As many of you are aware, Pastor Griggs was granted a sabbatical in January 2020 for three months so he could finish his doctorate degree that he began years before.
He was entering into the concluding “rest” phase of his doctorate journey in March 2020 when the pandemic hit our area and turned life and communal worship upside down. Chris submitted his final paper just days before boarding a plane back to Chicago – deciding to cut his sabbatical short in order to return to lead the congregation through the many changes and challenges ahead. We are glad he did!
We honor the completion of his DMin degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in June of 2020 – and caught up with Pastor Chris on this important topic and milestone.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue your Doctor of Ministry?
A: I discovered, back when I was an associate pastor, that I did better ministry when I studied, and I would not study unless someone assigned me something to read and write. I would always otherwise make another phone call, have another cup of coffee with someone from the congregation, meet with another team. The extrovert in me just wanted to do more ministry, but I actually did better ministry when I would pause and reflect and learn.
Q: What did you study? How did you decide to create the thesis: Discipleship in the Earbuds: Developing a Podcast Curriculum as a Component of Congregational Equipping
A: The overall topic of study had to do with developing congregational vitality. But your final project is a ministry project, something that is connected to all the things you study and that truly matters to your daily work.
I remember the moment I decided the topic I was going to invest in and study. Erin and I were at one of the kids’ baseball games, it was like 6 p.m. on a September weeknight, watching a ballgame. In the nearby rec center, I saw about 30 parents waiting for a kids’ dance class to end, and every one of them were on their phones. I said to Erin, ‘We are losing the battle of trying to get them to a 7 p.m. education class on a weeknight because they are taking their kids to dance class or sports … but they are all on their phones. If we can reach people through this vehicle, the amount of opportunity we have for spiritual development grows significantly.’
So I wanted to investigate what it would mean if we expand the definition of church and ministry by using technology. If we leverage technology, like the handheld device to aid in spiritual formation, do we lose something essential in that step? And what do we gain?
Q: What did you discover?
A: The classic model for spiritual formation and congregational ministry is you come to campus and there is a worship service or an Adult Ed class. Something. If we moved in the other direction and got on people’s hand held devices, I knew there would be advantages.
Our tagline is More Than Sunday, and if you are wanting to help people live the Christian life in the other six days, getting on the handheld devices is incredibly important. It is literally with us wherever we go. It can empower people to do ministry at home, at work – the handheld device allows us to get to them in those contexts and hopefully empower them to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit in those contexts.
The other component of my study has to do with the great tradition of Christian preachers going to the marketplace – standing on the corner in the village in the 12th Century or during the Great Awakening. Well, our phones have become our marketplace. We consume media content there, but we also purchase goods and services on our phones, they are our calendars. So if the church is not on the handheld device in a meaningful way, is it really in someone’s life?
If a certain percentage of your life takes place on your phone, I would want the voice of Christ and the presence of the congregation on that device. Also, I don’t want to concede the phone to the work of the devil. People are much more likely to give into temptation through their phone, be that temptation of overactivity and using their phone to over-calendar themselves or ‘fear of missing out,’ or coveting others on social media, consumerism – it’s all there. I want Jesus in that space as well to be able to integrate the ministry of the congregation into the phone so that when they have it with them, they also have their Christian community with them.
Q: Do you think the phone or other technology is a substitute for in person worship and gathering? Or is it a “both/and” ?
A: It’s a BOTH / AND. It’s not a substitute. And that’s true for any other app on your phone. We do both in many contexts. It’s not that you never go to the store; you just also purchase more things from Amazon on your phone.
And there is a flip side to watch out for: if you enable the idolatry of the family or idolatry of busyness, or making church education more convenient – are we helping ourselves or hurting ourselves? There should be sacrifice involved with discipleship – and saying NO to certain things – that is part of the Christian life.
But you do run across these moments in ministry as a leader where you have to decide, “Here is a cultural thing … Am I going to fight that thing or fund that thing?” At least in part we are going to fund it, integrate ourselves into those spaces so that our congregation can carry each other with them at the dance class. Rather than scroll or listen to meaningless content, you can listen to a meaningful conversation between two congregation members, or a Wheaton professor.
Q: When will the podcast launch?
A: It would have been great to launch in 2021 and perhaps it will be this year. But we’ve had two things working against us: 1) the small studio at the church was not covid-compliant to work in especially earlier in the pandemic; and 2) with the capacity of our team stretched these past years, we are not in a spot to launch until we have the other associate pastor on board. It’s frustrating we can’t get to it. But we’ve got the studio built at the church, we have the podcast site, the infrastructure built, the content ready, we’ve done test episodes and have gotten people’s feedback. I’m super excited and we have a ton of opportunity in front of us.
Q: What was the best part of your Fuller experience?
A: The conversations you have. … There were incredible moments in the process of the doctoral degree that God got my attention. Sometimes that was in the classroom but just as often it was in a conversation with classmates or professors.
Q: You got to spend two weeks at a monastery with Dallas Willard. What was he like?
A: Dallas Willard is the most settled human being I’ve ever met; he passed a few years ago. He never responded to something immediately. He was very thoughtful. Slow. Like, completely unrushed. Unhurried. He had this phrase: You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your lives. He said that God has never given anyone more to do in a day than that person is capable of accomplishing with God’s help. So if you think you have more to do today then you have time, either you are doing stuff God didn’t give you to do today or you’re not availing yourself of the Lord’s help. So figure out if this is something you are foolishing trying to do by your own power rather than relying on the spirit of God. Or if you’ve foolishly given yourself work to do that isn’t something that the Lord has placed in front of you.
We spent two weeks in a monastery – 20 of us with Dallas Willard – lectures for part of the day and then we would have lot of times of reflection, journaling meeting with spiritual directors, putting in Christian practices, memorizing scripture, we had a day of silence, 24 hours of not saying a word. That was actually the day where I decided to begin to look for my next position (I was an associate pastor in Seattle). I had this moment of encounter with God around what was next for me.
Q: What’s next?
A: Obtaining the doctoral degree presents me with a new problem, which means I don’t have anyone assigning me to read stuff anymore! The cool thing about Fuller’s program is that once you finish, you can continue to audit courses for the rest of your life, so I’ll continue to find a course that’s interesting or a professor that seems interesting and do the reading and listen to the lectures and have conversation. I just won’t write any papers. It’s a lifelong continuing education I’m excited about. …
I’m a practitioner, not an academic. Studying helps me do ministry better. Now that the doctoral program is finished the learning is not, so I want to stay invested in it. But if I were a teacher, it would be in a different context. I’m a mentor in what’s called the Company of New Pastors – helping pastors transition and do well in ministry. We get together in a cohort, and so if I were to do some teaching it would be in that context.