Author Archives: John Burke

About John Burke

John Burke is the lead pastor at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of No Perfect People Allowed and Soul Revolution, How Imperfect People Become All God Intended . John founded ELI to mobilize leaders who would raise the church up out of the culture while maintaining biblical integrity. Before starting Gateway, John was the executive director of ministries at Willow Creek Community Church. He and his wife Kathy are the parents of two children, Ashley and Justin. You can follow him at: Facebook: John Burke Facebook Visit John's blog at

You Can’t Give What You Don’t Possess

Followers of Jesus should Experience Life in a way that truly makes “the things of this world grow strangely dim.” Yet so few seem to—why? Jesus did not come to take life away, but to bring us a full, overflowing, wellspring of Life that pleases the soul like nothing else on earth can (John 10:10, John 4:10-14). And then we are called to Bring Life to others—to whoever will receive this gift from God. Experiencing Life and Bringing Life.


But you cannot give what you don’t possess I meet way too many Christian leaders who sell a product (Living Water) that they don’t drink.  That’s a sure recipe for either burn out, hypocrisy, or horrible moral failure.  At Gateway Church, we put together Spiritual Outcomes that help a person know what developmental outcomes to shoot for in different seasons, whether Discovering faith, Developing in faith, or Deepening that faith.


But as I look at all the possible outcomes, I’m convinced that three are foundational. Like a 3-legged stool, they form a steady base that can hold weight. So if you do nothing else, get these three spiritual disciplines as habits in your life, and help develop them in your kids and others.


The 3-Legged Stool:

  1. Staying Connected Moment by Moment – Jesus said, “Abide in me [stay connected] and you will bear much fruit, apart from you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) I hope it doesn’t take much convincing that this is important, since Jesus said that apart from this you can accomplish nothing of eternal significance!  Many Christians know about this – it’s called by many names “walking in the Spirit,” “abiding in Christ,” “practicing his presence”—but I find few who truly make an effort to grow daily in greater moment-by-moment connection. Soul Revolution and the 60:60 Experiment ( were written to help us grow in actually doing the one thing Jesus said was most important. I recently came across a new book written on the same topic from a little different perspective, Present Perfect by Greg Boyd.
  1. Feeding on God’s Word – Jesus said we must also “stay connected” to his Words (the Bible reveals God’s will and ways), so that we will can know the truth and be set free. (John 8:31-32)  He said we do not live by bread alone, but every Word that comes from God. (Matthew 4:4)  David declares that the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night is like a tree planted by a stream. It always has an underground Source of nourishment, even in the drought years, so it’s leaves stay green. (Psalm 1:1-3)  Over the last 25 years of ministry, I’ve observed that people who have developed regular habits of feeding themselves from God’s Word (daily reading a chapter, memorizing, meditating on its truths, studying it) keep growing.  Just like physically growing up means we must feed ourselves daily or become unhealthy, so we must feed ourselves spiritually. Anyone who can read or listen to read scripture to them can feed themselves. This idea that you need a Sunday service to “feed me” is the biggest lie that’s ever kept people stunted from growing!
  1. Confessing Community – If the evidence of truly growing to love God is how we love one another (1 John 4:7-9), then you can’t follow God’s Spirit or live out all the commands of Scripture if you are not in close proximity with a few other Christ-followers. If fact, Scripture warns us not to blow off regular meeting together. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Jesus spent most of his time developing 12, and poured even more time into Peter, James, and John. We must learn to live out all the “one anothers” of Scripture, supporting each other to grow up spiritually as we walk in total transparency together (walking in the light as it says in 1 John 1:5-9) and confessing our sins to God and each other because this heals us. (James 5:16)

Don’t try to sit on a 2-legged stool.  You need to be developing in all three practices, and when you begin to develop others—start here!  Help them develop in these three practices: Staying connected to God’s Spirit, feeding on God’s Word in daily ways, and living in loving, confessing community with a few other Christ-followers.

Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus

As planters, perspective is the key to everything. In this guest post, John Burke speaks about the essence of his new book.The scripture makes it abundantly clear: “God saved you by his grace…[Why? Because] We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Paul makes it clear that it was a gift from God, not something you did for yourself. God did this because He still sees that work of art He created us to be.


So why do we struggle to treat people like the immensely valuable, one-of-a-kind masterpiece God created with his own hand? As I study the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained, muddied people, it becomes evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all people he encountered. Jesus could see past the mud of sin to the masterpiece God wanted to restore.


What do you see most when you encounter sin-stained people? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see the mud? Or do you see the masterpiece God wants to restore? What you focus on determines who you become and the impact you have on people around you! That’s the heart of the book I just finished, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus.


The Pharisees primarily focused on the mud of sin that covered the lives of the irreligious. They prided themselves in mud-avoidance. They fixated on mud. They tried to clean the mud off others with their own dirt—it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now!


Jesus was different. Jesus demonstrated a spiritual vision that he wants to impart to us—to see the masterpiece he sees in us, and to renovate us to become people whose hearts reflect what God sees, even in the muddiest, sin-stained life.  Jesus saw God’s masterpiece, waiting to be revealed by his grace, and as a result, many people actually became what he envisioned. What do you envision, even for the muddiest human you encounter?


Mud and the Masterpiece is available now on preorder Here and Here.

3 Keys to Developing Others

This week we have some great insights from pastor John Burke on how to be an effective people developer. You can read more of John’s thoughts at

“You have a teaching gift, bro.”  “If I do, God made a mistake because I don’t do public speaking.”  That was my exact response to Dave White as a 24-year-old working in the marketplace. Dave was a people developer. He intentionally looked to see how people around him were gifted, or where they needed growth, and then he encouraged them to develop in that area.  If they were willing, he got involved coaching them along the way.

Dave did three things every people-developer does well:

  • Listen – He listened to determine what areas a person could grow in. What gifts need developing? What places does this person seem stuck? Dave listened to me talk about things I was learning, and noticed how excited I got about the thingsI learned.
  • Assess – He assessed and prayed for what God appeared to be doing in that person’s life. What might next steps be to help this person develop? Dave assessed that I had a dormant teaching gift, because I loved to learn and give away what I was learning (often a sign of a teaching gift). But that gift was undeveloped because of my fear of public speaking. He assessed correctly that God wanted it developed.
  • Prescribe – This is the bold step of challenging a person to grow. It must come with lots of prayer to make sure this is God’s agenda and not your agenda, then lots of encouragement, then a few, clear, simple steps to take.

So Dave prescribed a first step of development, “Teach a college workshop on spiritual growth with me. We’ll do it together.” “No, I don’t do public speaking,” was my persistent reply for about a month. That’s where encouragement, prayer, and persistence come in.  Sometimes spiritual strongholds like fear or busyness or self-centeredness require prayer and persistence. Dave kept encouraging me even as I kept saying, “No.”

One day while praying about something totally unrelated, I had a clear thought crash into my head, “When you resist Dave, you resist Me.” Realizing God was using Dave to challenge me to trust Him, I changed my mind and taught the college group.

Dave followed a simple developmental paradigm. We prepared together, and he gave me a small part that I could succeed at doing. I felt like I failed nonetheless, but he gave lots of encouragement. He also challenged me to do it again, and gave me one thing to work on. This continued for about a semester until he finally said, “You’re ready. I want you to speak to 200 people in my place.”  I was horribly terrified, but actually gaining some confidence that if I kept growing, maybe this was a gift God could use.

You might never know the multiplied impact of taking time to spiritually develop another person, but one day God will show you how His Kingdom came life-by-life to earth.  Don’t miss the opportunity to partner with Him in His great people-development enterprise.

Culture Creation

Creating the right culture is the most important task leaders can undertake to reach a broken, post-Christian society, and yet often we give culture creation very little mental effort.  In fact, because culture is largely unseen, we are mostly unaware of the cultural soil we have created in our churches, small groups, or ministries.

This explains why several churches may be trying to reach the same group with the same methods, but one just “feels” completely different than the other.  That intangible “feel” is the culture.

I became aware of this through Gabriella, a spiritually curious young woman who wrote to me about her past attempts of going to church:  

“I feel so much guilt and always feel like I just don’t belong.  So it was a very big step to walk into your church this past Sunday.  I have to say I was very welcomed by everyone, and I loved the service and teaching.  I just wanted to thank you and the staff for creating such a warm and loving environment for people to open up to even hear the message, knowing that whatever level they’re coming in at is okay—they’ll be loved for who they are!  I know with any organization that attitude comes from the top and is duplicated by the whole organization, which can be good or bad, but yours is GREAT!”

She had only been once!  Curious visitors pick up on culture in a church immediately, though it may be imperceptible to members.  Culture makes all the difference in the world in a post-Christian society.  This is why effective leadership must be synonymous with creating the right culture.  This is the glue that holds any organization together.  Culture creation forms the texture of relational life and community in a local church.

The outcome of an effective culture is an engaging BODY–a community of faith that God uses to transform individuals, neighborhoods, cities, and societies – the invisible God made visible through us. But it’s messy. How do you create culture?

  1. Leadership Mindset – How leaders think about themselves and the church creates the core from which the culture grows.  What picture do the leaders have in their heads of what Christ’s body looks and feels like, when we meet – in the lobby, in community, in the world?  How you think about Christ’s church will reflect how you teach and talk.  Are you living out the Way of Christ—are your unchurched friends becoming the church and the leaders of the church? Do you live out the values of a Biblically functioning community, loving one another?  Culture starts with how we think about ourselves and the church, and who it’s really for.
  2. Training & Values – How are you equipping your leaders to live out your values? Your front line leaders are the ones who most shape the culture, even more than what is said or done up front.
  3. Visionary Story-telling – What gets communicated over and over? What stories get told to reinforce what the church is about?  How are people supposed to act? Often you have to tell them who you are through the stories you tell, before they start becoming the church.
  4. Organization – If the church is an organism, the Body of Christ, it must function in a coordinated way.  Lack of organization hinders the Body from expressing itself in a diversity of unified parts.  Organization that’s too rigid doesn’t allow the flexibility the Body needs to fully express itself. Organization helps us live out the cultural values we claim to hold dear.  If we can’t help everyone get involved as the Body, the culture suffers.

Using Technology for Discipleship

One way to build relational bonds with the people who volunteer in your area, or the people that you are intentionally developing spiritually is using technology. I personally feel that the best discipleship environment is a small group or 3-4 running partners. That way, if the right culture is created in the group, the members of the group spur one another on even more than the leader could do alone. I find you really can’t spiritually develop people without face to face contact at least every couple of weeks. But Technology can significantly help bridge the gap relationally. Even as I was typing this, I got a prompting to shoot a text of encouragement to a guy I’m building into–it’s easy. But a lot of daily touches through text, email, skype, facetime can significantly increase your relational impact in people’s lives.

Get in the habit of regular daily Tech-touches with the 10 or so people who volunteer around you, or who you are trying to disciple or lead to faith. Here are some ideas, but get creative:
Text – Text a prayer you’re asking on their behalf. Cut and paste a verse from YouVersion and tell them it encouraged you and you wanted to share it with them. Let them know if God puts them on your mind to pray for them. See if anything in particular is up.
Email – Some people monitor email all day at work, if so, cut and paste a verse from with a short paragraph of your thoughts and note of encouragement. Email a weekly devotional thought to all your group, and find ways for them to do the same. You may want to set up a google group so that any email goes to all recipients. I have this with several boards and teams.
Skype / Facetime – I’m just amazed at how relational technology can be. We hold monthly ELI board meetings with multiple people on WebEx. I’ve done one-to-one counseling appointments on Skype.
Phone – Let’s not forget the simplicity of just a call or voicemail to see how they are doing.

We have options that we may not be using effectively to increase the relational depth of impact. Think about ways you can encourage, build up, spiritually shepherd those around you who volunteer or need spiritual input, and get creative with technology! It will never replace a small group or face to face meeting, but it does allow for increased touch.