Freed to live through the death of another.

Why Backyards Matter


What would you see if you looked in my backyard? A sandbox, a patio, some trees, a garden, a shed, some room for the kids to run, and a fence to keep them from running too far. At least, that’s what you’d see at first glance. But if you looked closer, you’d see more.

Upon closer inspection, you would see that the grass is patchy. The retaining wall is leaning. The tree branches that are hanging precariously over my neighbour’s shed need to be cut back. The shed has a bees’ nest in the top and a chipmunk house in the bottom (they made their way through some rotten wood). Yes, there are some things in disrepair.

Right now there are weeds that need to get bagged and some grass seed that needs to get spread. There’s lots to do. Some of it isn’t done because I’ve prioritized other things — and I think it was wise. On the other hand, some of it isn’t done simply because of bad decisions and some measure of irresponsibility on my part.

If you come into my backyard, you’ll see my weaknesses and my shortcomings.

The Thing about Backyards

The thing about backyards is that they’re in the back. No one sees them unless we let them. Most of the time front yards look much nicer, because that’s what we want people to see.

It struck me the other day that when we talk about ‘celebrity pastors’ we’re essentially talking about ‘front yard guys.’ They are guys who, because of their stature, can only be known to their followers by what they put forward for public consumption. If John Piper misses mowing his lawn for a week, no one will know.

Backyards and the Training of Men

For years I had the incredible privilege of training for pastoral ministry under the mentorship of Paul Martin (who, by the way, actually takes care of his backyard quite well). He was a man who willingly and deliberately opened up his life to me as a young man. He let me see his ‘backyard’, his shortcomings and his mortification-still-in-progress. If I’m honest, I think that’s where I grew the most in my respect and admiration for him and in my awareness of the seriousness of the calling.

As I’ve watched him honestly tackle his weaknesses and grow in grace I’ve learned many important lessons about being a Christian, a man, a husband, a father, and a pastor. I learned to grow as I watched him grow. It was in the ‘backyard’ that I learned what it means to bring life into submission to Jesus.

If you are a pastor — or just a mature man in the church who desires to mentor younger Christian men — let me admonish you: Let men into the backyard of your life. It will be good for you and it will bless them immeasurably. Resist the urge to keep guys in the ‘front yard.’ Let them see how you wrestle through the unfinished business of your spiritual life and they will grow.

Young Men and the Backyards of Others

Young men in our day flock to celebrity pastors. Why? The other day I did a quick survey in my mind of all the young men in our church. To my knowledge, of the guys around my age, only about three (3!) had solid Christian fathers who loved their mothers and were involved in their life. The Christian fathers of the past generation all disappeared, but men still need men to look up to. And in a world where cultures create celebrities, the vacuum has been filled by famous pastors.

There is up-side to that. Men like Matt Chandler, CJ Mahaney, John Piper, Tim Keller, Don Carson, Mark Dever (the list goes on and on), are good Bible teachers who love Jesus and can point others to him. But there is a downside, too. You’ll never see their backyard.

If you are a young man — or a man of any age who is seeking to go into ministry — let me admonish you: Don’t cheat yourself by getting ‘mentored’ from afar. Find a man, a local man, whose backyard you can examine, and be mentored by him. Take initiative, ask him to teach you, open your life up to him. Ask him questions. Get to know his strengths and his weaknesses, and watch as he grows (1 Tim 4.15).

I promise you, the more you get into his backyard, the less you’ll need the ‘front-yard-only’ guys. And you will be blessed.


  1. Jessica MacMaster

    Julian, this was soooooo good. Equally applies to mom's and young women also. Funny, I was planning on working in my own backyard this morning!

    • Julian

      Thanks, Jessica! I couldn't agree with you more about the broader application. Now you have some extra motivation to go work on that yard! 🙂

  2. mtopalian

    Julian! Great post- this was so insightful. Especially since we just finished THREE days worth of yard work! This is Maja by the way, I don't know why my profile shows up as my maiden name!

    • Julian

      Thanks, Maja! I have no idea why it's your maiden name either… very funny!

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