Sometimes answering God’s call means leaving what you love

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Converge vision & mission

Mark Bjorlo has two rules for eating out when he’s away from home. First, the new Converge North Central regional president will not eat at a restaurant that also exists within 60 miles of his Minnesota house. Second, he treasures spicy food.

“If it’s likely to cause some people pain, I’d like to try that,” he clarifies. The spiciness of food is often measured in Scoville heat units. Pharmacist W.L. Scoville introduced the system in 1912 as a paper to the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. A bell pepper is zero Scoville units. That pepperoncini that comes with pizzas: maybe 500 Scoville units. A jalapeno is about 4000 units. Bjorlo is comfortable eating food rated at about 200,000 Scoville heat units.

Mark Bjorlo

Bjorlo ate his first spicy meal years ago at a Sri Lankan restaurant on Lake Street in Brainerd, Minnesota. He went there with the daughter of a missionary to that country. She asked for a curry with a spiciness rating of 3.5 out of five. He didn’t want to be shown up, so he asked the spiciness to be four out of five. “I couldn’t finish it,” he admitted. “I’ve since improved my capacity to tolerate.”

Discovering his capacity for ministry

Bjorlo learns a lot about his capacity, character and calling from assessments like personality tests, leadership analysis and relational evaluations. In 2002, Bjorlo and his wife, Elizabeth, had thoughts on starting a church. He took several assessments through Converge, which has a strong pathway to discover and develop church planters.

Related: Church planting: How it looks different in 2021

After his assessments, Bjorlo started The Journey North in Brainerd, Minnesota.

“I think new churches are the best pathway for people far from God to know God,” he said.

He pastored The Journey North until he was named the North Central regional president earlier this year.

“My hope for Converge North Central is that we would be an attractive community of churches that are actively working to make the region the hardest place to go to hell from.”

Before considering the new role, he re-took most of the tests, personality assessments and self-analysis evaluations he’s done in his life. The results confirmed his leadership and ministry call. But his heart and mind weren’t aligned with the assessments and affirmations.

“My first response was no. Then ‘oh no.’ My third response was to pray about it,” he said.

Once he began to pray, there was significant anger and discouragement. He realized he was sensing God’s call to apply for the role. But with that awareness came deep sadness to no longer pastor people he loved. In October, when he was officially a candidate for the position, he took all the tools and tests again to verify how he leads and serves people.

How can Converge churches impact Minnesota and Iowa?

As Bjorlo forms a future picture of his new role, reaching people who don’t know Christ is a priority. Converge’s vision for the next 10 years includes opening the front door, meaning access for people who don’t know Christ to find their way into his home.

“The biggest challenge is earning the right to speak into the lives of the leaders, so we become a more evangelistic movement.” Bjorlo plans to deploy his experience in creating evangelistic and multiplication pathways.

Converge also has a priority in the next 10 years to tear down the ethnic and cultural walls that divide Christians and communities. Bjorlo — whose district includes Minneapolis, where George Floyd and Daunte Wright died — knows tearing down the walls requires more relationships, dialogue and action. Minnesota and Iowa, he said, are among the most diverse collections of people in the United States.

“We have tremendous opportunity to reach cross-culturally without going across the world,” he said.

Related: What is ‘Minnesota Nice,’ and how did a Converge church reach its multi-ethnic community by shedding the label?

Being better together is a value of Converge. Still, several factors in the last 18 months challenged the connectedness of pastors and churches in all 10 Converge districts.

So, a key action Bjorlo plans is incorporating relationships among pastors and connecting pastors to Bethel University and the university to churches. He’s considering ways for pastors to read Scripture together, record podcasts and encourage the faith of Christians across the district. A goal within those activities is showing people how the pastors and churches and Bethel University are better together.

“Your house is on fire”

In 2016, Bjorlo was seated above a dunk tank. He was helping — “people love to dunk the pastor” — at a festival to raise money for a man with throat cancer. His wife calls a man when she couldn’t reach Bjorlo. Bjorlo takes the phone from his friend. And she says, “Honey, the kids are fine. Your house is on fire.” Bjorlo looks over his shoulder and sees billowing smoke in the sky about 12 miles away. “Just so you know, it might be a complete loss,” his wife adds.

His children made it out of the house that Saturday in July 2016. Mark could smell the smoke as he got closer and closer to his home. He watched the house burn down. And, in typical Bjorlo fashion, he didn’t cry over spilled milk.

The Journey North has a worship service on Saturday nights. His sermon that night was on overcoming disappointment. And, although he didn’t share news of the fire that night, he and his wife were clinging to Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

With Christ, Bjorlo knew he could tolerate heat that destroyed his home and nearly traumatized his family forever. They’ve found a capacity for faith and surprising blessings in the trial of the fire.

Knowing that suffering is real and life is fragile, Bjorlo leads with passion and faith for the North Central district.

“We need a shared and impassioned view of our mission for Christ,” he said. “I hope we learn to speak into racism, champion issues of injustice, start new churches, strengthen existing churches and become known for helping our neighbors to know Christ.” 

Converge has a goal of planting 312 churches by 2026 and strengthening churches to be faithful to Christ’s mission to make disciples. If you live in the North Central district, learn how you can help churches bring life change to communities in the U.S. and around the world.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene