Category Archives: Interviews

JVD Interview, Part One

MW: When you say you were raised in the ‘backwoods of Kentucky’ what exactly do you mean? How backwoodsy?

JVD: Haha. The backwoodsiest, man. I’m talking waaaaay back. In the early ‘80’s, my folks picked up out of Atlanta and drove to Kentucky to get away from it all. I think they were tired of big cities and suburbs and wanted to live differently. So they bought a 45-acre forest in the middle of the Kentucky hills and built a house there. Our nearest neighbor was several miles away. And also, we had no electricity. A lot of folks ask if we were Amish when they hear that – haha. We weren’t. My Mom and Pops just didn’t want to be dependent on anyone for their well-being, and they took that idea pretty seriously. They were kind of like Old West pioneers, you know? Living off the land. It sounds weird to most folks that we didn’t have electricity, but it was really no big thing. Probably not much difference between my house and yours, but instead of watching TV, we read lots of books.

MW: Why did you go to the big city for school and not some small rural college?

JVD: For purely pragmatic reasons, I ended up at the University of Louisville – which was a big step for a small-town boy. I actually really wanted to go to Western Kentucky University because my girlfriend at the time was there. But, Louisville offered me a full academic scholarship, plus an art scholarship – basically a free ride and them some. I think I actually made money off the deal. No other school even came close to offering that, so U of L it was. Ended up being a good fit, so I guess the Lord knew what He was doing the whole time. Figures.

MW: What is it about graphic design that is so titillating?

JVD: Ugh. Well, definitely not the word “titillating.”

I majored in graphic design, again, for purely pragmatic reasons. I knew I wanted to be an art major, but the idea of being a “starving artist” was not appealing at all. Graphic design seemed to make the most sense at the time because it was the most practical – generally, there is more opportunity for steady work as a graphic designer than, say, a painter or sculptor. Plus, I am one of those guys who is decent but not great at a wide variety of mediums – drawing, painting, sculpting, photography – and graphic design really gives opportunity to put all those to work for you.

Nowadays, I am able to do design from a pastoral perspective. I really like to serve people, and to me, that is the essence of good graphic design: serving others. Much of what I do is take something in someone else’s head – a concept, an image, a message – and make it visual and (hopefully) more accessible. I love to design because it is a practical way to serve visionaries and leaders within the church and point others to the message of the Gospel. Graphic design is not usually just “art for art’s sake,” which can become narcissistic. Serving others through design helps keep my own tendency toward egocentricity at bay, because I can never take all the credit. So that is like a bonus.

MW: Do you think it is necessary for a church to hire a graphic designer? Why?

JVD: I’m tempted to say “yes,” but in all honesty, I would have to say “no.” So, in general, no. In most cases, I would probably consider a church-staffed designer a total luxury and not a necessity. I realize that probably sounds real odd coming from a guy who directs graphics & communications for a church. Before all you on-staff designers out there start spamming me with nasty comments, let me quantify that answer with some random thoughts on the matter:

If you are a church who can afford your own graphic designer or creative arts producer or whatever the heck you want to call it – by all means, hire away … as long as you are already doing basic pastoral ministry well. Don’t hire a designer at the expense of pastoral ministry.

Realize, though, I am speaking in very general terms because the answer to this question could depend entirely on your church’s size and situation. There could be a lot of factors involved. If you are a passionately missional North American church, good visual design can be a valuable draw depending on your location and culture. If you are a steadily growing church of hundreds or thousands and you think animated gifs and overhead projectors are the hotness … for practical communication reasons, you probably need to think about integrating some nice design.

On the other hand, if you are a church that is not well-staffed pastorally or not functioning with a competent admin staff (i.e. your teaching pastor is also the receptionist, janitor, and bake-sale organizer), your hiring philosophy should probably include addressing those issues first – you need to be doing basic ministry well before you start prettying things up. Otherwise you are, if I may borrow a phrase from one Matthew S. Wireman, “polishing a turd.”

As a side note, if you are going to hire a graphic designer, hire someone who is pastoral in their approach to design. Graphics can easily become overdone, manipulative or overbearing. Good design in the church should always always always ALWAYS point to and support the message, not overpower it and not become the message itself. But I digress…

Seriously, though, in the end, design is just another tool. Graphic designers in the church can be as valuable or invaluable as any other vessel. Design and art can be helpful or harmful depending on how wisely it is used. In the end, broken people need Jesus, not cool PowerPoint slides – so take that into consideration.

MW: Is there another position you see that would have primacy over a graphic designer?

JVD: I think I sort of addressed that in my last tirade. Don’t hire strictly creative arts guys over well-qualified pastoral guys. If you are trying to decide between a good pastor and a good visual arts producer – go for the good pastor. You can always outsource design. If you can find someone who is both wildly creative and qualified pastorally – hire them and double their salary (Hint, hint? Anyone?)

MW: If it were a choice between a puppet ministry and a graphic designer, which should a church hire?

JVD: Pshaw. That’s easy. Neither. If you’re operating at that level, your clear priority should be to find a solid Pastor of Mime Ministry.

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First Things Interviews Tim Keller

Within the 1st Things post are links that will keep you up to date on the latest hub-bub with regards to the original interview, Keller’s reply, and 1st Things reply… The Timothy Keller Interview

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Filed under Apologetics, Books & Media, Interviews

Lessons Learned by a Church Planter

This snippet is very helpful in tempering the enthusiasm we have for church planting. Let’s count our troops and count our costs before we build. One of the first things Driscoll says that he wish he would have done is interned at a church. And…he would have waited. With all the zeal we have to see people come to faith, we would do well to wait a little and get some experience and good theology in our hearts before we go out and shepherd people. Sure, God willl use your efforts (tainted as they may be with sin) but save yourself and your hearers by taking some time to think before you act.

“Lessons Learned in Church Planting”

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Interview with IMB Missionary in Slovakia {Part 2}

What have been some of the short-comings of missionaries that have served in Europe?

I think one of the biggest is a lack of vision for discipleship and more specifically for church planting. Many people focus on European missions as a place to do sports camps, English clubs, and other like activities where their focus is on evangelism. Yet, Europe is a place where the Gospel has been for years but it has been distorted and there is little response to it, so there needs to be more than just a focus on evangelism. What then happens to genuine conversions in this process? How are they followed up? Evangelism can not be separated from discipleship. At the same time, there is a need for making the Gospel relevant to the people of Europe. Most of the people in Europe are atheist, agnostic, or traditionally Catholic or Orthodox. A simple run through of a tract or packaged evangelistic tool is not going to connect with these people who don’t believe in a god or don’t care if there is a god or not. Or in the case of those who have a traditional religion, they tract will only make them perceive you as a cult with some “new Gospel” or believe they already have the salvation you are trying to share with them. Using Western evangelism tactics are not useful for presenting the vital message of salvation to people in Europe and this must be taken into consideration when planning to work in this part of the world.
Another one of the problems is too much of a commitment to working with existing national churches. This may sound funny. For instance, why is it bad to work with the national church? I mean, isn’t that what our end goal is, to create more national churches? What I mean here is that missionaries will come in and spend all of their time and energy with the church and the church members. Their entire ministry is centered on strengthening the national church and they enjoy their fellowship with the local believers. But the problem is that many churches in this part of the world lack a vision for evangelism and growth in their community. The church is happy with who they have and never seek to expand and change. In this situation the missionary never has any significant ministry with non-believers, who should be the primary focus of any missionary ministry. I fully support working with the national church as well as strengthening and teaching the leaders to be missions minded, but not to the detriment of ministry to those whom have never heard the Gospel.

Specifically, what are some “methods” that could be scrapped in the missionary endeavor? Positively put, what are some missionary methods that have proved to be effective and should be utilized more?

I am still learning in this context what should be best used in this context, but I know that the best thing to do is use the Bible as a guide. It seems to me that the Bible is composed the way that it is for a reason, and thus we should use the entire Bible in presenting the Gospel. Thus I am a firm believer in teaching the Bible chronologically from creation to Christ. I see this as a tool used by Jesus, Stephen and Paul in the New Testament. The stories of the Old Testament give meaning to all of history and they point to Christ laying the foundation for understanding true salvation. Postmoderns and atheists need to see the meta-narrative of the Bible and of all redemptive history to provide meaning for their lives, and I believe teaching the Bible chronologically is the best way to do this. Another strength is that it combines evangelism and discipleship at the same time. By this I mean that as the people are learning about the message of the Gospel they are learning the truths of the Bible and about God’s personality as He reveals himself throughout history.
One last thing I will add here is that work should not be done alone by the missionary. I have seen that the best way to do any ministry is with a local believer working with or being taught by the missionary. The missionary is never going to relate on the same cultural level that a national will be able to do, thus the missionary must be training the national believers how to witness to their own people effectively. At the same time the missionary never knows what will happen to him and how long he will be allowed to stay in the country. If all of the people he is working with are only connected to him and his ministry, what happens if the missionary must leave? What other believers does this person know? Who will continue to share with these people? The missionary must be planning for effective follow-up by national believers. Having national believers knowledgeable and competent to do ministry also will further speed up the spread of the Gospel and the starting of new churches who can train up new leaders.

Someone is struggling with whether to go on the mission field, what steps should they take to make that decision?

My first response would be to have them search deeper for the reason behind their struggles. It is possible to be fighting God’s call to missions and to be personally looking for excuses not to respond out of fear or disobedience. Jonah is a good example of this. It is clear that Jonah had a call from God to go and he was fighting it. Thus, sometimes people will say they are “struggling” with whether to go or not when it is clear there is a call there. The evil one will use many sources to dissuade people from going to the labor fields, including family, friends, and even personal issues. I would therefore encourage that person to take a long look and reflect on the reasons for wanting to go to the mission field. What are their desires? What are the compelling forces behind their reason for wanting to go? What are the factors playing into their reason for wanting to NOT go? A clear call to go is not a valuable tool for missionaries, it is a mandatory prerequisite. Life on the mission field is tough and can not be done apart from God’s sustaining grace and mercy. Attacks will come and life will not be comfortable. Sometimes all a missionary has to fall back on is his call from God to be doing what he is doing, and without it the missionary will crumble and return home.

Someone is single and is worried they will not be able to “find” someone if they are in missions, what would you say to this person?

The person needs to rethink where their focus is. What is more valuable to that person: their desire for a spouse or God’s call to them to reach the nations? God does not need our help in anything, including missions and finding a spouse. So if God has called a single person to missions, then surely he means of him to go and to go without expectations. I truly believe that if someone is following hard after God then He will provide the desires of their heart. There are many people I know, including myself, who have followed God into missions and God has provided a spouse through this obedience. I know that there is no better place to find someone with an equally strong heart for missions that on the mission field serving God. But at the same time, there are no guarantees that going to the mission field automatically means that you will find God’s chosen for you. First things first, follow God wholeheartedly and allow Him to provide the desires of your heart in His timing.

What is missionary life like for a family (i.e. adjusting to culture, language)? That is, what should a husband and wife be prepared for that you weren’t prepared for before stepping off the plane?

Well, this is a little difficult for me to answer. Both my wife and I were single on the mission field in the same country where we returned as a family. Thus, we had worked through a lot of our culture stress and detachment from American culture issues previously as singles and were better prepared to return to the field as a family. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for though was the adjustment to working from the home and being together so much. I have learned that as a missionary I do a lot of work in and out of our apartment. As a result my work time and family time has blended together and I have had to adjust to getting ministry things done in between helping to feed our daughter, play with her, change diapers, taking out the trash, picking up the mail at the post office, and so on. It has been an adjustment for a task-oriented person like myself, but it is part of missionary life as a family.

Last Question: What are your thoughts regarding miracles on the mission field and spiritual gifts?

I have never seen any miracles on the mission field, but I have no doubt that God is capable of working miracles and can and does use them at certain times. The missionary is many times on the front lines of a spiritual battle and the rules of spiritual war go beyond flesh and blood. I have heard many stories of God using dreams and visions to draw Muslims to faith and salvation and I believe that this is happening and will continue as part of God’s plan for reaching these people. There are also many stories of God using people in spiritual warfare through healings and other encounters with demons. Again, I have not personally encountered any of these happenings, but I do not discount the power of God and the truth of these stories in other places around the world.

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Interview with IMB Missionary in Slovakia {Part 1}

I’m interviewing a missionary in Slovakia with the International Mission Board.

Why don’t you start out by telling us a little of where you’re from and what you’re currently doing?
I graduated from NC State University with a B.S. in Applied Math. Currently I am enrolled in the 2+2 International Church Planting degree program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

2+2 is not an example of the kind of Applied Math you did at NC State is it?You are currently serving with the IMB with the Southern Baptist Convention in Slovakia. What is it that led you to minister in Slovakia?
Well my first ever mission trip was to Eastern Europe and to the Ukraine. God later used this experience, as well as some other things, to call me into full time ministry. In the process I returned to Eastern Europe, but this time to Slovakia, on a short term trip where I saw an opportunity to for me to return to Slovakia for a year long commitment. During this year in Slovakia I saw a disconnect between much of the ministry we were doing and actual church planting and multiplication. Thus, after my return to America I enrolled in seminary with a desire to return to Slovakia to work towards seeing churches planted and strengthened. God opened many doors to allow my family the opportunity to return to work for his glory in Slovakia.

What do you see as the missionary’s task?
I think that the missionary’s task is to be obedient to the Lord to go and make disciples of all nations. I also believe that this ministry of making disciples can be done in many forms, but ultimately I think that the Bible clearly shows that God’s vessel for spreading his fame is through his church. Thus, any missionary ministry should have an end focus of starting churches that will multiply and start other churches.

Why should be people go overseas when there is so much work to be done here in the United States?
Sure, this is a great question. There is also a rather simple answer in my opinion. I firmly believe that Jesus clearly says to “Go… into all nations.” To me this is a mandate that we should be going and sharing the Gospel to the nations. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be sharing the Gospel to those where we are, namely, at home in the States. And it is obvious that not all will go, and that not all can go, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus said to “go”.

What have been your greatest challenges thus far on the mission field?
There are many challenges to being on the mission field. Most of them are directly tied to being a new culture. We respond and react according to our instincts which are culturally biased to our western, and more specifically American, culture. This can cause many misunderstandings and conflicts in the new culture as they interpret our words and actions based on their cultural filter, not ours. Another challenge has been the adjustment to the missionary life. In America, I always experienced a clear division between my school work, my job, and my family. If I was at home with my family, I was not focused on my job or on my school work. I would get out of the house to do my school work and my job was always away from home. Since being on the field, my entire life is part of my ministry as a missionary. I have found that being a missionary doesn’t mean leaving the home to go to a place to do the “job” of a missionary. My job requires me to be at home with my family, modeling a Christian family to our neighbors. It requires me to be at home all day studying language, including taking breaks to change a diaper or feed our daughter without feeling like my “task” is going unfulfilled. This has been a major challenge for me as a task oriented person. I have found out very quickly that my life now is not about completing tasks (i.e. planting churches, holding Bible studies, witnessing to “x” number of people), but it is about living out my faith in practical ways and building relationships with non-believers all the while working to accomplish the task of seeing people come to faith and group together with our believers.

How do you see the church’s relationship to sending missionaries?
I see the church as the major sending mechanism for worldwide missions. This is the model of the early church in the book of Acts. The church convened at the moving of the Spirit in Acts 13 to send out Paul and Barnabas, who then returned to the church in the end of Acts 14 to report what God had done through their obedience and faith. Thus, I think it is the church’s responsibility to teach Jesus’ command to “go” and then to support those who God does raise up to be sent out. The church should support missions financially, through prayer, through encouragement and through accountability. I think one of these that gets left out the most is accountability. The church should stay in contact with its members who are on the mission field on a regular basis. The accountability should help the missionary remain strong spiritually and to have specific goals that he is working towards in his ministry. In my context, a lot of this accountability is done from the IMB as the sending agency and arm of the SBC, but I still think there should be a stronger focus of the local churches to keep consistent contact with their own that are on the field. Even with the strong accountability I have from my fellow missionaries and leadership, it can never compare to those who know me well and intimately keeping me in line spiritually and helping me maintain my focus on my ministry.

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