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My Year in Podcasts – Jonathan Holt

My family laugh at how many of my contributions at dinner begin with a reference to a podcast. I listen to podcasts because I enjoy the storytelling and insights that come from others, and that’s why I’ll happily recommend podcasts. As I think back over the year past, I can think of three episodes that I’ve found especially helpful.

I listen to podcasts because I enjoy the storytelling and insights that come from others.

“Isolationism and Exceptionalism”

Managing Leadership Anxiety, Season 2, Episode 6; Steve Cuss

Anxiety, as a form of distress, is rife in our communities, and very often in our own lives. It shapes our behaviour and can do so without our conscious recognition. Part of the inner work we need to do on ourselves is to discover the ways that anxiety appears, and then to bring the rich resources of the gospel of Jesus to bear on this experience of anxiety.

Steve Cuss is an Australian who is pastoring in the United States of America. In his podcast, Managing Leadership Anxiety, he interviews others and, from time to time, bounces off his producer to talk about some of his own insights. In this episode from Season Two, Steve elaborates on one of the ideas from his book (which bears the same name as the podcast).

What stood out for me was the way that pastors (or indeed, anyone in a leadership role) might allow their anxieties to drive them to create a ‘cover-story’ that leads to unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours. Steve identifies two common postures for leaders and pastors: “Isolationism and Exceptionalism”. The first, Isolationism, says: “No one is coming to help, I am alone in doing this.” And Exceptionalism says: “I am the best at doing this, only I can do it.”

It is easy to see how loneliness in leadership and ministry might be something that comes from a leader who behaves as though they are alone, and no one can help. Both postures are untrue and need to be named and exposed. The good news of Jesus is that he is God-with-us. The incarnation and indwelling of his Spirit mean that we can begin to address the inner distress and our “cover-story” with the helping presence of God.

We ought to acknowledge that anxiety is a very complex thing, and no single podcast, or piece of advice will magically deal with a deep wound. And as with many of the resources available to the believer, you will not agree with everything Steve, or his guests say. Yet, even with these caveats in place, I was helped by listening to and pondering how my own anxiety might be better met by God’s grace.

“Freedom House Ambulance Service”

99% Invisible, Episode 405; Roman Mars

Perhaps it was because I was in a queue of cars to get a teenage child to their COVID test, but this story of the origins of the modern paramedic ambulance service stuck with me. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards. Having grown up in a world where you could count on a dedicated ambulance service, staffed by paramedics, I had not ever thought to ask who transported sick people to hospital before ambulances existed? What had to happen for battle-field ambulances to become an accepted part of medical care? Initially an ambulance was just about transport, and this episode tells the story of Freedom House and the development of paramedic teams providing medical care at the scene and while in transit to a hospital.

The podcast, 99% Invisible is all about design and architecture, ranging across a huge variety of topics (margarine; Presidential libraries and Euro currency design to name a few recent ones). And given this is the four hundred and fifth episode, the team at 99% Invisible know how to tell a good story. In this episode I got to hear about a community that saw a need and responded to it—something churches are designed to do too.

In this episode I got to hear about a community that saw a need and responded to it—something churches are designed to do too.

Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was a predominantly African American neighbourhood. It was the responsibility of the police or funeral homes to drive out and transport someone to the nearest hospital. Neither of these options was working well and so, with some national funding and an opportunity to provide innovative emergency first aid training to unemployed residents of the Hill District, Freedom House became a centre for paramedic training.

It is fascinating to discover the people and events behind a service I take for granted, including the difficult and sad events that led to such an important program being shut down. Yet the ripple effects of what was accomplished at Freedom House are felt by us today: expecting quality medical care on the way to hospital and knowing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) are the two most obvious benefits.

There is a second lesson in this episode, and that is about the loss of history. It seems to be all too easy to lose track of origin stories; for forebears to be overlooked. We benefit greatly from knowing where we came from.

“Staying Honest, Showing Honour”

You’re Not Crazy, Episode 4; Ray Ortlund and Sam Allberry

This last recommendation is from one of the newest Podcasts to land. It’s a project of the two hosts, to talk through how churches and leaders might ensure Gospel-Culture grows in our fellowship, as much as Gospel-Doctrine does. Ray and Sam have a very warm and easy manner in their conversation, but they are very serious about the danger presented by churches that claim to have the Truth (Gospel-Doctrine) but then undermine it by their graceless and judgmental behaviour.

Ray and Sam are very serious about the danger presented by churches that claim to have the Truth but then undermine it by their graceless and judgmental behaviour.

In each episode, Sam and Ray talk about how pastors might understand and commend some aspect of the gracious, welcoming, forgiving community that the gospel demands. In this episode, the discussion focuses in on honesty and honour—two things that are often sadly lacking in our church culture.

Honesty is the currency of trust and spiritually transformative relationships. This episode provides stories and advice on how we can encourage those to whom we minister to grow in honesty—to grow in the grace of God and feel something of the forgiveness made available through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. There is a danger in the shallow-but-polite form of church life that many people never move beyond—it’s a life for people who praise the Lord with their lips but have hearts far from God.

Sam and Ray move on, in the second half of the episode to urge us to get better at honouring the humble discipleship we witness in one another. The Apostle Paul often honours the love and faith of the churches he is writing to, and he does so with a kind of warmth we would love to hear today but seldom do. We have forgotten how to honour each other (or receive honour when it is given) and it leaves us impoverished. We miss out on that part of Gospel-Culture which would see us build one another up in our most holy faith.

I get the distinct impression that there is much more I hear and forget, than hear and remember, in the podcasts I listen to. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy the moment, the story well told. But I also appreciate the insights and stories that stick, that have a particular resonance with me, and which hang around in my thoughts long after the host has signed off.

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