by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we are interviewing local Christian blogger Kurt Willems whose blog posts we have reposted many times. Kurt not only has his own popular blog, but has had guest posts/articles on Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians blog, and Relevant Magazine. I have enjoyed Kurt’s blog myself for some time and highly recommend it to everyone I can. I look forward to seeing what is in store for Kurt’s writing and ministry in the future.
Lorie: Can you give us a brief over view of your background?
Kurt: I was born in Reedley, CA and raised in the Dinuba/Kingsburg area. I went to Lincoln and Grandview Elementary Schools and Immanuel Jr/High School. My home church is Dinuba Mennonite Brethren Church.
Lorie: How and when did you first feel called into the ministry?
Kurt: After flirting with a bit of lifestyle choices that didn’t line up with the Way of Jesus, I had a “turn around” experience on a mission trip to Mexico during the Spring Break of my sophomore year. Must have demonstrated a real change because that summer I was invited by my youth pastor to do my first act of ministry: counseling kids at summer camp. This experience made it clear that I enjoyed serving. Then, a couple of weeks later, I went to Hartland Camp as a “camper.” On the final night, I had a clear experience with God where I sensed a call to vocational Christian ministry. It was a night filled with tears of joy, visions, and affirmation. My life direction has never been the same. God continues to affirm this call, even through some difficulties in the journey.
Lorie: Has the direction of your calling shifted over time?
Kurt: Sure. I’ve always felt called to adult ministry in some sort of a teaching/pastoral role (long term calling). That said, there were seasons where I knew I was supposed to serve in various capacities. For instance, the first seven years in ministry were focused on students (middle school–college). I was, at that time, doing exactly what I was supposed to be. I knew that I eventually wanted to lead a church community in some capacity, but also loved students. In fact, there is much of youth ministry that I miss. Yet, I always knew that this would all lead somehow to adult ministry. After serving in an adult role for two years (multisite ministry, church membership/integration/teaching pastor member), I knew that I needed to finish up seminary studies to prepare for a church planting mission to Seattle, WA. That is where my vocational ministry is focused in the present. The plan is to relocate sometime in the latter part of summer.
Lorie: How/when did you get involved in blogging?
Kurt:I fell into blogging. I literally didn’t even know that “blogging” was a big thing. In 2008, shortly after beginning my seminary studies (Fresno Pacific), a friend told me that “anybody who’s anybody writes a blog…my dad just started one…you should start a blog!” Well, I didn’t take it too seriously and started out by copy/pasting seminary papers and using them as blogs. Eventually it took off, even after several significant breaks in writing (sometimes up to six months). I’m so blessed to have a platform for sharing my ideas with folks around the world and learning from so many of them through the dialogue the blog creates.
Lorie: How did it come about that you started guest blogging on sites like Red Letter Christians?
Kurt:I asked. Well, if memory serves me correctly, there was a spring/summer season of blogging that was a significant moment of growth. My blog traffic went up more than four times during the month of May 2011. Then, I had the chance to write for various other online blogs/magazines. As Red Letter Christians (the blogging ministry of Tony Campolo and others) started to grow, I emailed them and they were kind enough to give my articles a chance. I’ve loved this connection. There are tons of great writers featured over at RLC!
Lorie: Who would you consider your biggest influences theology wise?
Kurt:I would say that I have several theological influences. But, I can narrow that group to a few (for the sake of brevity). My greatest influence is N.T. Wright. His understanding of the New Testament as rooted in a specific historical context and his emphasis on the Christian hope as “new creation” rather than ending in some disembodied place in the sky called “heaven” changed my life. The final hope of all things is the bringing of heaven to earth when Christ returns to resurrect, judge, purge, and restore creation to its intended glory. The Bible often calls this “new creation” or “new heavens and new earth.” The ramifications of this are huge (but, I will leave the readers to explore this rather than get too into preacher mode). I would also add Greg Boyd to the list. He has been a great encouragement as I’ve embraced my Anabaptist roots of radical enemy love, social justice, nonviolence, and the subversion of empire. He has also given me the courage to remain thoroughly committed to charismatic spirituality and orthodox Christian faith. Add to this list: Richard Hays, Peter Enns, Walter Wink, Mark Baker, Tim Geddert, Walter Brueggemann, John Howard Yoder, and an endless list of others.
Lorie: Is there any particular book that really stands out as a life changer for you (beyond the Bible), or that has had a big influence on you and your beliefs?
Kurt:Yes! If I could get Christians to read just one book, it would be Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. I would add to that list The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd. I might throw in Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw for good measure I could recommend a plethora of books, so I will stop myself with those three.
Lorie: What are you doing now?
Kurt:For the time being, I am working at a Trade School in their degree program. I teach GenEd courses such as: English, Speech, and Ethics. This is a wonderful job and has affirmed my love for teaching outside of the church context. I also blog quite a bit and write various articles for magazines. In ministry, I’m currently preparing for a church planting project to Seattle for the Brethren in Christ in partnership with Urban Expression North America. Excited about the soon-to-be ministry in the city that I have the humble privilege of pioneering. May many come to know, experience, and be transformed by the love of Jesus!
Lorie: How do you pick the topics of your blog posts?
Kurt:Well…I’m an ENFP on the Meyers-Briggs personality indicator, which means I’m an outgoing, unstructured, and inspiration driven kind of guy. So, often my tangents drive me to explore, which usually means writing I often explore themes that are interesting to me at the moment and things that I think will be helpful to my regular readers. I mostly write about the following: nonviolence, theology, evolution, church ministry, discipleship, spirituality, and social justice.
Lorie: What are your future goals ministry wise?
Kurt:I dream of being part of a church plant that becomes the church that I’ve always dreamed of. This church will be a network of mission communities shaped by the values of peace, justice, and hope. My prayer is that we will be conduits of God’s love, formed into people that look like Jesus, and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. As this happens, I believe that we will see the hungry clothed, the oppressed liberated, the empty filled, the violent pacified, and the broken restored. My prayer is that as we plant this church that we will keep Jesus Christ as our definitive center and will reach out to the various neighborhoods of Seattle. Not only so, but I think that this sort of church plant will have to be retooled in our posture toward our neighbors. That will mean taking great risks and deprogramming from many of the cultural values of popular forms of evangelicalism.
Lorie: Any plans for a book?
Kurt:Yes. This has been a long journey. At the moment, I’m waiting to hear back from several publishers about my book proposal. I’m hoping for some good news in the next several weeks. It will be based on many of the “big themes” on my blog. Regular readers will not be surprised when I finally leak the theme of this book. I can’t wait!
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Kurt:Just a big thanks to all who read this interview. Please pray for my family as we enter into a season of much change. We are having our first baby soon, I’m writing my first book, and we are relocating to launch a church planting movement…all in the year 2013! Prayers. Prayers. Prayers. Thanks again!