Mere Christians

Mike Cosper (Host of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill)

Episode Summary

Resisting shortcuts in your career in 2022

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Mike Cosper, Host of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, to talk about what you learn by resisting shortcuts in your career, the value of living outside of the geographic center of your industry, and what Denzel Washington’s role in Training Day can teach us about how Christians can engage culture.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:05] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I host a conversation with a Christian who is pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ influences their work.


We're kicking off the year with a terrific guest, my friend, Mike Cosper, you likely know him as the host of the massively popular podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. His official title is director of podcasting at Christianity Today. Mike is an exceptional journalist and communicator, especially in the medium of audio. So, we sat down and we talked about what we can learn by vehemently resisting shortcuts in our careers, the value of living outside of the geographic center of our industries, and we also talked about what Denzel Washington's role in Training Day can teach us about how Christians can engage culture.


Please enjoy this great episode with my friend, Mike Cosper.




[00:01:31] JR: Mike Cosper, welcome to the show.


[00:01:34] MC: Thanks for having me on.


[00:01:35] JR: Yeah. So, people, I think these days, at least, know you as the host of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. But I want to go back to the beginning of your story. You started out as a church planter, right?


[00:01:48] MC: Yeah. So, I was on a church planting team. I wasn't the lead guy. But I was – it’s kind of a funny story. I was part of this group that was gathering in a home. We gather for about 18 months, displaced from our home churches for various reasons. It was an interesting mix of us. There were a ton of musicians. I wasn't a worship leader, but I was the guitar player that played with all the worship leaders when they did camps and gigs and events. And so, it turned out that I ended up being the guy that kind of came on to the staff team at the church, which was called Sojourn, as the worship guy, but more as kind of a leader, director, coordinator, and as a guy who could just wear a lot of different hats in the life of the church.


I was I was on staff there for 15 years and did everything from developer worship ministry, recorded a bunch of music, launched a center for the arts, with art galleries, music venues, studio spaces, capital campaigns. I mean, the whole nine, man. It was brutal.


[00:02:48] JR: Go a level deeper here on this arts ministry. I mean, it doesn't sound like you guys are confining art just within the walls of the church, but going out in the community and supporting local art, is that what you're talking about?


[00:03:01] MC: Yes. We didn't have a facility for our first five years. We rented from a couple of other churches, and then when we bought a facility, it was an old elementary school. And it was huge. It was way more than what we needed. So, we also just felt this burden of like, we don't want to have this big building in the middle of this neighborhood. It was a residential, downtown residential neighborhood, and just have it sit empty six days a week. So, the art gallery space, it was about a 2000 square foot art gallery and we featured national touring exhibitions, local artists, Christians, non-Christians.


Same with the music venue, we had a smaller venue that was kind of, we did a lot of like, harder rock, some, not a ton of like punk and hardcore shows, but a lot of local bands came through there. And then we had a larger venue that sat about 450. You could squeeze 500 in there if you had to, and everything from you know, Grizzly Bear to Shellac, came through Ingrid Michaelson, came through there over the years. It was incredible. It was an incredible experience.


[00:04:01] JR: It's super cool.


[00:04:02] MC: Yeah, the venue ran for about ’07 to ’11.


[00:04:05] JR: It's such a good example of seeking the prosperity and the peace of the whole city, and not just inside the four walls of the church. What was the community, the broader community's reaction to a local church opening up their doors in that way?


[00:04:19] MC: It was really positive for the first several years. We had great relationships with the artists in the city. We had great relationships with musicians and promoters and that kind of thing. And then kind of late in the process, ’09 to 2010, something like that. The local, like Independent newspaper did a story on us. And they were like, “Oh, we're just so interested in what you're doing and what you're about.” So, they spent like two days with us. One of the last interviews, they started asking questions about the church and I'll never forget one of the pastors was in the interview, and they were like, listen, is this just going to turn into a story about what our positions are on gender and sexuality. And the guy was like, “Oh, of course not. Of course not. Of course not.”


And then two weeks later, the paper comes out and it's the cover story. The story title was “Smells Like Teen Spirit or Smells Like Holy Spirit: They’re Young, They’re Hip, and They Think It’s a Sin To Be Gay.” That was what the whole piece was about, of course. And it was a remarkable experience because, on the one hand, the local artists really supported us. The musicians supported us, the promoters they were like, these guys are just trying to love their neighbors. But there were a handful of people, very active, very loud, found ways to reach out to artists that had booked the venue from out of town and said, “You can't play there. These people are bigots.” They did some vandalism. They did some protesting and things like that.


So, that was a headache. Eventually, it made it difficult. It made it difficult right around the time that we were transitioning to a new facility anyway. And so, we closed down the gallery. Well, we closed on the venue at that point. The gallery continued for quite a long time after that.


[00:05:55] JR: Good for you guys. I mean, even in the face of persecution, just being a faithful presence. It's super cool. Back to your story, you were at the church for 15 years. What got you into podcasting? Did this start at the church? What's the journey from the church to the work you're really sinking your teeth into right now?


[00:06:12] MC: Yeah, a couple of different things. One is I grew up in a family that loved like, my dad loved public radio. So, Saturdays in my house, you woke up, and Car Talk was on. And then later in the day, This American Life was on, and then at night, A Prairie Home Companion was on. So, those voices, those stories, that kind of stuff, it was just kind of in my blood. And so, even as an adult, like I was listening to NPR all the time, and love that stuff.


And then I remember it was probably about 2010-ish, I'd heard of podcasting and I'd heard people talk about it. It was very niche. I had one friend in particular this guy Nathan Quillow. Give them a shout out here. Nathan was just like the guy that was like, “Dude, have you listened to this podcast? Have you listened to that podcast? You got to check out this podcast.” And Nathan's like that guy who's like, on the edge of whatever, like, “Have you read this?” Like, “I just read this in a magazine.” He was that guy.


So, I always kind of rolled my eyes, and then I can't remember what interview was the first one I ever heard. But it was an interview on Mark Marin's podcast WTF. There was something to me about that format, it being on-demand, the intimacy of a show like Mark’s where he just is just so raw and vulnerable with people. I was like, “Oh, there's something to this.” So, it kicked in for me, and for the next three or four years, it became kind of a passion for me, as a consumer. I didn't leave ministry initially thinking that podcasting was the place to go. But I had this background in audio because I was a musician and I'd been in recording studios for 15 years by then, too.


So, what I left to do was to start a nonprofit that was going to be focused on faith and culture, and really spend some time trying to figure out how do you reach people in the marketplace? And one of the challenges is, a lot of times like people who are in the marketplace aren't necessarily readers. Readers of Christian literature in particular, how do you reach that audience and Christian literature, Christian publishing, Christian publishing online, often skews gender-wise towards women, that's just the marketplace. So, it was through kind of looking at those different things. It was like, you know, we could hit a totally different audience, if we focused on podcasting.


At the end of ‘15, left the church ministry, worked throughout ‘16, to try and sort of put a plan together to launch a nonprofit. That was a media-focused nonprofit, a little bit of web presence, mostly podcasting. Yeah. And then raised some funds, had a big plan, and ran into a brick wall. When I said some things negative about Donald Trump in the summer of 2016, and my fundraising, the bottom of my fundraising kind of fell out on me. But the Lord provided in some interesting ways. We had enough funding to kind of go, well, my salary was covered for a little bit and was like, well, we'll scrape together what we can to make a couple shows. As we did that, a number of other nonprofits began to approach and say, “Hey, would you help us?”


So, that resulted in me starting a little for-profit studio, that I ran from 2017 to 2020 when I joined CT, and we worked with all kinds of churches and nonprofits and an international missions agency, went all over the world, making documentary podcasts for them, and that was just this incredible sort of immersive grind experience of learning a ton about doing this kind of work.


[00:09:40] JR: Your official title now, Director of Podcasting at Christianity Today, right? And the podcast that's really blown up obviously, is The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It’s become unbelievably popular. So, for those who haven't listened to it, give us the one-minute summary of what this story is about.


[00:09:58] MC: Yeah, it's a church that, in many ways, was really a pioneer in all kinds of ways in the early 2000s. The church was planted in 1996. By 2013, they had 14 locations, a 15th on the way, somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 people gathering depending on who you asked. By the end of 2014, the church was gone, and it's this fascinating story about the power of media, the power of celebrity, power, and domineering spiritual abuse in general. The real challenges I think churches face these days in holding leaders accountable. And I would say as well, like, I think there is an aspect of the story too, that's kind of like the me too story, the way that the internet has leveled the playing field where people who have been wounded, who are seeking justice, can find a platform in ways that they didn't in the past.


[00:10:53] JR: It's a dark story. I got to imagine you guys have received a lot of criticism for telling this story. Is that an accurate assessment?


[00:11:03] MC: Yeah, for sure. I mean, from kind of all angles, right? Like conservatives from the right saying, “Oh, this is an attack on conservative theology, or complementarianism, or Reformed theology.” And then, you know, people from the left, essentially saying, like, “Well, you're not going far enough. The problem isn't just these sorts of cultural issues and sort of sin slash personal relational things. It's the theology itself. It's Christianity itself.” When there was a whole article in, I believe, it was in Religion Dispatches that basically said, “Yeah, the real problem with Mars Hill was the Bible.” Okay.


[00:11:44] JR: So, you guys just aired the last episode. You're done telling this story.


[00:11:49] MC: That's right.


[00:11:49] JR: Look out a year from now. What are you praying will change as a result of having told the story?


[00:11:57] MC: Yeah, I think a couple things. One is, I want more pastors to walk around with a real sense that when they speak, and lead, and deal with staff and deal with people in their church, like they're playing with fire, in the sense that the kind of authority they carry, the presence, the weight of what they carry, it's just tremendous. And it's tremendously important and it's good work, and we need pastors in our lives who offer direction and who speak with weight and profundity and all of that.


I think one of the things you see in the Mars Hill story is not just Mark Driscoll, but other pastors and leaders in the church kind of took some of those things lightly. And they had cascading effects. I think as well; the other thing is that so much of this story is a story about power. The temptation of power, the corrupting influence of power. Maybe one of my favorite moments in the whole podcast is a comment that Andy Crouch made, where he contrasts Princess Diana, and Mother Teresa, who I believe they passed away in the same week. And he said, almost no one can be Diana. She's beautiful. She has these immense skills for knowing how to kind of work things in the media and sort of manage her press and et cetera, et cetera. Almost nobody can do that. But we aspire to it so desperately.


Anybody can be Mother Teresa. Anybody can give up everything they have, and go serve the poor, and give their life away and live in poverty. By doing that become a saint. And so, I think about that a lot. I think about what are the metrics, right? Like, what does the church judging itself? What are we measuring to have success? And, like, obviously, you're an entrepreneur, you're in the marketplace, that's critical for success for you. There's something about that being imported into the church in the same way that I think has had a really corrupting influence. I said to one pastor the other day, we were having this very conversation, this guy pastors a huge church. And he was like, “Well, what do I do? How do you change it?” And I said, “Measure something different.” What if next year you just measured how many funerals and hospital visits you did, right? Showing up when it really counts in people's lives, when the crisis is really there, as opposed to just like, you know, the ABCs, attendance building, and cash, right?


[00:14:21] JR: All right, so this is interesting to me, though. This podcast in a lot of ways, your podcast is really about power. But you personally, let's make this really personal, have more vocational power than you ever had before, as a result of telling this story, right? Is that the number one podcast in the Christian category for the last 12 weeks? How are you protecting yourself as you look forward in your career, and just thinking about how to use that influence in that power well?


[00:14:54] MC: I mean, it's been such a surreal experience, to be honest with you.


[00:14:58] JR: That's fair.


[00:14:59] MC: I haven't had have tons of time to think about it. And there have been some friends, like some good mentor types in my life who have kind of said, “Have you acclimated to like the impact that this is going to have in your life over the next couple of years? Because of how influential it was or whatever.” I mean, this genuinely, my response is kind of like, “No, I really haven't.”


[00:15:19] JR: Well, you and I have talked before and I buy that. It hasn't settled in for you.


[00:15:24] MC: Yeah, I don't know if it's – I think part of it too, for me. And this is something that I think I get from kind of my family of origin and the people around me, I don't know, we're just a tribe of people who never thumped their chests. Never count tomorrow on yesterday's successes and that kind of thing. I'm of the opinion, and I'm of the sort of impulse that's like, I'm so happy. I'm so grateful for what we accomplished as a team on this whole thing. But I'm also keenly aware that like, the next thing could go nowhere. There's a lot of one hit wonders that put out awesome first records, and that second record, man is just a brutal process.


[00:16:08] JR: I'm going to take this in a weird direction. You live in Louisville, Kentucky. I live in Tampa, Florida. Neither of us are in the geographic centers of power for what we do, right? I've spent my career as a tech entrepreneur in Tampa, not in San Francisco, right? You're now building this Christian media empire in Louisville, not in Nashville. I actually think there's a lot of value in that, right? Because if you're in Nashville, oh, man, it'd be so much tougher to be humble. Have you thought about that? The blessing of where you're at geographically?


[00:16:45] MC: No. Man, that's an interesting thought. I really haven't. I think part of what kind of comes along with that, too, is nobody around me is impressed with me.


[00:16:55] JR: Exactly. That's my point. When I go outside to my neighbors, nobody cares what I do for a living. In a way, that's a beautiful thing. And so, I say that as an encouragement to our listeners who may be feeling that way. Are stuck in Wichita, Kansas, I don't know where, and they don't feel like they're in the room where it happens geographically. There may be some downsides to that. But I also think there's a lot of upside of walking outside and nobody knowing your name or what you do, for what it's worth.


[00:17:23] MC: Or vice versa. They know your name and what you do, because they've known you for 20 years, right? And I can just think of sort of countless stories in this. It's been great in the sense that, like, my friends have been supportive, and they've been encouraging and the rest of it. But I mean, they're also the ones to point out like, “Hey, there's a bad edit at 28 minutes and 45 seconds.” Like, “Yeah, you gotta fix that.”


[00:17:46] JR: So, before this podcast, you hosted a podcast, one of the very few podcasts I've ever listened to. I'm not a huge consumer. Unlike you, I'm not a huge consumer of the medium. Cultivated, which explores really a lot of the themes, the faith and work themes we explore on this podcast. What got you so interested in this topic?


[00:18:01] MC: Well, yeah, like I said, it was part of that vision for that original nonprofit trying to help Christians in the marketplace, think about what they do and why they did it.


[00:18:10] JR: Yeah, but why you come from a church background? Why are you like, “Yeah, this is the thing I really need to sink my teeth into.”


[00:18:16] MC: I think, because so much of my pastoral work, was working with artists. It was like within the church, oftentimes. I kind of functioned in the sort of executive leadership structure of the church, because we were a megachurch, for the majority of the time that I was on the staff there. Well, maybe not quite mega, but like 1,500 plus, and then 3,000 or so at the end. So, I kind of internally functioned as sort of executive leadership there. But my relationships in terms of the people that I lead, and the people that I pastored, and helped to kind of live in their lives in the church, they were almost all artists, and they were almost all kind of vocational artists, or pursuing that. There were just patterns that I saw over time, that were things that people struggled with, there were cultural questions people were wrestling with in terms of religious liberty. I think it's hard for people to even think about now, just how different the conversations were about religious liberty, and kind of Christian faithful presence in 2015, 2016. Regardless of what you think about the Trump phenomenon, it's definitely changed all of that conversation very dramatically.


So, for me, it was really coming into it pastorally saying, I want people to have good conversations, good tools, good role models, that in particular, I think that call them to excellence. So, I was really pursuing people who I saw living a lifestyle and living into their vocations in ways that I think were just really respectable, that had an integrity of discipline and hard work and not taking the shortcuts into Christian culture. A lot of the things that I think are tempting for many Christians as they come up.


[00:19:59] JR: What do you mean the shortcut into Christian culture. I'm interested in that phrase.


[00:20:03] MC: Credit where credit is due. Alyssa Wilkinson has talked about this before, and so I'm definitely getting it from her. But it's a perfect example and I think it applies in a lot of places. There's a thing that can happen where if you want to be a filmmaker –


[00:20:17] JR: This is why I'm asking this question. That's one of my favorite topics. Go there, preach.


[00:20:21] MC: Yeah, so the normal route is, you go and you get like a really crappy job in Hollywood, or in Atlanta, or wherever something's being made right now. And you have to sort of pay your dues, and you build relationships, and you get to know people, and you do the low rent work in order to number one, more than anything else, understand the craft, understand the form, understand how it works. I think something that can happen is that, it's even like, you can think of it in economic terms. There are way more people ready and willing to — who want to create content for the sort of mainstream marketplace, than there's a need for them, right?


Studios have an abundance of stories to tell, an abundance of directors to work from, and all of that. If you flip over to the Christian marketplace, there's a lot of money to go into a lot of those kinds of projects. There are often nonprofits that get established where it's like, I want to make a film, I want to make Christian films, we'll build a nonprofit around it, there's a tax-deductible benefit. So, there's incentives for people to give money to things, knowing that the money will be lost. And so again, like if you're a Christian filmmaker, there's something very tempting there, because you will accelerate through that if you have some talent, you'll accelerate through that process much more quickly than you would if you're like, “Well, I got to get a three-minute film made, and try to get it into a couple of film festivals and get a little notoriety in order to take my next step.” I think there are parallels in writing. I think there are parallels in music.


[00:21:58] JR: So, this is great. But I want you to get there explicitly. Why take the harder path?


[00:22:04] MC: Because your work will be better for it. The grind is what makes you – the grind makes you sharper. I don't mean the grind, in the sense of like, burn yourself out and be exhausted or whatever. I mean, the grind in the sense of like, do the work to become excellent at the craft. That’s long, slow, unglamorous work that you won't be recognized for, you'll be rejected a million times over. People will tell no. People will tell you you suck. People will tell you to move on and do something else with your life.


Man., I mean, that's the work. And that's in particular, the stories that I saw over and over again, with artists that I loved and respected. And, yeah, the tenacity of kind of pressing through those seasons, particularly when the end result, on the other side of it was being able to serve in a broader marketplace, being able to be a faithful Christian presence in that place, I just think that was so important.


[00:23:00] JR: Totally. And not only is the work better for it, but you also – I'm quoting, quasi quoting Andy Crouch and culture making right now. But you're expanding the horizons of what's possible for people who do not yet know Jesus, even if you're not explicitly mentioning his name in your films.


I heard a story recently about Denzel Washington when he first read the script for Training Day. He declined it because there's just so much swearing, so much evil, whatever. And he took a second pass, he took a second look at it, and wrote in the margins that he wanted to do the film to show people that evil doesn't prevail. I can't remember what the Bible verse was that he wrote in the margins. He's like, “No, I want to tell the story. Because it's going to help show this theme that evil doesn't triumph.” At the end of the day, you lose, right? That was largely motivated by his faith. And I love that Denzel, arguably, one of the 20 most important actors of all time, is making those films instead of one-million-dollar films that are seen only by the church. He's expanding the horizons of possibility for so many more people. I love it.


[00:24:09] MC: I totally agree. And I think that's the thing. The temptation is always to the easier route, and because we want to get to the work, we want to get to what we think the work is, we think the work is that Friday night premiere, where our friends and the people who worked on the film and everything gather together and show the thing, and there's a gratification I think that from my filmmaker friends and stuff, like there's a gratification in that for sure. But there's a different kind of gratification. I can say this as a writer, as a podcaster, as a musician, somebody who's been in the studio for all this time, the gratification that happens when no one's looking, when the doors are closed, the windows are closed, you're doing work that just looks totally boring to an outsider because you're just sitting in front of Pro Tools making micro-adjustments and this that or the other or rerecording a word over and over again, because you're tongue-tied, or whatever it is. It's like when those things line up, and it feels right, and it kind of rings like a bell when you thump it. That's the best feeling in the world. To me, you get over a hump as a craftsman to that place, and that is the most satisfying thing.


[00:25:23] JR: It's feeling God's pleasure. It is that feeling of worship of just knowing you've done your very best and just trusted the results of the Lord. I've been following you on Twitter for a while and I noticed that you and I share a love for Ted Lasso. I'm curious if you’ve drawn out any faith and work themes from our beloved show?


[00:25:49] MC: Yeah. Man, that's interesting in terms of faith and work. I'm not sure. I definitely think there are really powerful spiritual themes on the show.


[00:26:00] JR: Yeah, like what?


[00:26:02] MC: So, I feel like this last whole season was about the role of fathers and the pain of father wounds in various kinds. It's like Nate and his father who's never pleased with him, never satisfied. Ted and the loss of his father, what's her name? Jessica, her father passes away. And each one of them, you have these kinds of disaster stories. The soccer player, whose father is so proud of him, and is calling him regularly. And there's just this direct line between, in a sense, like what each one of these people received from their father and what they've devoted their lives to.


I think I posted three or four Twitter threads after a few episodes talking about that.


[00:26:44] JR: It's great.


[00:26:45] MC: And then recently, I heard an interview with John Tyson, he was talking about John Mark Comer, and he made this comment about fatherhood, that I felt like someone should tie that to Ted Lasso, because he said, the order of the universe in terms of how God made it is that we were made to desire the blessing of our fathers, both our spiritual father, in God Himself and in our families and in the fathers in our families. He said, what the world has, is a bunch of unblessed men and women who are seeking that blessing and everything else that you have in the world around you. I think when you look at sort of the restlessness of many of those characters, that comes into it, that father wound has a huge role.


[00:27:27] JR: I think this is on display in work all the time. So many of us are working harder than we probably should because we're not doing the work just for the sake of the work. We're doing the work to cover up some wound in our lives, whether it's a father wound or just the human desire to be seen, and we're not resting in who our Heavenly Father says we are as a coheir with Christ right.


The other theme I love from the show as it pertains to work is just the joy of work. It's what I always loved about Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec when contrasted with The Office, which, listen, The Office is fine. But The Office portrays work as drudgery. A meaningless means to an end, whereas Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec portrays it as the opposite. It's almost this Aaron Sorkin-like utopian view of work that we see in the West Wing and The Newsroom, and I love it. I think Ted Lasso is that. I love my job and I'm really good at it. It just reminds me of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon says, “There's nothing better than to find joy in the work God's given us to do.” I think Ted Lasso is a pretty good picture of that.


Hey, so I'm curious, Mike, beyond the content itself, and what you're putting on air, how does a Christian podcaster do their work distinctly from a non-Christian?


[00:28:49] MC: Our biggest concern, and this was one of the things that drove me throughout the process of the Mars Hill production was just this focus on like, tell the truth. Don't polish it, where it doesn't need to be polished. But also, don't distort it, where it doesn't need to be distorted. Don't spin something to a negative, that doesn't need to be a negative. My goal with the show was not to sell anybody on any specific narrative, which I think is one of the reasons why criticism was just so all over the place. I mean, people sometimes say, “Well, if you make everybody mad, you're doing it right.” I don't think that's quite what it was. It wasn't like we were trying to thread a needle. It was just we were trying to say, “Here's what happened. Here's the real story and that's how life is.” People don't wear black hats and white hats. Life is like that.


I think, to just have respect for human dignity, I think is another aspect, a real sense that people are made in the image of God and that that matters. I don't mean this as a way to sort of impugn the whole genre, but you can listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and hear just a lot of contempt for the characters.


[00:30:04] JR: Superiority to the characters.


[00:30:08] MC: Yeah, or sort of the treatment of them, as you know, rubes and hillbillies and whatever else the case might be. And again, like that's not the whole genre. In fact, like a show like Crime Town is just is amazing at kind of humanizing these people and drawing them out. I think that's something we have to resist. I think we have to say, people are made in the image of God, they're complex, they're beautiful at the core, they deserve to be loved, they want to be loved. And probably, that desire to be loved is driving them, in some way, even to the worst of their actions.


[00:30:40] JR: I also think, too, the Christian storyteller can tell a story that says, “Hey, this is wrong. This is what happened, this is wrong. But this is still a sinner saved by grace, who is loved by the Father, and thus, should be loved by us.” I think it just creates a deeper level of empathy for the person because we see ourselves in the person, right? It's like Paul saying, “He's the worst among sinners.” It's kind of taking that approach to the topic.


So, we've talked about a commitment to excellence. We've talked about a commitment to truth. How else are you responding to this biblical idea that your work matters to God and should be done differently because of that?


[00:31:22] MC: Right now, I know the next season with the holidays and stuff, it works out kind of perfectly. Right now, it's the season to go, okay, like, time to take the foot off the gas and rest and Sabbath, and trust in the Lord that letting the soil rest for a few weeks here and then coming back to a healthier rhythm. I mean, again, you know this as well as I do, and our listeners surely know this. Even the most fiercely committed person to a Sabbath, is going to find themselves dragged into rhythms of life from time to time, that don't conform to that vision. And that was certainly the case for me in the last, especially the last three months.


So, right now, there is a little bit of like a repentance because I'm paying the price. I'm exhausted, and I'm mentally exhausted. Right now, I'm trying to receive. In fact, I just spoke with a spiritual director about this this morning and his counsel to me was like, you have to just – because there's an anxiety that comes on the other side of something, finishing a project doing well, the anxiety of what does come next? How am I prepared for that? It’s like, right now, I think I just need to trust the Lord, to say, whatever else happens for Mars Hill, as these stories go out in the world is going to happen, and it can wait for me to respond. And then the same thing is true the next project. Do I believe we live in a world of scarcity, where I need to sort of grasp and cling to figure out what comes next? Or do we live in a world where God provides abundantly and I can wait and rest on the Sabbath, which in this case, might be a few weeks, and then come back to the work and believe that the harvest will be there, or the mana will be there. whatever metaphor you prefer.


[00:33:08] JR: I felt with the last couple of books, I finished writing that I pretty predictably, the moment after I send the manuscript off fall into a pretty deep depression. For — it doesn't last long, let's call it three, four days, maybe a week. Are you experiencing something like that now that you've published this last episode? And like, how are you dealing with that? Is rest the only silver bullet here? What else are you doing here?


[00:33:37] MC: Yeah, again, I just spoke to a spiritual director this morning and I spoke to a mentor yesterday who’s a filmmaker friend. It was funny, the advice from the two of them, and in some ways, very similar, because what they both emphasized was the body. My friend this morning, who kind of pastors me was like, your body is sort of fried in all these different ways from kind of the stress of powering through a season like this. So, you need a certain kind of rest. But then sort of alternatively, in a way that I think is complementary to it, my other friend said, you have to physically exhaust yourself for the next couple of weeks until your pulse comes down, the cortisol comes down, your brain kind of comes back. Because otherwise, you'll just feel this pent-up energy, and it's going to be so good for your heart, you're going to be able to sleep better and all of this, so long as you kind of pour yourself into that physical exhaustion, which I responded to today.


I've been resistant to it. I did not have healthy eating habits throughout the process. I kind of lived on DoorDash for the last three months. That's a big part of it, and my friend this morning who actually said to me, he said, he pointed me to the, what is it, I believe, first or second Kings 19 Elijah in the cave, he's done this immense work on God's behalf and he just spends an enormous amount of time where God just tends to him physically. Rest, food, rest, you know, that was kind of his word to me is like, this is your time to rest like this and to get some space. I think you have to believe in a world of abundance, a world where God will provide, where you're not anxious about the next meal, the next success, the next whatever, to be able to step back into that. That's a lot of the headwork. The inner talk for me is, “I can trust that whatever needs to come next will come when it's ready.”


[00:35:34] JR: Yeah, amen. Well said. So, after you get through this season of the holidays, in fact, I think we're going to release this episode, the first week of January. So, you're going to be back at it. What is it going to look like for you not to settle where you're at professionally, but to put more weight on the bar, as you continue to hone your craft? How are you going to do that in 2022?


[00:35:58] MC: To be honest with you, I don't think of it that way. The way I think of it is sort of showing back up to the work. So, the way I think of it is, I mean, I learned so much doing what I did. I learned so much as a journalist. I've learned so much from the technical side of it, and I could go on for hours about everything that I learned. So, I have a ton of confidence in the reality that like, all of those lessons are going to come with me into the next project. I'm better prepared for whatever comes next than I was. So, I think of it in those terms as like, I'm in a better place for it. I think of it as well, in terms of how would I prepare differently for a project? How would I loop in other people? We're going to have the opportunity to build our team a little bit in the new year, which is great. But in terms of like – when you say add weight to the bar, I don't necessarily feel like my job is to come back to it, at least in terms of how I frame it for myself that my job is to come back to it and press harder. It's rather to sort of carry with me the experience and the growth that came before.


[00:37:07] JR: It's good. Really selfish question. You said you learned a lot in the last three months. What's the number one thing you learned about the medium of podcasting? And how people want to consume it and what types of stories? What frequency? What have you learned there about kind of where the market is moving in consuming audio content?


[00:37:31] MC: I definitely think production quality matters. We labored over that, in ways that contributed in some sense to some of the delays, we didn't cut corners. I think it's going to be over time, you can look at the demographics and the sort of trends and just see how much streaming audio is slowly but surely taking over from terrestrial radio. People may assume that that's already done. But the fact is that still like 59-ish percent, I think of, of audio consumption is still AM/FM radio.


[00:38:08] JR: Yeah, it’s crazy.


[00:38:08] MC: Because I don't know when the last time I listened to a radio was, maybe a football game on a Sunday afternoon when I was driving. So, I would say I think as people move into this streaming space, that need for production quality, that expectation of production quality going up and up and up is going to be significant. I think as well. I mean, I don't know that it's a new lesson. But I think very clearly, when I look at the response to — from episode to episode, the ones that rang out the best and were most exciting for people were the ones that were the storytelling was, first and foremost. Where the storytelling was the most clear and the most compelling, which was challenging.


I mean, it's not something you could do on every episode, because some of them we're more topical and thematic. But when we really settled into inviting people into these vignettes of people's lives and experiences, that's the thing that resonates. It's what makes podcasting amazing, is that most people are listening on headphones, you just end up with this very intimate experience of, in a sense, having someone else's voice in your head. I think that's a context for empathy unlike anything else that we do in our culture.


[00:39:22] JR: It's a good word. All right, Mike, this is terrific. Every conversation we have here on The Call Mastery, we wrap up with three questions. Number one, which books do you find yourself recommending or gifting most frequently these days?


[00:39:36] MC: The ones I'll mention are the ones that I always say to people who are trying to like build their craft, since we've talked about this. Number one for me is actually Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I always tell people, like it's got these like very sort of hippie dippy moments where she's talking about dancing shoeless in a drum circle, just ignore all that stuff. But if you like drum circles, I apologize. But do the exercises, front to back, do the exercises. The way that that allows for creative breakthroughs is incredible. Quack This Way is another one. It's David Foster Wallace and Bryan Garner. It's kind of an interview conversation between the two of them. It's meant for writers, but it works for anybody who's trying to communicate through any medium. There's a section in there, and I won't blab on about it, but there's a section in there where they talk about love your audience, love your reader, that I think is applicable to almost any kind of medium and really important. And then, yeah, you want to build a craft, you want to build a career. The best book to read on the subject is Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.


[00:40:45] JR: So good. It's funny you mentioned this. I just finished rereading it like two weeks ago. It's such a great book.


[00:40:52] MC: It's incredible.


[00:40:55] JR: You guys can find all those books right now at All right, who would you most like to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel influences their pursuit of great work? Maybe somebody you always wanted to get on Cultivated, but couldn't nail down. That's a good way to frame the question.


[00:41:12] MC: Yeah, when you put it that way, one of the people I've always wanted to talk to is Mary Karr. I just adore her, her writing, her voice, her kind of Texan tough perspective, her conversion story is just incredible. So yeah, I'd love to hear how in her memoir, Lit, she tells that story, she tells the story of getting sober and coming to faith. That book’s quite a few years old now. I'd love to hear how that has continued to affect and shape her life all these years later.


[00:41:42] JR: It’s a good answer. All right, what's one thing from today's conversation you want to reiterate to our listeners before we sign off? And again, you're talking to an audience of people across a wide array of vocations, but what they share is a belief that their work matters for eternity, and thus, they care about doing it really well.


[00:41:59] MC: We've talked a lot about kind of working from the bottom up, like do the grind, expect it to be slow. I think what goes with that, inevitably, is to expect roadblocks and to expect rejection. So, don't be surprised if you're pursuing a vocation, whether – again, and I think this is true in anywhere in the marketplace, you're going to face roadblocks, you're going to have projects that fail, you're going to have proposals to get rejected, you're going to have records flop. I mean, I know what that feels like, for sure. I think you need to sort of have an internal voice that's deeply committed to accepting that as a reality, and picking up the pieces, and moving on to the next thing. If you're not committed now, to that process, if you're not willing to sort of think that through and sort of game that out in your head, like what happens when I fail? What happens when I'm rejected? Then it sneaks up on you and I've just seen it be so devastating to people.


[00:42:58] JR: It's a good word. It's a very good word. I can attest to that one as well. Hey, Mike, I want to commend you just for the exceptional work you do, telling stories that equip the saints to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Thank you for reminding us that mastering a craft is part of how we respond to this radical, biblical truth that our work matters for eternity. And thank you, man, for just grinding it out these last three months and doing the work you believe the father has called you to do. Hey, where's the best place for people to keep up with you and your latest projects?


[00:43:33] MC: Probably the first place I'd say to take a look is christianitytoday/podcasts. Before the podcast, I was a pretty regular Twitter user. I'm still there, just @MikeCosper. My DMs are open. So, people who want to reach out can reach out. I read them all. It's too many to respond to, but happy to hear from people there. That's the easiest way.


[00:43:55] JR: Mike, thanks for joining us.


[00:43:57] MC: Thanks so much for having me.




[00:43:58] JR: I hope you guys loved this episode. If you did, do me a favor, leave a quick review of the podcast on Apple podcasts. Hey guys, thank you for tuning in for this first episode of the new year. Cannot wait for what we have in store for 2022. I'll see you next week.