Shepherding the Shepherds
The Ministry and Influence of CT Pastors
For years, Daniel Darling has been an avid Christianity Today subscriber, Leadership Journal reader, and now a CT Pastors fan. His enthusiasm for CT's impact is infectious. Early in our interview, Daniel interjected, "I believe in the mission of Christianity Today. There needs to be CT and CT Pastors. There's a fragile center of evangelicalism that CT holds."
Now, as a contributor to CT Pastors, in addition to being the vice president of communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and serving in his local church, Daniel helps further the mission of CT as he writes articles inspired by his years of pastoring and time as a congregant. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Daniel about his current work, the challenges facing the local church, and his hope for CT.
What's your current role, and long have you been in ministry?
I pastored for almost six years in the Chicago area, and I am currently a pastor of teaching and discipleship at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, which is a suburb of Nashville, TN. I was also an interim pastor at Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN. My background includes pastoring, teaching, and serving on leadership teams.
In my other role with the ERLC, our advocacy work, like the work we do in D.C., get a lot of attention—and it is very important work—but a lot of my time with the ERLC is spent helping equip the local church, meeting with pastors and church leaders, and addressing church questions. We're very invested in the local church, and we're hearing from pastors all the time across the country.
Most pastors are not megachurch pastors. Most pastors are leading small- to medium-sized congregations, and God is doing really great work through them. There's amazing work going on in these local communities that we'll never even see. We think everything's national, that it's big and bad, because that's what we're seeing on Twitter and on the news. But pastors are doing pretty good work in their local communities, and I think that's overlooked a lot.
How long have you read CT Pastors?
I have read CT Pastors since it launched, and I read Leadership Journal for years before that. And every new incarnation of it, I've enjoyed. It's been very helpful and unique in that the leadership content CT offers provides something no one else does.
What are some of the greatest challenges facing the local church, and how do you see CT Pastors navigating this terrain?
One of the greatest challenges is the increasing polarization of people. Social media has done some really good things for justice movements and for elevating marginalized voices. But I also think, on the flip side, there's a tendency to tribalize. How do you pastor in such a divided age? How do you get people together across socioeconomic lines, class and race divisions, and across political divisions to come together as the body of Christ?
Another challenge, one I talk with pastors about that's not often addressed, is that there's a lot that competes for people's time. Many pastors say the biggest thing they compete with is sports schedules and travel ball. People aren't necessarily prioritizing church attendance, so it's harder for pastors to navigate.
CT Pastors addresses these challenges well by featuring trusted voices. One of the things I really like about CT Pastors is that it doesn't only publish well-known writers and practitioners, though one of their strengths is that they do have articles from those people as well. I remember reading Gordon McDonald and John Ortberg through the years. But what I really appreciate is that CT Pastors features everyday pastors writing about their own experiences, whether it's pastoring a large church or a small church, they are describing what it looks like in their specific contexts. It's on-the-ground, incarnational writing.
You're also a contributor to CT Pastors—tell me about your role and what inspires the pieces you write.
My role as a contributor has allowed me write about something I'm very passionate about: the local church. One piece that has gotten a tremendous amount of feedback is "Boring Church Services Changed My Life." Growing up in church as a kid, we sang the same hymns and I heard the same gospel, and I didn't really understand everything. But those rhythms formed me in a way I didn't realize until I got older. More often than not we're not necessarily changed by a single moment, we're changed by a lifetime of faithful church attendance. Most of the time when we're going to church, we don't even feel great, but we're being formed. I wanted to write about this experience.
How has Christianity Today contributed to the work you do?
Christianity Today has been formative in my life in many ways. I have been reading CT for decades, and they always present the best of the center of evangelicalism, bringing together thought leadership, practical application, and then looking at issues in the church from all sides. It's fulfilled the vision that Billy Graham had for it: to help shape the church. There are always things that CT produces that challenge me, that encourage me, that address things I haven't even thought about but maybe I should as they profile leaders or people in different contexts. When I was a young pastor coming out of an unhealthy church environment, CT was one of the main influences that was able to show me what faithful orthodoxy looks like. For these reasons, I decided to become a donor to CT's ministry. Because it's really great and important work, and I want to see it continue for many years.
Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor at Christianity Today.