Dave Owens and Mike Cosper

In this episode of The Sojourn Church Podcast, Mike Cosper, Interim President, sits down with Dave Owens, Interim Director, to look back on what God has done for the Sojourn Network and explore why the network was started, what the governing principles behind the network are, and what this all mean for the future of the network.  


Mike Cosper:  [00:00:00] I'm Mike Cosper, and this is Sojourn Network. Welcome to the podcast. We're so glad that you're here with us today. On each episode of this podcast, we talk with church planters and pastors about the everyday work and challenges of planting churches. In particular, on today's episode I am sitting down with Dave Owens from the Sojourn Network staff, and we are going to take the entire episode just to talk about the origins and foundations of the network. Why did we start Sojourn Network? What are the governing principles behind why we do what we do? And what does that have to say about the future of the network, about where we're headed?

[00:00:58] Currently, I'm serving as [00:01:00] the interim president of the network. Dave is serving as the interim executive director. We're walking through a lot of transitions. We're very excited about all of those. We'll mention a few of them when we have our conversation, but there's lots of news to come in the months ahead. For today, let's look backwards together at what God has done in the network and where we have come from. Thanks for listening.

[00:01:28] I'm here with Dave Owens, and we're here today to talk about the story of the network, where we came from, why we formed and how that kind of shapes and informs what we're doing today. But what's funny about this, as I was thinking about this before we rolled tape, in a lot of ways you and I are, we're OGs on this and our friendship, our relationship really goes back pretty much to the start of Sojourn Network. I knew you a little bit in advance of that. [00:02:00] Dave came to Sojourn chasing a girl, and I got a phone call from the music minister at his previous church. I won't repeat exactly what he said to me, but he was very upset that his favorite drummer had left his church. This was Chip Stam, God rest his soul, calling me up to chew me out for stealing his drummer. I was like, "Who is this guy? I don't know who this guy is."

[00:02:23]Dave Owens:  I don't regret it for a minute.

[00:02:24]Mike Cosper:  Yeah.

[00:02:24]Dave Owens:  It's the best decision I ever made.

[00:02:25]Mike Cosper:  That's right. Chased a girl, married her, and then he came on staff. Now officially, when you first came on, you came on with the church, right?

[00:02:33]Dave Owens:  Yeah, summer of 2011. Sojourn Network had just started, but was very closely connected, if not 100% connected, with Sojourn Church at that time.

[00:02:45]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. My memories in terms of the sort of deep origins of this is that really the roots of Sojourn Network go back to Acts 29. Sojourn Church was planted in year 2000, somewhere around 2005, 2006. [00:03:00] Because of our participation in the Southern Baptist Convention, we got to know Darren Patrick, and Darren was telling us about Acts 29, invited us in, so Sojourn became part of Acts 29, which is an interesting thing to think about because I don't know that there were any rules for what it meant to be an Acts 29 church. I don't think we gave any money. They were funded by Mars Hill and they were funded by some outside grant money that I think they received, but I don't remember giving money to Acts 29.

[00:03:30]Dave Owens:  See, I couldn't tell you because we got there in 2009. Anna (inaudible) came in January 2009. I came later that year, and so we kind of picked up the story in-

[00:03:39]Mike Cosper:  A few years in.

[00:03:40]Dave Owens:  Exactly. Right in the middle of it.

[00:03:43]Mike Cosper:  You participated by taking part in boot camps and-

[00:03:48]Dave Owens:  That's right.

[00:03:48]Mike Cosper:  ... assessments. We did all that. We hosted a boot camp, attended several. I was involved with a bunch of them, and we loved Acts 29. In many ways what became [00:04:00] Sojourn Network is very much informed by what we experienced with Acts 29, the brotherhood, the sense of kind of common adventure and curiosity and some of the probably negative traits of Sojourn Network. We're occasionally accused of bravado. That's probably an Acts 29 hang-on as well. I don't know if you've ever heard that accusation, that concern.

[00:04:24]Dave Owens:  I've never, ever heard that. Yeah.

[00:04:28]Mike Cosper:  We started with Acts 29, and we were with them for quite a few years. And then somewhere around 2009, 2010, Acts 29 really was the Wild West of the time, because you had guys like Mars Hill Church, which was multi-city, multi-campus video venue. And there were others. The Village Church was in there. The Journey was in there, kind of in that camp. You had some pretty conservative Presbyterian [00:05:00] guys that were part of Acts 29, and you had ... The Soma Network was part of Acts 29, which is guys at the time David Fairchild and Jeff Vanderstelt. Their vision was almost a house church, one step beyond house church kind of house church.

[00:05:18] The message board inside of Acts 29 was always this crazy place where these guys from these different tribes would get on and just bicker and fight about video venue and what does it mean to be a church and how many gatherings can you have and still call yourself a church and what is real community. It was wild. In the midst of this, in an effort, I think, to help resolve some of the inherent tensions around those issues, the leaders of Acts 29, Scott Thomas, particularly Scott at the time, they decided they wanted to transition from being a regional affiliated network to affinity affiliated networks. We got real excited about that because we were deeply informed in terms of our [00:06:00] thinking about church planting. We were deeply informed by what Tim Keller in Redeemer was doing, this idea of renewal-driven mission, kind of informed by Richard Lovelace and other theologians.

[00:06:11] We were excited, this idea of, well, we could start an affinity network that was really aligned around those values. Scott gets up at an Acts 29 event, I think it was in 2009 or 2010, and announces that they're going in this direction of this affinity network, and so we start our affinity network, and about six months in, we realized we were the only one that had gone down that road. In fact, as we had recruited some churches, some other Acts 29 churches, to come in and be part of what we were doing, some of the regional leaders were like, "Hey, why are you taking my church? They're part of my region."

[00:06:47] It wasn't horrible tension. It wasn't bickering and fighting or anything like that, but it became clear after about six to eight months that Acts 29 was going to stay a regional network. We were going to be this affinity network kind of inside Acts 29. [00:07:00] And with time, with conversation, a vision emerged from them to send us out. It was kind of a mutual agreement, mutual sense on both sides that, hey, this is an opportunity to start something new. I think Acts 29, I think their leadership had some desire to see other networks popping up and growing out of Acts 29, which I believe has continued to happen.

[00:07:23] That's the deep cut, origin story.

[00:07:26]Dave Owens:  Who were the people at Sojourn Church that were kind of taking point on these discussion with Acts 29, keeping the network going, reaching out to people? Who was part of that team? Was it kind of an organic kind of situation? What was that like?

[00:07:40]Mike Cosper:  Daniel Montgomery and I were kind of the critical relationship with Acts 29. He and I were involved in all kinds of stuff with the network. Again, somewhere around this window, we start thinking about starting our own church planting network and the network within the network and putting more money, putting more resources towards church planting as part of Sojourn [00:08:00] Church's mission. Somewhere in there Brian Howard's name came up. We knew Brian through Acts 29. Brian was a church planter in southern California. He planted and was pastoring Copper Hill. We loved Brian. Brian was a good hang. Brian was one of these guys, we would go to New York for Acts 29 events and we'd stay out till 1:00 in the morning. He's just the best hang.

[00:08:23]Dave Owens:  Yeah.

[00:08:24]Mike Cosper:  Somewhere in there, his name came up because he was interested in transitioning out of his church-

[00:08:28]Dave Owens:  That's right.

[00:08:29]Mike Cosper:  ... and was interested particularly in devoting more of his time to church planting and working with church planters. And it was like, "Oh, my gosh. We could get Brian Howard. We could have Brian lead our network and pioneer the network for us. There was some back and forth. He flew into town, and the next thing you knew, he packed up his family and moved to Louisville from southern California.

[00:08:49]Dave Owens:  I think that was like 2009.

[00:08:52]Mike Cosper:  Yeah.

[00:08:52]Dave Owens:  Somewhere around there, right?

[00:08:53]Mike Cosper:  It was. We were still in Acts 29 when he came in.

[00:08:55]Dave Owens:  Because I remember him preaching at Sojourn Church pre-multi site. He [00:09:00] would come in 9:30 and preach. He was starting to raise up leaders, having conversations at Quills Coffee in Louisville with literally dozens of church planters, Dana Bratcher, who's still on the staff at Sojourn Church. He was scheduling all of these meetings at Quills Coffee back-to-back because we wanted someone with that church planter leadership and the time and capacity and desire to be coaching and mentoring a lot of young men from Southern Seminary who were at Sojourn and wanted to plant churches.

[00:09:26]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. I remember part of what made Brian an ideal candidate for the job was that we really needed somebody who was kind of devoted 50-50 to local church ministry and had the capacity to lead and pioneer this network. Brian served as a preaching pastor and helped launch our J-Town campus and helped launch the East campus and was real vital to the local church ministry. But in the midst of this, this vision for Sojourn Network continues to evolve and I guess a year or two in was when we spun off from A-29.

[00:10:00] [00:10:00] When did you come on staff? When did you (crosstalk) ?

[00:10:02]Dave Owens:  Yeah. That would have been the summer of 2011. Essentially, I like to think about it is it's a network, it's like an airplane taking off when you guys were part of Acts 29 and became one of these affinity networks, Acts 29 logo on the side of the airplane. Then 2011, as Acts 29 sends us out, we kind of pick the sticker off and throw Sojourn Network logo on there, get the right folks in the cockpit. Brian is part of that. You and Daniel and even a young advisory board, guys like Michael Crawford, Nick Nye.

[00:10:31]Mike Cosper:  That's right.

[00:10:33]Dave Owens:  Then Brian calls me and says, "We need some help. We need an administrator. We need the next ..." They threw out the name Tyler Powell, which I had no idea who Tyler was at the time.

[00:10:43]Mike Cosper:  That's right.

[00:10:43]Dave Owens:  And still have not met him. Tyler, I'd love to meet you at some point. Because that's who they wanted, somebody like that, and Tyler had a reputation of just diligent, very competent, high character. Worked in Acts 29 for years and years and years. They called me and said, "Would you like to do this?" Well, it was the perfect time for us because we had gotten [00:11:00] married early 2011. We had gotten unexpectedly pregnant with our first daughter, and I needed a job with benefits, so we were praying for that. Deep into the summer of 2011, Brian and I began conversations about what it looked like for me to come on for two years, help out as his executive assistant, and then go plant a church.

[00:11:18] That's how my journey with the network got started. Actually, my first day on the job was at a cabin outside of Louisville with the original 10 or 11 churches and their lead pastors and try to have this conversation about here's what it looks like for us to step out of Acts 29 and begin to forge a brand new network.

[00:12:06]Mike Cosper:  [00:12:00] How much of those first few years were spent getting Brian's coffee right?

[00:12:13]Dave Owens:  Oh, Brian. I love you, man. When Brian hired me, he said, "Look, you've got to be ready for all kinds of work. You are an assistant, so I'm going to make you go shopping, check my email, get my coffee creamer, learn how to make my coffee, get office supplies. That was a part of the job description and miscellaneous, et cetera, whatever Brian needed.

[00:12:33]Mike Cosper:  The creamer's a good story.

[00:12:34]Dave Owens:  The creamer's a great story because Brian liked creamer at the time. He said, "Go get some creamer," so I did. He was on a health kick, and Brian goes through a few of these every few years. And so I went to get the Land O'Lakes fat-free creamer, put it in the fridge, feeling proud of myself, go home content. Sleep well, wake up the next morning and just waiting for him to get the creamer out of the fridge. Just [00:13:00] made a hot, fresh pot of coffee. He looks at that thing, turns the carton over, looks at the label. He starts shaking his head and, "What are all these ingredients? Listen, when I ask you to buy cream, I just need you to buy cream. It should have one ingredient on the back of this milk carton. It should say cream. What's all this extra stuff?"

[00:13:21] That began just a wild ride working with Brian. Oh, it was so transforming and so helpful. Honestly, I just think working as an assistant for a lot of young men is just such a humbling, transforming experience. It was for me. It may not be everybody's journey, but it was a part of my early years. But my plan was to go plant a church. It wasn't to continue to be in network ministry, which is where I find myself still eight years later, to my joy.

[00:13:49]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. Yeah, I remember a lot of those conversations. I remember early conversations with you about your desire to plant a church, and it's been amazing to see how God has evolved that [00:14:00] into a passion for church planting, but a passion for church planters.

[00:14:04]Dave Owens:  Yeah.

[00:14:04]Mike Cosper:  And I see you as somebody who's invested your life in trying to encourage and support and empower church planters now in the role that you're in with the network. It's phenomenal to see.

[00:14:15]Dave Owens:  I appreciate that.

[00:14:16]Mike Cosper:  In those early days, one of the things that Dave and I have had a few laughs about in the last couple of months ... For those of you that are unfamiliar with Sojourn Network and kind of what's been going on, we've had ... Leadership transition took place in January of this year and our executive director and president stepped down, so I'm serving as the interim president. Dave is serving as the interim executive director. One of the things we wanted to give some attention to, one of the things the board was really interested in getting some attention to is our vision, our values, our DNA.

[00:14:46] I asked Dave to send me every copy, every edition, every iteration of the vision and values statements for Sojourn Network and the mission and strategies and all this. [00:15:00] My assistant put it together. I get back this binder, probably 200 pages worth, at least, materials in which there is no vision statement. There's never been one, which is fascinating if you think about it, and probably seven different versions of our values and mission statement. Is that accurate?

[00:15:19]Dave Owens:  Yeah. About once a year or two.

[00:15:20]Mike Cosper:  Yeah, about every 10 to 18 months. I think this is an important thing for us to highlight and to kind of acknowledge, because for one thing, we've been through some leadership transitions multiple times over the year. Brian moved back to California. Daniel Montgomery stepped down. Now Dave Harvey has stepped down. Chad Lewis served as a-

[00:15:38]Dave Owens:  That's right.

[00:15:39]Mike Cosper:  ... network director for a year before returning back to church ministry at Sojourn. Part of our journey has been this kind of ongoing transition, this ongoing sense of change and trying to understand who we are as a network and what we care about. I think the moment that we're in is one where we're trying to sort of refine that and clarify that. But it is something you [00:16:00] have to laugh at when you go, "Man, we have this kind of problem where we have a mission statement and values that changes every 10 months." So, what's the solution? Well, let's change them again.

[00:16:08]Dave Owens:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think one of the encouraging things for me, Mike, in this particular season in year nine, we're celebrating an eighth annual Lead Pastors and Wives Retreat this year, an eighth conference in the fall and some grow. There's a network of about 75 churches right now. But I read a quote by Steve Childers, who's been doing network-level work for his whole, most of his ministry.

[00:16:34]Mike Cosper:  (inaudible) GCA.

[00:16:34]Dave Owens:  Exactly. He said, "It takes about three times as long for a network to really get its feet under it as it does for a church plant." As we work with church plants, you're talking minimum three, four, five years, and urban context, it could be longer than that. For me, that helped understand the pacing of an organization whose directors have never been full-time. We have men leading our network over [00:17:00] the years that have all done different things because they love their local church. They're rooted to a local church and leading there, the lead pastor or another capacity, but they also believe in and love the network, and that has helped really shape us and get us going.

[00:17:15] To have this many leadership transitions, of course, is not only part of our story and a difficult part of our story at times, but it also kind of makes sense because we're a network. We're not a local church. I like to think of it as men and women in our network, they should be putting their attention on their local ministry, their families, their neighborhoods, their churches, even while they glance up and go, "Oh, wow, look at what guys are doing beyond the local church," and jump in and participate and give and receive from that. But that's more of the New Testament kind of model for network, is just a lot of activity happening behind the scenes even as folks are rooted locally.

[00:17:52] I like to think of it as like a airplane activity board at the airport. If you traffic [00:18:00] and travel a lot and you see these grids of flight patterns, you see hubs and nodes at busier airports like Atlanta and Chicago and New York, just flights coming in and out all the time. But you don't really see that activity. You just want to get to and from where you are, and you live a certain place. You can't wait to get home. But there's a lot of activity happening every day, and that's a little bit what network has become for me and why I love it so much, just a lot happening behind the scenes.

[00:18:24]Mike Cosper:  It's your second airplane metaphor on the podcast.

[00:18:27]Dave Owens:  I got a couple more coming.

[00:18:28]Mike Cosper:  Let's keep it coming. Thinking back to those early [00:19:00] days, what do you remember in terms of kind of our value statements, the DNA that we were trying to embody, and what you were hearing at the time from the church planters that were coming in and joining the network? Why would somebody have joined Sojourn Network in 2011?

[00:19:16]Dave Owens:  I actually heard from a planter this morning that said, "There are some networks that focus on ... If we're using the head, heart, hands kind of paradigm, there's some networks and denominations that are real on the hands side. This is about getting after it. There's some that are about the head. Let's make sure we have the right theology, the right beliefs aligned up." I would say yes and amen to both of those. And the early years, I think Sojourn Network became the heart. It became how do we bring the soul and a healthy posture back to pastoring and to church planting, in particular, because my generation, guys who are in their 30s and I would say even 40s, have come into this beautiful season and evangelicalism and Christianity where church planting has sort of been [00:20:00] recaptured as a major strategy for the advancement of the Great Commission. Right?

[00:20:04] I came in right in the middle of all that, into Sojourn Network, into seminary 10, 12 years ago. What was happening is all this activity, so many church plants. I just hear about it all the time. But what we became known as, I believe, is a place where church planters could go to get healthy, even as we continue to prioritize multiplication. But in those early years, grand visions of a thousand churches by 2020, this is back in 2010, right?

[00:20:31]Mike Cosper:  Correct.

[00:20:32]Dave Owens:  A thousand churches in 10 years quickly shifted to, well, we need to help these church planters and their families recover from the trenches of ministry, the spiritual warfare, the trauma, the conflict, the difficulty, the lack of preparation, training, disillusionment. The list goes on. That was the early years, and that's how we began to form ministry that really prioritized care. Yet, the heartbeat of Sojourn [00:21:00] Church, but also the churches that joined, was always one of multiplication. It was always one of growth. We just figured out we're going to have to pace ourselves here for the long haul. The first five years may just be a lot of care, a lot of getting people healthy so they can begin to think about multiplication.

[00:21:17] This idea of wholeness and health, this idea of multiplication and growth and outward energy, this idea of holistic renewal was a big deal. That's the reason we started with the care because we wanted guys to be renewed. We wanted their marriages to be renewed with the Gospel from the inside, and that would move them out into their churches and their neighborhoods and their communities. Those are a few things from the early years I remember.

[00:21:41]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. Yeah, I remember that very similarly. I recall there was just this phenomenon that I observed inside of not just Acts 29 but inside of the church planting world, the SBC, and just other church planting circles that we would occasionally traffic in. [00:22:00] The people almost wore it as a badge of honor that they were burned out. "I'm exhausted, I'm putting in 80 hours a week, 40 hours on my sermon and 40 more hours on leadership." And at some point, it started to dawn on all of us that, man, this is not sustainable-

[00:22:16]Dave Owens:  No.

[00:22:17]Mike Cosper:  ... and it's not exciting. It's not actually a joyful, exciting thing to think about this pattern of ministry which we saw over and over again and I experienced as a pastor. You get in the car and you mash the accelerator to the floor and you get as far as you can, as fast as you can. Then when you hit the wall, you go, "Okay, it's time for rest, so I'm going to just completely flip the switch and I'm going to take a sabbatical, and you won't be able to get ahold of me or hear from me for three months. But then when I come back, I'm going to get back in the car, going to slam the door, going to mash the accelerator. I'm going to go again."

[00:22:54]Dave Owens:  Yeah. Nothing changes about the rhythms that the heart posture ... Yep.

[00:22:57]Mike Cosper:  We saw that over and over again. I think [00:23:00] one of the great gifts to Sojourn Church and to Sojourn Network has been the relationship we've had over the years with Rich Plass and Jim Cofield from CrossPoint Ministries because those guys ... We first started working with them at Sojourn Church because we were going into this multi-site thing. We saw ourselves as part of that pattern, we're getting exhausted, we're burning ourselves out. I've known Rich since I was about 16 years old. A mutual friend of mine and Rich's was like, "You know, Rich, this is what he does. He works with pastors and helps them find ministry that's built for the long haul." Those guys really injected a whole lot of DNA into, I think, my thinking, Brian's thinking, Daniel's thinking about pastoral ministry in such a way that when we started Sojourn Network, that value was really front and center.

[00:23:51]Dave Owens:  Yes.

[00:23:51]Mike Cosper:  We've got to figure out a way of doing ministry that's sustainable.

[00:23:55]Dave Owens:  Yes.

[00:23:57]Mike Cosper:  As a result, we attracted a [00:24:00] lot of guys who were really weary and really ready for something different. That's a thing, I think, to be proud of, that as a network, we've been a safe place for guys who are tired and who've been through hard, hard seasons, because church planting is brutal, and decided that we're a place where they can come and rest. Yeah, I think, I've come to believe I don't think you can escape the first three to five years of church planting being just a butt-kicker, but I think there's a grind to it.

[00:24:28] It's almost like the stages of a man's life where you have to go through this warrior phase before you can get to this king phase and sage phase. And I think there's something like that to the life cycle of church planting, that there's a war-like quality to the first few years, and at some point, you do hit that wall and that's God's invitation to go, here's a different way to do this moving forward. And that's something, I think, as a network we've been conscious of and we've tried to inject that into the DNA of the churches that are part of us.

[00:24:56]Dave Owens:  I agree. And I would say it began as early as to [00:25:00] move beyond just the individual pastor and his family. I think another thing that made us unique, and I had not heard growing up in church, was the movement of a healthy whole person, a leader, a marriage, into what does a healthy whole church look like? What could it look like? What's one possible way that a church could be whole and healthy and durable? When I was coming through Sojourn Church in those years that I was 9, 10, 11, sitting in pastor school that we had, 50, 60 men, many of whom are planters with us even today. There was not only this vision of-

[00:25:36]Mike Cosper:  (Hollis D. Murphy) .

[00:25:36]Dave Owens:  That's right, Hollis. Jeremiah Taylor's still serving. These men were catching a vision not only for healthy personhood, but, man, this is a pathway towards what a healthy church can look like. Not a cookie-cutter, same-size-fits-all kind of thing, but more of here's a pathway to seeing what is the Lord calling us to do in our context to apply creativity and an [00:26:00] open-handed strategy with a closed-handed orthodoxy. And there was a sense of, man, this is what a whole church can look like. It's going to take some time, so let's proceed patiently, but a lot of training in those early years of the network was also about healthy whole churches. It was phrases like theologically driven or all theology is practical and all practice is theological.

[00:26:21] One of the things that marked our planters is they had a why, a conviction, behind practices. And even now they'll get approached by church planters in other networks and denominations, "Why do you do that? Why do you do that? What's your reason?" And the grid I like to go back to is this idea if we're going to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I think we were trying to help folks, these planters and leaders, not just love the Lord with their strength, but to love the Lord in a whole way where strength was connected to a deep conviction of soul and emotions and the mind. We're all forming the foundation for truly sustainable [00:27:00] strength as we love the Lord and love neighbor. That's another kind of cultural piece that I found just incredibly appealing.

[00:27:07]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. It was a big vision, I think, intellectually and spiritually, a soulful vision. It also expressed itself, I think, in the kind of ministry models that we were holding out and really at Sojourn we were trying to embody. If you go back to 2010, we were still running the 930 Art Center, which was this two music venues, two art galleries, a series of studio spaces and office spaces that were shared by everything from this crazy woodcarving guy who made these chairs that were crazy. We had a skateboard company. We had a videographer. Then we had a bunch of visual artists in the facility.

[00:27:47] There was this vision as a part of Sojourn that we wanted to be part of kind of cultural renewal in the city, and the 930 was a big expression of that. So was our Seed [00:28:00] ministry, which Nathan Ivey pioneered and it's evolved into Seed to Oaks. It's spun off as its own independent nonprofit now. But Seed was this vision for holistic mercy ministry that was really about transforming neighborhoods and transforming lives.

[00:28:15] I think the third thing that comes to mind in terms of ministry model is the fact that Sojourn had this at the time and still to this day, had this culture around music and liturgy that was, I think, very attractive to church planters. I'm biased, obviously, because that was my thing. But that was another thing where we had a why. When we planted Sojourn, church planters, you have this feeling as a church planter that you've got a blank slate and that you can do whatever you want. At first, that feels like flying, like, oh, man, I can do whatever I want. But if you have a biblically informed conscience at any level, you start to ask yourself the question, "Okay, wait a minute. Why are we doing what we do? Why do we do anything?"

[00:28:56] Again, when we planted Sojourn, I was 19. I didn't [00:29:00] know anything. I basically knew how to play indie rock, and that's why I got the job. But I had all these why questions about why do we do what we do when we gather? Why do we sing? Why do we pray when we gather? What's the purpose of preaching in a placed like this? I don't mean this to sound like a commercial for my book, but Rhythms of Grace really came out of asking all those questions, why do we do what we do? And it's the manual I wish somebody had handed me to teach me how to ... to tell me what to do as a worship pastor.

[00:29:32] I know that the other worship pastors that came into Sojourn Network in those early days ... I can just remember the conversations that we had at conferences and events and micro conferences, that guys were excited to have a why for what they were doing with worship. And guys were inspired, I think, to go, "Man, we can bridge things historically with the liturgy, with creativity and contemporary expressions at church." There was something liberating about that, that once [00:30:00] you actually had the why, that's where the real freedom in ministry lies.

[00:30:03] I'm curious of your thoughts on how you see that particular value expressed in the network today.

[00:30:08]Dave Owens:  Well, I think what that's led to, Mike, is as we're clarifying these values in a collaborative kind of way now, pulling in pastors and men and women and church leaders, board members and staff, we're realizing this idea that there's a lot of these things that feel like a tension of ancient, modern orthodoxy and creativity. I think what it's led to is this idea that for Sojourn Church sort of as a model that was linking the creative ministries that were birthed out of Sojourn Church over the last almost 20 years is not necessarily a model that all churches follow in terms at the ministry level, right?

[00:30:45]Mike Cosper:  Yeah.

[00:30:45]Dave Owens:  But the why behind it is a model, I think, drew a lot of guys into the network. I think what we're hoping for now, eight, nine years in, is that a value like, say, creative contextualization couples [00:31:00] with a rooted and groundedness, a theological rootedness, couples with a health and a wholeness to really create flourishing that's unique to a particular place. Not every church may feel called to start an art gallery or create a music label or to start the same type of Seed or mercy ministry, but-

[00:31:18]Mike Cosper:  Nor should they.

[00:31:19]Dave Owens:  Yeah. But these things flow from, huh, why would we do this in this place? What do these people need? It really flows from love, because I think Sojourn was trying to love the neighborhood God placed them in, and these were the ways they wanted to do that as well as love the people in the church. God sent Sojourn Church a lot of creative, artistically gifted people, but they also sent us a lot of people that wanted to go and plant new churches.

[00:31:43] The last thing I would say about the early culture was not only this wholeness of person and church, but it was a bent on multiplication and growth. It was not something where we ended up saying, "Well, let's just become a care network." We find ourselves at a place where we're going, "Man, now we're really [00:32:00] excited to keep that value and focus and now let's multiply. Let's see if that has some growth for us in the next season." We just hold those things both open-handed and go, "Lord, we don't know how this exactly works where wholeness of personhood and church and yet multiplication and vigorous multiplication can all happen."

[00:32:18]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. Yeah, I think those get held up. You said tension. I think a lot of times those things get held up as if they're opposite ends of a spectrum that either you're about growth or you're about health, and I just think that that's not accurate. The reality is healthy organisms are growing organisms.

[00:32:33]Dave Owens:  And multiply.

[00:32:34]Mike Cosper:  And multiply.

[00:32:35]Dave Owens:  Yeah.

[00:32:36]Mike Cosper:  I think instead of thinking of these as opposing ends of a spectrum, opposing poles or whatever, we have to recognize that if we do health right, then we're doing growth. And if we do growth right, we're going to do it in a way that's healthy. That doesn't mean ministry isn't hard, doesn't mean you don't go through seasons that are difficult and exhausting. It's a fallen world, thorns and thistles. Church planting, nobody said it's going to be [00:33:00] easy, but it should be sustainable.

[00:33:02] It should be something that by God's grace, receiving from His abundance and His provision, we're able to do without fully depleting ourselves because we're not doing it on our own strength. Somewhere in this process, and I think it's something that we all have to learn probably throughout our entire lives, somewhere in this process we're learning a kind of dependence on God that enables us and empowers us to do both things at the same time, to walk and chew gum at the same time, to be healthy and to be growing and multiplying.

[00:33:33]Dave Owens:  What's interesting now, looking back, though, is that we didn't have exactly all that clarity back then. The clarity has come in God's wisdom and in His providence through some really unexpected twists, turns, transitions, trials. It would have been great to have all that carved out and articulated and then to run directly at it in a linear way. [00:34:00] It didn't work out that way in Sojourn Network, and frankly, I'm not sure it works out that way in most organizations or families. Vision comes slowly.

[00:34:08]Mike Cosper:  Or churches.

[00:34:08]Dave Owens:  Or churches. It comes slowly. It comes through pain. It comes through unexpected surprises that God knows about. He knows the why behind it, but for us, we just had to hold on because the next ... At that point, looking back eight years ago, the next eight years that we were about to go on were filled with some surprises.

[00:34:27]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. I think there was a lot we were intuiting about what we wanted that we wouldn't have known how to articulate until we were on the other side of this whole journey. There's a great episode of VH1 Storytellers with Bruce Springsteen, and it was when he was on tour for his Devils & Dust record. He sings Devils & Dust. On Storytellers, you play a song and then you talk about how the song got written and all this. He plays Devils & Dust and he starts talking about some of the images of the thing and making connections to 9/11 and the war in Iraq and the war in [00:35:00] Afghanistan, and just kind of paints this picture of how this song was this thing that was a direct response to all of the violence and the war and turmoil of the early 2000s. Then he said the best thing. He goes, "Now, was I thinking any of that when I wrote it? No. But I was feeling it."

[00:35:22] I think there's something to church planting and to something like the growth and development of a network like this, where you're feeling something, that there's these impulses that really are the DNA. They're the essence of the organization. You're feeling these things and you're trying to express them in the life of the church that you're planting or the life of the network that you're starting, and it just takes some time. It takes time to work those things out.

[00:35:51] What's exciting to me about the season that we're in right now is I think so many of those things that we were feeling, that the network was, in a sense, kind of pregnant with [00:36:00] from the beginning, there's a lot of energy around those feelings again. There's a lot of desire to see some of these expressions of church and expressions of theological vision and renewal-driven mission. There's a lot of energy around that right now in Sojourn Network, and I'm excited about that.

[00:36:17]Dave Owens:  Me too. Another commonality I think between the early beginnings and now is I see a lot of scribbling on napkins, journals open with blank pages being filled with ideas, people calling me, emailing our team and you with ideas. There's this flow of creative energy, a futuristic kind of dreaming that seems right for a season of, Lord willing, flourishing for our network now with eight or nine years under our belt, to [00:37:00] learn and hopefully have grown in wisdom. With me personally, what a joy it's been to serve under men like Brian Howard and Chad Lewis, you, even Daniel and Dave Harvey recently for three and a half years.

[00:37:13] Each of these men are bringing their vision. They're bringing some values. They're bringing pieces of character that collectively now are like ingredients brought to a feast where we've got all these ingredients on the table as we sit here. I think the invitation right now is what do we want to make with those ingredients? What kind of feast is the Lord preparing for us that we can't really make in our own power? How does He want to pull these ingredients together for the men and women that we have in our network?

[00:37:39] We've been talking about or reflecting upon some of the early values and thoughts and even intuitions and impulses we had when we were thinking about this new network. As you fast forward to where we are now, what are the things that you're excited about? And what are some of the practical steps you're trying to take just [00:38:00] in 2019 as the interim president?

[00:38:01]Mike Cosper:  Yeah. This podcast will air after our retreat, but I think one of the things that we aimed for for this year's retreat is something that will be a recurring theme, which is the retreat really is about rest. We really want to invite people to rest in God's grace, to rest in the privilege we have as a network, to have this time at this beautiful place. Nick Nye, one of our board members and one of the pastors in the network really put a lot of effort and energy into that theme and those values informing what we did this year at the retreat. So, I'm excited. I'm excited to go on the retreat next week. I'm excited that I think that's going to be a recurring theme for the future of the retreat.

[00:38:40] We're forming a number of teams right now, and one team that's already formed and has been doing work is a team that's composed of a number of Sojourn pastors, pastors' wives that are on staff at other Sojourn Network churches. It's a team that's being headed up by Brandon Shields from Soma Indy, and they are working [00:39:00] on reshaping, rewriting our values and our mission statement. I think that's going to be a real unifying theme for the whole network, and from that, we're going to take that back to the board, and the board is going to be working on a very, very concrete vision statement, a concrete statement about what kind of, how many churches do we want to plant, how many churches do we want to adopt. We want a very earthy vision and earthy set of goals that's very practical.

[00:39:27] Along with that, we're forming committees that will be looking at who will be the next Sojourn Network president. I'm just doing this as an interim. We're hoping that that's a decision that gets made over the summer and we're able to announce by the time of the summit. We're also looking at our financial model. I think there's some exciting conversations going on about tapping into untapped resources financially and improving the way that we're able to get money directly to the field. There's a committee that's being formed of a number of folks, several outsiders who have expertise in nonprofit board leadership and donor development [00:40:00] and fundraising.

[00:40:01] Then the last thing that I mention is I'm excited about the summit. We're still working on exactly what the theme is going to be, but we've intentionally invited two speakers who I think are going to be providing some intellectually challenging content for us. That's James K.A. Smith, philosopher from Calvin College. He's written books that I think have had an enormous influence on our church and on our network. One of them is You Are What You Love and then Designing the Kingdom. He's the author of about a dozen books, so I won't name them all. He has a book coming out in the fall called On the Road with Saint Augustine. I think we'll be hearing from him some Augustinian principles for thinking about the church in our contemporary context and what does Augustine have to say to us today.

[00:40:45] And then Hannah Anderson, and Hannah is the author of several books. She's the author of many, many a long Twitter thread. If you don't follow her on Twitter, you should. Hannah's brilliant. She spoke at a preconference last year on writing, [00:41:00] and I got to know her a little bit there. And I'm just excited that she's able to join us, and I think she's going to be, again, challenging us and challenging us to think and in new, fresh ways.

[00:41:11] Those are some of the things I'm excited about for this coming year. I'm curious where you sit as the executive director. You're dealing with all the day-to-day operational stuff. You're seeing things at a real up-close level. What are you excited about that's happening? And what would you want to call attention to for listeners of this podcast?

[00:41:31]Dave Owens:  Even before I say what I'm excited about, I just want to say publicly on record I'm so thankful for what I get to do, one. I'm so thankful for the way God has been a part of, this is probably a cliche phrase, but writing my story. In this role, I'm thankful for the men and women that have been a part of shaping my growth as just a believer, not just as a worker, and a husband. I've [00:42:00] already shared the guys I got to be a part of serving as they were directors, Brian and Chad and most recently Dave and all his mentorship and pastoring and friendship.

[00:42:09] From that history and a posture of just thankfulness and just in awe that I get to do this, I think the things that I'm sitting here going, "Okay, I get excited about this," one, I mentioned earlier, just the creative energy I see. Two, I feel like our network that's right now about 75 churches and talking to most of the lead pastors at some point over the last three months, there is this desire for participation. Our network is a network where men and women really want to jump in and help and serve. It's not just a, you know, here's our money, good luck. It's we want to partner and we want to both give and receive. We want to jump in and help. How can we do that to make the network stronger, to strengthen churches, to strengthen marriages and people and to advance the [00:43:00] kingdom and renew people and communities?

[00:43:01] The participation, the creativity, the collaboration, I think just getting so many different people in on the renewal and revitalization of our mission and values, vision, even ideas for new ministries or sharpening, refining current ministry, there's a lot that is happening, a lot of conversations that are going on behind the scenes that I learn about all the time, three people getting on a call or having a meal, just talking about the network. This energy is something you really can't create. There's an organic quality to it that's hard to generate on your own. It just kind of has to happen in God's sovereignty, through the Spirit, and as part of a culture. Any time I see cultural fruit bearing, not fruit that comes from a organized ministry, but this organic quality, I get really excited about that. There's a lot of that energy that is forming right now.

[00:43:55] Fourth, I think I'm excited about where the board is at, their desire to really own [00:44:00] and clarify vision and values and mission. I'm hopeful for the sake of our churches that this clarity leads to a long and fruitful season of sustainable growth, multiplication. Then fifth, I think I'm just excited about partnership conversations. There are a lot of conversations now with regard to our ministry as we think about how to narrow in on what we do best, much like our own callings as God narrows us to places and vocations and callings that are specific to us. He's doing that for our network right now.

[00:44:34] As we narrow in on what we do best, I think there's going to be opportunities to partner with organizations who do what they do best so that we're not trying to do everything ourselves and just fostering and cultivating of collaboration that's going to make our churches even more strong, more durable, our leaders more healthy in a way that says we have to look for people to help us. I am excited about the collaboration [00:45:00] potential that that might foster.

[00:45:02] In many ways, it's indicative of how the Sojourn Network logo was made by designer Tyler (Dee) . I remember I asked him one day, because early on in the network, I think maybe two or three weeks in, I came to a meeting with the director and a couple of board members at the time just completely blind to the agenda, lacking awareness. I didn't like the logo, and I had gone to a designer (inaudible) and had a friend of mine draw up some other possibilities for the network, not knowing they had just gone through a 12-month, very intentional theological ... I don't know if you were a part of that. I never have asked.

[00:45:40]Mike Cosper:  I was not a part of it.

[00:45:42]Dave Owens:  Good. So, I said, "I don't like the logo. Here's how I recommend changing it, couple weeks on the job, and promptly got pulled outside in the hallway and was told that I was way out of line. So, I wanted to know, well, what is this logo all about? Just this arrogant 24, [00:46:00] 25-year-old. Brian Howard was so patient-ish. And the designer said, "Man, it's an upside-down compass, which represents the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God where north is south and south is north." We read Matthew 5, 6, and 7, the Sermon on the Mount. We read the Beatitudes. We read the teaching of Jesus realizing that the kingdom he was inaugurating, he was bringing in, is upside down from the kingdom of this world.

[00:46:30] I think my hope is that our network in a small but not insignificant way can be a place where churches and pastors and church leaders and men and women can feel comfortable being a part of a upside-down network leading upside-down kind of churches in a world that really needs these kind of churches for the long haul.

[00:46:50]Mike Cosper:  It's been fun to have this conversation, remember all the stuff. We hope it's been helpful to you folks listening.

[00:46:56]Dave Owens:  Yes.

[00:46:57]Mike Cosper:  Thanks for tuning in. We'll be back with another episode in a couple of [00:47:00] weeks.

[00:47:07] That's our show. Thanks again for listening. You can learn more about Sojourn Network at sojournnetwork.com. You'll find a series of e-books, articles on the blog, and information about our upcoming leader summit. Today's episode was produced and edited by TJ Hester. It was mixed by TJ Hester. Our music is by Sojourn Music. Thanks for listening. We'll see you [00:48:00] soon.


Casey SmithSeason 2