Who pastors a pastor? Where does a leader turn for spiritual guidance, counsel, or teaching? I often hear of the loneliness that accompanies ministry, but it isn’t until one finds him- or herself in this valley that the sacrifice of intimate relationships in ministry can be fully appreciated.
My husband and I have lived in Springfield, MO for the last seven years, and while there has been great opportunity to develop our calling to ministry here, it has been one of the loneliest places I have ever lived. I find it difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable in church community because that community is largely made up of colleagues from the university where I work. Our social circles are rather small because we work with, go to church with, and attend Christmas parties with all of the same people. I work with some pretty amazing people, but I often feel weary of the lack of intimacy in relationships with like-minded people. So when I stumbled upon a pastor from Charlotte, North Carolina with whom I felt a kindred spirit, I immediately connected with him via Twitter, podcast and Google Reader (may it rest in peace) in an attempt to find out more about his ministry and, admittedly, out of a felt need to connect with a like-minded person.
Jonathan Martin, lead pastor of Renovatus Church, a church for “liars, dreamers and misfits,” is that pastor. Jonathan is a fellow U40 minister in the Church of God, and I cannot recall a time when I have so sensed the hand of the Lord’s anointing as clearly as I have sensed with him. There is a deep sense of authenticity and humility in his communication, both online and offline. His twitter feed is raw and wrestling. His sermons rich yet full of self-deprecating humor, and the occasional slip of the tongue is met with, “maybe this will need to be scrubbed from the podcast.” He holds a Master of Theology (Th.M.) from Duke Divinity, an M.Div. from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Church of God, Cleveland, TN and an undergraduate from Gardner-Webb University, but describes himself as a “hillbilly Pentecostal.” His first book, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think (Tyndale House) is truly a transformational read. It is the complexity and authenticity of Jonathan’s work that intrigues the scholar in me, as well as the exile in need of a home. I have often expressed to Jonathan that he has pastored me in Springfield, MO all the way from Charlotte, NC. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do a Google hangout recently with him and my friend and co-blogger, Kylie Urquhart.
What I discovered in my time with Pastor Jonathan is that he is exactly who he appears to be. The persona he has created in the virtual community is more than an avatar; Jonathan has mastered the art of ministry in 140 characters. Lively and engaging, we exchanged pleasantries and, while I failed miserably to hide the super fan in me, I was struck by how he addressed Kylie and me, with sincere respect and admiration, as if we were the heroes in ministry and he, our biggest fan.
Jonathan is not unaware of his level of influence, however, and he is very deliberate to advocate for issues for which he feels a strong conviction. Kylie and I were both intrigued regarding his unabashed support for women, specifically for women in ministerial leadership. When I asked him why this issue was so important to him, his response was, “Men have to speak up.” Women can make the argument (quite well, in fact) and exhibit God’s call to and anointing for ministry, but many turn a deaf ear to them, no matter their tone or the validity of their argument, because of the belief that women shouldn’t hold such positions of leadership. When men stand up for women, the message is all the more powerful.
Jonathan’s advocacy for women in leadership (and in other settings, leadership or otherwise) comes from the example of women like sister Margaret Gaines, who served on the mission field for several years in Palestine (see her story here) and Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns, whose teaching at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary so influenced Jonathan that he routinely invites her to step into the pulpit at Renovatus. He has a female Executive Pastor on staff at Renovatus, and he does not apologize for his use of testimony in advocating for his female counterparts. “We are people of testimony” he stated, “and we should not be ashamed of how seriously we take testimony in our deliberation about these concerns.”
Our conversation evolved through a variety of topics: the inspiration of his book, which was birthed out of a teaching series that has been core to his heart and to the heart of his church; the experiences and the people that have marked him and formed his advocacy for gender issues and issues of social justice, and his own practice of encouraging men in leadership to stand up beside women; authenticity and vulnerability in online and offline platforms and how that authenticity allows him to pastor many outside of his own community; the dissonance of being in ministry without cultivating deep and intimate relationships and the authentic sense of community that one can form in the online world; and the struggle and beauty of being a U40 minister. Throughout our conversation, Jonathan expressed earnestly his own struggles in life and ministry, many of the same struggles we U40 ministers face in every denomination. His humility, authenticity, and desire to see people come to Jesus are evident in his kind and sincere interactions with others.
Jonathan Martin brings a refreshing perspective to the table. He has experience in church planting in some of the worst neighborhoods in Charlotte. He has been known to confront abusive and controlling husbands and lead male prostitutes to Jesus and, eventually, into ministry. Yet it is not the successfulness of his ministry that draws me to his work. Rather, it is his incurable willingness to question the norm and to be vulnerable both in and out of ministry, even when that vulnerability invites pain. He will tell you he stumbled into the world of social media and he is wholly unstrategic as a thinker, but that he wears his heart on his sleeve. God has blessed his openness and given him an influence far beyond his community in Charlotte. Jonathan and his wife Amanda are intentional about not isolating themselves in ministry and he believes that, as a result, he is more tender to the Holy Spirit.
As I packed up to leave the meeting and go to class, I took one last opportunity to thank Jonathan for his time and transparency with us. “You pastor me from afar,” I told him. I did not mean it as a compliment as much as I did an honest gratefulness. His reply, “Thanks, Joy, that is the greatest thing anyone could say to me, really.” And in that moment, I knew that ministry and leadership didn’t have to be so lonely.