Ask Pastor John Host

In January of 2013, Tony Reinke suggested a restart of John Piper answering pastoral and theological questions. This had been done previously on radio (2007–2008) and on live video (2008–2010). But the audio podcasting medium was rather new, and a perfect place to host John Piper’s theological and pastoral insights for one year.

In a donor gathering in downtown Atlanta on the evening of December 31, 2019, Tony explained the history of APJ.

The video manifestation ended after a couple of years, cancelled in the spring of 2010 to make room for Pastor John’s eight-month ministry leave to focus on his heart, his marriage, and his family. The leave ended at the conclusion of 2010, and Pastor John returned to ministry with a renewed vision for the future.

But no radio or video manifestation of APJ resumed.

In January of 2012 I was hired to curate and make new content and soon launched my first longform podcast, Authors on the Line (AOTL). I interviewed authors over the telephone and handled the planning, hosting, writing, producing, call recording, studio post-production recording, sound engineering, and marketing—learning by trial and error. By the end of 2012 I had completed eleven longform episodes and had settled on a process for efficiently getting conversations recorded, transcribed, edited, and published through a syndicated audio channel. I called John Piper’s home landline phone for the very first time at the end of November 2012 for a special holiday episode of AOTL. Technologically, everything worked.

Entering 2013, DG faced a new challenge. In the spring, Piper’s pastorate at Bethlehem Baptist Church would end. To allow the new church leadership to gel, he planned a year away in Knoxville with Noël and Talitha, from June 2013 to August 2014. He would also use the time to work on various book projects and to dream about the next decade of ministry ahead, a rural “retooling” for his next season of urban ministry. But the temporary move left DG in a bind. We had never experienced ministry with Pastor John so long absent from Minneapolis. So how could his voice remain close to DG’s audience while his physical presence was distant for fifteen months?

With a little podcast experience now, at a ministry team lunch on January 7, 2013, I proposed a new podcast. I simply adopted the old title: Ask Pastor John. The new manifestation would follow the popular Q&A format, reminiscent of the old radio program and the livestream video, but now built on a new rhythm of recording that detached Pastor John and the host into remote locations. It would replace eye-contact with a host or attentiveness to a video camera with the freedom to work from detailed notes. It would eliminate the uncertainties of impromptu responses. Now every episode would be pre-planned, every question carefully selected, and Pastor John would be given between 45 and 60 minutes of prep time for each response. No cold questions; no cold answers—all made possible because Pastor John was soon to become DG’s full-time employee. Providentially, audio-only podcasting was becoming popular among Christian listeners.

In the January 7 proposal I suggested that topics “could include leadership coaching, pastoral and exegetical and theological questions, responses to contemporary events, autobiographical details of public value, updates on current reading and thinking, responses to listener questions, as well as travel plans and personal and writing updates.” Pastor John could cover all those topics. That was already clear. “The aim of the APJ audio podcast,” I proposed, “is to connect Pastor John to the DG audience each week from now until the conclusion of his leave.” I operated under the assumption that the podcast would terminate in 18 months, giving us about 398 episodes, at which point I was certain we’d have nothing more to talk about.

On January 7, 2013, I wrote the proposal, the team at DG approved it. That evening I sent a formal proposal to Pastor John and two hours later he eagerly replied: “This sounds excellent. Let’s pray that it will not just be interesting or informative, but spiritually awakening and Christ-exalting, and soul-sanctifying, and mission advancing, and that it would spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things through Jesus Christ, and abundantly more.” Amen. Then he asked: “Any suggested regular hour of the week. Like this week, starting Friday????” Pastor John is not a man of emojis. The four question marks carried his eagerness to get started. We did record on Friday of the same week and launched the podcast the same day with episode one on January 11, 2013: “Reflections from John Piper on His [67th] Birthday.”

Our start was fast. Episode 100 released before the Pipers let for Knoxville. In our eager start, we released 245 episodes in 2013 alone, one new episode from Pastor John every weekday. This pace proved unsustainable, but Pastor John’s voice remained very close to DG.

As the Pipers packed up to leave Knoxville for their return to Minneapolis, we published episode 400 (our most popular episode ever). No topic was taboo. By the time the Pipers returned home to Minneapolis and my proposal timeframe had expired, the podcast had registered nine million episode plays, and—thanks to episode 400—that number quickly soared past ten million. The audience continued to grow. Ten new emails every day from listeners soon led to two dozen, and then thirty or more. We decided to preserve the momentum, so we never stopped.

In the inaugural episode I called APJ a “relaunch” of the previous radio and video manifestations, but in fact the podcast version would eventually develop into a very unique product within John Piper’s ministry legacy. And the new prep time allotted to Pastor John was a big reason why.

Now after a decade and nearly 2,000 episodes, and as we near 200 million all time episode plays, the basic premise of the podcast remains unchanged.