Mud and the Masterpiece


This week we connected with John Burke, lead pastor of the Gateway Church in Austin, Texas to talk about his new book Mud and the Masterpiece.

Tony:  In the book, you mention that today’s church is perceived to be more like the Pharisees instead of Jesus by today’s culture. How do you ensure that your leadership team and church consistently see people through the eyes of Christ?

John:  If you ask someone on the street for one word to describe Christians, the average person will often answer with: “judgmental,” “arrogant,” “hypocritical,” “bigoted.” None of us think we could be rightly accused of these attitudes, and yet maybe it’s not just what we’re doing wrong, but what we’re failing to do right that brings these negative stereotypes. We stay distant and removed from the brokenness of humanity rather than going to people like Jesus did.

The Pharisees had no mercy or compassion for muddied, sinful people. They had an “us/them” mentality. They believed God belonged to the good people (us), and wanted nothing to do with the bad people (them). So they separated themselves. That’s where Jesus and the Pharisees collided.

We challenge all our staff to be engaged with people far from God. We talk often about the attitude Jesus had toward people who seemed far from God. If those leading the church have no friendships with non-Christians, why would we think we could lead the church to reach them? Speed of the leader, speed of the team.

We organize our church in Networks of 20-70 people (and discipleship groups within these) to function as the Body on mission with Jesus and each other. A Network focuses on reaching a particular people group.  In Part 2 of Mud and the Masterpiece, I talk about how any church can create missional Networks that live out what Jesus modeled for all His disciples. The result is almost always seeing the culture increasingly becoming followers of Jesus as his church.

Tony:  Why is it important to align the attitude of Christ with ministry systems and strategies?

John:  Well, we can end up missional on the wrong mission! If we don’t go with Christ’s attitude toward people, we can subtly slide into the Pharisee trap (I’ve been there). The Pharisees were not all bad. They loved the Scriptures (but missed Jesus’ life–John 5:39). They wanted moral reform (but wouldn’t lift a finger to help burdened people—Luke 11:46), and they traveled land and sea to make one convert (but then turned him into twice the sons of hell they were! –Matt. 23:15).

I’ve led Christian groups that served “those people” and shared our faith constantly with “those people”—and yet “they” never became “us.” That’s a good indication we are not engaging people with the attitude and actions of Jesus. They don’t want to be like us, maybe because we’re not much like Jesus.

Unless we help Christians adopt the same mindset and attitude as Jesus, all our evangelistic tools and missional strategies will be worthless. People intuitively sense how we feel about them, and that makes the biggest difference of all. Having observed thousands find faith, I’m convinced our hidden attitude toward people matters more than we know.

Tony:  You challenge readers to take some risks by challenging pharisaical tendencies.  Can you share a few practical “next steps” that leaders can take to make this happen?

John:  At the end of each chapter, I give one practical exercise to get Christians learning the stories of neighbors and coworkers, serving their neighbors, creating safe spiritual conversations, hosting “Matthew” parties, and much more that individuals and groups can do.

But people typically read a book in a small group, discuss it, then move on to the next curriculum—and nothing really changes. So we have also created a companion Action Guide for leadership teams or groups to use over the course of a year to form new habits of engagement. In John 4, Jesus said this is the satisfying spiritual “food” of doing God’s work that too few are eating. There’s nothing better to develop Christ-like maturity.

Tony:  How do you think a pastor and church leadership team would benefit from reading Mud and the Masterpiece?

John:  Churches and Christians today are in crisis and don’t even know it–we conducted a nationwide survey with the Barna Group asking questions to see if Christians’ attitudes and actions align more with Jesus or the Pharisees…Shockingly, despite good intentions, only 14% exhibit both the attitude and actions of Jesus! Mud and the Masterpiece addresses this disparity and helps Christ followers truly align their attitudes and actions with those of Jesus; only then will we impact the world the way he intended.

Mud and the Masterpiece flows out of an intensive study analyzing every encounter Jesus had with people—all people. What caused so many people who seemed far from God to flock to Jesus? And why did the religious leaders of his day create such a repelling force? What I discovered is that the way we see people really matters.

Think about it this way: If you found a Rembrandt painting covered in mud, would you treat it like mud? Like it’s worthless? I bet you’d treat it like a priceless work of art in need of restoration. Yet Christians struggle to treat muddied people like the immensely valuable, one-of-a-kind Masterpiece God created with his own hand.

As I studied the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained people, it became evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all the people he encountered – he saw through the mud to the Masterpiece God wanted to restore. Jesus is very clear that he fully expects us to do the same things He did, to see a broken, lost world restored. So if we look around our churches and we don’t see many people who were far from God 3-5 years ago now following Jesus and even leading others to follow Jesus, we need to ask ourselves, “Why aren’t we more like the One we follow?” If we’re not seeing people go from Lost to Leading, then the Church is dying. Mud and the Masterpiece is filled with modern-day stories of how Jesus still uses his church to restore people into God’s greatest works of art.


Get Mud and the Masterpiece Launch Week, February 1-8, and get the Audiobook (Feb. 1 only), Action Guide, Small Group Discussion Guide, and more as a free download. See for details.


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About Author

Jason Vernon

Jason is the Director of Content Development for The Unstuck Group. He graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Marketing and a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership. He also received an MBA from Lynchburg College. Jason was a Marketing Consultant for over 7 years. He currently serves as Communications Director at Free Chapel in Gainesville, GA.

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