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Shifting Focus: The Vital Importance of Small-Town Ministry And the Pastors Who Lead There.

Jonathan Faulkner

It has sort of become a “Where were you when” moment for me, that is, I remember that I was taking a break from working on a research paper on the influence of Philip Schaff on Dr. Vanhoozer’s Reforming Catholic Confession (catholic referring to the universal church) and a critique of his idea of “Neo-Catholicity.” When I stumbled across an article from Church Leaders (Liberty University) about Andy Stanley’s comment about the selfishness of parents who take their kids to small country churches instead of mega churches like his. He has since apologized for the statement, but the statement is not easily forgotten, especially as a kid who grew up in small churches in small towns.

Of course, the full name of my Bachelor’s degree is: Bachelors’ of Arts in Christian Education and Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. Like so many of my colleagues I was ready to go plant a church in the inner-city, be the next Tim Keller. I went to Denver for a summer and fell in love with city-life and with doing ministry there among the homeless population and youth from families coming off the street. It was the first time I experienced a truly multi-ethnic setting as an adult and the first time I was confronted with extreme poverty and homelessness. God used that summer to stretch and break me and to eventually call me into the full-time pastoral ministry, a call on my life that was fulfilled in November as I accepted a call to First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center IA.

But hold up…. Buffalo Center…” I can’t find it on a map, didn’t you just write a paragraph about loving Urban Ministry?”

It is true, Buffalo Center is a small town in Northern Iowa, the closest city is Mason City (also known as River City for those of you who love musicals). The closest major city is Minniapolis/St. Paul. My youth pastor in high school described Sterling as a small town at the intersection of four cornfields, that description pretty much applies to BC as well, Sterling boasted 2000 inhabitants when the students were there, BC is just nearing 1,000 residents, both are much, much smaller than Denver or my current city of Boston. If I follow Stanley’s logic, I suppose I am being selfish, not taking a larger church with more resources. That of course assumes, that I, a rookie with two total years in a part-time pastorate after college was applying to churches above 100 members.

The hard truth that the church is dealing with now is that the cities have been over-evangelized and over churched. Resources have been pouring into the big cities from churches in other big cities while the small-town churches and pastors often feel neglected. Everyone wants to copy what Keller has done in New York City with Redeemer, which is good, the City to City movement has done amazing things with the Holy Spirit reaping more and more fruit each year. Meanwhile, there is a town one and half hour from here that only has one church remaining. Contrast that with Boston where Park Street’s steeple is just one of many steeples including Old North Church and other historic churches.

I get the draw of the big city, and I know the argument of going where the people are, but I think that leads us to forget that there are people who do not live in the major cities, that our small towns are actually quite full of people and some, like BC are actually doing quite well all things considered. Not only that, the churches there do as much if not more for their surrounding communities than some large churches in our big cities. This is not to say we need to abandon urban and suburban ministry for rural, we do not need to neglect the city in favor of the small towns and small churches, but we do need a more balanced way of working together and distributing resources, financial and otherwise.

To some extent this is already happening, Church Planter and Revitalizer Ed Stetzer has made a point to begin emphasizing the importance of small town ministry and we are seeing more and more Small-Town Summit’s pop up that create networking opportunities for small town pastors who often feel alone, forgotten and isolated. The Gospel Coalition has come on board and supported these summits, committing to help provide networking and care for small churches. In a denomination like the CCCC most of us pastor in small towns and need the connections with other pastors we have not historically been able to get.

Small town ministry is hard, not because one is as busy as urban pastors can become (though it comes with its own demands on time and challenges) but because it can be extremely lonely and isolating for the pastor and their family. One of the things that attracted me to BC was that one of the first things the head of the search committee said to me as we sat in Cracker Barrel in Minnesota after he had picked me up from the Airport was that he understood that they were calling a young family to a small town and that it could get lonely and that they were conscious of that and wanted to make sure I knew that they would care for us as I cared for them. So far, even before we arrive, they have done just that.

One of the reasons I chose the CCCC was their emphasis on pastoral care, when I was in the ABC they were just beginning to figure it out, but the CCCC emphasizes it. They understand that one of the crisis the American Church is facing is that too many of our pastors are burned out or ill-equipped or struggling with depression or mental illness. Struggles that are not unique to either Urban or Rural settings, that for a pastor be an effective teacher, leader, encourager and engage in effective and meaningful care of their congregations, they need to be cared for as well and be caring for themselves. As Christendom has disintegrated, it seems so has the idea that pastors are superhuman. Still, ministry in any setting is one of the hardest callings you can receive and one that requires the most humility and grace. Pastors often see people at their worst and sitting with that without proper spiritual formation or relationship with God, both leading to care by the spirit, through the word and the ministry of others to the pastor.

That being said, we cannot, nor should we have ever neglected the rural church. Not only was doing so neglecting a vital part of the body, but has also been an adoption of big city attitudes towards the rural communities. Namely, to overlook, look down on and demean the people who live in small towns but do vital work such as farming, trucking, refining and so on. Stanley just vocalized what many have acted out, showing how disconnected we can become when we focus on our own contingent. The Church, in contrast, is meant to operate as a global body with all parts and members communicating and working together for the advance of the Gospel in word and deed. That means we have to equally work within the cities and the small towns and make sure we know the needs unique to each. Especially in an age where the Church has lost its power and influence in most places. We no longer have the luxury of seeing to our own specific part of the world, our city our town.

We need to find a way to support all churches at the level of their need. Is a church struggling financially? A few churches that are not may be able to help them out. Is a pastor burned out? There are many places around the country and the world that provide comfort and rest for burned out pastors to come and recover. Pastors of larger churches can check in with pastors from smaller churches and congregations can, through their deacons and elders, take stock of their pastors needs and health, both physical and mental. We can work together to be the church as God designed it to be, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Who cares for all its members while caring to those outside, whether they live in big cities or small-towns?

Stanley, as he has admitted, is wrong to think that parents who attend small churches are selfish. If anything, they find themselves in a smaller group that is sincere and loving and cares for them in the ways they need to be cared for. More resources does not always mean right resources or better equipped. We need to invest in small town churches and small town ministry so that those who call them home feel connected and cared for by the body as a whole and so that the pastors who care for them do not suffer from the isolation that still causes many to burn out early in their ministries.

There is so much work to do, but the Spirit is working, let us be open to it.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Keeping Christmas All Year Long

Jonathan Faulkner

Those of you who know me or if you have heard me preach around Christmas time, you may be aware that one of my favorite Christmas Stories (sans Jesus Birth) is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Not only do I read the book, but over the next 24 days I will watch two or three different versions including the Muppets. I think it is because I am one who has a hard time believing someone is so completely gone they should be written off as hopeless or irredeemable.

If you know the story, especially if you have read the book, you know that this is precisely how Dickens describes Mr. Scrooge. He seems to be well beyond hope, whether it is the way he treats his nephew and Bob Cratchit in the opening scenes or his incredibly evil line in reference to the poor: “Let them, and decrease the surplus population.” Or even just in Dickens description of Scrooge and the whispers of those who he encounters during his encounter with the third Ghost. We are meant to believe that Mr. Scrooge is well beyond hope, totally damned, chains that were even thicker than Jacob Marley’s. His children, as the second Ghost reveals, are greed and ignorance, he is beyond hope.

But if you know the story, you know that this is not how it ends, indeed, it would be a very short story if Scrooge remained in his mournful state. It would also be like Dickens as he is not known to cheer his readers. Each of the three Ghosts show him parts of himself, things he left behind, things he was missing in the present and things that would be if he did not change his course. The change that comes over him is so complete that Dickens closes the book with the line: “It was said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well and keep it all year round.”

So far this Christmas season I have to admit that I am struggling with people. Not with everyone, but with a good amount. I recently went through my Facebook newsfeed and unfollowed a number of people and unliked a number of pages. So many people sharing negativity and hatred and spewing vitriol at their perceived “enemy” and then turn around and share a meme about being kind to retail workers or loving their neighbor. People from across the political spectrum, centrists included. Now, I know that Social Media is not real life, but I have seen it in real life or I have seen people speak disdainfully towards their neighbor and then write a status about remember those who are less fortunate and vice versa. I know the church has never had a broad conversation about how we should interact on Social Media, but I have come over the last year to believe that our real-life persona and our social media persona should operate under the same ethics and morals. We should be the same person online and offline.

The other thing on my mind is that we tend to be like the whisperers and the traders, all who had written off Scrooge. We have placed people in convenient boxes, declared them to be without hope, and then written them off. Writing people off gives us an excuse to no longer engage them and when we have done that we can deny them, even if only in our minds, the ability to change at all. We act surprised when a former white-supremacists repents and embraces ethnic diversity when that should be the norm. As we shout people down, we force them further and further into their echo chambers and then they about miss the Catalytic Event that is meant to bring change.

This is what we see with Scrooge’s nephew: He comes into the money lending house merry and cheerful, wishing Scrooge “A Merry Christmas” and giving him a hard time for thinking Christmas a “humbug.” By the end of the visit he is even more incensed against Christmas and his mood is made even worse by Cratchit wanting the following day off. When the Ghost of Jacob Marley shows up later, he tries to dismiss him twice as “A bit of undigested food.” When the clocks strikes one and the first Ghost doe not appear right away he mocks Marley’s warning again before the room fills with light. Even after the spectacular events witnessed with the first ghost, in anger he grabs the cone and forces it back on the Ghosts head, trying to snuff out the light. In the novel, it is not until the catalytic event of seeing Tiny Tim and learning of his fate: “An empty chair with a lonely cane” that the change begins to come upon him.

Today, we seem to have catalytic event after catalytic event, these are events that should shake us awake, make us think about the people around us, people who are often hurting and who are wondering if anyone cares. Do not believe me? Turn on the news, how do you not describe all the events, not the way they are spun, but the events themselves, school shootings, Standing Rock, Hate Crimes, The Migrant Caravan, Earthquakes, Tsunamis. How do we not describe these disaster’s as anything other than events meant to wake us up, turn us to God and treat our neighbors, even those we disagree with, as God would lead us, in His Word, to treat them.

Yet, like those who whispered about Scrooge, we tend to have written the “other side” off as without hope, irredeemable and worthy of contempt.

I had an interesting cross-ethnic encounter on a plane ride to Iowa last month. Rachel and I boarded in the B Group, something we do not usually do, so the chances of finding seats together were slim. However, right near the front of the plane we found two seats next to an older African American woman. We sat down and I asked her name and she asked mine. Upon hearing the name “Faulkner” she stopped and said: “Faulkner, there’s a lot going on with that name, isn’t there?” This wasn’t a statement made in anger, it seemed more in surprise at the last name than out of fear.

She was not talking about the author William Faulkner. She had grown up in the south during the Civil Rights Era and so the name was probably familiar to her. The story goes, as far as my father and I can piece it together, that there were two migrations of the Faulkner family to the Americas. The first went from Ireland to the south where they became plantation owners in Mississippi, the norther migration (which happened sometime later) sailed down the St. Lawrence River and eventually settled in modern day Port Huron Michigan. The southern part of the family became prominent plantation owners and slave holders eventually producing a secessionist senator and fighting for the Confederacy. During the Jim Crow era Faulkner’s stood in the doors of Mississippi Churches and churches across the south to block freedom writers and keep churches from integrating.

This woman knew the name and knew its history in the south. I learned all this last year as I read the book “Mississippi Praying” in which Faulkner’s kept popping up in favor of Jim Crow which prompted me to ask my father the rest of the story. This moment became a moment of reconciliation, I had the chance to acknowledge what people I am related to had participated in and though I can not repent for those who are unrepentant, I can do my best to make sure the that, even though I am descended from the Northern line unstained by the sin of slavery, that those who do know the name and family history, like this woman, see that God can redeem people and families and that we can be reconciled. I may never see that woman again, but God gave us a chance for reconciliation.

The point is this, the like Scrooge, no one is irredeemable, God has the ability to transform anyone and we, as Christians, need to be open to that reality. Instead of writing everyone off, we can see people in light of the Imago Dei, even those who are net yet believers. To see them in the light of that which was put within all of us from creation and which Christ can and will restore. That requires us to stop “otherizing” to quote a mentor and friend of mind, to stop viewing everyone who disagrees with us as an “Enemy.” To not say of the poor: “Let them then, and decrease the surplus population.”

See, the impression Dickens leaves us with in regard to Scrooge is that his encounter with the ghosts, his catalytic event, was so transformative, the change so complete, it was evidenced not just at Christmas time, not just in the immediate, but year around, in the infinite; “The rest of his days.” The spirits lessons of loving oneself and loving others in light of the love of God  moved Scrooge to charity and love. The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes, the man in line behind the boy with the shoes learns the meaning of Christmas.

There is not just a season of love, there is not just a season of hope, there is not just a season of light and there is not just a season of Joy. Dickens point is that these qualities should become part of our disposition year-round. That Christmas is not just a time to love your neighbor, but we should be loving our neighbor every day, no matter who they are.

As we enter this Advent Season, a time when we remember the birth of Christ and look forward to His return let us remember that we are not just living in liminal space. That we are meant to live everyday as if the ideas we talk about at Christmas, given by the Holy Spirit, are part of our lives year-round. That we should work for reconciliation, for the building up of one another, to the ending of oppression, to seeking restorative and biblical justice stemming from the Righteousness of God. Since we are reconciled to God, we should be reconciled to one another, not just at Christmas, but at all times throughout the year.

That is how we keep Christmas well and keep it all year long.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Tenth Avenue North & Returning Relevancy to CCM

Jonathan David Faulkner

There was a time in Christian Music when the writers of the songs addressed real matters, wrote deep songs about everything from raising teenagers to the struggle of those living in poverty. A multitude and plethora of topics with the occasional praise chorus mixed in. That was a great day when the flock could be genuinely challenged and confronted with the truth of God in the midst of the most hopeless situations. To some extent this has continued today in the Christian Rock/Metal arenas where bands continue to address everything from pornography addictions to sexual assault and abuse to racism and so much else. Bands like Petra and Stryper not only addressed the culture war, but often delved into hard and difficult subjects.

But with the industrialization of the industry a shift occurred, likely in the 1990’s from music that actually addressed issues and needs in peoples lives to music. What happened is this, Christian Music and the Christian music industry got comfortable, and when it got comfortable it moved away from challenging the believer to being positive and encouraging to eventually writing itself into total irrelevance. Matt Bronleewe, formerly of CCM band Jars of Clay has said that: “There was a time when you might hear a song about God, but you could also expect something else to be brought to the table.” Tyler Huckabee in The Week wrote that at its height CCM was selling 50 Million copies of a record, at the time he wrote the article sales had dipped below 17 Million. If you talk about CCM with people who listen critically you hear the complaint that over and over again they hear the same songs and while the music is upbeat and positive, it often leaves them feeling like something is missing.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with praise and wowho rship, we need people to write worship songs. I am indebted to Keith and Krystal Getty, Laura Story and others, modern hymn writers with a full depth and breadth, but if God made us to be creative and has given us His gospel then we need to hear more than surface level. If Christians are creators who have access to the full bible and biblical teaching then we should be addressing touch issues in our music. One of the reasons I fell in love with one of my first bands, Jars of Clay, was because they touched on many issues that were relevant to me. To this day Who We Are Instead is one of the gems of CCM, the same with the band Downhere whose album On The Alter of Love is another of those gems. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule.

My parents often wonder why I gravitated towards Christian Rock and Metal, why the bands I often listened to were bands like Disciple, A Hope for Home, Demon Hunter, Emery and others. The truth was that those bands were speaking to the pain and struggle I was experiencing in my life, they were helping me process the bullying, the self-rejection and so much else. So, as I became an adult I have continued to listening to those groups because God has used them so deeply. Yes, he used bands like FFH, Jars of Clay, 4Him & Downhere or artists like Rich Mullins and Andrew Peterson, but those were really the only CCM bands God was speaking to me through. It wasn’t through Matthew West, Michael W. Smith and others, though I had their albums. I found more encouragement and challenge in the heavier bands than in what my parents were listening too.

These days, if I do listen to popular worship music it is extremely limited to David Crowder (Neon Steeple & American Prodigal) The City Harmonic and Rend Collective. I would include The Getty’s in that list, but they do not get air play unless someone is doing a cover of “In Christ Alone.” I struggle with how skin deep so much of the current CCM music is, especially the worship music. My soul craves deep and theological worship, something that engages my heart and my mind. I also want Christian Music that engages the issues in the world around me, I want music that will also bring actual comfort to people and challenge them to live and rest in Christ. But I also want Christian Music to address major issues in a way that is sensitive and nuanced.

That’s where Tenth Avenue North comes in. I have often said that some bands, such as Demon Hunter, have often gotten better with age, Tenth Avenue North is one of those bands. They started out by addressing things like Isolationism and talking about the organic nature of the church. Then they started talking about sex slavery, about political divisiveness. As the review on points out: “Mike Donehey has always been subversive in his songwriting, addressing issues in songs and elaborating on those issues in sermons during shows.” Their Australian Counterparts have done much the same, especially with their song “O God Forgive Us” but what Tenth Avenue North, a band that comes out of the same White Evangelicalism that Lecrea left, is doing is truly different and needs to be respected and heard. Their new EP The Things We’ve Been Too Afraid to Say EP is everything that the industry has failed to talk about in six songs. Though they do not touch on Ethnic reconciliation here, as they do on their song “For Those who Can’t Speak” They do address typically taboo Christian topics.

Like in “Covenant” where they deal with what happens when someone else catches your eye after you are married and how you should respond, reminding us that marriage is a covenant that needs to be maintained in the good times and bad times. “Secrets: (Light Shines In)” deals with the secret sins such as pornography while “Counterfeits” deals directly with the idea that porn can fill the gap as some form of fulfillment. Meanwhile “Love Anyway” addresses the sin of our political divineness and the call to actually love as Christ loves instead of fighting with each other. “Afraid” touches on the topic of reoccurring mental health issues and the hope of Christ.

“I’m Listening” the last track, is probably the most prolific and most timely given recent events in America. The song addresses the #MeToo movement, following the story of a mother, daughter and brother who were all victims of sexual assault and who had no one to hear their stories. The first chorus sets the tone for the others “Mother, mother, how many tears have you cried? Mother, mother, I will listen to you tonight to the truth, Mother, how many years before you could breathe? Mother, I won’t turn away when you speak, I’m listening, I’m listening” Tenth Avenue North does a good job here addressing the victims of sexual assault and even with the effects of Toxic Masculinity which says that to men: When you are hurt, do not talk about it. Donehey wonders of the boy at the end of the song: “And brother, where could you run? Shame to the silent and made a prison, Could you learn to speak again, If we were only listening?” Upon first hearing this song I broke down in tears, not because of what I have experienced but because so many times we have shouted down or rejected people who have been victims of sexual abuse and then wonder why people wait so long to come forward. So many Evangelicals have looked at #MeToo and #ChurchToo as something to be rejected or of the world when we should be listening to these stories and working for restorative justice and healing.

This is an example of the turn we need CCM to take, especially white Christian artists and all-White bands who can speak on these topics in white spaces. Until Tenth Avenue North and For King & Country it was hard to find CCM bands that talked about these issues and the people who have been hurt. The heavier bands have done this, Emery has talked about the consequences of secret sins, pornography, extra-marital affairs. Lecrea, even before leaving white evangelicalism wrote about ethnic reconciliation and healing and now does more so talk about these things openly. Otherwise, we do not get to hear about these issues from bands that have traditionally been considered “safe” by white evangelicals.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Tenth Avenue, when Lecrea moved in this direction his fan base grew exponentially. I do believe that God is moving us to actually discuss these issues in our music and in our churches. I also think people are longing for deeper conversations, relatable music that they just are not finding in CCM right now. Perhaps Tenth Avenue North can be the catalyst to start moving us in this direction. I know it is a challenge for my own music where I’ve addressed the Opioid Crisis and Suicide and Depression/Mental Health but can speak on so many more topics than I currently do.

Something does have to change, we have a lot of work to do, there is a lot of tough, hard conversations we need to have, but maybe we can have them, maybe we can work some things out….maybe…just maybe…we can heal and music like this can help us do that.

A Plea to Seminarians

Jonathan David Faulkner


Seminarians, hear me, this is a plea to each of you.

While November brings many good and wonderful things to our plates it is true that for the seminarian that it can be the month of greatest trial as we adjust to the shorter days, pressing deadlines and the coming New England. I know that so many of us have jobs and families and a myriad of Church Responsibilities, we are also wondering about Thanksgiving and Christmas plans. If we are not worrying about that we are worrying about getting all the reading done or the next big paper or whatnot. We are in a daily frenzy and we feel tangibly all that is coming against us and all that is coming up on our full plates

And we are isolating ourselves….

Brothers and Sisters…DON’T!

Please do not isolate yourselves in this busy season. In recent weeks I have been dismayed to see less and less of you in our community spaces or at our community meals. As we get closer to the end of the fall term I see you less and less. When you are seen, it is hurriedly running through the cafeteria to grab a To-Go box to take back to your room. Where once you lined the walls of the Library and sat at the big tables in the center, you have hid yourselves, choosing the silence of your room over a place where you might be interrupted.

Brothers & Sisters, in the four years I have been here it has been only got worse. Last fall there came a time about three weeks in when the people coming to the cafeteria dropped dramatically, when Chapel attendance was nearly non-existent. Brothers and Sisters, this is bad for us, we need each other, we need to be worshiping with one another, we need to be spending time and enjoying fellowship with one another. We are not living in a vacuum, nor were we meant to. We are meant to. You are created to be in fellowship with your creator and with those fellow beings who were, like you, made in His image. You were not made to survive, but thrive.

Sadly though, as I look around at the many faces, those that I still see, I see so many are merely surviving. We have looked at the mountain of work before us, an overwhelming amount that desperately needs to be reduced, and we think the only way to get things done is to bury ourselves in the pile. Some are even feeling completely crushed by it, some can already feel it breaking them. Dear siblings in Christ, you’re not alone, I myself have felt that way so many times in my tenure here. This is the first year I have not had a mid-semester panic attack and subsequent depressive episode wondering if I was going to get it done.

I wonder why we do this, especially given who we are as a whole, the children of the Living God. We are made in His image, we are adopted into His family, we are co-heirs with Christ. We are the people of whom the promises of God have been lavished and realized. Have we forgotten this? Oh, where is our comfort in the midst of stressful lives? Where is our peace when the pressure feels as if it is going to crush us?

Tell me, honestly tell me, do you trust your amazing savior? Do you believe the testimony He has left about himself? Do you believe that God is who He says He is? Do you believe that God will do what He says He will do? Because He is, and He will.

The great and infinite God, the Creator of the entire cosmos, the one who was, is and will forever be, that God loves you infinitely and deeply. He is with you in every moment, He has put His spirit within you, unified Himself with you through Christ. He is constantly with you in the full extent of His might and power, but with His great love.

Sit now son or daughter of God, hear him say to you: “I am with you, I have not abandoned you, you are cherished, your value is in me.” And let yourself let go of any estimation of value that is tied up in grades or in all the toil of this present life. Come out of the darkness that too often accompanies isolation, the loneliness, the stress, the fear, the pain and see that you are one of many, that while Christ lives in you, He also lives in your roommate, your neighbor, your dorm or apartment mates, your campus mates. God has not abandoned you, He is with you and He has given you people who He is also with to be a part of your life, to help you bear the load. To remind you that you are not alone. To pray for you, to walk with you, to worship with you, to talk to you, to listen to you. To encourage you to take up your hobbies and enjoy them through Christ.

Dear child of God, take comfort in this: that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. You are not alone, seminary will not crush you, the work will get done, breathe and be gracious with yourself. Your life is more precious than you know and can possibly imagine, to us, but especially to your heavenly father.

Little flock you are loved, come and know that love.

Asking the Right Question: The Deficiency in Current Theological Education


Jonathan Faulkner


I have spent, almost, the last ten years of my life participating in theological education in some matter or another. Most of that time has been as a student, however, some of that has been teaching deep dive Sunday School classes on 1st Timothy and Isaiah or laboring as a pastor or working to boil down high theological ideas for little children. I have learned a lot in the classroom, whether it be studying Systematic Theology or the Biblical Languages or Historical Theology, but I have learned infinitely more by taking the time to boil down the full extent my education into answers for the questions people are asking me. For example, if I am pastoring a church in a small farming community, what does scripture have to say to farmer who is afraid of losing his farm or who is struggling with suicide. Or to a teen who has lost one or both parents to the opiate crisis. How do I minister to the everyday people in my everyday context? If I can answer the question of Authorship in Genesis am I aiding the people in my pews? Likely not.

A brother of mine here at the seminary laments the fact that he is being taught to answer American questions when American questions are not the same questions being asked in his native Uganda. It would be easy to point out that the questions we are being taught to answer here are 20-40 years old and not the ones being asked by the people in the pew.

The Librarian here at GCTS had an interesting observation, that when the seminary was founded it was designed to train pastors to compete with the secular ideologies invading the mainline churches. Now that most of us are headed into conferences or fringe denominations (which as a whole are larger than the mainline denominations) perhaps it is time to rethink the questions we are asking, even update them.

The current deficiency of theological education is this…that we are leaving these walls with no knowledge of the actual state of the church or the state of the people in the pews. That we are being trained to answer questions that are irrelevant to the generation we are going to be ministering too and have no bearing on the faith of those in the pews. As biblical literacy rises and the people in the pews continue to conform themselves to the Gospel in this time of reformation we are currently experiencing it is a detriment to our seminaries not to ask the proper questions, not to engage, not to change. Especially given the negative view of the current state of the church by professors who rarely engage outside their academic circles and most of whom have never served as pastors or even lay leaders, or at least have not done so since receiving academic postings.

To do this, we have to be trained to ask the questions that the people we will be ministering too will be asking. We also have to learn the questions that the generations in our pews will be asking. For Millennials, we are told, that question is “What is real” or “What is Authentic?” For the coming generation they are speculating the question will be “What is beauty?” IF we as a church cannot answer these questions both in word and form then we will continue to lose generation after generation and the church will start to do what many here think it is already doing….shrink. (By the way, Tim Keller says it is not).

I remember sitting in a meeting when our Church began looking for a new pastor. They Elders got together with their care groups and a member of the Search Committee to get input from the congregation on what to look for in a new pastor. At one point an older member of the congregation suggested that young people wanted a church with lots of lights and fog machines and a big worship band like the one his son attended. This horrified the Millennials in the room because we came to the church because the worship was genuine and authentic and a part of the everyday life of the Church. The relationships we had all formed were the same, authentic and lifegiving. At this church, as it is quickly becoming the norm in most churches, the Gospel was lived and Christian Faith was a daily, authentic thing. We were accepted and felt warmly loved and encouraged there and also felt challenged to be real concerning our faith and relationships.

Yet, when I sit in the classroom, what I hear from my professors is most often the opposite of the questions I am receiving from my peers and from church members. The view of my generation is negative, the questions being asked is: “how do we deal with these millennials who are leaving the church.” Coincidently, most of my peers have a very negative view of the church and are not prepared to enter into a much more positive system then what we are taught we are going into. Interesting how secular sociologists have noticed the changes and those training the pastors day in and day out have not.

Do not get me wrong, learning about the authorship of Genesis is important, but only so. Learning Hebrew and Greek are important but we cannot make proficiency therein the bench mark of a theological education. In fact, the tools are so good now we should likely teach pastors how to use the tools instead of training them to have a super in-depth knowledge of the biblical language. That way we can focus on the questions facing us today, rather than spending two and a half hours parsing and only 20 minutes on the practical implications of the text.

As it stands, pastors leaving our major seminaries, especially those which emphasize the languages, are better equipped to do academic scholarship than serve as Pastors. We are better trained to write systematic theologies than we are to write and preach sermons that will aid in the work of the spirit towards the total transformation and putting on of Christ then our congregations. We are trained to be scholars, not vessels.

The church needs scholars, it even needs pastor scholars, but if those pastor scholars have not learned to actually do pastoral ministry but can form a polemic against JDEP (theory of authorship of Genesis) but cannot care for the spiritual needs of the farmer or the small town or the inner-city, then they are ineffective and should be removed from office.

The fact is, right now we have some very pressing pastoral matters on our hands. From the dehumanization of people to the need for biblical righteousness, reconciliation and Justice. We also have to discuss technology and its effect on the family, the Opiate Crisis, the farmer suicide rate and much, much more. That does not include, nor is it limited to the questions that are being asked in global Christianity, as in, an African Student needs to learn to answer the questions being asked in his or her home country whether it be Uganda or Ethiopia. The same is true about the student from Portugal, from China, from South Korea and so on and so forth. This requires a much broader theological education than the one we currently have. We should not need a Institute for the Black Christian Experience because, as part of the general experience, we learn the history of Christianity in Africa and how it was affected by the Slave Trade, Colonialism and is still be affected by the modern missions movement. We should be reading authors and theologians from all corners of the world, learning to ask the questions that the global church is asking so we can help each other answer the individual questions we will be facing. Providing shared experience and resources and wisdom, as well as Exegesis so that we can come to a fuller understanding of this faith and not one that is stunted, as western Christianity is.

For that to happen though we have to learn from people who are actively seeking to be up to date on the questions being asked. That means they have to completely engaged in the non-academic world, engaging not only authors and theologians from different backgrounds, but also actively engaging the people in the pews. Because at the end of the day we are less likely to debate the meaning of a Hebrew Word in the Hithpael than we are to engage a family that is afraid they are going to lose their house or a teen who has been the victim of Sexual Assault. If our theological seminaries are going to be partners with the global church, they have to be engaging with the global church. For this to happen, they need to change drastically and quickly because slow change only prolongs the errors being perpetuated. It requires us to give up the idol we have made of the biblical languages and learn them not as the end all of exegesis, but as a part of the sum of the whole. We need to do serious research into the state of the church and change our attitude towards those who are learning in our classrooms.

If we do not, we lose an important and even essential aid and resource to the Church. That is unacceptable, change cannot be slow and it needs to be a change that consults the students, not treats us as if we are kids incapable of making decisions. We can start by asking the questions that our students are asking and go from there, if we do not, our decline will continue and we will cease to exist.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

LIFE UPDATE: The Baby…It’s A….????

HAMILTON MA. I have come to have a love/hate relationship with fall in New England. On the one hand it is cooler on the other hand there are some days that are pretty dreary and which make me want sleep all day. That is counter to getting everything done, the papers, the studying, the reading for my Thesis and of course, updating all of you. I have even missed sharing several key articles from Gods Heart that I hope you’ll go back and read.

Anyway, I was watching Patriot Games the other night and was thinking back to the book, in both the book and the movie Clancy leaves us with the suspense of finding out which gender the Ryan’s next child is going to be. So the title here is a nod to Tom Clancy and the fact that I wanted you to get this far without telling you that our little Baby, the one we will welcome into the world and which we announced in August is a Girl! We are beyond excited and have gone even further into nesting mode. So far, this little girl’s hobbies include kicking her mother, sleeping and sucking her thumb.

A dear brother in Christ told me the other day that in his home country of Sierra Leone in Africa having a girl first is considered to be a blessing. As much as I want a boy, I cannot argue with him, any child is a blessing from the Lord and I was crying when they told us we were having a daughter.

Now to fly to Iowa….more on that later though.


In the Love of Christ –

The Faulkner’s

Dominion Theology: An overview of a Great Evil of Church History.

Jonathan David Faulkner


Editor’s Note: This article is not discussing Theonomy, though God’s Heart rejects theonomy as a plausible governmental structure in a Post-Fall World. This article focuses on the roots of Dominion Theology in the Classical Sense and the evils perpetrated in its application. No attempt was made to engage the modern definition of Dominion Theology as this was a broad overview and not dedicated to specific forms of dominion Theology.

I attended a men’s retreat this weekend, one I had attended two years before. I looked forward to this weekend as it is likely the last time I will attend one with this particular group of men. It gave me a chance to soak up that last bit of wisdom from these older saints that I have been gleaning the past three years. Many of these men have been in ministry, both ordained and otherwise, and I have enjoyed learning from and being encouraged by them as I prepare to embark on my own ministry. The topic of this retreat was: “How to pray like a King.” I did not think much of it at the time, the same speaker had spoken a year before, though I had not attended because of my status as a newlywed. I had seen the theme and did not think anything of it until the speak decided to give a summation of last years teaching. He had told the men a year before that they were kings and that they needed to rule and subdue the Earth because of Genesis 1:28. He also said they needed to rule as one submissive to the Lordship of Christ, with their “crowns up” to God instead of “crown down.”

As a historian and one who has studied Historical Theology I have come across this particular teaching numerous times in my study. The first is in the documents regarding the crusades, the second in the early colonial period of Europe in what is called “The Discovery Doctrine” and finally in western Protestantism and the theology behind Manifest Destiny. All these amount to what has been called “Dominionist Theology” which still exists today in the twisted acclamations of the Alt-Right and even Alt-Left, along within Jim Crow Laws and the White Supremacy of the KKK and Anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Nazi’s and the modern Neo-Nazis. The idea has been propagated, since the beginning of European Dominance of Church History that the mandate to have dominion over and subdue the Earth was a justification for terrible atrocities carried out by the Catholic Church & the Protestant Settlers during the colonial period, as well as a justification for the Slave Trade, Theonomy. The Discovery Doctrine is particularly evil, teaching that if you encountered a native tribe and they would not convert to Christianity then they were to be destroyed or sold into slavery.

Not to my surprise, when I privately confronted the speaker over my concerns about what he was teaching he had never heard of Dominion Theology. Nor was he aware of the history of the same teaching within the modern Health and Wealth Movement that consistently compares us to heroes of the bible and gives us their importance. He was also not conscious of how his teaching my be received by a member of another ethnic group, particularly one of the man that has been decimated by White, European, Dominion Theology. He also was not willing to drop the analogy, though I did not insist he do, claiming that he likes it better.

Ironically, scripture only supports this idea of dominion in Genesis 1:28 with a few places in the Psalms looking back to the Pre-Fall order. It is true that God tells Israel to take the promised land that required killing off people groups. Groups that had lived in the land where Abraham had been called and Isaac and Jacob’s families had worshiped Yahweh and been blessed by that family until they left for Egypt yet had still rejected God. Israel had a legal mandate from the one who had deeded them the land and who had made Himself known through creation (Rom 2). The language that is constant, even through Israel’s conquest period is that of service and blessing.

This language actually gets picked up directly after the fall. It also seems that instead of us subduing the Earth we would have to struggle against it and any attempt by man at dominion would be frustrated and eventually end in absolute evil as is exemplified by Israel’s monarchy. Abraham’s offspring are to be a blessing to all the nations through engaging in fair and justice practices such as trade and the treatment of the highest visiting dignitaries to the lowest immigrant traveler.

Jesus himself is said to be a servant, not coming as a powerful ruler, but giving up his position at the right hand of the father to become a servant. (Is. 53, Phil 2:5-11). Even telling his disciples that they will not “Lord it over” their followers (Matt. 20:25 Lk. 22:26) but instead an example of service, humility and love. Therefore, to put off the old self and to put on the new self “which is hidden in Christ” (Col 3:1-17) is to take on the mantel of a servant, to take up the towel as it has been put. In short, in a Post-Fall world we no longer have dominion, but instead are to be as servants working towards seeking Justice through the righteousness of GOD which we now have access to through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we lived in a Pre-Fall world, things would be much different, instead we work as ambassadors for Christ, not as kings serving under him.

The Catholic Historian George Santayana once said that: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As our recent election cycle has shown, when compared to the rise of other authoritarian figures from Mao Zae Dong to Adolf Hitler have shown us, when we do not learn from out history, we will repeat it. Just as the speaker was unaware of the history of the very thing he was teaching, which has been used to justify so many tragedies and resulted in the deaths of millions, he is doomed to repeat it.

Yet, I did not initially learn about Dominion Theology when I first entered Seminary. It was not until year three when a professor challenged me to look into the Discovery Doctrine that I became aware of it. It certainly was not a part of the myriad of Church History classes I had taken or books I have read, most of whom were white or taught by white men or women. I did not even engage with disability theologians until a different professor sent me some reading material. I learned about the Civil Rights Movement as settled history, then took a class on it from a Black professor and discovered it is far from settled history in the perspective of the Black Community, something we should take into consideration. I read Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell with weeping, know that my own propensity to not listen to my brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds had continued that same attitude of indifference. I did not learn about the need for ethnic reconciliation until I started paying attention to what was going on around and started really listening to my friends from all different backgrounds. The history is not something I want to repeat and I hope one day I can teach my kids not just to treat their fellow man with dignity and respect, but to listen deeply to them and not to be afraid of their pain.

Because we are dealing with the results of more than 1000 years of Dominion Theology and we are not handling it well. Most seminarians do not learn about this part of Christian History, the bad parts, the times the church royally messed up and turned its back on God on a matter. Such as the slaughter of Muslim men women and children during the first Crusade, the killing off of entire tribes (numbering in the Millions) of First Nation peoples in the Caribbean, South America, Mexico and the North American Colonies. Or the Southern Justification for Slavery preached from the Pulpits of Churches in the North and South or Jim Crow and the reign of fear supported by the White Churches. These events are part of our history as White Europeans, and even if we have never personally engaged in these things, we are still dealing with the brokenness and shame these events have caused, especially in our current climate of racial tensions.

Another Irony here is that there should not be a “White Church” or a “Black Church” there should only be The Church, which God has intended from the beginning. Undivided and multi-ethnic, made of men and women in its congregations and leadership, where the wall of hostility that once kept us apart has been torn down and in its place a table set where we all dine as one. But if we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat that history, and I fear with statements like John MacArthur’s Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel we are in danger of repeating it again. Segregation is the ultimate form of that evil spirit of Sectarianism that has long dominated the Church here in America.

Yet, if we do not learn about this history as pastors, as future theologians, if we do not acknowledge it, but instead fight against the need to even learn it, then we will repeat it and we will train the next generation to repeat it. As I have said before, we as a church have been historically great at getting rid of false or heretical teachers without eliminating the false or heretical teachings. Dominion Theology, as far as it is concerned, is just one such example of one of those heretical teachers we have not abandoned and which still comes out in our thinking and the way we go about higher theological education.

The truth is, Africa had a rich Christian tradition before White Settlers came to its shores, one that traces its roots back to the book of Acts. Yet, in the spirit of Dominion, settlers came to “Civilize” the Africans and save them from their pagan history. This would be done initially through missions work but later the subservience of the slave trade would be seen as the best way to civilize and Christianize “them.” The same approach was taken to the First Nation in the America’s by the Puritans through the creation of Mission Towns designed to civilize and Christianize the native peoples. “Christianization” and Missions work were always attached to the colonial powers and always intertwined with the conquering government. The Colonial Government would then look at African Christianity, which was much older than the European Form and work to destroy it because it did not fit their ethnocentric model of what it meant to be a Christian. In this we have done great harm to ourselves, to those whom were victimized by colonization and the slave trade and their descendants.

I have before quoted Dr. Philip Schaff who said in his great sermon The Principle of Protestantism: “Christianity, awakened within a certain context of cultures and did not seek to destroy them but to infuse in them its own transforming power to make them the best version of themselves.” If we only learn about Western Christianity as a “Civilizing force” then we do not see what Dr. Schaff saw in the historical development of the Church, God working within ethnic groups for His glory, not abolishing them or making them all alike, but bringing out the best of what He had created them to be.

We have destroyed cultures and even entire ethnic populations in the name of God who wants nothing to do with our destruction of people made in His image. Our seminaries need to teach this History to ensure we do not repeat it, but also to show us the current state of The Church, which has flourished in=spite of Western Colonialism, flourished in its own beautiful ways, shapes and forms with many languages and expressions of Worship across every tribe and tongue, something we need to embrace, not destroy.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

The Diminished Church of the Truncated Gospel.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Editors Note: Due to length a section on examples from the Statement of Social Justice was removed from this article and will be published at a later date. 

There is a new statement going around, a follow up to the controversial “Nashville Statement” that made its rounds on the internet last year, from the same group that wrote the Nashville Statement. This one, the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel may actually be worse then the Nashville Statement in what it does to the church as it seeks to “defend” orthodoxy.

It comes on the heals of John MacArthur, one of the composers, sermon series on Social Justice where he called it Heresy. Then a video where MacArthur, in our view, twisted Matthew 5:13-19 to say that we are not the ones who are a light to the world but Jesus and we are not working to preserve the world, but that it is the Gospel that preserves the gospel. It still baffles me that someone so studied in the Word can come up with these conclusions and with this statement, but it has happened, and no one should stand for what these things do to the fullness of the Gospel.

I also wish I could say this was a new phenomenon, unfortunately, MacArthur has advocated this kind of sectarianism his entire career, holding true to the fundamentalist spirit. This has long caused me and many others to have sharp disagreements with him as I have grown and studied in the conservative evangelical and reformed traditions. I find my dispute with him to be one of conscious and essential doctrine than over peripheral issues, though I certainly disagree with him on many peripheral issues as well.

The debate is nothing new in America though, in fact, when in 1845 when Charles Hodge read John Williamson Nevin’s translation of Philip Schaff’s “The Principle of Protestantism” his response was one of the confusion because Schaff “failed” in Hodge’s mind, to distinguish between the two forms of the church. To Hodge, there were two forms, the visible and the invisible Church. The Visible Church was the church where man dwelt, one in the world with a imperfect interpretation of scripture. Meanwhile, the invisible Church was where Christ dwelt and it was where the church existed in its most perfect and unblemished form.

Schaff, on the other hand, knows nothing of a divided church, hence he refers to the church as “the Church” without making a distinction between the two. He does this because he sees the Church as the continuation of the Incarnation of Christ through the divine union between Christ and man (the doctrine of Thesis in the Eastern Church). Christ dwelt within man, the incarnation by the Spirit, therefore the Church is an active and fully unified visible body of the believers that lives in the tension of the now but not yet and has to engage in the world and at certain points does intersect with the world. “Christianity,” Schaff writes” awakened in a particular historical context, amidst a number of cultures and ethnicities and it did not seek to destroy them, but to infuse them with its own unique transformational power to make them the best versions of themselves.” This is what confused Hodge, the visible church was fallen and divided, so there must have been a perfect version, an ideal version of the church that was untainted by man and that must have been where Christ lived.

The more widely read among must might say: “Well, how purely Platonian of Hodge” and they would be correct. The idea of separating the church into the idea and the real, the invisible and the visible is a purely gnostic idea. To the gnostic, the divine cannot interact with sinful flesh and thus there cannot be an organic unity with Christ. Though Hodge would never go here, it also poses problems for Christology if you believe the divine does not interact with the human than you have to deny the two natures of Christ, fully God and fully Man. One substance, two natures.

In Schaff’s view, that articulation carried over to the Church because of the incarnation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Church could not be separated into two forms, and to do so would be to diminish the work and life of the Church.

This debate is several hundred years old, but here again we find it. If you read the statement, essentially, MacArthur is attempting to recall the visible church to the standard of perfection in the invisible church by calling the church away from engagement with world. He ignores that Jesus said “You are the light of the world” and “You are the salt of the Earth” working through and in union with Christ with access to the righteousness and discernment of God to work towards social righteousness and through that, social justice. That means we have to talk about things like Racism, which MacArthur denies to be a corporate sin and where the church intersects with culture and how we have failed to actually engage the world in a manner that brings about righteousness, and by default, Justice. He does not want the church to engage these issues because to him they are not biblical. The problem is, you can teach an entire course of the bible and ethnicity, taking one semester, and still have barely scratched the surface. Ironically, if there was an invisible church then that would be a church with invisible justice.

My argument is this, because the Gospel, through the incarnate word, comes to dwell inside and transform us, engraining scripture within us and enduing us with the gifts of the spirit and spiritual gifts. Then we are not to be a diminished church but a incredible body that is engaged in a hurting world for the sake of seeing that hurting world come to Christ because they have seen Christ in the way we live and walk and teach. The gospel does not mean mere inward change, but incredible inward change marked by incredible outward change and fighting against the injustices for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ is just one of those outward marks.

MacArthur, on the other hand, truncates the gospel, he makes it something ethereal and unknowable and “other.” It is not something that engages this world or makes us live justly, love mercy or walk in humility with God. It does not have the power to speak into every situation, especially those that seem too worldly. The problem is, if we are to be a light to the nations, we must engage the issues that the world is fighting with and seek to bring in a sound, biblically informed response to a situation. The gospel then should cause us to engage socially because of what God has done for us so that others might know and experience that same saving grace.

Instead, MacArthur and the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel leaves us with a diminished church and a truncated Gospel. Where both have no power and have to sit on the sideline and watch as people kill each other instead of being what Jesus calls us, the light of the world and the salt of the earth. If the Church is the continuation of the incarnation through divine union, then we must engage as Jesus did to fight against injustice and work towards reconciliation of people to God and to one another. In that way, MacArthur is right, Jesus is the light of the World, he just uses us now, the Word of God is the Gospel, but it preserves the world through Christians who are spurred on by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. The Church is Christ in the world and should live as such, which in my opinion means reclaiming social justice as what it used to be….

Our own.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Seminarians: Maintain your Hobbies.

Jonathan David Faulkner

I love the yearly ice-breakers professors do, especially those that force you to get to know something about your classmates. One of my professors has you fill out an entire notecard full of information like what denomination you came from, what you hope to get out of this course, what is your prior interaction with the material (if any) and what you want to do after Seminary. It is almost boring now to say your name and degree program since so many of my professors have come up with unique ways for the class to get to know each other. Another professor takes the introductions to another level so that you not only have to go around the room and say your name and degree and something interesting about you the first day, you have to do it multiple times throughout the semester and you had better be taking notes since part of your midterm and final grades were going to hinge upon you knowing your classmates.

In the spring two of my professors, during the general introductions, asked students to list the hobbies they had. One by one almost every person in the room said: “My name is_____________ and I used to have hobbies before I came to Seminary.” To be honest, it was heartbreaking to hear so many people say they had given up their hobbies upon entrance to seminaries. Now, to be sure, some of them still likely made time for those hobbies when they were not on campus, during reading weeks, during breaks. During the 20 weeks of the year they were on campus and engaged in classwork, a lot of them had barely picked up their hobbies.

I understand, Seminary is difficult, we are here to be trained to be pastors and counselors and church leaders and the rigorous nature of the work does not always allow for breaks during the week and when we do find downtime it is often filled with catching up on sleep. For those of us who work during our time here, that tends to throw another wrench in the works as we then have to balance life, classes, work and still find time for R&R.

The Idiomatic “No rest for the weary and the righteous do not need any” tends to be a mot for seminarians and for some of us, it was how we were brought up. In some churches I have heard horror stories about how those who take rests are condemned as lazy. Those are extreme cases, but we tend to adopt a “Sleep-when-I’m-Dead” mentality as seminarians regardless of our upbringing. The pressure to perform coming from our professors, those back home, brothers and sisters in our halls and from faculty and staff pushes us to unhealthy habits and attitudes in regards to rest and relaxation. Seminaries tend to still operate as if we live in the 1970’s and one income can pay for rent along with all your other seminary expenses. So while the amount of work required to take care of ourselves (to buy food, pay rent and the like) the workload given by professors has remained the same and in some cases seemed to increase. Somewhere in their we have to find time to sleep at night, though some of us forgo that during the closing hours of the semester.

I suppose I have been put in a unique position by my brain, since I recovered from the injury I found that I could only engage so many houses a day before my speech became slurred and I begin to get confused. That’s why if you ever go in to the city with me I do everything I can to get back before 9 because it is literally like a switch. Sometimes I am luck to get 13 good hours depending on the intensity of the work I’ve done throughout the day. In that, I have found that turning to hobbies has allowed me to overcome that a bit. Just like when I was going through the initial steps of recovery and playing my guitar and singing were the only ways to clear my head and ease the pain. My hobbies then have become a means for me to cope with the likely lifelong affects of scrambling my brain.

I do believe that hobbies and interests, for the most part, are God-given and open up a unique means for us to glorify Him. That’s why when The Opened Eyes works up a new song and the guys ask me what I want it to sound like I have emphasized that they bring their own unique musical abilities to the song and I want them to use those gifts for God’s glory, so it is okay to do whatever you feel led to do. The cool thing about that approach is that we have never actually had a difference of opinion over a song and the music has taken on its own unique life, even for songs we have played ten or more times.

It is also why I am strict about getting to Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday Mornings, why I still make time for video games, why I take long bike-rides early in the morning and why I always have a non-seminary book for reading. Some of those are done with others, some are done alone and some are just me and my wife sitting on the couch with books in hand while JJ Heller sings to us from the television. I know I will be rethinking a lot of this come February when our little one joins us here in the great big world, but what is life without some curve balls and excitement.

The fact is, you, the human you are, as made in the image of God, is way more important than your grades, then your professors opinions or others expectations of you. If you devalue yourself to get a high grade, then you have still failed. If you go into pastoral ministry with an A average but have not learned how to care for yourself and others than you are not going to last long as a pastor. If you cannot take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, mentally, then you will not be in ministry very long because you will either burn-out early or die prematurely. The latest estimate from Church Leaders is that only 50% of pastors who start in the ministry last longer than 5 years. That’s a number that should give all of us pause and make us ask what we can do better.

One of the ways for us to push numbers like the one above is taking the personal responsibility for our own mental health and one of the ways we can do that is through investing in our hobbies and making time for them. By doing that which gives rest to our soul, not as a substitute to worship because that is necessary, but as a compliment to worship and time in scripture. God did not make you so you could burn out and die, He made you so you could have an everlasting relationship with Him and glorify Him in that. Not that you lose your salvation by burning out, but if a premature death can be avoided then it should be.

Your hobbies are a unique part of how God has made you. They are meant to help you draw closer to Him and to other whom He has given that interest too. So, do yourself a favor and pursue your hobbies while at Seminary, you may be surprised what God shows you about yourself.


Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Why A Pastors Suicide Should Make Us Rethink Seminary.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Note: This article will be considered the beginning of the seminary year advice piece.


I want to start this off with a disclosure: The following article is in no way meant to politicize the tragic death of Pastor Andrew Stoecklien, I did not know him and have no connection to him other than the fact that I am a pastor and will hopefully soon be leaving to return to full-time pulpit ministry. My intention here is to continue and spread conversations that I have had with many in my own context. As someone who has been directly affected by suicide and who struggled with my own mental health for years, this is an issue that I feel a need to speak on. Hopefully I am letting enough time pass that this post serves the purpose of sparking conversations outside of where they are currently taking place.

Because if the issues and troubles we have been facing here at Gordon-Conwell are indicative of our sister seminaries, as they tell us they are, then we need to have this conversation. Not just here, but in our churches, among our supporters and among us as students. If our attitudes towards mental health and suicide do not change, we are only going to continue this cycle and it is going to get worse. If 1-4 Pastors struggle with mental health, as was reported by Christianity Today in 2014, should that not gives us pause? If pastors report feeling isolated or walled-off or lonely should we not take that into consideration?

There is a quote that I think we all hear and kind of let roll off our backs. It goes like this: “The habits you develop in college/seminary will follow you your ministry.” I am living proof of this. In college I had a sort of cycle I lived in, a burn out cycle where I would do very well for awhile and then self-destruct. I took that cycle into my first pastorate and you know the rest. When I climbed out of the back of that truck that day it was just another day working full-time and pastoring “part-time.” I was not expecting that 90+ hour weeks would catch up to me the way they did. The last time a burn-out cycle ended was a catastrophic and catalytic event. There is a good chance I may have also been depressed during those years from Middle School to that fateful day in February of 2015. I would never recommend a major brain injury as a means of working through your past, but it was what the Lord used and three years after the fact I am glad it happened, Painful as it was and sometimes can still be (like when I cannot remember the table for word 😉).

Here is the thing though, our culture values hard-work because it does not know how to value the one doing the work. We are all taught to work hard, make a living, get good grades, be the best. Whether that be through materialism or some other ism. As much as we would like to thin otherwise, our seminaries can be and in some ways are no different than the world. When one professor assigns twenty hours a week of homework on top of the twenty hours per your other two or three classes the hours pile up. Throw in a part-time job or two…or three jobs if you live in married housing and kids if you have them a work life balance becomes impossible to achieve. You either spend way too much time in the library working on classwork that in some cases is ungraded and does nothing to advance your knowledge of the subject at hand (busy work). Instead of training successful pastors we set pastors up to burn-out in 10 years or less (the national average). In fact, only 10% of pastors who begin as pastors, retire as pastors, which explains why there are so many “retired” pastors in your churches.


You can talk about community as a seminary or college until you are blue in the face, but if you constantly cut community programs and make it harder for the community to function as one. Or, if your expecting the students who are burning out because of academic overload to pick up the slack created by cut community programs, then you are asking for a major mental health break down.

I like the way Bonhoeffer handled community at Finkenwalde, yes, the ordinates had to study and work hard but there were also many afternoons he would cancel their time of instructions and they would go for a swim or run along the beach. I know this looks a lot different in a seminary of 600 as opposed to one of just 5, but the principle of caring for the body and soul that was so emphasized at Finkenwalde and care for one another is one that our seminaries can learn from. Even the twice a semester reading week’s are not breaks from class, but rather times of greater isolation for many as they pour over textbooks without having to go to class.

Yes, I do think there is institutional responsibility on the part of our seminaries to train us to have a proper work/life balance while we are here. As in, the seminary is responsible for teaching us to find a good work / life balance through our courses, mentoring and if need-be counseling. Then, the student is responsible for implementing what they are learning and discovery how that works for them.

The students are also responsible for making sure they do not isolate themselves but dwell in the community of the Body of Christ that God has put before them to take part in. Our Great Halls and Cafeterias should never be empty, instead they should be places where we gather for the joy of being with one another as brothers & sisters in Christ. Then we need to make sure we maintain those relationships far beyond our time in seminary so that we never allow ourselves to think we are alone. That friend we can call or who has the ability to call us and vice versa.

Above all, we should be reminded of who we are and whose we are. To be reminded constantly of our names and positions as redeemed and loved by Christ, presented to God as righteous in-spite of our sin. To be reminded that God is not judging us on our seminary performance or our knowledge of Greek or Hebrew or how well we write an exegesis paper. But that we learn to become people who love one another and pastors who love his flock.

I say all of this because one pastors suicide is too many, heck, one suicide is too many. One death, if it can be prevented is too many and if our seminaries can help prevent them then that should be a higher priority than academic performances. An objective stated from day one of year one as you are discipled to be a pastor.

This may require seminaries to make major shifts in the way they approach seminaries. Faculty may have to reduce their workloads and listen to students concerns instead of dismissing them. Administrators may need to come and live alongside the students to get a sense of the way they live instead of sitting in ivory towers away from the people they have been called to serve. Instead of mere seminaries, they have to become highly intentional Christian Communities for pastors that prepare and send out emotionally and spiritually healthy pastors.

This happens through life on life, daily living, not just through reading a book. Though we should read our bibles, they are the literal Words of God after-all.


I tend to work Seminary as a work day, 8AM-5PM. I make sure to finish everything, work and otherwise by five so I can be home with my wife at night or go out with one or two of the brothers. I also take weekends off completely at the beginning of the semester. After 5PM is my wife and I’s time and we use it. I also set out a To-Do list every morning and work off a master schedule for every assignment. Anything that does not get done before 5PM gets pushed to the next day. I also intentionally front-load my semesters, which means I begin working on my work for the semester at the end of August. This semester Tuesdays are devoted to work on my Thesis.



Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.