Derek Vreeland grew up in a home that would be described as a nominal Christian home, so his family was Christian in name only, not in practice. When he was in the fifth grade his family moved to St. Joseph, Missouri where they started attending church more regularly and Vreeland was baptized at the age of 12. Near the end of his sophomore year in high school, when he was 15 years old, he began to take his faith very seriously after having a transformative spiritual encounter with God. Soon after, he sensed a call to the ministry and to be a pastor.
Vreeland’s writing journey and faith journey overlap a great deal. During his junior year of high school, his track coach and English teacher encouraged him to write. He told Vreeland, “You have a voice. You have something to say. You should write from a Christian perspective.” He ended up heeding that advice and took an advanced humanities course in high school where he began his writing journey.
During college, Vreeland majored in English with an emphasis in writing in part to prepare for seminary and for his ministry because he knew pastors read and wrote. Another reason he chose his major was because writing came easy to him. He chose to attend Oral Roberts University for seminary because he had become connected to the charismatic tradition during college. He earned his Master of Divinity there while also learning that all Christian faith traditions and have things to offer, thanks to his professors from various Christian faith denominations. His experiences in seminary weren’t purely theological for him—they were an integration of heart and head. He says, “My time there really caused my faith to grow. I also realized God’s Spirit is at work in a lot of different, surprising places.”
Following seminary, Vreeland served in charismatic churches then he later felt a pull away from the charismatic movement and didn’t feel at home within that framework anymore. He says his brand of Christianity is deeply rooted in a strong belief in the ecumenical. He says, “I guess I’m one part Eastern Orthodox, one part Anabaptist, part Wesleyan, part charismatic, part evangelical, part Catholic, so it’s harder to describe. The consistent thread throughout my whole faith journey is certainly a centrality on the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
Vreeland currently serves as the Pastor of Discipleship at his church where he oversees the church’s small groups, classes, workshops, their Wednesday night community meal and various classes, Celebrate Recovery. He also does various forms of pastoral care and some of the preaching and teaching at his church. His writing is very much connected to his faith and work as a pastor. He writes once each month for Missio Alliance which is a post-evangelical network for people who see that we’re living in a post-Christian culture and he has written five books. He sees his writing as part of his pastoral vocation. “I see it as an extension of my faith. It’s not that my faith influences my writing. My writing flows right out of my faith life.”
He feels a divine call to write and has made ministry decisions based on his calling as a writer. There was a season when he explored planting a new church, and while he was waiting for direction from God on where to establish his church, he didn’t receive any answers. But there was a definitive moment during a worship service when God told him he he wasn’t supposed to plant a new church, but instead teach, write, and use his voice. He says, “I jotted those words down that were in my heart and spent time with them, prayed about them, and talked to mentors in my life. I asked them if this seemed like what God was saying to me, and everyone affirmed what God had told me during that service.”
Vreeland says his writing inspiration comes from two places. “I’m very inspired by other authors that I read. Because my writing is specifically nonfiction, in the Christian literary world, and flows out of my faith journey, I’m very inspired by other writers of faith, especially Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and Wendell Berry. So I always read with a pen in hand. I’m also a runner and backpacker, and there is something meditative about the repetition of hiking and running. It gets you in a meditative state and I love it. It puts my mind in a really good place. So I’ll give myself voice-to-text notes while I’m running or hiking, and will slow down and type on my phone if I absolutely need to.”
After self-publishing four books over the past several years, his first book with a traditional publisher is coming out June 18. His newest book is about discipleship and is called By the Way: Getting Serious about Following Jesus. He says, “The primary point of the book is that the essence of Christian faith is not merely what we believe, not merely the rituals and routines that bind us to a faith. The primary essence of the Christian faith is following Jesus—living a life patterned after the death and resurrection of Jesus.” It’s the book for discipleship that Vreeland always wanted, but couldn’t find.
Derek Vreeland is the discipleship pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he leads small groups and discipleship ministries and serves on the pastoral leadership team along with Brian and Peri Zahnd. Vreeland is a regular contributor at Missio Alliance, and his work has been published by Outreach. The author of several books, Vreeland has degrees from Missouri Western State University, Oral Roberts University, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Jenni, have three sons. More about his new book can be found at https://www.bythewaybook.com/.