A Chemistry Conversation with Jason Esposito
Jason Esposito is the lead pastor at Crossway Church and an adjunct professor at Bethel seminary. In this Chemistry Conversation, Jason shares with Matt Steen how to navigate online versus in-person communication, and how we need to be less assumptive in our preaching, which will ultimately make us better communicators.
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Jason is a graduate of Anderson University (B.A.) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.R.E.). He earned his DMin at Bethel Seminary. His focus of study was on servant leadership. His dissertation focused on Homiletics as a tool for shaping culture and received the dissertation with distinction award. Jason has served as a pastor for 27 years in IL and WI. Jason has spent his years pastoring in youth ministry, family ministry, church planting, itinerant speaking, and for the last 17 years as Lead Pastor of Crossway Church, a multi-site church in the Milwaukee area. In addition to pastoring Jason consults in the areas of preaching, leadership, leadership transitions, and leads preaching labs. He has been a Bethel thesis advisor for several years. During his time at AU and TEDS he had the opportunity to work in camping ministry, interactive team building excursions, and residential counseling. Jason has been married to Amy for 25 years and they have four boys between the ages of 19 and 22. He enjoys family vacations, travel, camp, basketball, football, volleyball, running, movies, games, reading, and all things Marvel.
Read the Full Transcript
Matt Steen: Hey, it’s Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. I’m pretty excited today. I am talking to Jason Esposito. Jason is the lead pastor at Crossway Church, which is in the Milwaukee suburbs. Multisite church. They’re doing some really cool things out there. Great church. Love spending some time talking with Jason here and what’s going on out there and hearing what they’re doing ministry-wise. He’s also an adjunct professor at Bethel, and you do some transformational leadership work there and teach some communication and preaching type stuff. His DMin is actually in communications. One of the things I love about Jason is he has through the years really cultivated a method to help coach pastors into more effective preaching and communication. Jason, thanks for taking some time to talk man.
Jason Esposito: Yeah, thanks for having me, Matt. I appreciate it.
Matt Steen: Let’s talk. This has been quite a season. Right? We won’t lie about that. A lot has probably changed in the way that we communicate with our congregations, whether it’s preaching or anything else. As you look at the church landscape, how’s preaching changed in the last 18 months say?
Jason Esposito: Well definitely there’s been incredible change. And the church has - and the word is way overused, and I probably shouldn’t use it - has continually had to pivot, right. Everyone’s tired of that word. That’s so overused now. And language matters. That’s one of the things we talk about in the communication class. I think one of the big, obvious changes is a lot of pastors who never did much online communication, online preaching, or they did it but that was an afterthought had to realize that’s crucial and that’s central. So that’s been a huge growth edge for many of us who saw the online preaching as positive but not core. So really looking at, is there a distinction between online communication, in person? How do we navigate that, that’s been a big piece of it. Also another one is just that people that are listening to preachers today now know there’s a lot more preachers out there because everyone is very online savvy and content is everywhere. So there is a little more of a buffet model there of, hey, I’m going to listen to my local preacher and I’m also going to listen to this person in California or this person in Atlanta or this person in Washington. So people are digesting more forms of preaching and communication as well as podcasts and all these different things. I think that also is a dynamic that we have to recognize.
Matt Steen: So lean into that a little bit. Because we’ve got this buffet mindset, how should we approach our own preaching knowing full well somebody is going to probably watch what I’m saying and then go and watch what Andy Stanley says and then catch the late show with Rick Warren. How does that affect how we communicate?
Jason Esposito: We talk about this in the lab that I’m going to be doing, this idea of discovering your own voice and recognizing that your voice is unique to you and it’s not about comparing yourself against some of these other communicators. We all have different gifts, all different strengths. I’m not even saying that I’m the best communicator. I’m a coach, and sometimes coaches were decent players but not necessarily the best players. And so I’m a player-coach. But I think one of the things is understanding who you are. I think the temptation is to compare ourselves, is to unintentionally try to become more like someone who maybe we watch and we’re like, they’ve got a lot more views than I have. I think that would be a mistake. People are going to be attracted to how God wants to communicate the message uniquely through your voice. And then we talk about this idea of different bents and different quadrants we find ourselves in. I think the more we understand that and we’re transparent and we’re real as we’re biblically grounded in our communication, I think we’ll find there’s a certain people who are really going to learn and grow from us. But that said, we have to make sure we also are doing our homework. People have always been able to do this in recent years, they can Google, fact check you, those kinds of things. So we all have to recognize that that’s increased more. We’ve always wanted to preach with integrity, but we need to be careful about the information we’ve heard. That’s true, we thought it was true, but actually we didn’t even know it - it might not actually be true, it might not be accurate. I just think a lot more people kind of checking on what we’re saying. And then understand why that’s different. They may say, “Hey, you said this but I heard someone else say it this way. Why did you say that?” So we only communicate a fraction of our preparation. We might have to, in other type settings, which actually provide us a great opportunity as we expand the idea of preaching communication, to share a little bit behind the curtain and say, “Well, this is why I came up with it in this angle or understand this, which is different than this person over here.”
Matt Steen: I love what you just said, we only communicate a fraction of our preparation. I don’t know if it was in Bible college or in seminary, I don’t know in which, we talk about you’re probably putting in an hour’s worth of work for every minute your sermon’s going to go. I don’t know if you find that to be true or what you advise guys to do as they lean into their prep work. How do you encourage guys to structure that?
Jason Esposito: Well it’s different for everyone because if you’re a newer preacher, then that might be the first time you preach that sermon on marriage, or that’s your first time you’ve ever preached in the Book of Galatians or Exodus or something, right. But if you’ve been doing it for a long time - I’ve been communicating as a youth pastor and other areas for 27 years. I’m drawing on not just current research but also what I’ve done in the past, as well as some are doing teaching teams. I work as part of a team, we collaborate, and that affects it. And then other people, whether paid or volunteer research assistants now, obviously online tools. So I don’t buy into anymore this framework that says for every minute you preach, you do this much research because what are we talking about. There’s so many different factors now.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. So as you lean in and you’re coaching that, what’s one thing as you survey what the season ahead looks like that you find yourself advising guys more than anything else? Do you get what I’m saying?
Jason Esposito: Yeah. I think one of the big ones is to be less assumptive. So we can’t be non-assumptive, that’s impossible. We all have assumption. But less assumptive. I think we assume a lot in our communication. I do this a lot. I make mistakes. I have guys evaluate me. Jason, you could be more or less assumptive. I can drift there. The people that we’re communicating to, they don’t have - many of them don’t have the same background most preachers so. And we’ve known this for years, but I think it’s more pervasive today. If you said years ago - and neither of us are old enough - but if you said, “I’m going through the trials of Job,” there was a time - and I’m speaking American culture right now - where people are like, “Oh, yeah, the trials of Job. You’re going through a hard time. That’s typical. Wow, I’m so sorry.” Now, “I’m going through the trials of Job,” they’re like, “Well, what does Steve Jobs have to do with this?” Now that happened years ago, but I think it’s even more now. What are the little numbers and the big numbers? I had someone ask me that. Why are there big numbers and little numbers in the Bible? What’s that? And so we have to be less assumptive. So we’re preaching, we’re communicating, and just the base information that people have about what we’re communicating - we’re communicating God’s work and applying it to life - is less. That affects communication a lot.
Matt Steen: So now, the typical pushback on that is, oh, you’re watering down the gospel or you’re watering down the message. How do you respond to something like that when somebody says, be less assumptive but now we’re getting into secret sensitive stuff. [00:08:57.11] You know what I’m saying?
Jason Esposito: Yeah. I think it’s actually the opposite. I think by being less assumptive, we’re being true teachers and communicators, and we’re helping people to understand why we’re saying what we’re saying. And so you’re preaching on a certain text, the Sermon on the Mount, whatever, whatever you’re talking about, I think we’re giving people more context, more understanding. So we’re going to have to go a little more into what did this mean in that day. Or why is that written that way. Or, Paul’s writing this letter to who. And the other thing I think that people misconstrue is if you’ve been highly churches. It’s highly churched people that would say things like that, you know. You say a word. You say “sanctification” or “atonement” or even say the word “sin,” what the word sin means to them could be different than what sin means to you. And language is dynamic. Language takes on its own definition, so even words that I say - like ten years ago I thought this word meant this and now it means this. It shifts and it changes. So part of communication is understanding that and making sure when we’re saying words, even when we believe we’re preaching and teaching to a highly churched, knowledgeable community, you actually have different definitions for some of the basic Christian concepts. And that applies not just to preaching Christian concepts, but any type of thing. There’s words that we use today that didn’t even exist in the past, words that mean different things in different cultures. So again, language is dynamic. I think being less assumptive is actually being a true teacher and going a little bit deeper into how someone can then understand the biblical text and apply it to their lives.
Matt Steen: Very cool. That’s really helpful, and I really love that idea of, hey, maybe we’re actually called to do more true teaching instead of hiding behind our assumptions. That’s awesome. So as you come alongside somebody and you start to work with them, where do you start? How do you help somebody really get a sense of where they are with their preaching? Maybe what are some of the assumptions that they don’t realize that they’re holding as they go into it? Where do you start with that, how do you begin that process?
Jason Esposito: I start by asking the individual, what is preaching? Just, what is preaching? I find this in a lot of areas. Like discipleship is such a big conversation right now, and everybody’s like, “We have to do a better job,” and all these surveys come out. And it’s good. I agree, we’ve got to do a better job in discipleship, but can we at least get beyond, what are we talking about. We have to start with - and once somebody says, well I’ve been preaching this, start there. Start where they’re at. This is what Jesus did, right. Start where we’re at, and take us where we need to go. I think that’s really important, to make sure that we’re actually talking about the same thing. Back to I talked about voice, that’s a huge one. Young preachers especially will listen to whoever they like the best. And that’s great, that’s a great thing to do. And they will copy that person. But eventually as you mature and you grow, you have to say, what’s the unique voice God’s - so helping people discover their voice. That’s a key part of it. And then we talked about assumptions already. What are some of the assumptions they have. And then there’s just some basic things about communication, and communicating to a group versus individuals, that I don’t know if we’ve done enough work in understanding the dynamics. So right now, we’re one on one communication together. And we’re one on one communication through a screen, and that has some slight nuance there. There’s not as much research on that, but there’s been a lot of research on how one on one communication differs from how people actually listen in a group setting. So again, just kind of moving people through kind of talking through where they’re at, where they want to go, how they understand things. And then beginning to insert some different things. And how has the culture shifted how people listen. So now just dynamics or side dynamics, but do people listen today the same way they listened 500 years ago in the Protestant Reformation or 2,000 years ago during the time of Jesus? Do we actually hear things in a different way? So all of that, I’m kind of presenting different pieces of it. But start with the definition. What is preaching, what are we talking about.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. So you talk about how we have changed our listening habits. I’m guessing even in the last five years we’ve seen some significant changes in the way that people listen to group communication, and I can only imagine what that looks like.
Jason Esposito: Yeah, we can’t deny the influence of YouTube, of streaming services - Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max. We all have them now, right. And also the impact of our Zoom conversations and even how you do a meeting on Zoom versus in person and those dynamics. All the facts. It’s still preaching. We’re still trying to preach God’s word, be faithful to it, communicate, proclaim. But there are some unique nuances that can help us be more effective.
Matt Steen: That’s incredible. So Jason, I could do this all day, just kind of tee you up and ask questions and just kind of sit back and just be in awe. But I do want to respect your time. So you are going to be working with us. You’re doing a lab. Tell us a little bit about what the preaching lab’s going to be, man.
Jason Esposito: Super excited about the lab. It’s going to be a lot like this kind of conversation. A big chunk of it’s going to by synchronous, and we’re going to work through it. What is less assumptive? What’s your voice? What is preaching? We’re going to dive into a framework that I think really can help pus communicate in an effective way. We’re going to look at “shortcuts” or hacks. Little tips that can exponentially move your preaching forward in its effectiveness in all these things. And then there’s going to be time - obviously it’s not going to be all lectures, there’s going to be a lot of dialogue. Then there’s going to be time outside of that where you can send me your sermons, and I’ll do two coaching where I’ll watch your sermons, two sermons, and we’ll do two individual coaching workshops on those sermons. So kind of get it into practice.
Matt Steen: Very cool. That sounds incredible. Preachers of all levels, or are you just starting with experts? How are you approaching this?
Jason Esposito: All levels. Anyone can get better, right? And so whether you feel like you really have a preaching gift and you’re the best preacher out there, you’re the Michael Jordan, LeBron James of preaching, or whether you feel like, man, I don’t know if I can even put two words together. The principles that we’re going to engage is going to help you wherever you find yourself, whether you’re preaching to large groups, online, small groups, you’re more in a teaching environment. It can help move the needle wherever you find yourself.
Matt Steen: Very cool. Jason, thank you so much for what you’re doing in Milwaukee. Thank you so much for what you’re doing to coach pastors. And thanks for taking the time to talk today. Man, I really enjoyed it and looking forward to seeing what happens with the lab and you in the future. We’ve got all the information on the lab down below. You can learn more about Jason there as well. We’re really looking forward to watching that. Jason, thank you.
Jason Esposito: Thanks. Great connecting with you, Matt. Have a great day.