What’s your pet theological topic? You know you have one. That issue of urgent, all-embracing, hill-to-die-on significance. You’re fired up right now, and it’s only the fourth sentence!
It’s easy to focus on one aspect of the faith to the neglect of others. To be honest, we’re probably all more unbalanced than we realize or care to admit. In Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey (Crossway, 2013) [video interview | promo video], Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper aim to help us cultivate a proportioned, holistic view of the Christian life. As the title suggests, the book is meant to function like a map, connecting the gospel to the manifold dimensions of human experience.
I corresponded with Montgomery and Cosper, pastors of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, about the concept of faithmapping, ministerial burnout, counseling discouraged employees, rest and play, and more.
“Faithmapping” is a new word for me. What is it?
As far as we know, it’s a made-up word. We wanted a metaphor for tracing out the interconnected nature of the gospel, the church, and the church’s mission in the world. One of the things we like about the concept of a map is that it presents the gospel as something bigger than you as an individual; it’s a world to explore, rather than sound bites and concepts to memorize.
It’s a paradox that the gospel has this remarkable ability to be both simple and complex. The simplest presentations of it are true and can be unpacked to exhibit the whole picture, but we walk into dangerous territory when we believe the simple presentations are the whole story. So Faithmapping aims to present the whole story—seeing even “sound bite” gospel presentations as waypoints on a map. When you see the map, you see some context, some interconnectivity.
Recounting a particularly difficult time when you (Daniel) contemplated stepping down as pastor, you write, “It was no longer a mystery to me why so many pastors have short tenures in churches and ministry.” Why is this the case, and how might the principles of faithmapping help a burned-out church leader?
Pastoral burnout can happen for all kinds of reasons, so I don’t want to be reductionistic about it. But in modern evangelicalism, success is defined by the ABCs—attendance, buildings, and cash. For many pastors, the principles driving that kind of success can feel completely disconnected from the doctrines and principles that made them feel called to ministry in the first place.
And in some ways, they are. Faithful ministry is always fruitful ministry, yes, but “fruitfulness” must be defined biblically, not culturally. Pastors need to be freed from the tyranny of the ABCs, and the only thing that can ultimately do that is the gospel.
In Faithmapping, we’re trying to encourage folks to see the gospel through three lenses: the kingdom of God, the cross of Christ, and the grace of God. Regarding pastoral burnout, these three aspects provide three different dimensions of comfort and assurance—three different ways of offering “good news.”
First, the gospel of the kingdom reminds us God’s work is bigger than us and ultimately out of our hands. His kingdom is advancing, with or without our help. Second, the cross of Christ simultaneously reminds us of our sinfulness and Christ’s sufficiency. In other words, in spite of our insufficiency, we have nothing to earn or prove before God. That’s a huge relief for pastors hounded and plagued by a quiet sense of penance or self-justification via ministry. Finally, the grace of God is a comforting word that, amid the mess of our lives and ministries, God is lovingly present. He hasn’t merely set aside his wrath; he’s genuinely pleased with us in Christ.
This knowledge, ultimately, is the only sustaining hope in ministry.
What’s the significance of the “five identities” of those whose lives have been transformed by the good news of God’s kingdom, cross, and grace?
The identities as we’ve identified them (worshipers, servants, disciples, family, and witnesses) aren’t really anything new. You could find a variety of pastors identifying similar categories from all over the cultural map, like Jeff Vanderstelt and Rick Warren. For us, in Faithmapping, we want to show how those values flow naturally from the message of the gospel.
Let’s put this in context a bit. Over the last 10 years we’ve heard a lot about churches whose primary emphasis and identity is built around a value like service. They become, in the eyes of their members and their surrounding communities, the church that serves. All their resources are invested in loving and serving their communities in Jesus’ name. And they’re often successful. They attract new members, evangelize successfully, and grow and expand.
But that central identity has a way of becoming an interpretive grid, too. So evangelism and discipleship are defined in terms of service. Evangelism isn’t just winning people to Jesus, but making them servants. Discipleship means watching them grow into truly excellent servants. The gospel itself becomes defined in terms of this value, too: the God who serves, the cross as humble service . . . you get the point.
This same thing can be done with any of the church’s identities. We see churches whose defining value and orienting principle are things like service, discipleship, missions, family, or worship.
These are all good things. What we’re arguing for, though, is a correction in priority and order. The gospel is the foundation, the building block of the church from which we can live out these identities. With the gospel as our orienting principle, these identities are illumined in relation to one another, and we are (hopefully) guarded from overemphasis or reactionary tendencies.
“As the gospel takes root in us,” you write, “it transforms the way we approach our work.” How would you encourage a believer whose job feels like pure drudgery, who thinks, There’s just no way I’m making a difference?
The problem is almost never the jobs themselves. (The exceptions are fairly obvious; if you’re supporting institutional evils in the sex industry, or nurturing addictions, or using oppressive and predatory business practices, you need to get a new job.) We need to think instead about how to be a faithful and transformative presence at our jobs—which is to say, how to be a Christian at work.
Work itself is a good thing, and even the most mundane tasks have a way of contributing to the wider world, either directly (by providing products and services that help us inhabit our worlds) or indirectly (by supporting the greater economy and providing jobs).
When we talk about the gospel transforming our work, we’re ultimately talking about the gospel transforming us and our vision for how we relate to others.
How should the gospel inform a Christian’s mindset and habits concerning rest and play?
It’s fascinating that, despite numerous studies, surveys, books, and articles telling us otherwise, we remain a culture that’s frantic, restless, overworked, and exhausted. It’s rare to meet people who say they love their lifestyle. Instead, you hear this steady refrain: “I’m so tired,” “I’m so burned out,” “I’m overcommitted.” Somehow we’ve become convinced this is the key to the good life. Exhaustion, then, isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a badge of honor and a sign of ambition.
We think these tendencies have their roots in deep spiritual insecurity. We’re a people with something to prove. The world needs to know that we’ve got what it takes, that we’re wanted, that we’re strong enough to power through. But such insecurity can only be resolved by the gospel, which demands profound acknowledgement of weakness. We aren’t strong enough, after all.
That acknowledgement is met at the cross, where God accepts us freely at Christ’s expense. We’re gifted with the greatest affirmation the world has ever known, which frees us from the burden of having something to prove. That’s how the gospel transforms rest and play: it frees us to actually engage in them without the nagging “urgency” of something more important.