A day in the life of . . . podcast pastors

Adventist Record sits down with pastors Joshua Stothers and Jesse Herford—the dynamic duo behind the hit podcast, Burn the Haystack.

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Names: Jesse Herford and Joshua Stothers
Jobs: Jesse pastors Mosaic Community Church (Palmerston North, NZ) and Josh pastors Hamilton Central Adventist Church (NZ). Together, they created the “burn the haystack” podcast.

What is a typical day for you?

Josh: I try to get up at about 5:45 am to go to the gym, before coming back home to get ready with my wife. I then head to my church office to work until the early afternoon before coming home for lunch. Then I either work in the afternoon or at night depending on whether I have meetings, Bible studies, visits or podcast recording.

I am always on the hunt for good podcast content between it all. I have a few great people who like to send me interesting stories, articles or ideas for people to interview which helps a lot. We have a Google document to which we frequently add ideas we think might work for the show. This means we always have content ready to go; it’s just a matter of deciding which ones are ready and making a time to record.

Jesse: I typically wake up at 6:50 am, unless I have breakfast meetings—I’ve found these work for a lot of my church members and ministry leaders, and it helps me get a significant amount of work done before 8 am. If it’s a normal day, I’ll drive my wife to the school where she works. Then I’ll go home and do housework or grocery shopping, and then start my proper work day by 9 am.

From there, I’ll either go to my next meeting, church visitation or a local cafe to get some work done (usually a sermon, Bible study or answering emails). I find it a lot easier to focus at a cafe rather than home. From there, I’ll go home, have lunch, record a podcast episode with Josh and attend more meetings or visits. I may go out to Longburn Adventist College to do some work or guest-teach a class, which I do from time to time. If there are new podcast episodes that need editing, I will do that at night, as well as scheduling our social media posts (though most of that is done by the amazing Laura Hutchinson!).

What inspired you to begin the podcast? How much planning went into it?

Josh: We started on YouTube but couldn’t find our groove really. After some reflection and feedback, we decided to go down the podcast road. It feels awesome to contribute to something we value like this. There was a fair bit of planning over a couple of months before the launch of the first episode. Trying to bring our personalities and dreams together to be unified took a lot of thought and prayer.

Jesse: We both believe that Adventism has a beautiful story to tell, and we want to tell that story using language that our peers (as well as the next generation) can identify with. As avid podcast listeners, we decided to take the dive. When we began Burn the Haystack, we were only aware of one or two podcasts in the same vein as ours. We feel pretty lucky to have been part of this new wave of Adventist media!

Tell us about the name—it’s so clever! What other names were you considering?

Josh: Thank you! The name has funnily enough gotten people interested and others disinterested because you know how much Adventists love haystacks! Some of the other names we considered were:

  • The Badventists (not really the right fit for us)
  • Deconstructionists (taken already)
  • The Josh & Jesse Show (number one rule of podcast naming is: don’t name the show after yourself unless you are a celebrity, which we definitely are not).

We wanted something that was unexpected and attention-grabbing.

Jesse: Finally, we found a fantastic quote: “What’s the easiest way to find a needle in a haystack? Burn the haystack!” For us, the needle is following Jesus. The Jesus movement radically shifted history, yet we recognise that in many ways, traditions, culture and peripheral issues have clouded what following Jesus means to so many people. Our mission is to strip away the side issues, distractions and hindrances that get in the way of following Jesus.

Josh (left) and Jessie at Digital Discipleship 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Josh: For me, I hit a place of burnout with the podcast a while ago. When I moved to my church and city this year I really struggled to balance everything with the podcast and our digital ministry. We received a bit of negative feedback on something and it just mounted up and felt like too much for me. I took a small hiatus and thankfully Jesse stepped up to look after everything in that time.

Jesse: Our biggest challenge is probably generating new content every week. Staying fresh and relevant every week is a continual struggle, but we are incredibly grateful for our awesome audience who encourages us and gives us new ideas for content. At the end of the day, it’s not just about what’s going on in our heads; it’s about engaging with our community.

What’s one lesson you’ve learned during the process?

Josh: How powerful digital discipleship can be. I had no idea how much impact something like a podcast could have on people and the amount of reach you can get by simply being consistent. We’ve had amazing messages come through from people having incredible spiritual breakthroughs with their kids by listening to an episode with them, others sharing episodes with non-Adventist friends to help their spiritual journey and even one who says that it was our podcast that pushed him to start a church. All I can say is God can use anything and anyone to do anything and reach anyone. I’m blown away and excited to see what He does next.

Jesse: You don’t need a fancy title or a lot of money to be influential. All you need is humility, dedication and a curious spirit. That’s what’s gotten us to where we are right now! We’ve also learned how rewarding it is to build something on your own, without anyone else’s stamp of approval. Of course, all glory goes to God for any life change or encouragement people get out of the podcast, but the fact of the matter is, no-one asked us to do this, and we didn’t even know if it was going to work. That doesn’t matter–we went for it anyway, and it’s been a wild ride!

"'What's the easiest way to find a needle in a haystack? Burn the haystack!' For us, the needle is following Jesus."

What’s your favourite episode so far and why?

Josh: This is like asking me to choose a favourite child! It’s so hard. I really enjoyed our two-part series on “How to incite an insurrection in your local church”, where we gave seven really helpful steps to bring positive, effective and lasting change to your local church. I also loved our two-part conversation with Tim Gillespie. He was open and honest about his beliefs, even if they were different to a lot of others.

Jesse: My favourite episode would probably have to be episode 44: “Nimrod Maua gave up being lead pastor”. Nimrod is an incredibly humble, yet powerful and visionary leader. I learned so much from working with him a few years ago on the Central Coast (NSW), and I learn so much every time I see him. It was a real highlight for me to be able to see his ministry grow, and I can’t wait to have him back sometime in the future. Nimrod, if you’re reading this, call me?

Has the podcast been more or less successful than you expected?

Josh: It’s been amazing just watching our stats constantly grow. Not that we are one of those mega successful podcasts with millions of downloads, but for something as niche as what we do, it’s mind-blowing. These days each episode has more than 400 downloads with the more popular ones reaching as high as 700. We recently passed 35,000 all time downloads which is epic! We’re so humbled by the response.

Jesse: It’s been way more successful than we expected! When we made YouTube videos together in 2017, we were spending hours writing scripts, filming and editing content, to only get a handful of views. It was crushing. Now, we are growing every day, and we definitely are well over what the average podcast gets in its first 30 days, putting us comfortably in the top 30-50 per cent of all podcasts worldwide.

What’s next for Burn the Haystack?

Josh: Video content! We’d love to have all of our episodes recorded on video and available to watch on YouTube as well, but this takes a whole lot of time and effort. We are also hoping to start selling merchandise to help fund the podcast. My big audacious dream is that one day I’ll see someone I don’t know wearing Burn The Haystack merchandise!

Jesse: We both love video podcasts and we also want to start our own YouTube content individually, but as far as Burn the Haystack is concerned, our big dream is to have every episode available to watch on YouTube. We’re hoping by 2020 this dream will become a reality!

The podcast pastors.

Check out the Burn the Haystock podcast on Spotify, Stitcher and Instagram. Alternatively, visit www.burnthehaystack.org.