Joshua Harris interview: part 2 of 3

Communications Staff — August 18, 2009

This is part two of a three-part interview with Joshua Harris,senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. You can access part 1 here.

You can also download a pdf of the first issue of Towers on “Your first pastorate,” which features a story on Harris and interviews with Southern Seminary professors on pastoral ministry.

In part 2, Harris talks about his relationship with C.J. Mahaney, his forthcoming book — “”Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why it Matters?” — and being senior pastor of Covenant Life.

Q: How did you hear about C.J. Mahaney and what led you to get to Covenant Life for an internship?

JH: I’ve just been working on a new book and the whole purpose of the book is to share the story of my own journey, of going from just a superficial “I grew up a Christian” kind of a mindset, to really owning my faith and understanding that doing that requires really knowing God. That it requires caring about theology, caring about doctrine.

Huge pieces of that in my own story was meeting C.J. and through his preaching and then through his friendship being introduced to all of these incredible theologians in church history that I just had no idea were out there. I began to get to know him when I was doing conferences with my dad and going and speaking and doing a small magazine for homeschool students. A Sovereign Grace church sponsored one of my conferences and I was invited to speak at C.J.’s church … these were just different ways in which I started crossing paths with him. I began listening to his messages and being really challenged by what he said about the church.

Hearing references to writers like J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson and different Puritan writers … I just had no idea they existed. I was beginning to get a taste for theologically driven church life and life in general. It was so different for me. Bringing definition to belief in those areas was just foreign to me. And once I got a taste of that I was ruined for what I had.

C.J. and I developed a friendship and I was in a place in my life where I knew I needed to be mentored. God had given me some opportunities, mainly because of my dad, who was just a real gift to me. But he knew and I knew that I needed someone who could mentor me in areas where maybe my dad didn’t have as much experience.

C.J. was giving me feedback, saying “you need a Paul in your life.” And I was thinking, “Who is that going to be?” I just saw so many qualities that I wanted to have in my own life in C.J. So I asked him if he would mentor me. He was in a season of his life where the Lord was saying to him: focus on the next generation. He was about to start the pastor’s college that Sovereign Grace has. So my asking confirmed what the Lord was saying to him and it was just one of those moments where God’s providence is so evident that he was willing to let me come out and be a part of the church. I ended up living in his basement for a year, learning from his family and beginning to be trained in ministry.

Q. How long were you in a mentorship role before you moved into the senior pastor role at Covenant Life?

JH: I came out to Covenant Life in 1997. I became the senior pastor in 2004. So, there were seven or eight years there. I started doing the conference we called “Next.” That was a way for me to lead, but still have C.J. there, giving me feedback on my leading. He started to have me preach. He started to have me read books and we would talk about that. He would meet with me frequently.

A lot of the biggest lessons, and I share this in my new book, is seeing him live the theology made me want the theology. It is just words on paper until you see somebody in the good of a real knowledge of God, a real grasp of the Gospel.

The mentoring continues. He still gives me feedback on how I lead and tells where he thinks I am getting wrong and right and I benefit from that relationship.

Q. What was difficult about moving into the senior pastor role? What do you enjoy about it?

JH: It’s a role of service and I am not going to have it forever. Lord willing, I will be able to pass it on faithfully to someone else. I was executive pastor before that, which I think is the ideal job because you can lead and do all these things, but you are not ultimately responsible. The senior pastor is ultimately responsible, even for other people’s decisions: you are the one is called to take responsibility. There is definitely a weight of needing to faithfully preach, but then also carry a lot of leadership responsibilities.

So it has required, especially in a church our size, me just growing and learning how to benefit from the strengths of other people, recognizing where I am weak, where I need other guys. And recognizing that it takes a lot of work to keep people together focused on what is most important. And that is not a one-time deal. You have to day in, day out, week after week, year after year keep preaching the Word of God, keep proclaiming the Gospel and it is just a long race.

But I am so honored to be able to serve in this way. I still just wake up and think, “I can’t believe I am serving in this way.” It is an amazing thing. I get to do that with a team of men who I so respect, they are my dear friends.

The first Sunday I preached as senior pastor I preached from the book of Joshua, the passage that talks about God bringing the people into the promised land. In the text Joshua says, we are living in homes that we didn’t build and we are benefitting from the harvest that we didn’t plant. I preached from that because that is how I felt.

I have benefitted from what C.J., and not just C.J., but other pastors, and not just the pastors, but also the members of the church, have built with their lives, with their faithfulness. Living out the Gospel, raising their families, sharing the Gospel in the community, giving financially. All of these different things. I feel like I am living in houses that I have not built and it is a very humbling thing.

But it makes me very aware of the fact that the church and, even more essentially, the Gospel is a stewardship, it is something that is entrusted to us. My experience has really laid that weight on my shoulders more. I really have felt the sense of something being handed to me and the sense of “I need to be faithful to guard what has been entrusted to me and deliver that to the next generation.”

It is not about “hey, I need to come and innovate” and “hey, what mark can I make on this” and that sort of thing. Of course there is a place for innovation, but in the confines of saying, “this Gospel is unchanging, and this is truth that I need to preserve and pass on to other men.”

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