interview with donald miller
Donald Miller: Where Faith and Life Meet
By Jesse Carey
Donald Miller is a best-selling author and sought-after speaker on the Christian circuit. His 2003 memoir Blue Like Jazz (Thomas Nelson) has become one of the most influential books on Christian spirituality in the last decade, and he’s followed up its success with several other books including his latest release A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Thomas Nelson).
But recently, Miller has embarked on a different sort of project. Miller is the host of a new DVD series aimed at engaging home groups and Bible studies in conversations about deeper issues of faith. Convergence: Where Faith and Life Meet features one-on-one interviews with authors and thinkers including Dr. Lauren Winner, Dr. Dan Allender, Phyllis Tickle and others.
With a format that feels more like a talk show with Miller as the host than a teaching resource, the DVDs are entertaining and provide a more personal look at how faith principles apply to the Christian life.
We recently spoke with Miller who discussed the power of conversations, the importance of personalizing faith and how everyone has a story to tell.
What about the conversational model of teaching did you find appealing?
Well, the fact that I didn’t have to look at a camera and teach. I’m not a pastor; I’ve never been on staff at a church. So it feels more, my tempo, to get to talk to someone who is actually an expert, and I very much enjoyed the conversations.
The conversations come across very naturally, and it’s clear that things are not scripted. How did you prepare for each interview?
My job is to sort of guide the guests. They don’t really know the questions—we don’t go through them with them. And, also to make it as personal as possible—to not let them wax eloquently on theories, but to understand how to this effects their personal lives.
The interviews are very personal, and subjects’ personal narratives eventually emerge. You’ve written a lot about the idea of “story”. Why is the idea of story so important to people of faith?
I think stories are a way of understanding what’s meaningful in life. We all go to movies and watch television shows—we think we’re doing it to be entertained, but what it’s actually doing is setting our moral compass. It’s giving us a feeling of security because we know where we are a map. And viscerally, we’re living through other people’s stories, because our stories are not quite as meaningful. So I think understanding your life as a story is a really terrific way of kind of knowing where you are and knowing who you are.
Beyond just the pastor and more polished believer, do you think it’s difficult for the average Christian to confront their own narrative of faith?
Yeah. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to be honest about their lives. You know? Most of us are waiting. We’re waiting for something interesting to happen. And I think we’re going to wait forever if we don’t do something more interesting with our lives.
I think that’s a hard thing for most people to grapple with. We don’t naturally want to take responsibility for our lives. We want to give the responsibility to someone else. We blame them when our lives aren’t good. Some people do that with God all the time. But I think it only helps us to look at our lives as a story—to live more intentionally is a better one.
People having an expectation that something important is going to happen in their lives just like in the movies, do you see that more of a result of nature or nurture—is it something God put in us or is it a result of a Hollywoodize perspective?
Well, I don’t think it’s God. Or I should say I have no proof. I think some of it can come from our culture.
For those of who are born, just naturally ambitious … the scary thing is that we can be greatly influenced by culture. We can be ambitious and culture comes in and says, “OK, well, you should want a new car or something like this” and our natural ambition takes on materialistic plotline, that in end, isn’t a very meaningful story.
There’s a verse in Revelation that says, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11, NIV). The writer seems to emphasize both. Do you think there are implications for the contemporary church setting—a traditional structure of sermons—to incorporate people’s own conversation more?
I’ve never thought about it, but I would hope so. The 40-minute lecture that’s usually self-help oriented, I’m hoping that dies away. I don’t see it dying away anytime soon.
I don’t know if that should or could be replaced by conversation. I mean, I like the liturgy personally more than a conversation in terms of a church practice, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I remember going to a Willow Creek service recently—it was a year ago or so—and it was structured that way. There was a little more conversation. It was interesting.
Over the years, you’ve probably been interviewed hundreds of times. Being on the other side of interview—and actually—conducting them, has it changed the way you respond during interviews?
It hasn’t changed the way I respond, but it did give me a great deal of respect for people who do what you do. I just assumed it was easy. And it isn’t! It’s really a difficult job.
The DVD format is definitely fresh and non-traditional when it comes to the typical church resources. Whenever someone breaks from the mold of the norm there’s always critics. Have you heard any negative feedback?
Well, not yet. We’re pretty new on the scene. We’re just launching this month. But there’s nothing remotely controversial in what we’re doing.
When something changes, people think it’s wrong. Certain people think it’s wrong when something changes, so I’m sure we’ll get some feathers ruffled.
But, that’s kind of the fun of it though, right?
Yeah, I mean, it makes it interesting.
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