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 Challies.com, 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.
- 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 rebuildnetwork.org (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
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…