Episode 37: Geoff Mitchell on Mainline Protestantism

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In the 1950s, Mainline Protestants were the largest group of Protestants in the United States. Since then, the churches have seen decline and their footprint in American culture has shrunk. Members have left, churches has closed and budgets shrink.

Some people think this tradition is doomed and will die in a few decades.

But is that really the story? Is the Mainline tradition worth saving? What caused the decline and what could bring about a renaissance?

What I need is Jesus.

Confronting the Progressive Obsession with Fundamentalism

Grumpy Old Men

Preaching As Truth Telling

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Well, hello and welcome to en route, the podcast when we talk about life along the way. I'm Dennis Sanders, your host. Make sure to visit our website at and root podcast dot org, and while you're there, you can subscribe to the show on various platforms such as Stitcher, pop, spotify, Google podcasts, apple podcast or via RSS. In doing that, you'll never miss a show. And while you're at it, if you have found value in this show, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a rating or review at whatever platform you listen to. That helps other people find the podcast and so that they can listen to this and also it would be nice if you can share this with a friend. That will help us out too. Well, as most of you know, I'm an ordained minister and I serve small congregation near St Paul, Minnesota, and I am and ordained. I'm ordained in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, which is a mainline Protestant denomination. Now, what is a mainline Protestant? Well, they are a part of American Christianity. They are part. We are part of the Protestant Christians and we are very distinct from evangelical or fundamentalist or pedocostual Christians, the mainline Protestant. Mainline Protestants include many different denominations, including the disciples, the United Church of Christ, the PREDETARIAN Church USA, the United Methodist Church and several others. And probably one of the things that are the hallmarks of this tradition is very much involvement in social issues, very much involvement in society, and that is was is has always been coupled with usually a strong and some whey, I would say, Orthodox sometimes salvation, our belief in s. That was kind of the manline Protestants. Hey Day, they were the largest group of Protestants in the United States. The decade since then, though, all of these churches have faced decline and their footprint in American culture has shrunk considerably. That has left, that has what it has amounted to is members have left, churches that closed and budgets shrunk. This talk of decline, which has been around for decades, has made some people, both within and without the tradition, think that everything is doomed and that this tradition will die out in a few decades. But is that really the end of the story? Is the mainline tradition worth saving. What caused the decline in the first place and what could bring about a renaissance? Well, in ...

...today's episode I spoke with an old friend and colleague about the manline Protestant tradition. Jeff Mitchell is also an ordained ministry in a Christian Church, disciple's Christ and he is the lead pastor of Linden Wood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, which is said a good size congregation and very diverse. He's he has experience of leading congregations. He has actually planted to new churches, one in Texas when in Illinois. So he is an expert. He is he's grown up. He is actually a pastor's son, so he's grown up in this tradition and I talk to him today about what ails mainline churches and how they can turn around. It is a great conversation, but I do want to give you a heads up that Jeff is not going to tell you anything about a secret program or method. His answer in some ways will run against the viewpoint of many in the church, and especially in our in the church today, because there has been this move, or at least tendency, to de emphasize theology at the expense of social justice. Jeff believes that you need both. It isn't an either or, but you need both to create strong faith communities. So with that, let's hear from Jeff Mitchell. Well, thank you for joining me this afternoon in Jeff Oh, I'm glad to be here. Dennis, I've been connected to you for a long time, it seems like, but it's good for us to be on online here and looking forward to talking about the mainline church and talking about Jesus. Yes, definitely. So I think we want to do is just start to talk a little bit about your church in Memphis, kind of a way of describing a little bit about what it is and how long you've been there. I am the senior minister at Lennon Wood Christian Church in the middle of Midtown Memphis. We are halfway between downtown in the east loop, so midtown is actually quite fitting. And so it's the fourth oldest continuous worshiping community in the city of Memphis. It's been here since eighteen forty three. The first stone Campbell Bible study goes back to like eighteen, twenty nine. I mean that's how far back the roots of this congregation go pre civil war, and so learning with Christian church is one of the anchor institutions in the city. It's not one of the largest churches, but it is one of the best known churches in that it has a very visible and historic ministry. We sit on the Middle We sit on East Parkway and Union Avenue. So every time you hear this story, are here, the Song Walking in Memphis About Union Avenue, we're on union. Have knew and I've been the minister here for almost two and a half years. So I came here. The first day in the office was Monday April one, two thousand and nineteen, and so I wasn't even here a full year when covid hits. So over and half time in ministry at Linden Wood is during the the the covid nineteen pandemic. So it's been a it's been a challenge and it's been exciting in some ways. After, especially after I got vaccinated, I'm like, wow, we're going to we're going to we're going to be able to do some fun creative stuff and we can talk about some of that. But yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a congregation that is has a strong history of worship and witness and when I came...

...here they probably thought their best days were behind them and I think they're starting to believe that that's not true anymore. Well, and that is something that is quite common in mainline Protestant churches, that there's a sense of the best days were behind us and there's an uncertainty, if not a bleep for vision, about the future. What has made Linden would change their viewpoint. Well, to beat. To be completely honest, they were in better shape than they realized and, to be honest, they're probably in better shape than a lot of mainline churches and that they do have a facility need that gets used all the time. They do have more resources than some other churches that I've served or other churches in our tradition. That said, they wanted to hear and believe in what God could do again, and so anything that I brought to to anything I brought to the table as the leader of this congregation was more about less. It was more about what God can do and less about, oh my goodness, we have a new minister that's going to make everything better, and so there's a there's a lot of stereotypes that I think I fit into that. They were excited about, oh we have a have a middle aged, straight white guy coming to lead our church, where we're the perfect demographic to come and bring all the young families back. And I and I you know, I love if young, straight families come to our church. But reality is that there's a whole bunch of people in our city that don't that don't look like me, that don't love like me, and I'm excited about including them in the life of the church. And so I think what has allowed the church to begin to see themselves, see their future as as something to embrace rather than to be fearful of is that we're actually starting to build a congregation that looks like the the neighborhood, that looks like the neighborhood. So in where we are in the middle of MIDTOWN MEMPHIS, I could go half a mile at most in roll into a neighborhood that has one hundred or that has million dollar homes, neighborhood that it has old bungalows that are seventy years old that people are gutting and rebuilding. You can go into some of the porous sections of Urban America and then you can find a bunch of old hippies that hate all of it and it all just kind of blends together there in the middle of midtown and I think they've started to see that as their friend rather than their enemy. And so in you know, inclusion is is like a buzz word for mainline and it and I believe in that. I believe in a practice it at everywhere. This church practice it before I got here. But what does it mean to actually say we want to be a church for everyone across the economic spectrum? What does it mean to say we want to be a church for for the people that that make significant money? What's it mean to say we embrace people that are experiencing homelessness or our work job to job in a way that you know, probably you and I can't wrap our mind around, and that we we embrace all of that without asterisk. And so I think the church is future has been something they've embraced with excitement because they realize they didn't have to go very far to be on mission. Well, how would you describe your church if you were to look at it compared to the wider mainline Protestant tradition? How is it the same? How is it different? Well, for for us, and and this is probably why I felt so called here, and and that call was really confirmed, especially in that first year pre pandemic, is that there's two things I bring to the table that I am totally committed to, and God bless our mainline communions that usually either want one or the other. I believe...

...in the full inclusion of gain lesbian people in the life of the church, not in terms of they can come, but pretend that you're not there, elders, deacons, ordination membership. I believe that sexual orientation is not in and of itself a barrier to following Jesus, any more than being straight is, and I don't budge off of that. I also believe that Jesus died on the Cross for our sin, rose from the dead and that he is the catalyst for life now life forever in the new creation that will come, that the Cross and resurrection may happen, and so I love that. What makes this church Hum and that they've had these divergent pieces and I feel like we've been able to kind of begin to bring them together over the last couple of years is I don't believe in an inclusion because it's cool. I believe inclusion because it's biblical and I believe in the Bible because I believe Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history. And so if you can bring together Christology and mission, I think that's actually what the world is in need of. And so you know other we lets. So let me break those apart here. Of what makes us distinct. You can go to a rural mainline church that have a people with with with great hearts and that will help people in need and have a strong worship life, but any sense of inclusion, of racial justice, of doing more than welcoming with a side eye, gain and lesbian people that that's a conversation they maybe don't want to have. And I can find my progressive friends and urban progressive congregations that our mainline that are as inclusive as I would desire and for them to be push the envelope on important issues that need to be spoken about. But you could go there three years and not here that Jesus died to forgive people so they could have a renewed life that has no end and that the church is God's Unfo seems unfortunate, but the church is God's tool in this world to bring an usher Shalom in redemption, to be agents of redemption in this world, and I think those two things have to go hand in hand and if you split them apart, you get a really bad civil religion on the right or you get the belief that if we could just tinker the government to do the right thing, that the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. And both those things are false idols and both of them are called a sacs of the kingdom, and I think we need to get out of those cold of sects bring those two things together, because the building block of all of that, of vibrant churches, of a renewed culture, is is what God can do in the life of broken people. And so I believe in that. I believe in what God can do in the lives of broken people because I know what God has done in my life. And so what I think what makes us when we when we compare and contrast our congregation to mainline churches, is that we don't apologize for our commitment to inclusion. And if you listen to me preach and didn't know my audience, you would think that I am a soft nondenominational. I mean like I say that, I mean hopefully I have a little more robust theological nutrition for our for the listeners. Like I love I love ntie right, I love Flemy Rutledge, I read Tim Keller. I know there's about twenty percent of it I need to throw out, but that eighty percent is better than anything I'm getting from my tribe. And I say that with all due respect. I preach a lot of Christology and which I think is the missing link of the mainline church which we can get to well, and that is always fascinating for me, being gay and kind of being around that grouping and tribe and it's kind of always the the the desire of you know, would be nice if we talked about Jesus and forgiveness and the cross at some point, and it just you know, they're right...

...on the on the part of inclusion, but, as you said, it's it feels sort of empty because it's not linking that Christology together. So which then leaves me to this question is, why do you think that we don't put those two things together? Why has that been that we have we choose one or the other instead of seeing it as a complete package. You know, I wish I had a good answer to that. I really I don't have a good answer for that and I don't want to pretend like I can speak for those that you're describing. I don't want to put myself I don't want to be one of those people that feels like I have all the answers, like I believe what I believe, and let me tell you why everybody else is in a Rut. I'm not sure. I'm not sure why that is. I just know. Just let me do what my experience has been, even let me put some softer edges to that. What my experienced has been is that the more I communicate the power of the Gospel, the more willing people are to engage in stretching themselves to include those that are that to include. The other is that you can't spend a year in the New Testament and believe that the mission of Jesus was to exclude people different than me that we're seeking God. You cannot do that. You cannot immerse yourself in the in the New Testament, world old and in arrived at some of the conclusions that that I think we've camped out at. You can't. You can't arrive on the conclusion of exclusion and you can't arrive at the conclusion of just radical pluralism. partalism is the best civic value you can have. I'm a nonnegotial. That's a nonnegotiable for me. It's also really weak Christology. And you can be committed to you can be committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and that doesn't make you a bigot. And so, if I guess, the closest I would come to answer in your question, which I'm very hesitant to ask, why have we detached robust Orthodox Christology from inclusion? Is that there's some really bad examples of it. That if I preach, you know, that Jesus is the way of the truth in the life, which is a more complicated text than it's preached all the time, I get that that that's somehow means I have permission to be a bad neighbor to my Muslim friends, to my Jewish friends, that it's a soft breeding ground of an anti Semitism. And I again, I can't spend time with Jesus and find that that is a conclusion he would lead me to. What do you think is what do you think are some of the positives of mailing protestantism? What? How has it been beneficial to you? How do you think it's been beneficial to our society? Mainline protestantism has mainline producism has been beneficial, because I think it is a uniquely American experience. You know, all of us kind of trace our heritage, even if it was back to Europe. Like there is something distinct about being United Methodist, ELCA PC USA, even disciples of Christ, and that we we saw our role as people that spoke to the world. Now, at times, at this is a will, Willem and cloak. We leaned over to speak into the world, but we fell in, but we fell into much, but I think there was a time that we really did have something to say. You know, contrary to what you hear in the media, Jimmy Carter in Bill Clinton are the only two evangelicals to have been elected to the White House. And by evangelical I mean they grew...

...up in churches that preached Jesus and Full Immersion and conversion. You know, I mean, God bless all of those Episcopalian presidents that we've sent a lot of people to the White House. We have raised up a lot of leaders that have done great things in the name of human rights and the name of care for the poor. I mean, I'm going to I'll grab the third rail here about politics, about what mainline has done. Two Disciples of Christ president's that the most people can name. Ronald Reagan had a lot of problems, but he believed in human rights abroad. I mean like, hopefully we can all say, living under the Soviet Union was awful and he fought to bring that to an end. Lyndon Johnson screwed a bunch of stuff up, but Lennon Johnson passed the civil rights bill that we hope somewhere in combating communism, in fighting for liberty at home, was undergirded by that mainline Protestant ethic of universal human dignity, that we are all created in the image of God, regardless of our Credo, and I think that is a distinctly mainline I think that is a distinctly mainline value that has shaped our culture. I think we've lost some of that voice. I think we've lost some of that theological voice more than we've lost that policy voice. But that would be. What I say is one of the biggest impacts that mainline Protestant Hati ISMs have is that we we believe in basic, fundamental human dignity and want to find, even though policy is always messy, concrete ways to enact that. And why do you think that we have lost that theological voice? I'm gonna I wrote this in a demon paper a couple of months ago. I don't know why. The idea that Paul didn't act actually right Ephesians somehow means that God didn't want to break down the dividing wall. I think. I think we have taken higher criticism to D I think we've taken things like higher cris criticism and different theological views, all of which I welcome. I book shelves that can confirm that. But I think we've I think we've worshiped at the altar of deconstruction for too long. We all we like we're aware, we all have to deconstruct our childhood faith. I want to deconstruct, put things back together and then re ignite it to be agents of God's peace in this world, and I feel like that we have reached a point where deconstruction is our highest value. That when someone comes to our church, all my goodness, I don't have to be a hard edge baptist anymore. That's great. That's the first step. The next step is, all right, what does it mean for me to actually follow Jesus in a way that I can reimagine what that looks like? And once I've reimagined that, how do I re engage in reignite my faith, to be on mission in the world rather than simply Oh, man, I'm going to get going here, go right ahead, that they're you do not get credit for being a critic. Only you just don't get credit for being a critic. You don't. You don't get credit for that. And I think part of my frustration that I feel that you probably hear in my voice, is of the mainline church and of those processing out of Evangelicalism, is that we we get stuck. I've gotten stuck. We've the but but I witness people just getting stuck that deconstructing the unhealthy components of their faith is the place they should stay rather than okay, God, you have let me on this journey. You are the author of my life. How do I begin to reimagine and and generate a new sense of apostolic imagination to join you in this world, to put into practice the life that Jesus...

...lived that he's calling all of us to engage in. That is what that is where, that's what animates me. If you can't tell, is that you don't get credit for being a critic, and deconstruction is the first of five steps. But you but like how many? You could find a thousand conferences that are just built around criticizing the church. And I think, and so here comes my punch line, I think one of the reasons the mainline church has struggled so much is we have church members that love the church more than they love the Gospel and we have ordained pastors that don't love the church. That's interesting. I mean, I guess unpack that there. What does it unpack that therefore pastors not to get the church, because that, I there's I think you are correct. There's truth in that, but I love to hear a little bit more what you think. The church is a mess. Every church is a mess. We have to love the church as it is, not simply as we wanted to be. For me, I have to love the church as it is, the Church that God has entrusted me with the Church that not some idyllic church, not some ideal flow chart, not the hip cool church that's got every perfect policy position on social justice, but the church that has the same ninety people that are cranky, that are inflexible, that won't extend their generosity. Why did God ask you to leave these people? You have to love these people. Was it one of those lines is that liberals love humanity but don't always like people? I can, I can fall victim to that. You know, I love the concept, but the concrete. You got to love the Church that God has placed you at, and so that for me, comes back to I say that sharp language. Most pastors don't love the church. Most pastors are are doing everything they can with a system that does not work. I am Pro Pastor, let me be really blunt about that. But we have to love the church for what it is well, and we have to believe that God's called us to do it. Because, man, if God in call you to do it, I can give you a hunt. I can find you more effective ways to be an advocate for justice, I can find you much more effective ways to bring around social change. I can find you something much more lucrative in terms of pay and I can find you a job where you will work less, make more and not have any of the headaches. I get you a business where you were. They thrive on change and the church is almost the opposite of all of those things. On on any given day. I'm I am a big will Willem and fan and Willim and says he always asks first your seminary students, why? Why do you? Why are you going into ministry? And he like all Willom and stories, they're all made up and he just creates the punch line. But he says that you hit to go around and everybody says, Oh, I just love the people, I just love the people. Yes, it's Littlem's like, have you met these people? Met these people? You better be you better be sent by Jesus to this place or you will go crazy. The story he talks about that I think may actually be accurate was when he was a bishop in Alabama, he in pointed a young pastor right out of seminary out into Ryal Alabama and they called Bishop Willman and he's like everybody out here's racists, and he's like you're Sarah much a white people in Ryal Alabama. What in the world did you think you were? You you're only there because God sent you there. Nobody signs up with a master's degree go live in the middle of Nowhere Alabama. How can you serve and love and row these people that God has entrusted you with? And so, for me, that's what it means to love the church is to be committed to the mission of the Church and be as realistic as you can about the people that God has sent you there. It...

...got his sinsh you to serve, and the people that were there before you showed up, they were doing what they could and what they knew best, Sin and all before I showed up. That's what it means for me to love the church. Do you think part of the issue is that we that people have forgotten or maybe never really bought into the belief and concept of grace and forgiveness and redemption, all of those things that, in essence, you're I mean even Jesus himself would dealing with the apostles. They were not the brightest people, nor necessarily the most moral, but yet had a relationship with them, and it seems like that's something that has not been emphasized. I agree with that completely. I think most if you go back to when me the main line was at its peak, you know, post World War Two. Everything's common. Eisenhower's president all as well. I think most mainline churches had one of two submission statements that were unspoken. Either they were a successful church for successful people or they were a Nice Church for Nice people. And Success in Nice are not the same as total depravity. And this this is where I want to get real hardcore. I believe the reason I believe in the Gospel is the one verifiable truth of the Christian faith is human sin. You know, we can't do more, try harder, seek justice is not a solution to the total train wreck that is human history. Human history is a train wreck. Human beings are so flawed. This is where, aside from the the wonkiness of Tulip, which is messed up, that first part I buy into, human beings are born facedown to God, and we have a track record to prove it. Nothing straight has ever come out of the crooked timber of humanity. But we don't use that to beat people down. We use it to tell the truth, and the truth is we are incomplete. We are broken. Even on my best day, I get think I get more wrong than I will ever admit. And this is why the Gospel is good news, because grace fills in all those gaps. Grace is bigger than my story. One of the thing you know, I know we don't spend any time talking about law and Gospel, Law and Gospel, but, but, but, Paul, did you know the law is exhausting. Doing the right thing is exhausting. You know, whenever time somebody says I'm going to try to do my best or I'm going to make sure my motives are pure, I'm like, you're going to burn yourself out. I have no impure I have no motives that are pure. They're all laced with sin. Even my godliest goals and aspirations for the Church I've got ego all over it. And so this is why grace is a gift. It gives us the in the ability to inhale and Exhale, unlike anything I've ever experienced. And so it's personal, but it's also universal, and that, when we look at it, just a long history of tribalism, oppression, genocide, you name it, the long list of human tragedy that's still going on to this day. Try being a person of Christian faith in China. I mean, how would you like to be a gay man in Iran or Saudi Arabia? Like this is still real in spite of our own silo corners of American culture. We need a God that's got the strength to lift the luggage in fix this, and that's why I believe in new creation and I believe that in there's some things only God can do, and grace is that. Do you think that there's any way or that mainly churches can be renewed turned around?...

Well, a lot of of of people will say that some of the decline is cultural, and I think there is some truth to that. But how do you, how could you bring about like a renaissance within mainline Protestant churches? You know, I do believe that there is a future for mainline church, I really do. I think the problem is we have declined as a body, like we've all kind of sunk at once, but we're going to rise individually. I really don't believe there's a national program for the disciples or the United Methodist that we could all implement and come from the top down and bring growth to us. I think it's going to come from the bottom up. And so for mainline, for a chip, for mainline church. It's been around for over forty years. Let's look at it that way. And then I'm going to pivot the new church. For mainline. I think the future is on your neighborhood. Acknowledge the specific place that God has incarnated the body of Christ as a mainline church in that neighborhood, and get to know your neighbors. If you don't have a relationship with your closest elementary school, do that. If you have not walked your neighborhood, not to evangelize but to pray, just to pray for your neighbors. That is there is power in that. And then when you don't know what to preach and you don't know what to say, man, just talk about Jesus. He's the clearest picture of God that human beings will ever have. People justify all kinds of stupid things in the name of God, but you can't really use Jesus as an example for all the stupid things that have been used to justify the name of God. Get into your neighborhoods, care about the needs of your neighborhoods. Realize that the renewal of your church is primarily a spiritual act. It's not an organizational act. You can't you know. Your new sign does not replace praying for your neighbors. You know, you, you you get you better, make your property look nice, but that's not a replacement for the spiritual work. And then just focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus now. The real hope I also have from mainline churches, and this is something I've been involved in off and on for over twenty years now. I'm disciples of Christ, your disciples of Christ. We've started over a thousand new churches in the last twenty years in a vast majority of them are first second generation non white immigrant congregations, and they do two things I love. They are so they are they care about social justice and they preach Jesus Christ like crazy. They want to feed the hungry in their neighborhood and they speak in tongues and they care about baptizing people and they want to be advocates for their communities that are overlooked or beaten down. And I'm telling you, I have started two new churches in the suburbs I think we should almost abandoned that. We should be starting every single church that we can for Non English speaking immigrant communities. And what that's our future. I mean, if I don't want to sound like a run a hedge fund here or something, but if you were to better, if you were to put a hundred thousand dollars into starting one mainline progressive church in the suburbs, or taking a hundred thousand dollars and given it to a network of Hispanic Church second generation Hispanic church planners, who's going to have more baptisms in the next ten years? Like we know, then we know the answer to that. And every one of those church plants are going to start another. They have this sense of Dan of multiplication in their DNA that they're going to start those churches. And you know, I don't want to go off on another rant here, but you know, white mainline,...

...we had a nice run. We're not dead, but we should not be the ones soaking up all the resources here. Anything we could do to start non Anglo congregations is the best stewardship of our money. It's the best stewardship of our money. And then a church like mine that is ethnically diverse but still predominantly white. We should be starting a new congregation. We should be taken an initiative on that. To to you know, we need more strong track churches in the suburbs. I get that, but I know where you're going to get more bang for your buck and where you're going to get more disciples and we're are going to get more new churches and they're not going to look or sound anything like our county seat disciples churches in the Midwest and in the south, and I think I'm fine with that. I mean, I mean they be blunt. I really celebrated. I think I might actually have been will willman himself. They talked about the fact that we might be seeing a kind of reversal in that, in many ways, white mainline people years ago with a band of eyes, HMM, people in different parts of the world and everything, and now those people are immigrating and they're kind of evangelizing white mainline Protestant members, and I think you are correct in that. I know, but the the the the shakeup of that for institutional people like me is most of these congregations are not going to go to the General Assembly. They're not going to go to the regional assembly. They they're not going to spend in four hours on zoom for this General Assembly thing that we're doing. I'm glad they're trying it in August for disciples, but I'm not going and they're not going. But what they are doing is making disciple making disciples and that, and I will say this also. Can I do you mind if I just keep burning some bridges here? Are you all right? Would right? Had the biggest opposition to our ethnic churches that are thriving are our white liberals that wanted a more diverse church. They just don't speak the same theological language and I want him to turn up the volume on it. I is I've coached brothers and sisters that are non Anglo, that there's this desire, there's this sense of conformity, that mainline. It's like we can't help it, it's like we're we demand conformity of form and rather in theological language and function. And so basically it's like we love that you are from Argentina, we love that you are from Haiti. Now, if you could just learn to lead a church and speak like all of us that went to white disciple seminaries. That would be great and I just I have no stomach for that. I want to sit at their feet and learn and I want to worship the God that inspires them. Well, and we were both at the two thousand and Nineteen General Assembly for the disciples of Christ and I think was the first evening and I can't remember who it was, but it was someone that said something I think really beautiful. The only problem was that they didn't used inclusive language and people went crazy and they could not mine the good from that. They were more concerned about the form it was. They didn't do it the way that they should have done it, we would want to do and I'm kind of like, well, why, what is wrong with people sometimes that they were a kind of picking that up or or learning to kind of sift what they can agree with instead of always having to think it has to be exactly like we do it, because it's not going to be, and that's it. Just another form of fundamentalism in my opinion, and I practice...

...inclusive language to the best of my ability. It's something I believe in and I think it's a I think it would be a good continuing edg course for commission ministry and it doesn't make you a bad disciple if it's not part of your embedded prayer language. Not If we want first and second generation immigrant church plants like we say we do, which I do. So then where do you see the future for these churches in the next twenty, thirty years? I mean that the common belief is that they're not going to be around. I don't buy that. But what is you know? I think I think churches that worshiped one hundred and fifty, two, two hundred that really start to shrink. I think they're going to die quicker than smaller churches that have lost a few people, because they have no sense of identity outside of we pay someone to preach, we pay someone to run the youth group, we pay someone to answer the phone and clean the building, and their understanding of church is much different than a, let's say, a family sized Church of forty or fifty people or, if they want the ministers, a hired hand. That's not a pejorative that we know. We pay someone to preach the sermon and do our funerals, but we have a sense of mission independent of what the staff does for us. So I think we're going to have a whole lot of by vocational pastors. I hope we continue to plant churches that continue to look like the churches we plan for the last twenty years and receive the wide breadth of diversity in our country that we should be doing everything we can to get behind and rally around and support. But I think the I think those county seat churches that just have a big building that they neglected a little bit, that always had a hundred, fifty two hundred people, I think they're I think they're in for a tough way of the next twenty years. Do you think that's because of the changes in the culture? I think it's in the changes in the culture and I think it's being prepared for a world that really no longer exists. M Well, that I was A to wrap it up here, but there is one question that I do want to bring up because it's related, and that is seminary. Yes, is how our mainline seminaries preparing pastors for the world as it is, because there's a part of me that wonders, is that really happening, or are we preparing them for something either that we want to be or for something in the past? You know, I've really softened on my critique of seminary. To be completely honest, when we talk about preparing ministers for the world that is, rather than the world of the past, if my seminary would have done that for me, all I would have done was soaked up seeker sensitive worship services and had to reach baby boomers that want to send contemporary music like all we would have done was prepared me for the world of one thousand nine hundred and ninety nine, and that would be just as bad and as preparing people for the world of nineteen fifty four. If I, if I were dean of a seminary, Heaven Forbid, this is what I do. I'd make the first year. I'm aware that seminary, seminary education itself has changed completely, you know, but if you're doing an once a residency, if you're on if you're going to class that you're within a half hour of that kind of stuff, the first year is nothing but Bible. You are just immersing yourself and at least twenty four credits of Old Testament and New Testament. And the...

...second year is nothing but theology. I mean we're just starting, you know, early church, all the way up to the book that just came off the presses and you're reading all of that theology and Church history and then in your third year you take some kind of Integrative Ministry program that you get, you get credit for and that you have classroom work for so that you're practicing evangelism. We don't talk about stewardship enough. Every church has money problems and we never learn about stewardship and seminary. I guess that is the one thing I would harp on. But I think we need people well versed in the faith that understand the long arc of biblical interpretation, Church History, the development of theology and and immerse ourselves in that and the you know, the how different was the world now than it was five years ago, let alone twenty years ago when I was in seminary, and what the world's going to look like in five years or ten years? Maybe the things they have an answer that is just selling you a book or a head talk. None of us know that, and so I would I don't want to say give up on ministry in the world, because that's not true. If you want to learn how to do ministry in the world, go get on staff at a church's doing it right and you're not going to learn their pro rams, you're going to learn their philosophy. You know, people will, people have called me off and on like when you show me how to do this, and I'm like, I can give you the PDF that gives you the nine steps, but what you really need to know are the theological assumptions that undergirth that. Those are the things that are the most important to me. Okay, well, thank you. This has been an engaging discussion. Ha Ha. So, and I really truly mean that. It's been good and I think like you. I think it there is hope for these churches. They have a wonderful heritage and I'm, I'm all say, maybe somewhat optimistic that things will happen. It'll it'll be a challenge, but I think it can can change great. Well, Dennis, I appreciate you, I appreciate your witness, I appreciate your voice in the disciples and I've you know, we've got to know each other better over the last several years here, but I've always been an admirer of the the wide bandwidth of your thought. You know that's and you break a lot of stereotypes and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. Well, that's me. I tend to break people's brains by just existing for the we might. We might be the last two irving crystal has left in this world. All right, all right, thank you. Thank you so much, Dennis. I want to thank Jeff for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me. I hope that this was an enlightening conversation. It was for me. I'm hoping actually this is going to be the first of many conversations with thought leaders within mainline protestantism. So stay tuned. I hope to be interviewing some other people in the very near future. Well, again, thank you for listening to this podcast and I am thankful for your support, whether that support has been through just listening...

...or leaving a review or making the donation, all of that that helps and helps to keep this podcast going. So I want to say thank you again. Make sure to visit our website at and route podcast dot org. There you can actually sign up for the mailing list for our newsletter. That should be an issue. Should be coming out soon. So please go to the website sign up so that you will receive that in your inbox. While you're at the website, you can also listen to past episodes, you can read some recent articles that I've written and, of course, you can also go while you're at the website, to make a donation to support this podcast. Now, if you listen to this on a different various platforms again, please consider leaving either rating or review. That is it for this week or for this episode of en route notes on religion, politics and culture. I'm Denna Sanders, the host. I'll be back soon. Take Care and God speed.

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