John & Jena Starke
Mike Cosper: Hi folks. My name is Mike Cosper, and this is Sojourn Network.
Welcome to the podcast. This is our first episode, and we’re really excited about what’s coming in the months ahead. Sojourn Network is a church planting network that exists to help pastors plant, grow and multiply healthy churches that last.
On this show, pastors and leaders that are part of our network will sit down together and talk about their experiences in the trenches of ministry, what they’ve learned, how they’ve struggled, and how God has been at work in their midst. We’ve really been encouraged by recording these stories, and we think you will be too.
I’m one of the founders of the network, and I serve on the board, and today, I’ll be hosting a conversation with John and Jena Starke. John is the pastor of Apostles Church Uptown, New York City, and has been part of our network for many years. He and his wife, Jena, have four kids, and we talk about raising a family while pastoring in the city. We also talk about a season of real struggle and depression, how they navigated that season together, and we’ll hear some advice they have for those who might be thinking about planting in a context like theirs.
Thanks for listening, and hope you enjoy the conversation.
You guys are a great story in some of the transitions you’ve been through in terms of like going up there to pastor a church, merging church, then dividing churches, and then ... I mean that in the best way possible. I don’t mean that as a negative. Multiplying. That’s the right way you say that.
John Starke: Yes.
Jena Starke: Yeah.
Mike Cosper: You’re living in New York City, a city where people who have large families don’t necessarily thrive. You’re thriving, and your marriage has survived through all of this, so we thought you guys would be great to talk to just a little bit about kind of your marriage journey through some of these things, and where did you guys meet? And how did your relationship kick off?
John Starke: We met in Tucson, Arizona. I was on staff at a church in a youth ministry. The church was like 8,000 members at that point, and Jena grew up there. Yeah, she’s actually a few months older than me, so she was coming back and volunteering. She went to Bible School in Colorado, and she was volunteering to help with some of the middle school girls, and we had met, and I was actually rooming with her ex boyfriend who’s a wonderful guy, just in case he ever listens to this audio. We’re still close. He’s married with, I think, even twice as many kids as we have, and somehow, though I was rooting for them to get back together, somehow we ended up together, and dated for a while, and got married in April of 2003.
Jena Starke: Which is exactly 15 years ago.
John Starke: 15 years ago today.
Jena Starke: Today.
Mike Cosper: When you guys got together, John did you already know that you wanted to be a pastor? Was that kind of part of the deal?
John Starke: Yeah. Pastoral ministry. I think the first assumption is that we would actually go into music ministry together.
Jena Starke: We were really young. We were 22.
John Starke: Yeah. We were young. So it was before seminary, and it was before even finishing under graduate, so we went back and finished undergraduate, and then went to seminary together.
Jena Starke: One thing I think that’s different for our journey is we kind of left Arizona, and both our families were there, not really anticipating ever going back necessarily. We love our families, and they’re both believing, but we took off for South Carolina to finish undergrad and have lived in a few states. Several homes. And it was hard being away from family right away, but I think it helped us kind of gel together and move on to just pursuing all the school we had to do to finish.
Mike Cosper: Jena, did you have any reservations about dating and then obviously eventually marrying a pastor? Was there anything about being a pastor’s wife that frightened you or concerned you?
Jena Starke: No, I think I felt most comfortable with that.
John Starke: But you felt called.
Jena Starke: Yeah, I wanted to be in ministry. It was hugely encouraging to me, and then when John got to be, I don’t know, 24, decided for sure he wanted to be a pastor, I thought that he had gifts in that area. I was really excited. We had our first daughter in South Carolina, and then we moved to Louisville for seminary. Found out I was pregnant with our second-
John Starke: Yeah, right away.
Jena Starke: Right away.
John Starke: And we had our third there.
Jena Starke: Uh-huh. With no money. I mean, be honest.
Mike Cosper: How long were y’all in Louisville?
John Starke: Five years we were in Louisville?
Jena Starke: Yeah, five years.
Mike Cosper: Tell me about how the opportunity to come to New York came together.
John Starke: Well, in 2011, I was in New York with the Emmanuel Kampouris Foundation. It’s sort of like think tank-ish with the Bible Mesh storefront on it, so we had gathered a couple times a year in Manhattan, and I remember just leaving one of those meetings and calling Jena. Jena was back home, and for the first time, really imagining, "You know, we could do this here." Or just thinking about it to imagining it ’cause we had, for so long, had planned to church plant in Boston area, and some of those doors weren’t like swinging wide open. We were sort of hoping towards that.
So I just called Jena and just sort of talked to her about it and came back and-
Jena Starke: I laughed at him.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: I did. I was like, "Oh yeah. Sure. I’m sure we can afford to live there."
And two weeks later, we heard from an elder at our church through all these different connections about a pastor who was looking to replace himself so that he, himself, could go to seminary here in the city.
John Starke: Yeah, yeah, there was a church here called All Souls Church, and the pastor there, Derick, and his wife Kathy, had planted just a little bit before 9/11, and had planted, had just sort of faithfully dug their heals in and raised a family here in the city and had grown a church that had loved them as a pastor and his wife and loved them as leaders, and they, as a family, were transitioning. He was going to finish school and was looking for a replacement.
And at that point, they had gone through a lot of transitions and a lot of struggles, so there was not, not only sort of weariness of what’s ahead, but also weariness of a lot of change, and so when we had first imagined it, we sort of thought of it as, "Oh, this is a small church planting core team." And even until we had moved up, we had said yes to the position and gone up there, we still imagined that.
But pretty quickly, just seeing ... These people probably don’t need a huge visionary right now. They just need a good shepherd through what has been a really, really challenging time, and so yeah, for the next few years, that’s what we just received as a calling is to be hospitable, loving and listening and change things where things needed to be changed, but also probably had to pull back on the dreaming side of us for a little bit and just be more of a faithful presence for a while.
Jena Starke: I think we felt we were where we were supposed to be.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: The Lord really confirmed to us that we were supposed to be here, and I drew tons of comfort from that. I think, if you know where the Lord wants you to be, you can kind of run for a long time.
John Starke: You can take a lot of risks.
Jena Starke: Yeah.
Mike Cosper: So you laughed the first time he suggested. What changed in your heart to get you excited to be there?
Jena Starke: Oh, I was always excited to be in a city. John and I both wanted to be in a city. I was laughing at the financial.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: We’re really bad at asking for money.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: So we just didn’t see church planting from scratch as an option. The Lord made a way though. He knows us, and it was good.
John Starke: Yeah, and the church wasn’t financially sustainable by a long shot, and so we had to work bi-vocational for a season, for a while.
Jena Starke: Yeah, John started out working about 80 hours a week, which was a lot.
John Starke: Yeah.
Mike Cosper: Yeah, ’cause you were working for The Gospel Coalition at the time, right?
John Starke: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jena Starke: Yeah.
John Starke: Yeah.
Mike Cosper: Thank you, Collin Hansen.
Jena Starke: Thank you, Collin.
Mike Cosper: Well, tell me about like the learning curve, moving from Louisville to New York. You had three kids by then?
Jena Starke: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. We did not have our fourth surprise child yet.
John Starke: Yeah, we weren’t planning on having a fourth child.
Jena Starke: Right.
John Starke: Yeah, we moved into a really, it doesn’t seem small now, but when we first moved, it was a small, two-bedroom apartment, 21 stories up, but I think, for us, it was a lot of joy at the beginning. I think we made some initial commitments just getting out and enjoying the city and falling in love with the city. We actually had, and we still keep it, a weekly date night. We’ve done that, I think, almost from the beginning. We’ve kept that.
Our kids have always done well in the city.
Jena Starke: Yeah.
John Starke: They’ve really liked doing public transportation. They’ve thrived in the schools, and I think we just got, I don’t know if it was like some advice. I’m sure it was a lot of advice, a lot of encouragement, but there’s just so much for our kids in the city to experience and see. Like just the greatest museums, the greatest parks, engagement with the poor that they may not have gotten in most places, just that having to think through those things differently. They overlap with the incredibly rich and the incredibly poor in a matter of feet on the sidewalks and in the public transit.
For us, it was an exciting time. There’s a lot of desperate moments of how to make sense of where we were, and you can correct me, but I don’t think there was just ever a real moment where we felt like, "I just don’t know if making it in the city as a family is going to work." I think we, as a family, I think the Lord has been really gracious with us.
Jena Starke: I mean, I loved it. We lived for five years in our first apartment, and we only moved because it went up in price too much, so we had to move, but those were really sweet years. We had our fourth child there, and for me, it was great. I loved walking out of our apartment with the kids in our stroller and just going to a playground like two blocks away, and then, "Oh, we don’t want to go to that playground." We just go two more blocks, and there’s another playground.
And the grocery stores are close by, and everything is close by.
Mike Cosper: You were making sacrifices in the midst of that as well. At one point, wasn’t one of your kids like sleeping in a closet?
That’s accurate, right?
Jena Starke: What? Your kids didn’t sleep in a closet, Mike?
Yes. Our son, who was not expected, his Pack and Play fit really great in this closet at the end of our hall which was great.
John Starke: Oh, I hope the social services don’t hear this.
Jena Starke: Yeah. There was no door. There was no door.
John Starke: It was a walk-in closet, so it was ... In most Manhattan apartments, it could probably be considered almost a room.
Mike Cosper: Right.
Jena Starke: Yes.
John Starke: But, I think we even fit a chair in there, so it was like a Pack and Play and a chair.
Jena Starke: We also put guests in there.
John Starke: Yeah, yeah.
Mike Cosper: The sacrifice was real as well.
So talk to me about like what happened with All Souls and that first transition from All Souls to Apostles.
John Starke: I mean, there were a lot of challenges and a lot of heartbreak and a lot of disappointment, and a lot of it was maybe seeing just how much we needed help. I think Sojourn Network was a big part of that early on, just giving us friendship and encouragement along the way.
We had some good friends, J.R. Vasser, the pastor of Apostles, who planted it in 2005, and in 2013, he had transitioned out as a pastor. I preached for Apostles as an interim preacher for them, so we had an evening service. They had a morning service, so just the development towards that, towards a merge of our two churches in 2014, summer of 2014, which was a huge transition for us, so we went from struggling to growing, but it was still a small church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to four congregation on Upper West Side [inaudible 00:12:36], Downtown Union Square, and then in Brooklyn, so I was mainly still responsible just for the Upper West Side congregation, but leading with our preaching team there at the church, so it turned into what was a small circle of influence and close intimate congregation to jumping up pretty quickly to a widespread of people, which is a little bit of a shock. Yeah, that was in 2014.
Mike Cosper: Talk to me about that in terms of what that meant for your family and how the two of you walked through that together.
Jena Starke: Well, you know, John had been working 80 hours a week, and we knew that we needed to do that for a while. That was something that we just knew we had to kind of suck up and do, and John, I think you were interim preaching for-
John Starke: Six months.
Jena Starke: Seven. Yeah, six or seven months. Something like that. And, he’s preaching the same sermon, and they’re willing to do that, and it made a lot of sense. He was able to let go of his second job, which was good for our family, but our church had just been in a really healthy place, and it still was. Like, our church didn’t really feel the change, I don’t think, as much.
Mike Cosper: That were at All Souls?
Jena Starke: But on the leadership level, it was a lot. It was a very, very big shift.
John Starke: Yeah, I went out of officing in our bedroom to sharing an office with 12 or 13 other individuals.
Jena Starke: And traveling 40 minutes both ways.
Mike Cosper: Did you experience that as sort of a significant emotional swing and challenge?
John Starke: Yeah, I mean I think part of the issue was less of like the burden of responsibility and more of the complexity.
Jena Starke: Yeah, it was too wide.
John Starke: We’ve since shifted organizationally pretty significantly, but for probably about eight or nine months, I encountered what was probably the first time I think I’ve experienced depression. And it was pretty hard ’cause I didn’t know how to make sense of that, and I didn’t know how to make sense of that in our marriage. I just remember like sitting with Jena one time, and just talking about this dynamic and me trying to explain what I’m feeling, and I was like, well, it’s like I’ve fallen asleep on my arm, and my arm had fallen asleep, and I tried to reach for this glass of water, and you look at your arm, you’re looking at the glass of water, and you want to grab it, but you mentally want to, but you can’t. And the same thing, but just sort of emotionally. You want to reach out. You want to engage, but there’s just some sort of something that’s keeping you from being able to functionally do that, and so for eight or nine months of trying to pastor and be a husband. Yeah, it was just a really dark, dark season for us.
Jena Starke: And we had loved our Upper West Side congregation a lot. They’re our family, and so this shift just felt so different. It didn’t feel personal. It didn’t feel ... We were still with them on Sundays, but the bulk of John’s week was sitting with three other head pastors, making decisions about four congregations, and it lost that intimate, I’m with my people, feeling in some ways that we were, I think, both kind of mourning a little bit.
Mike Cosper: Say more about that. Like what did mourning that look like?
Jena Starke: I don’t think we knew.
John Starke: I think for us it was just coming to terms one that it was something like depression, and I don’t know if you would call what you experienced depression, but you experienced a really challenging emotional season as well, and coming to terms with that, and trying to be patient with that. I wanted to hurry up and just get past it and get over it.
But yeah, I think, I just remember sitting with a few pastors over a table at dinner one time, and one of them just was kind of working through what I was going through, feeling, and experiencing, and he just asked, "Have you taken the time to lament that? To experience and embrace that sadness and really kind of maybe even go through Psalms of lament and make them your own prayers?"
And I hadn’t. I hadn’t done anything like that. I hadn’t tried to make sense of that very well. So I went through a season where we both tried to think pretty critically about our emotional lives in ways that we probably hadn’t before.
Mike Cosper: Yeah, so Jena, how did you process his depression, and obviously you’re going through your own stuff at the same. Like what was that season like for you?
Jena Starke: I wasn’t surprised at all John was depressed. It was a really difficult situation sometimes relationally and trying to figure out which direction the church should go, and I think it was difficult on everybody. I don’t think it was just John and I.
And so, I know some couples decide not to share everything about what’s going on with church, but John and I just aren’t that way. We kind of talk about everything. For better or for worse, we kind of grieved alongside one another through that process, and I could understand absolutely why he felt the way he did.
I don’t know if I went through depression. I was just really experiencing a lot of sorrow, and it was really hard. And we, in the midst of that, I think were able to trust the Lord that He had brought us here. He had opened this door, and we had walked through it, and we were going to continue to walk through it until he told us otherwise.
John Starke: It was really interesting. I think, when we first moved to New York, I had a lot of excitement to build and dream and to think and to plan, and the Lord really cut that off and forced us to just to be moment by moment, meeting by meeting, pastor and to be hospitable to people and to shepherd people well, and I think when we merged, I think that dreaming came back, and that excitement came back, and again, I think the Lord just ... He sort of tempered that again with having to make sense of organizational complexity, structure, which is just not the sexiest thing to dream and think about. Even our own emotional complexities, we just had to sit and think about that and, again, felt very day by day, moment by moment, meeting by meeting. Every day we were sort of updating how we’re doing, how things are going, [inaudible 00:19:08]. "Oh man, what’s three years from now going to look like? What’s five years from now?"
Which, if you’re talking with any other pastor or any other coach, they’re just like, "So what’s five years from now?" And you’re like, "Man, I’m just trying to get through this month. I’m trying to get through this week."
Jena Starke: I would say that there was a year and a half in there where we were both really sad.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: And that really overwhelmed us as a couple because we like to laugh. We really, really enjoy laughing and people, and we were definitely worried about how our sadness was going to affect our kids. I remember having-
John Starke: Yeah, yeah, that was a big concern.
Jena Starke: Because you just can’t muster up-
John Starke: Sustained happiness.
Jena Starke: Yeah, or just, "Oh, ha ha. That’s funny." Like nothing was funny then, and that was really hard.
Mike Cosper: How were you guys processing that together? Was it like an open, on-going conversation, or was it just kind of the atmosphere in the room?
John Starke: There was a lot of pillow talk and-
Jena Starke: Nook talk.
John Starke: Yeah. We had a little corner in our apartment where we-
Jena Starke: You know, the nook. You’ve been there.
Mike Cosper: The nook.
John Starke: Where we would just talk through that. A lot of late nights, and I think in some sense, just even a lot of times forcing each other. Like looking back, I don’t know if we’d ever describe it previous this way, but thinking back on it now, just forcing us to, or at least forcing the other person to recognize, "No. This sucks. Quit trying to like sugar coat it. This just really sucks."
I remember just coming back from something and just trying to like, "No, it’s better. It’s good." And Jena was like, "No, it’s not better. This isn’t, like don’t try to make it where it’s not." And that’s not something that ... It’s not like we tried to force sadness on one another, but I think at that moment, we didn’t want a false peace. We didn’t want a false joy. We were really longing for joy to be restored again. We prayed for that.
I journal pretty regularly, and just almost every day, just this constant, "Would you restore my joy? Would you restore a kind of a hope?" I don’t think we ever ... There wasn’t one time we felt like, "I don’t think we’re going to make it." Or, "I don’t think we’re going to sustain. I think we’re probably going to have to leave." There was never that moment, but there wasn’t a moment, or there were a lot of moments where we were thinking like, "This just may always be this way." Like there were moments, I think, where we had talked about, "Are we always going to be this way? Are we always going to be sad? Is it always going to be hard? Is there ever ..."
There were moments with other pastors where they literally said to me, very frankly, like, "It does get better." Like, "Ministry is good. There are great seasons." And I think there were points where we just didn’t know if that was true.
Jena Starke: In the same way, we were able to talk to each other about God’s ... How he is in those moments because that doesn’t feel sugar coated. Like, God is still here. He sees what’s going on. I prayed Psalms I never thought I would pray.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: That’s for sure.
And when I read them now, I’m like, "Oh my gosh, I prayed that. I remember that." But, I just ... It did open up a different category for us of emotion and a different category of how God is with his people. It’s really good.
And now, looking back, even right after we kind of exited that season, I remember John saying, "I’m so thankful that we went through that." I wasn’t there yet.
John Starke: Well, you just said that the other day.
Jena Starke: I was really glad that you felt that way.
Mike Cosper: What was the transition? How did that season end? ’Cause you’re definitely talking about it in the past tense.
Jena Starke: Yeah, well the church changing structure was-
John Starke: Yeah, I mean, it was-
Jena Starke: Good.
John Starke: It was a lot of planning by all of our leaders, all of our staff, and just sort of being united about ... We have found that our structure has taken us away from the most basic parts of our pastoral mandate of caring and being present with people, and so we wanted to at some way have a local setting again, and so ... But we still wanted to partner together. We still wanted to be together in some very strategic missional ways, and so we created here, in the city, just a small network of our churches called the Apostles Network, and so, we’re Apostles Uptown. We have a congregation on Upper West Side and Upper East Side, and there’s one Downtown Union Square, and then Brooklyn, so there’s three of us, and we retreat together for a day every couple months, and we do a lot of planning, a lot of praying together. All of our churches worship together three times a year, during Christmas Eve, Good Friday, and Ash Wednesday. And those are just really sweet times to be back together again. A lot of joy and celebration. Even on Ash Wednesday, we’re excited to see each other.
And we planned that for a long time, and about 2016, we multiplied into three churches, and we multiplied or we separated our staff into those churches, and we are just blessed to have a great team. My associate pastor, Ryan, and the other one Freeman, and Phillip, our worship director, they’re just ... We’re a great team, and we got to imagine, for the first time, I think, a future of what that looked like with excitement and joy. Not with like, “Well, we got to also make these huge adjustments and huge organizational changes." And we just felt like we could run.
So for the past two years, now, just about two years, we’ve been in this new season where it’s still been challenging. We’ve had a lot of residue and muscle memory from previous seasons, but man, the Lord has brought a lot of restoration and healing, a lot of fruit, and like right now, we’re in our budget season for 2019 budget year, and there’s just ... This is a first time for me. THere’s just been a lot of excitement. A lot of imagination. A lot of creativity. And a lot of unity around it.
We had a community group, that we host one in our house, and one of the elders in training was there, and we were just talking through some of the elements before we were starting our community group, and he just put his hand on my shoulder like, I just want to make note how joyful you are about this budget. Which the previous seven years budget season has just been really a hard season for me, and probably a lot of fears, and this is really, probably been the first season for a long time where I’ve just felt a lot of ability and freedom to be creative and dream and be excited about what’s around the corner and what could happen five years from now, ten years from now.
In some ways, some of those are original desires when we came to the city that the Lord really tempered and humbled us, maybe even humiliated us in a lot of ways and have kept us not yet, not yet kind of seasons. I feel like we’re in this new refreshing season where the Lord is really sort of blessing us in that way.
Mike Cosper: I wonder like, reflecting back, I think there’s some themes in what you’ve shared that probably a lot of pastors can identify with in that oftentimes the structures of ministry and the, not even bureaucracy, but it’s just kind of relationships, the entanglements of an organization have a tendency to pull pastors away from their pastoral responsibilities and their real sense of calling. How does that happen, and how can we, when you’re looking at your future, how are you thinking about your team, your structures and all this in a way that you don’t make that mistake again, that the organization doesn’t become bigger than your calling and your first sense of responsibility?
John Starke: A lot of the complexities of organization [inaudible 00:27:32] come from a lot of planning and dreaming that is separate from local pastoral ministry. It turns into sort of greatness of a structure or greatness as an impact, greatness as a reach rather than ... Which those are great, but I think oftentimes it just becomes detached from, just remember, I’m obligated to know the sheep. I’m obligated to make sure the sheep feel known, and the sheep are fed, and that it’s not going to pull me away from acting like a sheep as well.
So, one of the first things we did as a church elder team was to create what we just call The Shepherd Plan which is not a very sexy name, but it’s meant to be this Biblical modal of the shepherds of the church are supposed to know, feed and protect the sheep, and we’re going to have to stand and give an account. Hebrews tells us we’re going to have give an account for the sheep. And so, we just felt obligated to that. I felt convicted, and had to publicly, in some sense, repent. I mean, we did very much say we’re sorry for not being able to do this very well in the past.
Jena Starke: I feel like if the Biblical mandate in one thing and you’re doing something else, then it’s not fulfilling the Biblical mandate to shepherd the people.
John Starke: It’s hard to sustain.
Jena Starke: We felt that that was not the case in the previous structure, and once we changed to this other structure, it just felt like the feet were on the model, I guess, I to be able to do that.
Mike Cosper: Ministry was life-giving again, right?
Jena Starke: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Starke: Yeah, yeah. It really was.
Mike Cosper: I’d love to hear what you guys would say to a young church planter thinking about going to a city like New York or Boston or LA, one of these ... A place that’s expensive and crowded and maybe not necessarily friendly to kids and large families. Someone comes to you and says, "Hey, I want to plant there." Or, "I want to join a staff there." What would your counsel be for them? What kind of questions would you ask them to think about?
Jena Starke: Having been with lots of other women that are doing the same thing in our church with kids and husbands, I know that every family is different, so I can only speak about what John and I have experienced, but for us, having young children just choosing a place that you like to live. You got to love your home, and it may be really small, and it may have all sorts of inconveniences, but if you don’t like your home, you’re not really going to like living in the city.
John Starke: I think we underestimate that.
Jena Starke: Yeah. So, that was important. An elevator with young children? I just think about if I had ... There was one time that the fire alarm went off in our 21-story building, and being the green suburbanite that I was, I carried my two children and dragged my third child down 21 flights of chairs while dinner was on the stove ’cause John wasn’t there. Got down to the bottom, and the fire trucks were there, but none of the people in our building were there ’cause I didn’t know about fireproof apartment buildings. So I was supposed to stay in my apartment.
Anyway, so just things like that. Elevators are good.
John Starke: Yeah, I think understanding a sense of space. You have to have love and mix into your space.
But also, like Jesus talks about, just counting the costs. Before you build a building, you need to count the cost, so I think understanding both the financial cost, which is a thing for them, and the emotional cost, which is a thing. If you’re coming in to plant a church in New York, I think most people we come in contact with, and this is me as well, have an over estimation of their gifts, and have a great plan. They’re going to launch big and sustain big, and I think having a knowledge that you’re really going to suffer, and you’re going to be embarrassed. You’re going to be humiliated at times.
People don’t just get up on Sundays to go hear preaching like they would do anywhere else where people are from.
Jena Starke: There’s not a brunch.
John Starke: Yeah. Or you go to your little late game. Like, there just isn’t, oftentimes, a category for making space for church, and so having a great ability to preach is really important. That’s just not going to be ... It’s just not going to cut it for many things.
Mike Cosper: What does cut it?
John Starke: Patience.
Jena Starke: Staying.
John Starke: Yeah.
Jena Starke: You know, I guess with some of the younger people who live in the city, and then they meet somebody and they have a certain kind of lifestyle, and then you get married. They have a different lifestyle in the city. Then they have kids. They start having to sacrifice. It feels like, financially, you’re cutting off your arm or so forth.
We moved in with kids, and so we’ve always experienced that kind of lifestyle in the city, but you can do the same thing having grown up somewhere else. You can come in with, "I want my backyard, and I want more space." And those things can kind of distract you from what God’s called you to and from the things that can replace those things as joys and blessings.
And so, not coming in with the grass is always greener ’cause the first year, you’re going to love it no matter what.
John Starke: Most of that just comes through just patience and loving your neighbor and being prayerful. I mean, if you don’t have a healthy prayer life and a good sense of humility to where you can take a beating and be humiliated and still get up next Monday, I just don’t think it’s going to go well or go for very long in the city.
Mike Cosper: Right, right.
John Starke: That’s true in anywhere, but oftentimes it is just hyper that way here in the city, so-
Jena Starke: And I think too you have to add in trusting the Lord. It sounds like a banner statement, but it really is. If God calls you to a place, he is going to provide all of the joy, all that you need, and all the suffering that you need in order to be the pastor and pastor’s wife that you’re supposed to be.
Mike Cosper: You guys have already mentioned your [inaudible 00:34:20]. Are there any other disciplines, practices, things you guys do to make sure that you stay connected and on the same page in the midst of your ministry?
John Starke: I mean, Sabbath is a big one for us. We take every Friday, well Thursday night to Friday evening. We end it with our date night, and so that’s really important to use as a family with our kids ’cause on Thursday night, we just talk about what we’re thankful for with our kids where everyone talks about over the last week what are we thankful, and I don’t think we’re naturally thankful people, and so it’s been helpful to our kids, that habit. A lot of nights, our younger kids who don’t know-
Jena Starke: Our five year old is always like, "Are we doing thankfuls tonight?" Every day.
John Starke: Are we doing thankfuls right now.
It’s kind of turned into like an anticipatory thing for our family, and I think that’s one that’s transformed our dinner times, not just that night, but most nights. It’s taught us how to talk and be thankful with one another, but I think resting and finding a sense of fullness in that day, that day ends up in forming the rest of the week for us. Rather than, we’re not just working through the weekend, but that Sabbath day ends up in forming the rest of the week.
Jena Starke: I mean, it can be a super anxiety producing to put down your work for a day, but it’s also just super helpful, and it’s been really life-giving to us, and it’s taught me a lot about gratitude and delight in the Lord and-
Mike Cosper: That’s great. Anything else you’d want to say about the network or anything like that?
John Starke: Sojourn was a huge beginning of a resurgence of strength and confidence in ministry. I mean, even, Mike, you were a part of that early on for an encouragement towards us, and you and Sarah have been a really good friendship for us because here, we feel very ... Can feel very. I don’t think we often feel that way now, but can feel very isolated here.
Jena Starke: Yeah, the first five years, we felt pretty alone on a leadership level, and so just going to the retreat every year and reconnecting with people that we are friends with was really encouraging, and also John was working ... We were both working a lot, so it was nice to just put down our work for four days and go to the beach. It was nice.
Mike Cosper: Maybe give us one or two things that folks in the network can be praying for for you guys and for your church?
John Starke: We’re in a sermon series, and even like a season where we’re reflecting just our spiritual renewal and revival ’cause we just feel like we’re, for the first time as a church, a refreshing season where we, even a lot of our leaders in our church are longing for what can be, what can God be doing in our neighborhoods, and how can we be planning for that. So, we’re trying to be ambitious in a lot of areas with our finances, with our leadership. We’re trying to be sacrificial in those areas as well, and so this is kind of an exciting time for our church. It’s an exciting time for our leadership. Yeah, so just that the Lord would fuel that work.
This summer is going to be an important summer. We’re taking a sabbatical, Jena and I, so we’re going for 12 weeks which is hard for us to put down what feels like good work and a good season, but we’re going to take a world traveling trip with our kids.
Jena Starke: We’re driving across the United States.
John Starke: So we’re excited for that. You can pray for that.
Mike Cosper: Thanks to John and Jena for making time to share their story. This is Sojourn Network is a production of the Narrativo Group. It was produced by me. It was edited by T.J. Hester, and it was mixed by Mark Owens. Our music is by Sojourn Music and Dan Phelps. We’ll be back with another episode in two weeks.