Skyler Daniel pastors Manly Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Virginia, “the youngest municipality in the United States,” according to the US Census Bureau. His church is next to Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. He ministered to emerging adults as university chaplain at Averett University and as associate pastor for youth at West Main Baptist Church. He is married to Ronella, has two children, and serves as a foster parent.
How did you come to write such a devotional for young Christians? Why did you focus on this time of life?
From 2015 to 2022, I served as chaplain at Averett University. Half of our students were online, all across the state and nation. So, I decided that part of my ministry to all our college students would be to deliver a weekly devotional to them, as well as our faculty and staff. Of course, I knew that a very large portion of my audience would be skeptical or non-believers. So I made almost no appeals to Christian theology and rarely to scriptures beyond the ministry of Jesus. I think that a lot of people struggle with Christianity and Christians, but almost no one struggles to appreciate Jesus himself. This book was an edited collection of those weekly reflections.
While this is a devotional the set up feels more informal and different than other
devotionals, what was your hope for Life Wisdom from a Smooth Jesus and a Clumsy
College Pastor and what effect can, as you describe in the introduction, a “spiritual but practical book” have for your audience?
I put a lot of sweat into making sure this material is 1) accessible and 2) transformative. It is accessible in the sense that, even if you gift this to a, say, niece, who is deconstructing her faith, its focus on Jesus’ wisdom (as opposed to, say, “the biblical worldview of women in marriage”) is going to be something that resonates with her. If it resonates (and Jesus, I believe, always does) it will draw her closer to Jesus and it will be transformative. It is accessible because they are short and story based and personal. It is transformative because I don’t do the “pie in the sky” stuff.
Can you talk a little about the structure of your book? Why did you put it together the
way you did and how did you decide which devotionals to use for each month?
We did 15 a month because the book was just going to be too clunky if it was 365 devotionals. And I think “one for every other day” takes the pressure off a bit for young folks loaded down with lots of reading already. And of course, the devotionals try to follow the rhythm of school life and the church calendar–starting the school year, Thanksgiving and Christmas break, etc.
I was most struck by the devotional titled, “the goose.” What nurtures your imagination in writing? And with that, how do you strive to be and/or stay relatable to what college aged Christians are experiencing?
Right after I graduated Divinity school, I spent some time with a very talkative pastor who was real hooked on Celtic Christianity and got me reading about it. And then someone briefly described Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase. I never read that, but the basic metaphor of how geese are so seemingly unconstrained by environment, unlike most species, really got into me. I am an Enneagram 5 and the Strengthsquest test sees I’m an “Input,” so I am wired to be a constant listener and collector of diverse ideas.
If I am relevant at all to young people, I blame that on curiosity. As a pastor to people, I devote my heart to being curious about people’s stories, what makes them light up, what keeps them up at night, and where the little tears in their hearts are. If one’s goal is to translate the gospel for people’s actual lives, what other way is there to show up in ministry? Ministry, like, language, cannot be learned in a classroom. It’s learned by crossing oceans and showing up and listening, listening, listening. A whole lot of listening.
What was the most meaningful, challenging or surprising experience you had in the
process of writing Life Wisdom from a Smooth Jesus and a Clumsy College Pastor?
Love. When we published the book, a lot of people that I have known, loved, and ministered to, bought it and shared it. It’s really humbling. I don’t even take it as a testament to my writing at all. I just think that, in our Christian community, weekly sharing our hearts with one another, we grew to love one another. And you know what? People support you when you love them and they love you.
For a people of faith, what is your advice for churches or communities to be more open to the challenges facing young Christians and for their unique journeys to find their place within these communities?
Church leaders need to be good people one could trust with a hard secret, as well as a guide for complicated family dynamics and coming of age questions. All too often, their parents just can’t be who they need them to be in this season, but young people are carrying a lot of bricks on their shoulders. So that’s what you need to be. What do you need to do? Show up for young people where they are: ball games, recitals, college
dining halls, artsy things. You know where young people aren’t? In minister’s church offices. You cannot open yourself up to their unique challenges until you are incarnate in their worlds.
Outside of your ministry, how do you enjoy spending time?
I’m in a season of life where whatever free time I have is devoted to enjoying my wife and kids. Simple things—caring for our home, yard, and garden, watching ball games, going out for a good drink with friends, community events, or if I’m lucky—going on a hike together.