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The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC – Part 2

You can check out Part 1 of this series here.

In many ways, the challenges I will discuss in this series are issues that most church planters/pastors face in any context.

Living in NYC simply exacerbates some of these challenges (for instance the disproportionate cost of living here, as mentioned in Part 1).

For instance, when it comes to the financial pressures of any start-up, these anxieties exist for any entrepreneurial endeavor.

However, the pure financial costs are higher here, simply put.

One could talk about the “greater risk, greater reward” mantra to describe the merits of planting a church in NYC… but it’s exceptionally difficult to quantify the great “reward” of planting a church in NYC vs another city/context when ministry “success” entails so many different elements.

If one were to speak purely of numbers of people when it comes to church “success”, there are significantly larger churches and church plants around the country, a fact that can easily cloud the merits of investing significantly more money to plant a church here rather than say, South America.

But I digress…. (although you’ll see how church size will come up later in the post).

The next challenge I wish to write about is one that is ubiquitous regardless of context… and yet there are some peculiarities to NYC.

Here’s Challenge #2: Planting a Church in NYC is Awfully Lonely. 

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Non-profit management guru Peter Drucker once said that the four most challenging jobs in the US are the President of the US, the CEO/President of a Hospital, a University President, and a Pastor.

It’s already hard enough being a Pastor and navigating the different “hats” one has to wear (which, along with the other 3 vocations Drucker mentions, is why being a Pastor can be one of the most challenging jobs), but adding the element of being an entrepreneurial Pastor can make the task of Church Planting profoundly more difficult and complicated.

Both Pastor and Entrepreneur are inherently stressful positions, and adding NYC to the equation makes for a particularly combustible context.

I believe this to be true of most pastors/church planters I meet in NYC, but what makes the feeling of loneliness more acute here is the feeling that I’m never quite measuring up.

This goes back to the discussion about measuring ministry “success.”

If one were to go purely based on Sunday attendance (which is generally the standard measurement across time/place in church planting in the States – as much as people would hate to admit), then “success'” is difficult to come by in NYC when compared to one’s previous context (usually a mega-ish church in the suburbs of middle America) or even in the shadows of more established churches in the City (so many great, longstanding churches to name).

The above paragraph reveals even more nefarious messages that I often tell myself as a church planter – I’m measured against other Pastors/Churches.

All in all, the stress of financial worry, family adjustments, and the inescapable cloud of comparisons to peers or my past can lead me to isolate myself from feeling what is reality to so many of us:

Church Planting in NYC is financially taxing, a stress on my family, and not quite as glamorous as the big city itself.  

Yes, I’ve been there.

I suspect most of us have.


Thankfully, the above news is something that many have reflected on before, and as a result, ministry heroes of mine have tried hard to keep Pastors/Church Planters in NYC from isolating and growing cynical.

Here are a few folks I’d like to highlight:

1) Redeemer City to City & NYC Leadership Center – I link these ministries together not because of any official connection but because these organizations have long been advocates of resourcing and connecting church planters for decades now.

I’ve written about the spirit of leaders like Tim Keller and Mac Pier before, and I truly think these guys have been forerunners to much of the camaraderie and friendship enjoyed by Pastors in NYC today.

Also, shout-out to Parakeleo, a ministry of mutual support for church planting spouses that I’ve heard great things about.

2) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – I can’t emphasize this one enough.  My heritage obviously comes from New Life Fellowship, so it’s no surprise that I want to advocate for every pastor to learn from Pete & Geri Scazzero and Rich Villodas in living an emotionally healthy life that allows my marriage and family to flourish.  Church planters especially can use a healthy dose of EHS.

3) Christ Tabernacle – Ever since I’ve known the CT guys, I’ve been amazed at their hospitality and willingness to serve/connect church leaders in NYC.  Pastor Michael Durso is part of that wave mentioned above, and Adam Durso and the rest of CT are some of the most generous folks I know.

4) Recovery House of WorshipTrinity Grace Church & “Network” Church Planting – I LOVE the RHOW folks. They are a church planting movement doing amazing work in the city and beyond, and are some of the most mission-minded church planters I know.  I learn so much from them about mission and discipleship whenever I’m around them!

TGC is another family of parishes all around NYC.  Their kingdom vision is really genuine and inspiring, and the ways they plant churches by 1) empowering/contextualizing and 2) serving with a Central Office is something that many church plants and churches have learned a great deal from (including Hope).

I LOVE how these folks fight against the isolationist spirit of church planters by creating a network of mutual support.


And helpful.

5) So many Pastors/Church Planters in NYC who now embody the Kingdom Spirit – Reach out to any of us.  I think you’ll realize we’ll share the following:

– Church Planting is Hard in NYC

– Church Planting is Rewarding in NYC

– The City is Too Big to be Thinking So Small

– I Don’t Have to Do This Alone

– I Desperately Need a Gospel-Centered Approach to My Identity, Our Church, and Our City.

Together – and only together – can we be part of something significant in this Great City.  

Q Practices and Eugene Peterson – Day One

Today was Day One of Q Practices with Eugene Peterson, and it was an honor to be there with 98 others from around the country to learn from Peterson, a seasoned pastor and prolific author.

Peterson is most well known for his translation/paraphrase of the entire Bible (called The Message), and he’s written several other books on a wide range of topics, though mostly in the areas pastoral work and spiritual theology.

It's been a great day learning from Eugene Peterson and Gabe Lyons

Q is a fantastic organization founded by Gabe Lyons, author of the terrific book The Next Christians (I’m currently reading it).  I’m really grateful for Q’s work in forging a new way for Christians to think about culture and engagement with the world.  I scour the Q website regularly to learn from some really thoughtful Christians.

The relatively small group of us (99 – most conferences I have attended are at least 300) had a chance to hear Peterson’s reflections on his life, Sabbath-keeping, Simplicity, and Prayer, mostly by way of interview by Lyons.

Here are some of my reflections from today.

1)  There is Much to Learn from Age – As a relatively young pastor in my 30s, there’s much to learn from people who are older.  There’s a depth that I personally experience listening to an older sage like Peterson, a man who seems to have pressed more deeply into God and Scripture as he’s aged.  There is something uniquely profound listening to someone who has practiced “a long obedience in the same direction.”  Peterson could be talking about the difference between blue and red M & Ms and he’d have my rapt attention as a result.

I once heard Richard Rohr once say, “there are many elderly people, but very few elders.”  That phrase has stayed with me since I heard it, mostly because I long to be an elder, not simply one who grows old.

To be an elder, I’ve learned, one must be willing to learn from elders.

Peterson, through his writing and today, has been a tremendous elder to learn from.

2)  Peterson’s Values are so Counter-Cultural to the Western Church – I know, this is a pretty strong statement, but I’ll explain why I believe this to be generally true.

I think the Western Church tends to inordinately celebrate fast-growing, numerically large churches.  I don’t think this is the fault of any person or church – I think we simply live in a culture which values big things (hence, this is not a critique of mega-churches – I actually really like megachurches!).  Big events, big crowds, big buildings, Big Macs.

Most conferences and learning opportunities for pastors err this way too – celebrating and offering platforms for large church leaders and their churches.

Whether intentional or not, big churches with big budgets and big programs are highlighted and uplifted more than other churches.

Again, this is not a critique – it’s simply an observation.

There have been many times in my brief ministry career when I’ve been swept up into this thirst for “big” too, and I think as much as I might say it’s to “reach more people” (which really is true), I think there’s also been some mixed motives of wanting to be “known” as somebody, too.

But the values that Peterson highlighted today – Sabbath-keeping, simplicity, and prayer – are really counter to growth, expansion, and becoming widely known.

In fact, Sabbath, simplicity, and prayer are all practices that lend one toward more obscurity and scaling down, not up.

In this respect, these values run counter to the Western Church.

I was moved when Eugene spoke of his visit to Israel a couple of years ago.  He walked through different areas of Judea, and he noticed the non-descript desert where the Patriarchs walked and the smallish size of towns around Galilee where Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry.

In comparison, the Egyptians had their spectacular pyramids and Herod had his grand palaces.

You see, God works in small, obscure places too.

For every large, miraculous moment in Scripture like the Pentecost (which seemed pretty mega to me), there are also small, obscure practices of retreat, solitude, and obscurity in the life of Jesus.

Peterson’s trying to counterbalance the overwhelming tilt toward bigger, larger, and more… to remember the values of mustard seed living.

Sidenote: Throughout today, I kept thinking of Pete Scazzero as a mini-me of Eugene Peterson.  They talk about so many of the same topics!  I’m fortunate to have learned, taught, and implemented many similar principles of Sabbath-keeping, prayer, and simplicity, throughout the years, and Pete has certainly had a big hand in that. Pete would be another great voice for Q, I think.

This is not to say that I’m an expert by any means – I’m simply very fortunate to have been exposed to these principles early in my ministry career.

Laura Speiller was also the first to introduce me to many Contemplative Prayer Practices that I use to this day.

As you can see, New Life has been a key part of my formation as a practitioner and a leader, and I pray that Hope Church NYC can share similar values.

3)  I’m Really Diggin Q – I love what Gabe’s doing, and what many other Christians are doing in being culturally relevant yet counter-cultural.  Very cool.

As for this event in particular, the organizers have done a great job and actually got a Sweetery NYC food truck to be stationed outside the venue where we’re gathering.  We get unlimited goods from the food truck whenever we want.  Holla!

4)  It’s Been Fun Hangin’ with my buddy Jared Howard – I didn’t think I’d know anyone here, but when I heard Jared was coming, I was ecstatic.  Fun times raiding the Sweetery truck together, Jared.

5) I’d be Remiss if I Didn’t Mention the Participants – I’ve met some really cool people here, and I have tons of respect for the fellow pastors and leaders that I’ve met.  I even had a chance to meet some leaders from Reality Santa Barbara, a church movement in California that I’ve visited once and absolutely loved!

Another interesting observation, though, is that the participants here are largely white and male.  I think I expected this, but not in terms of the volume I’ve experienced.

It’s fairly easy to do percentages because there are 99 participants, and I’d guesstimate that 80-85 of the participants are white males.

I’m saddened by this because I know so many other women and minority leaders in NYC (and beyond) who would benefit from this event and have much to contribute to the discussion.

Maybe next time!

6)  All in all, it’s such an extraordinary gift to be here.  I also love that Q Practices is happening in our own backyard in NYC, IMHO the best city in the world.

Lastly, I think I’m going to ask Eugene Peterson what he thinks about Linsanity.


Church Planting and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Church planting has humbled me in many ways, and I think one lesson/appreciation I’ve gleaned the past few weeks has been the great value of “a long obedience in the same direction”, a phrase coined by Eugene Petersen.

I’ve been particularly grateful for many of the stellar leaders who have gone before me, doing the long, plodding work of ministry and faithfulness so that younger people like me can stand on their shoulders – often times unbeknownst to them.

I was fortunate to spend a week with Leith and Charlene Anderson along with other pastors/leaders.

I recently took a week-long class at Fuller with Leith Anderson, now retired pastor of Wooddale Church and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and I was absolutely floored by all of his insights into Scripture, leadership, and life in general.  His wife Charleen joined us for the class as well, and it was such a privilege to have her there to answer questions and interact with us.

Leith shared that he had just retired as pastor at Wooddale after 35 years of being the senior leader there.  Wow.  That means that Leith was the senior pastor at Wooddale longer than I’ve been alive (sorry Leith, I never shared that out loud, but I was startled by this fact).

As we’re in the first few weeks of Hope’s launch team gatherings, I’ve wondered to myself what a long obedience in the same direction would look like.

Most of all, I’m wondering what it would look like to remain faithful in living and leading well, both in my family and in a church.  The Andersons are such great examples of this, and I’m humbled and grateful for their long service.

I’m also grateful for the many mentors I’ve had throughout my life, all of whom have modeled faithfulness in different ways.

I feel indebted to many church leaders with long-standing histories in NYC too, people who have paved the way for many years.  People like personal mentors Pete & Geri Scazzero, Craig & Ellen Fee, Mark & Pam Taft, Jim Owens as well as people I’ve learned from afar like AR Bernard, Michael Durso, Robert Johannson, Floyd Flake, Tim Keller, Mac Pier, Joseph Mattera, and Marcos Rivera (just to name a few).  These church leaders have faithfully served this city for decades (along with their spouses), and now younger leaders like me get to run with the baton that they pass on to a new generation of leaders.

I think one of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned in recent weeks is the difference between the question, “can we do this?” and “should we do this?”

My youthful impatience often propels me into the first question.  Wise friends and mentors at Hope (as well as mentors past) have directed me toward the second question.

With that said, I return to the serenity prayer once again, a daily discipline for me as I hope to live with a “long obedience in the same direction.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

God, grant me a humble, attentive heart, one that will commit to a long obedience in the same direction.

Thoughts on Spiritual Maturity – Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this series here.

I mentioned how evaluating spiritual maturity based on spiritual practices can be problematic, but by no means does this indicate that spiritual practices should be done away with altogether.

In fact, I’d argue that spiritual practices are necessary for growing spiritually, even if they might not be the most accurate indicators of spiritual maturity.

In other words, spiritual practices are not signs of spiritual maturity, but they are catalysts of spiritual maturity.

To succeed in any task, there is some form of practice or discipline that helps me to excel in that task, even if the task might be somewhat amorphis like “loving my wife,” a highly unquantifiable endeavor.

There are practices and disciplines that I must implement for a better marriage, for example, things like telling Tina how much I appreciate her, trying to serve her whenever I can, and actively listening to her whenever she speaks to me.

Growing in any area of my life takes work, and that work usually fleshes out as “practices” or “disciplines.”

Sidenote: Whether single or married, you should really pick up Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book The Meaning of MarriageIt’s an extraordinary bookone of the best books I’ve read on marriage with helpful advice to singles.  

In it, the Kellers talk about how disciplines and practices can lead toward feelings of love in marriage.  The same is true for the spiritual life! End of Sidenote

Alas, any kind of maturity takes work.

As I mentioned last time, some have to work harder than others due to nature/nurture, but nonetheless healthy maturing takes some measure of “a long obedience in the right direction,” as Eugene Petersen would say (Pete Scazzero calls building a framework of spiritual practices “Developing a Rule of Life.”

For each person the practices and disciplines are different.  However, we all need some sort of discipline in order to grow more loving, more healthy, more whatever the aim might be.

At this point it’s easy to react by saying, “the spiritual life is all grace!  you’re advocating some sort of works based system!”

Now, while it’s true that grace is the foundation of everything, we can too readily dismiss any type of healthy striving as an overreaction against anything that hints of dare I say, work.

The key, I believe, is that our end goal always be in mind when it comes to our disciplines – to fall more deeply committed and in love with Jesus – instead of having the list of spiritual disciplines as our measuring stick of spiritual maturity (a la the Pharisees).

In my next post, I’ll share one practice that has really challenged me this year, and I’ll mention the little book whence it came.

Good Advice I’ve Received Lately

I find myself more grateful these days, probably because I’ve had a bit more time to reflect on my life, and also because I know that there are people who are persevering in much more arduous circumstances.

In the midst of my grief on behalf of others, I’m realizing that the things that worry me aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Older, wiser friends have given me good advice lately, and I thought I’d share some simple snippets of wisdom that have come my way in recent days.

1. Lesson 1 – “Lead like Jesus”

This bit of advice came this past week from Dave Jennings, the Director of the New Life Community Health Center and the Vice President of Nyack College.  Dave is a phenomenal leader, and in many respects, I’d be a lucky man if I could become a leader like him.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been reading a ton about leadership.  I’ve gone to conferences, scoured podcasts, books, blogs – anything I could get my hands on, really.  Being surrounded by so many great leaders at New Life Fellowship has helped too, and so I’ve been a bit of a maniac about some of the principles I’ve been learning.

Meanwhile, I’ve been fumbling about as a leader, making my fair share of mistakes, disappointing others, getting frustrated with myself in the process.

I had fallen into a bad habit of dissecting my every move and decision, testing the wisdom of my perspective against the latest thoughts on leadership by Pete Scazzero or Andy Stanley or John Maxwell.

Earlier this week, I sat down with Dave and chatted briefly about some of my reflections about leadership.

In the midst of my angst, Dave leaned back in his chair with hands on his head, smiled, and then said, “Drew, just lead like Jesus would, and you’ll be fine.”

I know, it sounds pretty simple, but his comment really struck me.  In some weird way, I had been searching to be more like Jack Welch or Bill Hybels, instead of reflecting more on the very simple question – what would Jesus do?

Anyhow, thanks for the advice, Dave.  I trust I’ll keep coming back to your words at various times throughout my life – “Just lead like Jesus, and you’ll be fine”.

2. Lesson 2 – “You are God’s Beloved”

This past week was an anomaly of sorts because I had a chance to meet with different mentors at various points throughout the week.

Leighton Ford happened to be in town for a conference, and he needed a ride to LaGuardia on Thursday morning and Pete asked if I was interested in giving him a ride (Leighton is Pete Scazzero’s primary mentor).  I pushed some engagements around and made time to pick him up in Manhattan and drive him to the airport.

One stalled big rig on the Queensboro bridge ruined our plans, so he ended up taking a cab instead.  I was bummed.

Leighton arrived at LGA really quickly though, so he called me up and asked if I’d be willing to meet him at the airport for 30 minutes or so for a chat.

I zoomed over there from Astoria, and ran to the terminal as fast as I could so we could sit down and talk.

And yes, getting 30 minutes with Leighton is worth all the trouble of big rigs, airport parking, and uncomfortable LGA terminals.

Leighton is now 79 years old, and there’s a certain air that he possesses that is quite healing.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’d highly recommend that you read his book The Attentive Life to see what I mean – it’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.

Anyhow, I’ve been a huge beneficiary of Leighton’s mentoring from people whom Leighton has mentored – which is quite a long list of extraordinary leaders, including Pete.

Leighton’s network has galvanized so many movements around the world, and so I finished our conversation with one question – “Leighton, if you were to give a piece of advice to a 31 year-old leader like myself, what would you tell me (and others in my season of life) knowing what you know and have experienced around the world?”

I suspected Leighton to give one of the following responses:

– Drew, be disciplined in your pursuit of God.

– Drew, make sure you value your marriage above any other commitment.

– Drew, keep the dreams alive.

Instead, Leighton pierced me with these simple words, “Drew, I would want you to know that you are God’s beloved.”


Leighton continued, “There’s a lot I don’t know and understand about today’s world and all the different innovative things happening, but the message I want young people like you to know more than anything is that you are God’s beloved.”


Leighton gave me a hug.

I drove home and I cried.

It’s really going to be okay.  Life is going to be all right.

I am God’s beloved.

Sometimes the wisest words are the simplest words, too.

Thoughts on our Reconciliation Seminar

Man, I’ve got so many thoughts after today’s Reconciliation Seminar at New Life Fellowship.  Hence, the quick blog post to get a conversation started.

I originally suspected we’d be snowed out, so I was rather surprised to see that approximately 100 people showed up for the seminar, mostly NLF attenders.  For those of you who weren’t able to attend, I’ll see if we can get a video up in the near future (no guarantees).  Meanwhile, you can see pictures from the event here.

We hope for the conversation about race, class, etc. to continue.

Here are some thoughts:

1)  The Conversation of Reconciliation Needs to Address Personal AND Corporate Injustices/Sins – Soong Chan touched upon this as he gave a reflection on the history of slavery in America, and I think it’s easy to miss some of the systemic injustices and inequalities that we’re still facing (and feeling the effects of today).  It’s common to ignore corporate sins when I fail to see my participation in the system.  How do we take next steps to remedy these corporate inequalities?  Hopefully we can wrestle with this together…

2)  There’s an Illusion that Building a Diverse Church Family will be Easy (or Formulaic) – It’s definitely hip for churches nowadays to claim to value diversity, and I do think it’s a genuine hope or wish, especially amongst younger people.  However, since there are so few models out there, I think most of the evangelical world is running around blindfolded, and when we finally find only a piece in the puzzle, we think (and naively hope) that we’ve completed the task.

There are new church conferences on diversity popping up here and there, and I hope these gatherings are places for people to go deep instead of following a trendy topic.

Even for NLF, we can easily believe we’ve “arrived”, but the truth is, we’re still facing issues of ethnic cliquish tendencies, the changing demographics of Queens, and a need for uber rich people.  Just kidding about the last one, but if you know any uber rich people, please refer them to us.

But yeah, as Idilio shared so frankly and eloquently today, we all have stuff we’re still carrying and working through…

Again, hopefully we can wrestle together…

3)  Understanding (or at Least Trying to Understand) The Black Experience is Fundamental to Making Progress in the Area of Reconciliation – This is certainly not to discount the experience of so many other ethnic minorities (or even white minorities in different urban neighborhoods), but the narrative of the Black experience in America is so simple and complex and central and peripheral and apparent and disguised and painful and hopeful that it must be listened to when delving into reconciliation.

Even recently, I read about racial conflicts on the campus of UCSD, and although Blacks comprise only 2% of the student population, gay/lesbian clubs and groups for disabled students have begun to stand by the Black students.  The feelings of alienation are all too common – and the Black experience in America will give a window into the raw depths of those feelings of alienation.

In contexts where other ethnic minorities feel threatened/alienated, like in South Philly where hate crimes against Asian American Students have erupted in recent months, I believe the Black experience gives enormous perspective on how hurtful and damaging racism can become.

Yes, these are hate crimes against Asian American students from African-American students.

Pain, Hurt, Alienation, and Violence have a way of working in cycles.

4) I Have to Take Personal Responsibility – It’s easy to assume that it will just happen if I pray enough, or if I talk to my non-Asian brethren once in awhile, or if I’m part of a diverse group/church/setting (even if I live far away in a neighborhood without “those” people – fill in the blank).

After all, it’s usually other people who are racist/sexist/ageist, etc.

But not me.

What happens when we all think this way?  What happens when we always expect the other to make the first step?  What happens when we try once to make the first step, feel rejected, and we don’t want to take any more steps?

It’s not my problem, it’s theirs.

Really?  Do I really value this then?

5)  We Need to Talk

Immediately after the seminar, I huddled with Pete and Rich (and later Jihee and Aabye-Gayle) about what to do next.  People, we need to talk.

I came away with an overwhelming sense that we need to go deeper, not out of a sense of despair, but rather, hopefulness.

Many more people are wondering about race, class, and gender than we really think.

Hopefully, with proper guidelines (and Emotionally Healthy Skills), we can get together to talk.

If you have any thoughts on the types of forum that might work, please let me know.

Movie viewing/discussions, small groups, blogs, more seminars, guest speakers, chocolate chip cookies and milk, etc.

I’m open to anything right now.

Let’s talk.

Theological Influences

I recently met with one of our small groups for a theological pow-wow, and I must say, I came away from the discussion quite energized.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to revisit some of the thoughts I’ve come to (and am still wrestling with) regarding the Bible, theology, and its relevance to the world, and I realize that I really like discussing these subjects!

Anyhow, I also recommended a few books to the group, and as I was explaining each book, I realized there are a few authors/thinkers who have really shaped my approach to theology, Scripture, and the world.  I thought I’d share who these people are.  I’m usually quick to read any books/articles/talks that come from these people.

Interestingly enough, I think the rest of our pastoral staff at NLF would have varying lists, a thought which brings me much consolation.  Also, although they’re not included on this list, our pastoral staff (Pete, Geri, Rich, Jackie, Linda, Mike, Myrna, and Peter) challenge and shape my thinking in more ways than most!

This list is in no particular order

1.  Christina Park – Yes, my wife.  I’ve learned much about love, forgiveness, grace from her.  She’s taught me to appreciate sci-fi, fantasy, and romantic comedies as well, even pointing out profound theological underpinnings in each.

2.  Pete & Geri Scazzero – Pete’s my boss, so he’s on the list.  But seriously, his books have certainly had the greatest influence on me in my formative years as a pastor.  Geri has also lent wonderful insights regarding marriage, God, sexuality, and all that good stuff.

3.  Howard Thurman – Thurman has quickly become one of my favorite theologians, especially because he’s so rooted in Scripture while having unique perspectives on justice, contemplation, and all sorts of things I’m passionate about.  His Meditations of the Heart are some of the best stuff I’ve read recently, as well as his book Jesus and the Disinherited.

4.  NT Wright – He’s a Biblical scholar whose perspectives on Israel, God’s Kingdom, the Victory of Jesus, and Paul’s message, have blown me away.  I know there’s been some theological jousting between him and John Piper regarding justification, but I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to see how they’re both not talking about the same thing from different angles.  See, you couldn’t even understand that last sentence.

5.  Richard Rohr – Every single work I’ve read from Rohr has been deeply profound and insightful.  His thoughts on manhood, Scripture, spirituality, and grace are really astounding and cause me to ponder everything.

6.  Ron Vogt – Ron’s a counselor whom I regularly see (now with Tina).  He hasn’t published a book as far as I know, but his thoughts on the emotional world and its intersection with theology and humanity has been radically transformative for me.

7.  Jay Feld – Doctor Jay is NLF’s Counselor in Residence, and I’ve learned a lot about grace, community, and wisdom from him.  He’s speaking at our singles’ retreat, and I think you should be there if you’re a single person between the ages of 21-84.

8.  Tim Keller (and his son, Mike) – It’s hard to find things to disagree with Keller about because he’s so thoughtful and winsome in the way he approaches faith, culture, and the gospel.  Aside from being an amazing thinker/preacher, he also models a kind disposition toward those with differing opinions, which is quite frankly, really cool.

9.  Paul Lim – One of my theology profs at Gordon-Conwell.  What I really appreciate about him is the way he handles heady and heavy material with an edge toward orthopraxis.  In other words, he is about the head, heart, and hands, and he had done a lot of thinking about God and real people in the real world.  His stuff on theodicy and the problem of evil is pretty mind-numbing, as are his thoughts on the trinity.

10.  Laura Speiller – Laura was the first one to introduce me to the contemplative tradition.  I’ll never forget one of the ways she described contemplative prayer – an embrace without words.  Deep.

11.  Sean McDonough – Another one of my seminary profs, he modeled and taught me to approach the Biblical text systemically as well as meditatively.  I can’t wait until he publishes some more stuff.  He’s also a great sparring partner when it comes to sports predictions.

12.  Leighton Ford – Leighton is like the godfather behind so many movements happening in today’s Christian world.  I nearly cry every time he speaks or writes about something.  He introduced me to a number of authors including Parker Palmer, who should also be on this list.  I love Leighton’s breadth of learning – I think it’s shown me how to look for truth everywhere.

13.  Dan Shin – A close friend and former staff member at NLF, we had (and continue to have) extremely stimulating theological debates.  I love it.  I must say, for a guy who doesn’t read much (Dan), he has a great philosophical and theological understanding of varying subjects.

This list is getting out of control, so here are some other folks whose perspectives I appreciate and seek out somewhat regularly.

Martin Luther King, Jr, CS Lewis, Parker Palmer, Henri NouwenRichard Lovelace, Gordon Fee, Doug Stuart, William Webb, Anne Lamott, Andy Crouch, Rob Bell.

I notice I’ve listed relatively contemporary people.  I think the classical authors (Calvin, St. Teresa, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, St. John of the Cross, Aquinas, etc) are too prolific for me to want to start following.  Yes, that’s a lazy perspective, but one that I freely confess to.

Who are your theological influences?  What are your thoughts about this list?

PS  If you’re looking for recommended reading from our church, you can click here.