Mud and the Masterpiece: Interview with author John Burke

Today we interview pastor and author John Burke, the founding pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas. John has authored two other books, No Perfect People Allowed and Soul Revolution. John and I have been friends for over 40 years. His newest book, Mud and the Masterpiece, launches today.

1. As a busy pastor, what prompted you to write Mud and the Masterpiece?

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 23% of evangelicals exhibit both the attitude and actions of Jesus! Mud and the Masterpiece addresses this disparity and helps Christ followers truly follow Jesus and have the impact 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 matters more than we imagine.

Think about it this way: If you came across 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 often 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 (or student groups) and we don’t see many people who were far from God three years ago who are 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?” That’s what he did!

2. How have you seen this message change someone’s life?

We’ve seen thousands of muddied people far from God find faith, follow Jesus, and even begin restoring and leading others to follow Jesus—the book is full of their stories. After seeing this happen in thousands of lives, I’m convinced that our problem is not that we need more evangelistic tools, methods, apologetic arguments, or missional strategies—in fact, none of these will be worth anything if we don’t first see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus. I truly believe people intuitively sense how we feel about them, and that makes the biggest difference in their receptivity to our message

We’ve helped start many churches and Christian networks seeing similar impact. They see groups of people finding faith when the Body works together missionally. We must adopt the actions of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus built relational momentum by going to parties, eating meals, meeting needs, all with his inclusive, loving community. As more followed and believed, he then equipped twelve and sent seventy out to do the very ministry he had been doing. Part 2 of the book gives examples of ordinary Christians having extraordinary impact by building relational momentum in the same way.

3. What do you want to say to Christian leaders?

Well, we must make sure we don’t end up missional on the wrong mission! If we don’t lead people to embrace Christ’s attitude, 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.

Do we equip Christians to offer relationship that listens, cares, restores value, calls out the Masterpiece under the mud, and conveys God’s restoration hope for the muddiest human? Those are some of the actions that shape us into His Masterpiece and make us useful tools of restoration in the Master’s hand. Without them, I fear we’re more like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

4. You’re offering a great package this week. How can we get our hands on this?

If you buy Mud and the Masterpiece during Launch Week, February 1-8, you also get the Audiobook (Feb 1 only), Action Guide, Small Group Discussion Guide, 1211 Band CD and more as a free download. Go to for details.

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

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