire universe away. You can’t hear your neighbor singing those praises. That pastor doesn’t know you. You don’t know him. You don’t, nor can you know, the reality of the flock that he is preaching to. Your life is not their lives, and that’s a pretty big part of the sunday gathering.

I don’t want to bend this metaphor (simile, whatever…), to the point of breaking it, so allow me to wrap it up here: as “real” as your little sunday morning service may feel from your bedroom/living room/hammock/Starbucks counter/master bathroom, it isn’t. It’s not real. You’re not there. That reality is not your reality. You want it to be, and I’m sure you often feel that it really is, but it’s not. You’re an outsider. That room isn’t your room. 

Like the person addicted to the “reality” of Nat Geo or RealTV, you want to believe that you are a part of what’s happening on that screen, but you’re not. You’re not a part of it. You’re a spectator. As entertaining as that may be for you, I promise you that entertainment isn’t the point of this thing we call church. You’re missing the beautiful reality of communing with your brothers and sisters under the power and authority of God’s proclaimed Word, and unless you have a really, really good excuse, not only are you missing out on one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences you could possibly have in this life, but you’re living in a pattern of habitual sin. (Heb 10:24-25) You’re losing twice. Close your computer, or turn off your t.v., find a good Bible believing church near you and go get your hands dirty. Your worst days there will be better than your best days on the couch. Put your finger on the pulse. It’s your room.

True. English is ridiculous.


Get to Know Her →

Get to Know Her

I want to introduce you to someone, but I’d rather not just tell you her name. That will tell you very little. I’d like to introduce you to her personality, her lifestyle, and the grace of God in her life. I think you’ll walk away from this whole thing with a greater knowledge and deeper love for her if we go about it like that.

She was born in a jungle village in the northern zone of Loreto, Peru. She’s seen a lot and done a lot, but compared to most americans she hasn’t really seen or done much of anything. She’s been in this place since before Christianity arrived. She remembers a time when the name of Christ had never been named among her people. She remembers a time when her family would consult with the witch doctor for any illnesses, and she remembers the first time she took an antibiotic, which she thought was just the white mans version of witch craft. 

She remembers the first church being built in her small town, and today it seems so odd to her that it seemed odd to her then. She’s been walking with the Lord for over twenty five years, and she was saved by Christ roughly twenty five years after that first church was built. The fires of the gospel didn’t sweep through her small town like the scorched earth northerners making their way south. In fact, shortly after the first church was erected, she remembers a very large catholic church being erected in the center of town, towering over it like the monster that it is. She recalls how quickly the people flocked to it, and now at the age of eighty five she finally understands why. 

Her husband walks about a mile back and forth to church several times a week. A mile at his pace is an eternity. She used to make it to church more often, but she’s recently gone blind. Shortly thereafter, for whatever reason, her legs began to go as well. Now you can see her roughly every other Sunday as she tries to fumble and feel her way to the bathroom during the service. Her husband made her a walking stick, but she refuses to use it. 

She has no money to go to the doctor. Someone paid for her to go anyways, and they told her she needed to see a specialist. So, it’s done. That’s it. Never in a million years can she afford a specialist. She’s financially, geographically, and socially isolated from that kind of treatment. The doctor did tell her, though, that she needs to take vitamin A. Maybe that can help with her eyes, he says. She doesn’t have the money for vitamin A. It costs around s/75 (roughly 27 US dollars) so her church is trying to have a barbecue to raise money for it. Her church doesn’t have a benevolence fund, her family has no one from whom she could borrow the money, and there are no wealthy people in the congregation who could dig into their own pockets and offer up some assistance. This is her life and reality. 

She’s blind and she’s probably going to die blind. 

Dengue fever has been sweeping through the little city where she now lives, and over one-hundred and eighty people have died from it this rainy season. The mosquitos are terrible. Her mosquito net has holes in it. She says she doesn’t notice being bitten at night, but in her state it’s not likely that she would. The “door” to her “bedroom” is a sheet hung between her two cardboard/garbage bag walls. She isn’t some really poor person on the outskirts of town. Her neighbors don’t think there’s anything strange about taping black, fifty gallon garbage bags together to make a wall for a separate bedroom. It doesn’t strike them strange that she has dirt floors and a bucket for a toilet. It looks just like their house. 

Her joy, though. Her joy is so deep. It’s hard hard for her to live in such a place; she’s never known anything fancier. Sure, she’s seen and heard of nicer homes, but never has she lived in such a place. Nor her mother or father, nor her daughter or granddaughter. Her joy is so deep. It lives in a place that can’t be touched or effected by rustic toilets or dirt floors. The highlight of her week is hearing God’s word preached and singing with the saints in her city.  Take that away from her, friend, and you’d see a woman broken. It’s getting harder and harder for her to commune with the saints, and one can easily see the toll it’s taking on her. 

Her name is Mercedes, and this author is proud to say that he knows that he will see her in a better place soon, and she will see him with perfect clarity at the feet of the father, and they will worship together for all of eternity. If you’re reading this and you feel convicted, that’s between you and the Holy Spirit that lives in you. If you feel guilty and think that this author is trying to shame you, you’ve missed the point. This author isn’t trying to convict or shame anyone. He just wants you to know about Mercedes. He wants you to pray for this saint as she passes her last little bit of time in that broken down clay vessel, and he wants you to think about the reality that is life for the majority of your siblings in Christ. Mercedes can be for you a name and a person that represents the global church, and the reality that most of them live in. She has certainly been that for me. 

There are no words. One of the most blasphemous things I have ever seen.



I’m a high school dropout who’s not even sure if the word “dropout” should by hyphenated or two words altogether separate. I’ve never been, and will likely never go to seminary. I have my GED and have completed a few hours of community college, none of which were very fruitful in the short or long run. 

I’ve often considered going to a “real” college. I consider and reconsider the option every year or two and, for various reasons, usually decide against it. To many, my lack of any formal, post-primary education puts me at a serious disadvantage in life. We all know, of course, that the best and healthiest thing that we should experience is a rigorous twelve year education followed by four more years of institutionalized learning, and depending upon one’s personal preferences and pain threshold, grad and post-grad work, ad infinitum

After running the rigors of such a routine, one will then be primed to begin life: career, family, debt, etc. Granted, the whole family thing is certainly going the way of the buffalo, but you get my drift, Tokyo. So, here’s the question: Am I at a disadvantage. Did I screw up the whole order of things? Am I ill prepared and disadvantaged?

To answer that, I think we have to think about a few things that also matter outside the realm of education, of which I will only address one: the very important and often un-experienced “life experience”. (Yes, I am aware of the grammar rule I just broke, and I’m amused by the fact that it bothers you.)

My mom was a drug addict and alcoholic for the entirety of my adolescence, and nearly the entirety of her own life. My father was a drug dealer whom I’ve never met, nor communicated with. I was abused by my mother until the day I was old enough and big enough to put an end to it all. I went to private school until the sixth grade, and then stayed in public school until my expulsion and subsequent GED focused stent at Job Corps (where I was kicked out for gang activity). 

I was born in Los Angeles and have lived everywhere from San Diego to Alabama, Iraq to Peru. Overall, I’ve lived in twelve different states and three different countries (plus Seattle, which is a universe unto itself.) I’ve traveled across the country with twenty dollars, a box of Twix bars, and a drunk mother by Greyhound bus. 

I’ve been a skater, a biker, a drug dealer and a magician. My grandmother was a PhD twice over with a mean morphine addiction and a persona like that of the famous Mommy Dearest of the silver screen, and my great cousin is a multi billionaire (who, by the way, has never sent ya boy a rusty penny). I’ve been an honor roll student and I’ve had to repeat a grade. I’ve quit and been expelled from high school. I spent a year of my life as a teenager incarcerated in a “prison in the mountains.” 

I grew up watching television all day and all night, and yet I’ve had to chop my own fire wood, poop in an outhouse, and have had to live without electricity for over three of my twenty seven years on this earth. I saw a man stabbed to death in my front yard at the age of eleven, and lived out of a car for months at a time. I’ve robbed pizza men and given my last dollar to a homeless person. 

I spent the first eighteen years of my life at war with God, and then he saved me from my sin against every odd that was bet on me for prison or death. I’ve spent an accumulated four months of my life in mental institutions and another eight in rehab and halfway facilities. I’ve been beaten by the police, run away from home, hit a women with my open hand, and I’ve tasted the grace of God in the most inner parts of my soul. I’ve switched from pro choice to pro life, democrat to “anything-but-democrat”, and have eaten a ramen noodle burrito at 2 am in the city jail. 

I married my one and only perfect love at the age of eighteen and have had two beautiful baby girls with her. I’ve also sent a woman out to go lay with a man for my rent money. I’ve been about a nat fart away from being killed by someone in the Mexican Mafia, and I’ve also hugged that same man who drew down and me. I told him that Jesus loved him. 

I spent five years in the US Army, hating almost every minute of it, and yet benefitting from it in ways I still don’t understand. I’ve gone three days without sleep, had my hand inside a mans abdomen, and felt the reverberations of a two ton bomb blast three clicks to the east of me. I’ve seen soldiers scream like little girls in fear, and seen girl soldiers stand firm in the midst of terrifying things. 

I’ve been addicted to pornography, trapped in the prosperity gospel, and an ardent arminian all at the same time…all of which I have been delivered of by the gracious, merciful and powerful hand of God. I’ve tried to balance school, work, family, and church responsibilities only to fail miserably. I’ve discipled six people, three of which shared my life with me day in and day out in the comfortable tension of my home. I’ve gotten a car loan at the thievish rate of 18% and had my credit destroyed before I even turned eighteen.

I’ve driven a U-Hall across the country several times over and ran out of gas in the middle of Montana. I’ve street raced in a mustang and taken a few spills on a motorcycle. I’ve humbly submitted my life to the wise leadings of a local church. I’ve read something like four hundred books, (give or take a hundred because “who’s counting?”) and read the book of Ephesians a LOT. 

I’ve owned a recording studio (in my bedroom), recorded, promoted, and sold my own rap album. I’ve taught myself photography, and to a lesser extent video editing and stuff like that. I’ve punched a man in the mouth, and I’ve had my nose broken by a man more genetically likened unto a wildebeest than  homosapien. 

I’ve lost a baby. I’ve held my mothers hand as she breathed her last, agonizing breath. I’ve had hernias, deformities, and broken knuckles. I’ve given babies IV’s and performed vasectomies on seventeen very brave men. I’ve smelled the smell of a freshly burned vas deferens.  I’m pretty decent at Jiu Jitsu and can hold my own as a boxer. I’ve had malaria and six month long bouts with dysentary. I’ve eaten aligator tail fresh cut from the amazon river and built a raft to travel up one of it’s rather large tributaries. I’ve slept under mosquito nets and preached in complete darkness. I’ve pooped in a whole and wiped with a leaf.

I can speak two languages, can deadlift over four hundred pounds, and can do about twenty seven handstand pushups consecutively. I’ve been cooking for myself since the age of nine and enjoy Romeo & Juliet cuban cigars as fits the occasion. I’ve been a paramedic and a bag boy. I’ve been shot at. I’ve worked at no less than nine different fast food restaurants. I’ve lived in Seattle, Atlanta, Washington DC, and even Lima, Peru. 

I’ve been hustled by taxi drivers and I’ve bartered with vendors in outdoor meat markets. I’ve been homeless on at least four separate occasions.  I’ve counseled drug addicts, preached to muslims, and shared the gospel with inmates in third world penitentiaries. I’ve battled depression more times than I can count on my eight fingers and toes, and have repented of my sins so many times I couldn’t even begin to even tell you but a few. 

I can keep going, but I don’t think you’re still reading. For the chosen few who were predestined to make it through my article thus far, you may be asking yourselves what the point of all this is. The thing is, friend, I’ve lived. Some people, at the age of twenty seven, are just now leaving college and “beginning” their lives. 

I’ve lived enough for ten people in my twenty seven years. All of it hasn’t been pretty, but it’s all been for a purpose, and it’s built a character in me (by God’s grace), that is more meaningful to me than any beaurocratic institutions “look at the paper!” system of adult education. I have a library card (even in Peru), and I can by a book with the click of a mouse. I can surround myself with people that I can and should learn from, and maybe all of that head knowledge, combined with the fact that I’ve lived a little, will yield more than the typical equation. If it does, it will all be of grace.

*Now, out of charity and presuppositional foresight, I have to of course say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the course that many of my brothers embark upon, accredited schools and all. I’m merely stating the reality of my situation and why I’m content with it. Regardless of one’s chosen path, each of us must live life and life it to death so that our head knowledge doesn’t outgrow our heart knowledge. 

My daughter with some friends. 

My daughter with some friends. 

Canon EOS 5D Mark II f/3.5 1/320th 50mm
The result of the flood. Boats shouldn’t be here. You can usually buy chicken here. 

The result of the flood. Boats shouldn’t be here. You can usually buy chicken here. 

Canon EOS 5D Mark II f/9 1/160th 50mm
The market where we purchase our food everyday.

The market where we purchase our food everyday.

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May your dreams be greater than your fears.

May your dreams be greater than your fears.

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At the grave the flower withers. 

At the grave the flower withers. 

Canon EOS 5D Mark II f/4 1/250th 50mm


Canon EOS 5D Mark II f/9 1/100th 50mm
My neighbors house.

My neighbors house.

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II f/9 1/200th 35mm