What is 19Baskets?

The simplest answer is that 19Baskets is a reference to the number of leftovers gathered up after Jesus fed the multitudes. When Jesus fed the 5000 (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-15), his disciples gathered up 12 baskets of leftover fragments, and when Jesus fed the 4000 (Matt. 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9), his disciples gathered 7 baskets.

12 Baskets + 7 Baskets = 19Baskets.

I think that these two stories are among the most intriguing miracles that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. For me, they raise all kinds of questions: Why does Jesus feed these people at all? Why does Jesus perform this miracle twice—once with a group of 5000, and then again with a group of 4000?

But most of all, why on earth does Jesus command his disciples to “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12 ESV)?

Writing and Christian Ministry

Lord willing, I will write a more thorough exegetical study of these stories in the coming weeks. For now, I want to share a small portion of my own story in Christian ministry to give the background of where 19Baskets has come from.

In 2011, I served as the interim preaching pastor in a wonderful church in rural Nebraska, and during that time, I preached through the Letters of John. Almost as an experiment, I prepared to preach each week by writing 5-10 pages of exegetical notes, and then I boiled that content down into three blog posts to help organize the three points of my sermon. I quickly grew to appreciate that process for two reasons:

  1. Forcing myself to write my way through the passage I was preaching on was very helpful because writing clarifies thinking.
  2. I had been a sporadic blogger since 2004, so I loved having new posts to add to my blog every week without doing anything that I didn’t need to do anyway.

But somewhere along the way, I recognized that the content that I was already writing might make a fantastic book. And, since I had already been writing week after week, I didn’t need to scramble to gather up my notes from past weeks. The core of my book was already there, published to my blog and accessible to me or to anyone else.

In fact, I didn’t have time to work on the book at all for quite awhile, but when I was finally ready (two years later), my book was already 75% written. I simply had to gather up the fragments of what I had already written, and then edit those fragments into a cohesive book with a specific angle. That didn’t make the editing process simple, but it did mean that I have to relearn the material all over again when I was ready to write.

Furthermore, in the meantime I had been able to share my articles with people who were studying 1 John on their own, and even with pastors who were preaching through 1 John. I didn’t have to dig out old notes from my files or try to remember which commentary had that brilliant insight that had helped me so much—I just sent over the links, and those people were able to access the fruit of my prayer and study instantly.

Now today, as I write this post, I’m in the process of sending my manuscript to an editor who will help me prepare it for final publication. By the grace of God I’m about to fulfill a lifelong goal of publishing a book, and so much of the reason for that is that I took just a little extra time to incorporate writing into my preaching and teaching while I was in the middle of doing it.

Gathering Up the Fragments by Writing

As I reflected on this, I realized that forcing myself to write as an integral part of preparing to preach and teach pays incredible dividends on so many levels. First, writing helps us to minister better in our preaching and teaching. As Francis Bacon wisely wrote:

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

Writing has an amazing ability to slow us down and clarify our muddy, imprecise thinking. When I merely ponder a topic, my mind can go in all sorts of different directions. When I write, however, I am forced to select specific words to articulate specific thoughts, and as I read back over what I have written, I find errors, gaps, and omissions. Only writing can flush those problems out of our system, which means that the exercise of writing shouldn’t be optional for our preaching and teaching ministries.

Second, writing also creates opportunities for passive teaching and passive ministry—and I mean that in the best sense possible. Writing creates the possibility for us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to people we have never met, and to do so even after we die. Even in the short term, writing allows us to “remember” the details from our study that we quickly forget otherwise, so that the person in our church who asks us for help interpreting a passage that we preached on ten years ago can get access to our best, freshest thinking on the subject, long after we have moved on to other passages, issues, and questions.

The Vision of 19Baskets

Writing is powerful. In some ways, this is such an obvious idea that I feel a little silly writing an article about it, much less starting a blogging network around it.

But everywhere I look, I see pastors who prepare feasts for the congregations from God’s word week after week without ever gathering up any of their leftover fragments as they go. They will never again have such clear insight into those passages, and if they ever want to do more with the material they preached on, they will have to start almost from scratch to write about it. I think that’s a tragedy.

I want that to change, and I want to help pastors learn to use helpful tools for writing, editing, and publishing their writing into formats that can endure into the future. I want to see a community form around the vision of gathering up the fragments of our ministry, encouraging one another in the process, and my dream is to see ordinary pastors publish valuable books, even if they never sign a huge book deal or sell a million copies.

What do you think? How have you been helped by someone else’s writing? How has writing enhanced your own ministry? What do you want to write? Leave a comment below.


Jacob Gerber is the founder of 19Baskets and an assistant pastor at Redeemer Church (PCA) in Lincoln, NE. He lives with his wife Allison, his daughter Evelyn, and his son. Jacob blogs at Guard the Deposit, and he is the author of a forthcoming book That You May Know: A Primer on Christian Discipleship. You can follow him on Twitter @JacobDGerber.