Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2014

The Pastor in the Movie “Heaven is for Real”

Heaven is for Real books

Throughout all the success of the Heaven is for Real book, and with attention now being refocused because of the movie, I am sure that Todd Burpo’s phone, if he dares to still have one, is ringing off the wall. (A dated reference to wall phones, in case you’re wondering.)

The appearances and interviews that the family has done prior to film release have been very tightly controlled and for anyone else, access is a total impossibility. Even the Christianity Today review of this past week contains the phrase, “Burpo responded to questions sent through the film’s publicist…” which may be a polite way of saying the publicist selected phrases from a prepared list and arranged them into sentences.

A few years ago, I tried to get past what others were writing about, and dig a little deeper and get to know Todd Burpo the Pastor. Throughout this whole process he remains first and foremost a local church minister. How do you do that with reporters knocking at the door? This was the largely unsuccessful result of that quest…

Our Non-Interview with Author Todd Burpo

Feb 9, 2012

53 weeks atop the New York Times’ Non-Fiction Paperback chart and counting. That’s a great accomplishment for any writer, but even more so for a title which began its life with copies shipped to Christian retailers.

But we figured that a full year should have caused some of the excitement to die down, and thought this might be a good time to ask Todd Burpo about that side of his life that never comes up in media interviews: His role as a local church pastor. Furthermore, we thought he would find the change in interview direction somewhat refreshing.

We were wrong.

Apparently the miscalculation was the part about the excitement dying down. Despite several different approaches over the past month, the best we could come up with was some rather terse responses from Belinda, Pastor Todd’s director of correspondence. She begins, “What little free time Todd does have, he tries to spend with his family.”

However, we’re not going to let this deter us from running the piece anyway. After all, if the tabloids can come up with speculative articles based on nothing, we ought to come up with something here based on Belinda’s 190-word response. Besides, we’re just going to stick to the facts.

Crossroads Wesleyan Church

Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska; population just under 4,000 and the county seat for Chase County. The Sunday services are broadcast on the local radio station. This kind of church setting is actually the reality that the greatest number of people experience on Sunday mornings in the United States, but for some reading here, the image is probably a throwback to a gentler time and place. A 21st century Andy Griffith would worship here, and so would Aunt Bea. In an interview* with Pete Wilson, Todd Burpo quotes the country music lyric, “Everybody dies famous in a small town.”

So we’re talking small, mid-west town, and relatively sized church. But the publication of Heaven is for Real has resulted in a few tourists — our word — though Belinda prefers the term visitors, and leaves us somewhat in the dark if this implies the occasional unfamiliar face or if the place has become a shrine that requires tour bus parking. Either way, it would be a unique dynamic for a local church pastor to deal with. It’s one thing when a megachurch pastor is the author of Christian books for a major publisher. It would be quite different in a small town.

On this we’re told, “Todd works diligently to try to keep balance in all of his responsibilities.” Good answer. Now I know how Belinda got the job. Moving forward, I see her as definite White House material.

But we wanted to get further inside Todd Burpo, the pastor; and nothing spells out a pastor’s vision like the current sermon series he’s preaching. We’re told, “In September, he started preaching the first of a group of series of sermons that examines what Crossroads Wesleyan should look like if it is Christ’s church. The series included: A Culture of Honor, A Culture of Faith, A Culture of Giving, A Culture of Growing and A Culture of Grace.”

That was the best answer we got to our questions, and from the church website, it appears those messages aren’t posted online.

Still, a lot of pastors — even in small towns — often feel they “have a book in them.” So we wanted to know if that was the case with Todd; if there was a book that he might have considered if Heaven is for Real hadn’t happened. But the answer is one that we had heard previously, “Todd has often said, he is not an author and never wanted to write a book.”

But pressing the same question from a different angle, I asked if the publisher, Thomas Nelson, had been talking about any future projects. On this, I was somewhat perplexed by the referral to the HIFR Ministries website, but after checking the site from top to bottom, I couldn’t find reference to anything other than the DVD curriculum and the kids’ edition of the book, both of which have now released. I guess I was thinking in terms of the publisher riding on the popularity of the book but with something a little different. Publishers do tend to do that sort of thing when they have a success on their hands; though the ‘brand’ here is somewhat limited.

So, sadly this is not the interview — even a short five question interview — with Todd Burpo we had hoped for; though The National Star might be interested anyway. In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Belinda, correspondence director extraordinaire:

It is the Burpos’ prayer that Heaven is For Real will point people to Jesus and we pray that Colton’s testimony will help people find hope and peace. Todd puts it this way—“In John 16:33 Jesus taught his disciples, in this world you will have trouble, and to that we all say, ‘Amen,’ because this world has plenty of it. But may the hope of heaven and the peace that only Jesus can give, be poured into your lives. But praise God, heaven is real, and don’t ever lose sight of that!”

If there’s a Christian author or pastor you’d like to see non-interviewed here, just drop us a line and we’ll do our best.


Images: Pete Wilson’s interview* with Todd; see below for link.

*For those of you hoping for more of a genuine interview with Todd, you can’t do any better than the 20 minutes that Pete Wilson spent with Todd and Colton in late spring 2011. Maybe it was worth coming here just to link to that. The entire interview played on a Sunday morning at Cross Point as part of a series on heaven.

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