My friends at Tabletalk asked me to do an interview a few years back. I was glad to agree.
Be sure to subscribe here. Here is the interview:
Tabletalk: Please describe how you became a Christian and your current ministry.
Ed Stetzer: I grew up on Long Island, outside of New York City, in a nominal Irish Catholic home. My sister was the first in my family to hear the gospel and trust Christ. She rode a church bus from our home in Levittown to a small congregation nearby. She heard about grace and mercy and began to share the gospel with the rest of us.
My mother soon became a Christian, shortly before we moved from New York to Florida. I saw something in my mom that I lacked and I wanted—a changed life. Yet her world came apart. A daughter with cancer at age 12. Moving far from home and family. Soon, a divorce. But she had Christ, and He gave her strength.
My mother started attending a mainline Protestant church and then encouraged me (forced me, really) to go as well. Eventually, she pushed me into going to a retreat where she knew the gospel would be shared. In the back of a camp chapel (where the boys sat who did not want to be there), I heard the gospel message as the speaker invited me to trust and follow Christ. On August 13, 1977, I did just that.
I was called to pastoral ministry first as a church planter in Buffalo, N.Y., and Erie, Pa. However, my ministry journey has made many different stops as a pastor, professor, teacher, and strategist.
My current ministry has many aspects. I am president of Lifeway Research, and I also oversee communications and ministry development for Lifeway Christian Resources as a whole. I am general editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by half a million Christians each week. I teach at a few seminaries in the area of missiology, and I speak to groups and denominations about mission, evangelism, church revitalization, and church planting. I am also pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., which I planted with a group of people three years ago.
TT: What does it mean for the church to be “missional”?
ES: Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” Though we might want to clarify the language, the impulse is what we need—every Christian is called to live on mission.
So, to be missional means that a church realizes it exists to join Jesus in God’s mission in the power of the Spirit.
Mission is rooted in the identity of God Himself. God is on a mission, and Jesus is the embodiment of that mission. Jesus identifies Himself as being sent more than forty times in the gospel of John. Then, near the end of the gospel of John, He says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
The church is sent on mission by Jesus. It’s not that the church has a mission, but rather that the mission has a church. We join Jesus on His mission.
To be missional means that a church realizes it exists to join Jesus in God’s mission in the power of the Spirit.
A missional church is one that seeks to engage all of the church in the activity God has for them—His mission. Our goal should be to move them from just sitting in rows to living in such a way that they are engaged in the work God has for them.
That mission might be in, through, or beyond the church, but it is ultimately rooted in obedience to Christ and obedience to His call.
TT: How does your emphasis on mission affect your own life?
ES: I believe that if you are going to write on leadership, people who know you should consider you a great leader. If you are going to write on ethics, people around you must see you as having the highest ethics. And, if you are going to preach the Bible, you need to be living it out. So, if you are going to write and speak about mission, there ought to be missional activity in your life.
So, for me, I ask myself that question regularly. In the past I was more vocationally focused on missional engagement, whereas now I’m more focused on missional exhortation—but personally, I must stay regularly engaged in mission.
I’m not perfect, and need to do more, but I seek to do that in a few ways:
First, I’m on mission in my neighborhood. I’ve intentionally focused on my eight nearest neighbors, with most of whom I’ve shared the gospel, and seven of eight have come to something related to our church (a small group or worship service), or I’ve shared Christ in their home. I have baptized four of them.
Second, I lead a small group every Sunday night in my neighborhood to reach my neighbors and my community. We study The Gospel Project, live in community, and engage in mission together.
Third, I planted a church and still serve there in a volunteer capacity as lead pastor to reach our community for Christ, serve the hurting, and plant more churches.
We just launched our second campus in a socioeconomically depressed area about twelve miles from our first location.