Reflections on Christian Ministry at the Halfway Point with Jon Thompson

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Jon Thompson, the lead pastor at Sanctus Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Being a Christian leader is a marathon, not a sprint. In the middle of the social media and the politics and the pressures and the fear and the questions, we can be tempted to lose heart. Tune in as Jon shares wisdom and encouragement for staying faithful and running the race well to the end.

  • Recognize how you were called. // As Jon celebrates his 26th year at Sanctus, he reflects on the concept of calling. Many who feel the call to go into ministry find themselves discouraged and working outside of the church years later. In his book Perseverance: Fifteen Reflections on Christian Ministry at the Halfway Point –– An Invitation to Make It to the Finish Line Well –– Oh God, Help, Jon talks about how persevering in our callings has been lost. It’s important to realize there are four calling theologies in scripture rather than just one. Church leaders need to recognize how they were called and return to it when they wrestle with discouragement and doubt.
  • The four callings. // Embracing your unique calling is the bedrock of sustained ministry. If you only have one view of calling, you are more likely to end up leaving when things get difficult. Calling can look like a sovereign decision, like those of Jeremiah and Paul. It can also be a recognition of spiritual gifts which intersect with vocational ministry, as with Timothy. Another type of calling is demonstrated in the Book of Acts where there is a vote, a communal decision made for the church. Finally, for the prophet Samuel, familial prayer dedicates him to the Lord.
  • Loving God vs trusting God. // From the pressure to perform, to the rapid pace of ministry, to the challenge of maintaining one’s spiritual health, fears plague many Christian leaders. You can love God deeply, yet be filled with fear rather than trust in God. The amount of fear that sits in leaders’ lives in exponential. God is the one who casts out fear with his perfect love; we have to systematically invite him in to do that.
  • No before yes. // One of the most important ways to persevere long term is actually hearing God’s “no” before His “yes.” Ask God what spiritual gifts he’s given you, what gifts you will never have, and where you will never have influence. God’s “no” creates boundaries because you can’t go beyond the decisions he makes. Rest in his “no” rather than going after the gifts that aren’t for you. The heart of victory is working in your place of spiritual gifting rather than pursuing natural or acquired gifts.
  • Encounter Him. // At Sanctus, they’ve based their discipleship and evangelism not in class but on encounter. Where does God say he’ll be encountered beyond omnipresence? When you start teaching everyone about where scripture says guaranteed places of encounter are and create an expectation that they will meet with the living God, suddenly everything moves from a programmatic approach to real encounter.
  • Perseverance. // Jon has written a book reflecting at the midway point of his own ministry walk. Written for those who are considering entering ministry, those who have been in the trenches for any period of time, and even those who are coming near the end of their Christian leadership journey, this book shares fifteen observations that are transcultural, timeless, and transportable to many different settings. Perseverance: Fifteen Reflections on Christian Ministry at the Halfway Point –– An Invitation to Make It to the Finish Line Well –– Oh God, Help is a great book to pick up and discuss with your church team to see where everyone is in their own ministry journeys.

You can learn more about Sanctus Church at www.sanctuschurch.com and find Jon’s books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and with other resources at jonthompsonresources.com.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Really looking forward to today’s conversation – we have got Jon Thompson with us. He is the lead pastor at Sanctus Church. This is a multisite church with four campuses, if I’m counting correctly, in the greater Toronto area—you know I love Canadians here at unSeminary. Ah, plus they do you know services online. Jon is just an incredible leader, but I also count him as a friend. He’s a speaker, teacher, he travels, and has written a number of books that I think are just so important for us. And he’s got a book coming out that frankly today friends I’m going to declare my bias right up front – I want you to pick up copies of this book. So. Ah, Jon, welcome I’m so glad that you’re here.

Jon Thompson — Thanks Rich. It’s great to be with you again, and yes I count you as a good friend too.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s nice.

Jon Thompson — Yes.

Rich Birch — We’ve been in each other’s orbit for twenty-ish years, and so the thing, friends, like Toronto is not an easy place to lead a church. It is not the kind of place that’s like ah, an understatement. Ah, you know, very post-Christian. Um, and Jon is leading a thriving church called Sanctus that I’m you know count as a real brother in the faith. They do great things, but my son is also ah a part of the team there. So I pay particular attention to Sanctus. So Jon and tell us a little bit about it. Kind of fill out your story, tell us a little bit about the church, that kind of thing.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so I’ve been on staff 26 years in this church.

Rich Birch — Amazing.

Jon Thompson — This has been my whole run and this is a multisite church. There’s four physical locations now, and like you said one, one virtual. And when I joined this church, I joined this church actually when I was fourteen years old. I had an encounter with Jesus, was told to come and have never left. Um and it’s yeah, it’s an interesting church.

Jon Thompson — It’s had 4 or 5 very significant iterations, as you know. We, you and I, have talked about this. We were historically, you know, like a very Willow seeker church. And the joke you and I have had is I’m a contemplative exegete Calvinist charismatic who leads the megachurch and what?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Jon Thompson — Anyway, and how that transformation has happened. And so wrestling through multiculturalism, you know, leading in the fourth largest city in North America, totally, you know, post-Christian to re-paganizing, working through spiritual gifts and disciplines and spiritual conflict and politics. And we now 55 nations part of our church so wrestling through how you do multiculturalism well and keeping unity in Jesus. And all the things. I used to have a lot more hair. We both did…

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it.

Jon Thompson — …in an ancient time.

Rich Birch — Well tell us a little bit about your family too. Just give us kind of the the personal slice a little bit too.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so been married for 23 years. Interestingly I was planning on not getting married. I had actually done sort of the small “C” catholic thing where I was going to be celibate and single for the sake of the church. And then the Lord actually, and I don’t believe this is true in all cases… ah, my wife became a Christian actually at a mutual place that you and I both love at Muskoka Woods.

Rich Birch — Love Muskoka Woods. Yep.

Jon Thompson — So she became a Christian there. And then um she came to our church and Lord… she encountered the Lord said, like you need to marry that guy. So that was interesting conversation because she was supposed to marry me and I wasn’t marrying…

Rich Birch — I’ve never heard that before. I don’t know why I’ve never heard that! Amazing.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, yeah, yeah, and yeah. And pulled the Martin Luther. Anyway, so we um got married. We got 3 kids. I have a sixteen year old, I have a 14 year old, and I have a twelve year old, and life is interesting, all the time.

Rich Birch — Um, nice. So good. Well so first of all, I just want to take a moment and honor you publicly – 26 years at Sanctus. That’s that’s a milestone that’s not the kind of thing that happens all the time. You know it seems like the average pastorate is is measured in months, let alone years.

Jon Thompson — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And so the fact that you’ve been serving there for 26 years, as a friend I want to say thank you. Thank you for your faithfulness to that community. You know, you are, you know, you’re just a gift to the body of Christ in the greater Toronto area and I’m just honored ah, to to kind of celebrate this milestone. And you know I was saying this to ah ah, another friend of mine who reached 25 years, I said you know there just ah we don’t have enough of these stories out here. We have enough of these people that we get a chance to kind of say like, hey wow you know good for you. And I count that um and myself I’ve had the privilege of serving in another number of contexts. But ah, just amazing that you’ve been there for that that season.

Rich Birch — Why don’t we start with, okay so tell us about that. What was it that, you know, got you started at the church, and then kind of give us your story over those 25 years? That’s that’s I know is a big question – compress 25 years in a couple minutes, but tell us that story.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so no. Like so I I come from a generation, my parents were missionaries, so I come from the generation the eighties. I grew up overseas, pre-internet. You know, I’m a Gen Xer and so lived in that world and um and came back off the mission field as they used to say don’t say that anymore, and that’s okay. And and so was attending this little church in Toronto on the east side of Toronto and in grade 7 and 8. It was a very pivotal moment, youth pastor basically saved my spiritual life. And in the middle of that grade 8 to grade 9, I had a calling to ministry which is a different conversation maybe for later. And then and then basically um as that took place in grade 9 I had an encounter with Jesus. And he basically said, I want you to go to this other church. And so I came.

Jon Thompson — I was in youth group. Two weeks later the youth pastor said, hey, have you ever preached before? I was like no. And he’s like well you need to start learning. And that’s how it started. So was there…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Jon Thompson — …served in youth group as one of the crazy, you know, youth guys. And then from there, started my undergrad and theology and then ran the young adults thing. And then wanted to become a professor, never wanted to be a pastor and all that stuff. And then suddenly became the youth pastor of that church unexpectedly, was youth pastor for a very long time. Ah young adults, youth, junior high, introduction of like you know adolescence, and then all that stuff. And then at thirty years old, became senior pastor and that led multiple iterations of the church from that point forward.

Rich Birch — Yeah let’s let’s stick with the calling piece there. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Because I know this is one of the things you talk about in your book, but but I also want to talk. You know, often I have not done a lot of um, counseling premarital counseling, but I have done a little bit. And one of the questions I’ll ask is, you know, this isn’t on the first session, it’ll be a couple sessions in. I’ll say, hey so you know, there’s a some percentage of of marriages that don’t make it. And um obviously none of the people that are in pre-marriage counseling are thinking that they’re going to be in that that percentage that don’t make it. They everyone stands on their wedding day and says well this is going to be great. I’m going to be, you know, this we’re going to make it for the long haul. But sadly they don’t. The same is true with our calling. I feel like, man, there are people who at certain points in our lives they like say God called me into this thing and then then we find ourselves, whatever, ten years later, discouraged, you know, and we end up in real estate. Like how does that happen? What’s the connection between understanding our calling or listening to our calling and persevering in ministry? How do those connect?

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so I think it’s the ball game. And I think calling’s been lost. And so you know, in this one of the things I have two or three chapters at the beginning I talked about this. So um, ah I’ll so talk about it in three different ways. Number one, you got to realize that there are four calling theologies in scripture. Not one. And this ah actually leads to part of the problem. We all know that marriages break when expectations are not clear. And so if you only have one view of calling, and you don’t have that, you probably will end up leaving.

Jon Thompson — So I jokingly say ah, my calling experience is like Jeremiah and Paul: oh crap, I have no choice. It is so. But there was no debate with the living God.

Rich Birch — Ah, yes.

Jon Thompson — I I was literally in grade 7 and 8 and my parents weren’t pressuring me. There was no zero conversation about ministry. And I literally encountered the Lord and he said, you need to be a pastor, to a grade 12 boy ah sorry a twelve year old boy. And I remember saying to him I don’t know if I want to obey you sexually. That was my first statement. And my second one was I don’t know if I’d love your church enough. And I wrestled for two years. And in grade 9, which again is very young and weird, when I got baptized, I also said to the Lord, I’ll I’ll obey. I’ll obey. And that was a vow moment for me.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Jon Thompson — And and so um, that’s, you know, a profound sort of shocking story. Um, and then of course that started making sense because as this happened longer and longer my parents said, oh that’s really weird that happened to you because we never told you this but when you were six months old we were at this evangelistic thing by a guy named Barry Moore who was like the Billy Graham of Canada in the 70s. And very conservative dude and he walked up and put his hand over my head and said this child will be a pastor [inaudible], like set all this stuff over me and walked away. My parents were like baptist people like that’s weird…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Jon Thompson — And what what’s that about?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Jon Thompson — And they totally forgot about it, and it was confirmed. So that that sense of sovereign decision affected how I did high school, everything. The dark side of it was I thought that was the only view of calling. So I would dismiss other people’s calling. I’d be arrogant and look down. But there are three other callings. So you’ve got like the Timothy – there’s a spiritual set of gifts that you have and that intersection of those gifts says, yes, there’s longevity and vocational ministry. You got the boring book of Acts where they literally vote and say, I think you’ll do it great at this. And there’s no fire tunnel or Gabriel or anything at all. And then there’s the very un-North American one, right, which is the Hannah and Samuel one. Which basically says like we as the family have prayed and you you are called into this.

Jon Thompson — So I I found that a lot of us need to ah find out how we were called, in what style we were called, and then know it’s true, compare our stories with others so there’s no disunity, over-spiritualizing, under-spiritualizing, all that stuff. That’s the epicenter to keep going when things suck. Because if you don’t know if you’re called, and things are bad…

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — …you won’t… like, we live in a culture you and I both know this that it’s all about epicness and amazing and it’s adrenaline driven.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Jon Thompson — And and it’s and we want to live life like ah like a Marvel movie. It was this, and it was this, it was this… And we read the bible the same way. This happened and that happened it was so incredible. And we miss the hundred years and 20 years and 30 years between the verses.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Jon Thompson — Like in marriage, if marriage always is epic. We all know who are married long term, it’s not always epic. It’s boring, it’s not great, sometimes it’s terrible, sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s awesome. And so what I have found is there’s been a generation or two of leaders that have forgotten calling theology, don’t have language for it, haven’t compared this story, so when the tough thing comes, you don’t persevere because you’re not really sure…

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — …if you were asked in the first place.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s that’s good. I love that. You know, I think there is it’s similar I find in my own kind of reflection on ministry that um, it’s comparable to to marriage in that like I, you know, there are lots of days that are not that, to your point, not that interesting. There are lots of days that are just work, you know, there are but I find over the long haul, man, that being able to walk the long road and look back and see God at work consistently over the years, man, what a gift that has been ah, to me personally. Sticking with calling for a second. Um, one of the things you talked about was, you know, fleshing this out in community. What does that look like? How do we do that? Let’s say I’m a young leader. I’m in my twenties. I’m thinking about this. I think maybe I’m, you know, maybe this is the kind of call I’m, you know, this is what I’m called to do. Um, but I’m serving in a church as a youth pastor for the first time and I’m like, gosh I don’t know. How do I flesh this thing out in community? What do I do? Who do I talk to?

Jon Thompson — Yeah, well I would say one of the most significant things is um, back to you know in leadership studies they will say go back and find out how life affected you. So you know, 0 to five, five to ten, ten to 15, 15 to 20, whatever. And they say what books did you read? What podcast you listen to? What major events happen in the world? What never happens is tell me what was prayed over you. Tell me the experiences you had with the Lord. Like no one goes back…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Jon Thompson — …and looks for the pattern of dots. You need to do that. If you come from a family of faith, some of you don’t, but lots of us who do, what did Grandma pray over you? What what happened when they found that they were pregnant and they started praying? What what was stated or prayed over you? And then sit with mature Christians and start saying, I think I’m vocationally called, can we sit and pray over this and talk about this? But have the four categories of calling. Because again, 1 Corinthians 4 to me is the passage about this where Paul says you must view us as those who are entrust with the mysteries of Christ and and our stewards of the household of God. And the word steward is wild because the word steward means the one who is a slave but owns nothing, but still in charge. If you don’t know you’re called…

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — …you won’t think you have the authority to lead, and you’ll also forget you own nothing. But to evaluate if you got that position, you’re going to do in community – pastors, friends, leaders. Because if you think you’re called and everyone else says you’re probably not, you need to pay attention. There’s a lot of people and, Rich, you and I know this, there’s a lot of people who went into ministry because they couldn’t hack it somewhere else. And it’s devastating.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah.

Jon Thompson — Because this is not what you get into long term.

Rich Birch — No.

Jon Thompson — What why be a pastor or leader a faith leader, like being a faith leader now is incredibly personally dangerous. It’s dangerous to your reputation, your family. It’s not great pay. We all know it. And it’s like being a politician these days, but God and the devil’s involved. Who would want that? I don’t.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yeah, yeah, so true. Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Okay, at you putting down kind of your thoughts at you and you called it out, halfway through your journey, you, you know, you you flagged it. Um, what was, as you pulled this together, what would you say was the hardest part to pull pull together from a kind of a transparency point of view? Felt like, ooh this is the most vulnerable piece of this dialogue. This is the piece that that feels a little bit like, ooh I’m not sure I want to say this. Ah but I know you; you’re a transparent kind of communicator. You want to ah you know let people in. Talk to me about that.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so I started writing this in 2019 just before the pandemic began. So the joke I

Rich Birch — Great time. Great time.

Jon Thompson — Ah yeah, the joke always is that the world ended because I was writing a book on perseverance and it’s all my fault. Um, yeah, so here’s here’s what happened um, to me while I was writing it. And and the thought process, the theology, the experiential on the ground stuff was there, but I knew that I had to talk about fear in this book. I I knew I had to in 2019. Leading to the pandemic for any of us was terrible. Leading through the pandemic in Toronto was horrific.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it was. Yep.

Jon Thompson — Um, and there was 5 sort of volcanoes that happened all at once. And so you, know you, anyway there there’s lots that happened here.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Jon Thompson — And not saying oh our life was worse than yours. I’m just saying our lockdowns were way longer than most of the world. Um, you know the the death of George Floyd the murder of him had massive impact here. A very significant megachurch collapse during um during covid also that affected all of us, that both Rich and I are connected to relationally and historically. Um and then there was all sorts of staff issues that happened, and then on and on and on. So here’s here’s what I would say: I was struck about how much I loved God and how much I didn’t trust him. And um, love and trust are fundamentally two different things.

Rich Birch — Oh unpack that. That’s good. That’s good.

Jon Thompson — And yeah, so I I love God deeply, deeply. I um I can’t wait to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see him. You know what Paul says in Corinthians, I think it’s 2 Corinthians. You know I think I’m maybe I’m going a misquote, but you know it’s better to be away from the body, at home with the Lord. Like that that’s not true for me every day, but I do love him. I love him more than my wife and kids, and I love them a lot. Um, but I realized that ah, leading during covid and leading for 25 years and being ah, an exegetical preaching type guy who goes through books and doesn’t avoid difficult topics, talking about that and having now a global sort of platform, not just a small little one. And I don’t mean the arrogantly just the influence is wider than it was. I was like, oh crap, I’m actually really vulnerable. Like I I’m really…

Jon Thompson — And so what happened was I realized how much fear was inside my head. And and so what I did is I I um I wrote down ah, on notes on my computer every fear in my head…

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Jon Thompson — …whether it was logical, whether it was rational. And I suddenly I couldn’t believe how many things about me, my marriage, my identity, my life, my future, life, death, reputation. And see, got to remember too like um because of my upbringing, my parents are awesome, but my mom had horrific post-partum depression so didn’t hold me for six months so there’s attachment issues. My dad clinically burnt out on the mission field. I moved 14 times. I was exposed sexually to stuff way too young, not by them but in other contexts. So you know there’s a presupposition or ah to to abandonment. And then I was like so I love God deeply and I’m a Calvinist, not angry, but I’m a Calvinist. We always, you and I, joke. And so I I have a high view of sovereignty, and a high view of God’s glory.

Jon Thompson — And I said to God, so I’ve read my bible and I’m under no illusion that I get out okay. And I’ve I’ve read church history and I’ve been to 40 countries…

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — …I’m under no illusion that Christianity equals safety.

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — And then I was like, oh my goodness so I am so afraid. And then I said to the Lord, and actually I don’t know if you’ll have my back. I know you’ve got it at the resurrection. and I know you’ve called me. But wonder if you destroy me in the middle because it brings you glory. And I was like I and it just it just fro… it just froze me. It just it just undid me. And so, I think what I’ve realized is. There is doesn’t matter your personality, background, even to what theological way you ebb. The amount of fear that sits in leaders lives is just exponential. It’s our our families are no different than anyone else’s. And then we have, you know, the pressures of leading in the twenty first in 2023 with social media, and automatic responses, and all this stuff. But then there’s all the soul stuff and that can I keep my soul going at the pace I’m supposed to be leading at.

Jon Thompson — And so just to end this part, what happened was I started realizing Romans 5 says that the Holy Spirit is the love of God poured out in my heart. And then I realized that Paul said in Ephesians 3 that we can know the unknowable love of God which is paradox. So I started saying to the Holy Spirit, if you’re the love of the Father already in me. And I can know an unknowable thing. And perfect love casts out fear, which that means you’re the one who casts out fear, that I have to start inviting you systematically…

Rich Birch — To do that. Wow.

Jon Thompson — …into the fear, each one of them, and say to them, are you going to destroy me? And even if you say yes, what am I going to do with that?

Rich Birch — Hmm.

Jon Thompson — Massive. And not done by the way, Rich.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I was going to say that that feels like a lifelong journey though. That feels like a, you know, second half ah journey. Let’s let’s pivot in ah in a slightly different direction, obviously related. So I um, when I think about the gifts of the spirit, when I think about um, you know the fruits of the spirit, you know, things the power side, I often think of you, and you’ve shaped my thinking on this front in a bunch. And I got thinking about this this whole area of our gifting and then the place we bring to it from like, you know, that we have to invest in growing what God has given us, or invest in the skills that we have. You know, you’re a gifted communicator. I put you and I use that word very specifically. God has gifted you as a teacher. You’re and I I think of that from a like the results are greater than the input. I think what you do is really good. But man, when you speak God uses you. But there’s a part of this that you have to keep working on, that you have to keep saying like I’ve got to invest in that. I’ve got to spend time there. It’s not just magical. It’s not just like, hey God’s given you this and it’s it’s magical. Here you are halfway through your your ministry career. How are you thinking about that – areas of gifting and then your need to continue to invest in those things. How does how does that how do those interplay with each other?

Jon Thompson — Yeah, so I’m going to start um I’m going to start in one angle and end up in the other, as you know I will.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Jon Thompson — So ah I think one of the most important ways to persevere longterm, and I want to qualify this. I’m not saying I’m going to make it. As I get going here.

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — Like I’m only 48.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Jon Thompson — Ah the scriptures are clear only 30% of leaders make it to the end well. And church history tells us the same. So the stats aren’t great for us. Lord, have mercy. Christ is mercy, as our Anglican brothers and sisters say.

Rich Birch — Amen.

Jon Thompson — But here’s here’s one of the other things that helped me in and around gifts and perseverance, and then I’ll get to the craft. One of the most freeing things for me, which I’ve shared with you before, is actually hearing God’s no before his yes. And I think most North American leaders have been taught, you can do basically anything if you work harder. And I say it’s a lie. It’s a total lie. And actually as I interview leaders that have fallen or walked away, almost all of them talk about this expectation dream they had of what ministry would look like. And when it didn’t culminate into that expectation, They say either God lied, I didn’t hear him, the devil’s too strong, or I was never called, and it breaks. Romans 12, which is actually ah a passage about spiritual gifts. Most people only preach the first 2 verses. Just keep going everyone. Keep going. Right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Jon Thompson — Paul not only talks about the sovereign assignment of gifts. In other words, it’s not a buffet – he chooses what you get, which by the way, a lot of leaders need to humble themselves and really have that conversation. There’s also this phrase – he says, the measure of grace. And so the implication is I not only don’t get to choose what spiritual gift I get, he determines how much influence behind that gift I get. So I always use the illustration of like a river and there’s riverbanks. In other words, you can’t surpass the sovereign decision of where the river banks are, no matter how much you work on your craft.

Jon Thompson — So if let’s say there’s four people with the gift of teaching and they’re all sovereignly gifted. The Spirit of God might give one a creek of influence, or to use charismatic word, anointing or baptist umph, whatever. Right? Right? So a creek. Someone might have a river. Someone might have a major river. Someone might have an ocean. All four of them have the same gift. But if the person with the creek believes they should have the ocean and they’ve never asked if God’s going to give them the ocean, they’ll think they’ll get the ocean if they work hard enough, and they won’t, and then they’ll think they’ve failed. So I say to leaders all the time, no matter how long just ask God: What gifts do I have? What gifts will I never have? And the real question actually ask, people, is please ask God what you will never have in influence. So you can actually base your ministry excitement and dreams in God’s no. Because then you can rest.

Rich Birch — Right. Stop pursuing that. Yeah.

Jon Thompson — You can… Because so many of us don’t rest because we still believe this thing’s going to happen, or we’re gonna accomplish this thing. And if you sat with a group of honest friends, they’re like that is never going to happen because you’re not even spiritually gifted that way. And have you asked God’s no. So the reason why I’m saying this to your question is, for me, God’s no… I know what gifts I don’t have and I’ve also been told by the Lord what influence I’ll never have.

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — So every time I’m tempted to look over like Peter did to John after his restoration, say but what about John? Jesus goes, what a business is that is what, what, what? I’m, why are you looking at that leader with that platform or that…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. That’s good.

Jon Thompson — I’m talking to you. So that’s free. And then once I know the limitations, then it is just the due diligence of doing that work consistently. The 10,000 principle is still true in the natural sense of getting better, getting feedback, learning through it. But the heart of the victory is not the working on the craft. It’s actually knowing where if it’s a spiritual gift, not a natural or acquired gift, and deeper than that, knowing when God has said no to me. It’s…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Jon Thompson — It’s revolutionary. I tried to do 80% of my ministry only in spiritual gifts.

Rich Birch — Right. Dude, that’s that right there… I hope you were listening, friends. Ah you know there there could be, particularly if you’re a younger leader, listen in, rewind what Jon just said. Go back and ask the Lord where what is his no for you. Man, I think that is a great ah, great word.

Rich Birch — Again, pivoting in a totally different direction. Not really about your book, but I just value your thinking on this and I want to keep, you know, asking these kinds of questions. So for folks that don’t know Sanctus’ is history, you mentioned this on the front end, you know, Sanctus at one point in our part of the world was like middle of the bell curve um you know, attractional like they did the skits like Willow kind of church. like that was the church. Um, and that’s not the case today. And the church has ah has I think is a forefront leader in providing, or providing is the wrong word, cultivating accessible encounters with God in a way that is accessible to people who in a culture that is maybe post-christian, pre-christian or like you said cultivating pagan today. I thought wow that’s an interesting that’s an interesting phrase. Um talk to us about accessible encounters. Because I see this happening all over the place.

Rich Birch — I see I see churches that came from the attractional background saying, hey, if people just show up and find us. There’s a problem because that if it’s just about us, that’s a problem – that’s not good. And then the same I would say churches that are more on the charismatic side are saying we need this to be accessible. We need this to actually reach people outside of our our doors. It can’t just be about creating a great kind of holy huddle here. Talk to us about accessible encounter. What should we be thinking about? How should we be leading in that in our areas? And I realize I asked that with like two minutes left…

Jon Thompson — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …but you know, take our time. What what what… Let’s let’s unpack that a little bit.

Jon Thompson — Yeah, I think one of the best ways to talk about this is we’ve based our discipleship and our evangelism not in class but in encounter. And so what we did is we took a lot of time to read through the scriptures and asked a question. And the question is, where does God say he will be encountered beyond omnipresence? So the phraseology we use here all the time is, where does God move from omnipresence to palpability? And interestingly, ah the when the gospel is shared, the life death and resurrection of Jesus is shared, that’s… Ah you know, gathered worship, communion, baptism – there’s all these areas. And we would say like for example at communion, we don’t think he’s in the elements. We we don’t have a Catholic perspective but we don’t also have the historic Baptist perspective, it’s bare memorialism. We would say he’s at the table. He’s not in the elements.

Jon Thompson — But what happened was when we started being honest about what the scripture said where he was. We started saying to our people, he’s actually here because he says he is. Right when that happened, the whole church changed. Because then people said, oh my goodness I’m going to meet the living Jesus. And the whole spiritual atmosphere of the church changed. Because we started using phrases like this is a guaranteed place of encounter. And then you know this, in our context regularly we talk to seekers, skeptics, people from other faiths. Like we don’t just say seeker – I can’t stand when churches say, hey if you’re a seeker here today. I’m like don’t presume they’re a seeker.

Rich Birch — Right.

Jon Thompson — There are seekers among us, and there are skeptics, and there are people from other faiths, and there are spiritual people, and agnostics, and atheists – we call them all out in our services. And we invite them also to encounter, but encounter through repentance. And so I would say when you start teaching your whole community where guaranteed places of encounter are, and the expectations reorient themselves biblically, suddenly the atmosphere of the church moves from programmatic understanding to encounter.

Jon Thompson — So spiritual gifts is one of those like we talked about. I think that builds such longevity. But then you have to and as we’re literally ending, then you have to have a theology of disciplines and gifts, and you also have to think through how you ah, not only invite into encounter, but how you interpret. One of the biggest problems we’ve got in multiple churches is that they don’t have an understanding of spiritual theology. Spiritual theology is the systematic evaluation of spiritual experiences from a biblical worldview. If you can’t do that, then you can’t invite encounter. Most of us want to dismiss encounter or experience because it’s too complicated and we’re trying to run a church. But the role of pastors and leaders is not to dismiss encounter. It’s actually to interpret the source of it – God, Satan, the tacos from last night, mental illness, or too much Netflix. That’s our responsibility. And when it’s from the Lord then we have to start saying that’s important. And for some of you more conservative living out there, maybe a little passing throwing of a grenade as I end. Don’t presume weird is wrong. Weird is weird. The question is what’s the source of the weird. And remember weird is cultural. Just want to say that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. That’s so good.

Rich Birch — Yeah, Jon there’s a lot there, and you know I appreciate your I would really encourage people to follow you, follow what you’re doing. This is one of the books you’ve written, you’ve written. Ah you know others that touch on some of that stuff in a deeper ah way. But I you know I just value your leadership and in so many ways. And again just want to honor you, thank you for for being here today. Um, if people want to pick up this current book. So this is “Perseverance: Fifteen Reflections on Christian Ministry at the Halfway Point –– An Invitation to Make It to the Finish Line Well –– Oh God, Help”, um, which which I love. I like that’s a fantastic title. Obviously you can get it at Amazon. Are there other places we want, and we’ll link to it in the show notes, but where do we want to send people online if they want to pick it up?

Jon Thompson — Yeah, yeah, anyone can you can grab that anywhere on Amazon and any Amazon store globally. If in United States you can get it digitally and physically through Barnes and Noble. If you’re in Canada and you want a virtual copy, like we got it on Kobo, Kindle, all those places. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. And you know, what I, to be honest, friends, when I I had got a chance to see ah a early copy of this and I thought, man, this would be a great gift for teams to do together. Like let’s actually have this conversation. You know, this a great time of year to be thinking about, Okay, what are we doing next quarter. Let’s buy a bunch of copies of these books and read them together as a team and then say let’s talk about these in relation to our ministry, and where we’re at. I think, personally, I think, Jon, you’ve done a a favor here to leadership teams to really spur some really next level conversations with our with our people. So I I would strongly encourage people that are listening in to pick up. Don’t pick up one copy, just buy a bunch for your whole team and and go through it together. Jon, I’m going to give you the final words here. Anything else you want to say just as we close off today’s episode?

Jon Thompson — Yeah, all I would like to say is if you are considering Christian leadership, if you are a Christian leader, or you’ve been a Christian leader, I just want to encourage you marathon not sprint. And keep being faithful. At the end of the day, everyone, when we see Jesus face to face, we’re going to want to give him everything. Just don’t don’t forget in the middle of the social media and the politics and the board stuff and the people and the pressures and the fear and the questions. Um, when you see him, you’ll want to give him everything. So don’t give in and don’t give up.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much, Jon. If people want to track with you online or with the church, where do we want to send them?

Jon Thompson — Ah, Instagram @pastorjon_T, sanctuschurch.com and then just because inundation jonthompsonresources.com that’s J-O-N. That’s got all the books, the sermons, and everything. It’s just it’s a place to have all the things.

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally. Great. Thanks so much, Jon. Appreciate being here. Always a great and come back anytime. I’d love to have you back on in the future.

Jon Thompson — Thanks, Rich.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.