Since You Asked
Marking 100 Million Plays for Ask Pastor John
As of yesterday, Ask Pastor John podcast episodes have been played 100 million times.
This milestone is a trivial thing in the story of the universe, but it’s a notable benchmark for the ministry, prompting us to pause for a look back on five and a half years of God’s faithfulness to us, and to thank you for your years of engagement.
“The APJ numbers are encouraging,” John Piper said this week about the milestone. “But, strangely, the emotional impact of one personal testimony face to face is greater than the numbers. God gives me these testimonies almost everywhere I go. APJ is just part of a constellation of influences people receive from Desiring God, but it is one that people mention to me as much as any other. From moms shuttling their kids to school and playing the podcast on the way, to lawyers building it into their early morning exercise routines, to high school students taking a break from homework, to eighty-somethings whose eyes won’t read anymore.”
The podcast continues because listeners have made it a part of their daily routines and commutes. In your overwhelming interest in the project, we now have 60,000 listener questions (and counting). That’s one of the keys to the success: years of engagement by you — your commutes, donations, prayers, and excellent email questions are central to us crossing this 100 million-play threshold.
The APJ Backstory
So where did the Ask Pastor John podcast originate?
The podcast has its roots in Ask Pastor John Live, a video live-stream of John Piper answering real-time questions from viewers through Twitter. The live video format, often with Piper holding note cards with questions, was popular for a few years (2008–2010). The format eventually became DG Live, an interview series eventually abandoned for other projects.
In the summer of 2013, the content team faced the challenge of how to draw Piper into the website as he and Noël planned to move and live in Knoxville for a year. How could Pastor John be closer to us even while his presence was more distant?
At a team lunch on January 7, 2013, where we brought up ideas for the year ahead, I proposed Ask Pastor John — a new manifestation of the Q&A format. No longer live video, APJ would be pre-planned, prepared, pre-recorded, and edited into an audio-only podcast answering listener questions. It would be a syndicated podcast.
“Topics,” I originally suggested, “could include leadership coaching, pastoral ministry questions, 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.”
The podcast would terminate when the Pipers returned to Minneapolis.
That evening I sent the proposal out. “This sounds excellent,” wrote Pastor John a few hours later in an email, with an appeal: “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.”
Under that commission and with that prayer, the podcast received a thumbs-up from everyone. Three days later we recorded over the phone for the first time and launched Episode 1 the next day. Already 100 episodes into the podcast by the time the Pipers moved to Knoxville, Pastor John’s voice remained close to Desiring God. We heard from him every weekday.
Episode 1 launched on January 11, 2013: “Reflections from John Piper on His Birthday.” I cooked up the initial questions, and we recorded and released 245 episodes in 2013 alone, one every weekday. At around episode 400, the Pipers returned to Minneapolis and APJ didn’t stop. The audience kept growing, so we kept recording, and we’ve since released another 900 episodes (and counting).
The basic premise of the podcast remains unchanged, although a lot of modifications have been introduced over the years. We eventually moved away from landline phone calls to Skype and then to studio-quality recordings. Now, John Piper records in his upstairs home office. I record in my basement audio studio at home. To make the content load a little more sustainable over the years, we introduced seasons of guests, a season of sermon clips, and then eventually scaled to our current format: three episodes per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). We created an APJ app a few months into the podcast. We were initially syndicated in iTunes and most recently syndicated in YouTube, currently our fastest growing platform for the podcast.
Our milestone is a celebration of your engagement, and looking back on the five and a half years, sixteen of our episodes have reached the 300,000-play benchmark. In this list you can get a sense of the dynamic range of our topics over the years.
Episode 400: “Is Oral Sex Okay?” (1,570,100 plays)
Special Episode: “John Piper’s Funeral Prayer for a Family of Five” (798,300)
Episode 919: “Should Children Sit Through ‘Big Church’?” (442,900)
Episode 102: “Can a Born-Again Christian Lose Salvation?” (389,100)
Episode 1,077: “When Worship Lyrics Miss the Mark” (384,600)
Episode 804: “Has My Sexual Sin Made Me Unsavable?” (369,300)
Episode 886: “Bikinis and Modesty” (367,900)
Episode 1,170: “God’s Sovereign Plans Behind Your Most Unproductive Days” (355,700)
Episode 827: “I Slept with My Girlfriend — Now What?” (353,600)
Episode 648: “Is Yoga Sinful?” (343,500)
Episode 191: “Would You Attend a Gay Wedding?” (327,400)
Episode 200: “Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?” (326,500)
Episode 390: “What Is God’s Glory?” (315,700)
Episode 749: “Where Did Satan’s First Desire for Evil Come From?” (310,800)
Episode 788: “Romantic Love Is a Wonderful Gift — and a Terrible God” (309,900)
Episode 1,096: “What’s the Origin of Desiring God’s Slogan?” (300,000)
Podcasting with Purpose
The podcast exists, not as a final word, not because every listener will agree with every conclusion in every episode, and not because the podcast is a shortcut around the pastors God has placed in our lives. It exists as an attempt to apply Scripture to the most perplexing areas of life and theology.
One year into the podcast, I asked Pastor John how he wanted listeners to engage with our episodes. In the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “test everything; hold fast what is good,” he said. “And the test I hope they use is, first, the Bible. That’s where I try to find all my responses to people’s questions. And, second, I hope they esteem the spiritual leaders of their own churches highly and talk to them about the issues they face — which is also in 1 Thessalonians 5 (verse 13)! There is one final authority and it’s God’s word, not mine. I want to exalt God’s word over and over as true and wise and sweet.”
Episode-by-episode we aim to build discernment in our audience, to equip them as disciplers. Piper said this week, “My prayer is that, besides the immediate guidance and encouragement it may give, people, over time, will absorb a way of thinking and a way of using the Bible so that in the decades to come they will become the sages in their churches where younger people come for wise, Bible-saturated, gospel-rich counsel.”
To this end we will continue to tackle controversies and the struggles we face when life is darkest. The work is weighty.
Pastor John summarizes his experience in working on the podcast over these several years, “There are times I put my face in my hands and shake my head when I read the questions,” he said. “So much suffering. So much sorrow. So many imponderable relational tangles with seemingly no human solution. So the effect of Ask Pastor John on my life is first to soften me for people’s suffering, and then anger me at sin and Satan. It drives me not only to the word of God, my only hope of helping anybody, but also to prayer and to the Holy Spirit. In other words, the podcast makes me feel helpless.”
It’s no small thing to continue in these heavy labors, and we can because of your interest and engagement. Your email questions began arriving from day one, and over the course of the 2,000-day life span of the podcast we’ve received an average of 30 questions from you, every single day!
In those 60,000 emails are 9 million words (by comparison, three times more words than the 13-volume collected works of Piper). The response remains incredible to us.
We continue because of God’s sustaining grace on the life of John Piper and the ministry of desiringGod.org. And part of that sustaining grace has been the ongoing interest of our listeners, and the prayers of our audience, and the financial sacrifices of our donors, all of which are necessary ingredients in our milestone of reaching 100 million total plays. Because unlike many podcasts, we don’t depend on advertising revenue and we have no sidebars or sponsored breaks. The podcast runs unimpeded because God puts it on the hearts of people who believe in what we do, fund it, and make it freely accessible to the world.
So please continue to pray for us, as we pray that the podcast 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. That’s our aim. And as long as we have your support, we will continue with the seemingly impossible task of working through the tens of thousands of questions that sit in the inbox, yet unanswered.