The Church Transforming with Alex Ruth

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

I first met our guest today out of the blue on Facebook about four years ago.  I was looking for some leadership coaching for the congregation I serve and he offered to help and help he surely did.  Alex Ruth has been a congregational leader for years.  In 2021 he was called to become the Associate Regional Minister for Transformation in the Illinois-Wisconsin Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) after years of serving in parish ministry, the most recent in Missouri.  Alex is also the Associate Director for Disciples Men and teaches with the Center for Ministry and Lay Training at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In our time together we talk about his call to help clergy and congregations respond to a changing culture.  Surprisingly we also spend some time talking about neurodiversity and the church.  Neurodiversity is a topic that is near and dear to my heart since I am on the autism spectrum and I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. 

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Transformation in Neural Diversity. This is episode one sixteen of Church and Maine. Well, Hello, and welcome to Church in Maine. This is the podcast where we are at the intersection of faith and modern life. And I'm Donna Sanders, your host. For those of you who don't know, I'm the pastor of a Christian church to Supples Christ Congregation in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was trained as a journalist before going into the ministry. So when I come to look at religion, especially mainline Protestantism, I look at it with a critical eye, and that's what this podcast is aiming to do. Well. I first met our guest today really out of the blue, was on Facebook and about four or five years ago, I was looking really for some help, some coaching for UM the congregation where I currently serve, and really he kind of offered to help, and and help he surely did. Um Alex Ruth has been a congregational leader for many years. UM in he was called to become the Associate Regional Minister for Transformation in the Illinois Wisconsin region of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. And that was after many years serving a parish industry, especially in Missouri. UM. His role at and we will go into this a little bit more during the podcast, but his role was basically defined as leadership development, healthy helping to create healthy congregations and community engagement UM and also he is the person that is helping to UM help congregations find new ministers, especially in UH south central Illinois UM. So we talk a little bit about his role in in the in the region, what that means especially really as as you can tell if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, kind of the ongoing nature about the changing church, especially after UM COVID, and we actually surprised rising ly get into a conversation about UH neural diversity in the church. Neuro Diversity is a topic that is near and dear to my heart since I am on the autism spectrum and I've been diagnosed with a d h D. So it was a surprise. We did not plan that, but I was quite happy to be able to talk about that important topic and how the church best responds to those um UM that are neural diverse. UM. Other things that you should know is that besides being the Associate Regional Minister, for Transformation. He is also the Associate director for Disciples men UM and he teaches with the Center for Ministry and Training at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So with that, let's listen to the discussion with Alec Ruth. Well, Alex, it's good to hear you, UM, talk to you again. It's been a while, it has It's good to talk to you as well, Dennis. So I think the first thing off is to tell me a little bit about what your position UM as UM kind of associate Regional Minister for transformation is all about UM in your region and how you relate to the churches. Thanks UM. Well, uh, here in Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin. UM, we've been able to have some uh really I think interesting ing...

...opportunities, and one of those is to have a couple of Associate Regional ministers and to then also have some UM specific folc I for those and and mine is as you said, transformation. And I've been really I've been in this position now for just over a year and really UM excited about some of the opportunities that we have before us UM and also maybe more so now than ever keenly aware of some of the challenges UM, that I think await us in the years to come. So, as I think we've talked about before, one of the things that is very obvious to me, I think very obvious to those of us in church leadership, from the congregation seal, through the denominational levels and probably beyond, is that we are in a state where transformation is going to have to be happening. Transformation, growth, development is the way of the church UM in the future. If we're if we're to continue to survive as a community of faith, we're going to have to adapt and change, transform to meet the challenges UM that we are experiencing UM in the world today, and to continue to share good news of a relationship with with God through Jesus the Christ UM. So I imagine you've seen, as many of us have, UM, there's been a decrease in church attendance post COVID. If we are in post COVID, that's not really an accurate term, or late stage COVID maybe UH is a better way to say that. But there was a dramatic change in the way we we function as churches UH in and in the years that have followed, UM, So how we address that, how we address our current socio political climate. UM. These are all things I think that are facing us for transformation uh in in our churches today. How do you think some of the churches, especially UM well in your region have dealt with COVID. UM, It seems like at least I've experienced. I think a lot of other pastors that I know have experienced COVID as a kind of a major disruptor. UM. There are some things that were good about that, but there were some things that, well don't they weren't so good it they were? They were different. UM. And how are churches in your neck of the woods faring with and handling that change? It depends a lot of it depends on how the strength of the church before, how leadership has been able to both clergy and lea leadership has been able to process and adapt and change. One of UM. One of the things that I think kind of tells a UM or at least UM is an indicator let's do it that way, is an indicator of the health of the congregation moving forward, is how have we adapted to the reality that we need to be doing some sort of digital church experience. UM. You know, how how are we adapting to UM having both and services so uh in person? Yes important UM. And churches that are continuing to thrive and do well. Are we're doing in person? We're doing in person? Well, it's it's changed probably since, but we're back to an in person service of some import At the same time, our congregations I think that are are surviving the best and and moving towards thriving. Are those who understand that we have in essence with an online congregation, you have to congregations UM. And how do you minister best to both? So opportunities for folks who are worshiping online, who who...

...are engaging the church through Bible study online and those kinds of things. I find those communities are best served when we do have some interaction uh, some UM interplay between between you know, clergy, so that you're not just spectating, that you're actively engaged in your being heard and listened to UM. So UM. I think that that's an important part of it. UM. And I've seen that in churches. UM. There are a few churches UM. They tend to be more rural churches who are not putting as much emphasis on that and the emphasis is really kind of almost UM exclusively a church that looks like much like it did in twenty nine and they're having some success to that. UM. Those are are more ice related UM. And those communities are such, like I said, more rural UM. That's probably UM. You know you've got generational churches UM where you're seeing three four generations of the same families still worshiping together, still living near one another. UM. So, as we moved to a more urban or even suburban city center kind of church experience, if you're not having some kind of hybrid and and a hybrid that engages UM the online audience as more than just passive observers of church, I think those are some of the some of the things that are UM have been most important to see churches that are thriving UH, those that I serve. Will you talk about the kind of heavy something more than passive observance. What kind of examples could you give UM so, and this has usually happened in somewhat smaller congregations. That's difficult to do in a hundred or two hundred member church UM, but in a smaller congregations, I've seen a couple that have instead of live streaming, have stuck with a more zoom feel UM or one of the other platforms that works. Zoom is the most common UM amongst the churches UM. And one thing that I think is particularly interesting is church that I know of that has stayed with the zoom feel and UH. Instead of projecting like words two songs and sermons and prayers and things like that on the screens in the sanctuary, what they've done is they project the zoom or Him on the screen in the sanctuary. So those in the sanctuary are seeing those who are worshiping virtually on the screen, and those on the screen are not just seeing the efficiant, but they're also seeing the congregation m HM. So at times of congregational call and response, you're seeing congregation UH, and when it is just the pastor giving a sermon or whatever. So there's a sense of even though we are separated by distance, we are still in the same space together UM, same virtual space together. And I think that that is particularly helpful. Another thing that I've seen that is helpful is not around the worship experience as much, but it's an emphasis on if we're going to have a Bible study, if we're going to have, you know, a group that meets outside that we are intentional about making sure that that's a hybrid space UM, or maybe even going beyond that and making it all virtual. Uh, you know, so that everybody gathers virtually in that space. It's kind of in UM an equalizing feel levels the playing field. UM. Four folks that there aren't Oh, there's these ten people that are gathered and they're going to have the conversation that goes on after the zoom room shuts down, after the Bible study is over, the meeting, after the meeting, so to speak. UM. But this way, if if you stay where everybody is in their homes um and and zooming in UM, there's a little bit of that level of leveling of the playing field. UM. So there's that that I think helps be more than just participants uh still active and UM. I've...

...started talking and encouraging churches to to have somebody who's even if you're just doing a Facebook live stream, to have somebody who's physically there in the church who's also on that live stream and you know, can can respond to any comments that are made, prayer requests that are submitted, can inform the pastor or the lay leader, UM, whoever is is up on the chancel at that point or in the front of the congregation. You know, if there's a prairie request, they can pass that along. UM. That again builds that community and reminds everyone that that we're still connected. Um, we're just connected physically. UM. How do you think that churches have been able to kind of pivot in the way that they need to to do all of this, because it's it's a rather quick you know, everything has happened really quickly that you know, before before COVID and I think twenty nineteen, you know, if you were thinking about Facebook, you were doing some things and you know, like me, I I we did some things online, but you know the most that you did was maybe a sermon podcast that you would do it. And I think that that's really flipped um quickly that I mean, I'm doing more video than I've done before. And I also when I'm by vocational, so I worked actually doing communications at a Lutheran church UM in the suburbs, and they are also really having to pivot quickly. UM. I mean, how are churches handling that pivot? Are some are they able to kind of do that really fast, and usually that means puts everything on the pastor to yes, yeah, yeah, that's a great question, UM. And and the answer is probably very disciple UM, in that some are doing it well and some aren't. You know, some or some of face challenges with that. And I think in the best cases, UM, that hasn't all followen on the pastor. In the best cases, there's been a team of leaders that come together and are working on it together. The reality though, is uh a lot of that depends on the size of the congregation. It depends on the giftedness of the congregation. Who else has some of those skills and abilities, who else has the time to gain them. So when COVID first hit and we were you know, churches went from being in person to entirely virtual at the snap of fingers, UM, there was a lot of pressure on pastors to be able to make that pivot and it was a challenge. And there were several different models that I witnessed. Are our colleagues using UM in the church that I was serving at that time, UM, I had the technical know how and not many others did. UM. So yes, I did take on a lot of that I'd also been serving that church for an extended period of time. By the time COVID happened, I think i'd been there thirteen years. So um that made that transition to a fairly clergy centric model for a time, okay, because we all knew one another, the relationships were there. UM. Where I think I've seen the biggest challenge among churches and colleagues is folks who were in transition um at the time of COVID. So I know a church UM here in Illinois, Wisconsin where their pastor arrived was called and arrived in the community on the day that the shutdown order happened m hm. So their first experience of the church and the church's first experience of them as their pastor was entirely online mm hmm. And that was difficult. It was really hard, certainly in those first month or two when we were completely um separated from one another. It's really hard to build relationships in that form um so clergy that we're starting just pre COVID,...

...and then in the first pretty much if you started in maybe even late nineteen but if you started serving a church or your church had a pastoral transition in that time, UM, very few of those churches and those pastors are still in that relationship with one another. It was just so hard. Um. Yeah, I saw that happened with someone I knew who um an E l C. A pastor e C. A Lutheran pastor that started really right around the time of the shutdown. And she is no longer at that congregation. So that's that's. Uh, it's a story that we we hear and I hear over and over again because it really and maybe this is it's a little more such more so in churches UM like disciples that are very congregationally based, um, because you know, I think it's important that in our kind of d n A and in our ethos that we are um congregationally lay lead churches. You know, I think that is important. Now, again there's some variants on that when you got talk size of churches. As you move up in your size of church, yes, a little more emphasis is going to shift towards uh the clergy. Uh, senior pastor is going to take on a different role. Um, I think fairly naturally in that kind of situation. But um, but most of our churches are small to mid sized churches, and uh, and we have a lot of la leadership. You know, elder leadership is important. Elders preside at tables in different ways, uh is some of our churches. And what happened when we had to go entirely virtual was figuring out how to do that was really really difficult. UM. So we went to a model that was very pastor centric. UM. And that's not every pastor's gifting. You know, not every pastor is is comfortable on video leading zoom uh, you know, operating all the controls of a zoom while it's still trying to lead and preach and worship. UM. Not every pastor can do that UM. And so that became very difficult UM. And I think was part of it. UM. So you know, those those pastors that that thrived found ways to involve UM and maintain that involvement of the laity. UM. Keep people, keep those connections in those relationships UM going uh in in creative ways. UH. Some some much more creative than than the ways that I came up with. UM. And I've found myself having a little bit of clergy. And over these past couple of years, I was like, Wow, I wish I'd have thought of something that unique and exciting, UM, but uh, you know, we do what we can UH. And I want to give a lot of grace uh to to anybody who might be joining us and listening and saying, you know, we all just do the best we can. UM. Some please, there's there's no judgment in any of this. This is just UM, an assessment of what I think I've seen, UM. And I certainly I look back at my own response to COVID and say I will should have done this differently or that differently. UM. But we were pivoting. Happened, you know, that happened quickly to most of us. UM. And it was a dramatic shift. UM. And those shifts don't happen super often, or at least they have not happened super often in our world in our history. I believe that, UM. One of the things that we are finding is that things are happening more rapidly these days. You know, the new cycle is much much shorter. UM. Our access to information is is you know, there's no lag there anymore, or very little lag. UM. So you know, our our world is moving at a pre rapid pace these days, and so being able to pivot and adjust quickly is skill that I think we all have to to learn and kind of find the ways in which it works best for us. Yeah. I think when one of the interesting things is noticing...

...among the generations, um who pivot Um. You know, I'm guessing that you're around my age. That would make your generation X. And you know, I think that there was a time when we thought we were the vanguard of of kind of everything social media and all that stuff. Yeah, we're not anymore. Um. So it's fascinating seeing and you know, you would say it's a millennial, but I would say even really young millennial and actually generate gen z u pastors, because I think we are starting to see gen z pastors who they take to this like fish to water and it's like, yeah, that's It's like, yeah, I'm not going to compete with that. You know. It's just it's really hard because for me, it's not something that is as natural, and I think for them it's just they understand how to do their videos on Instagram and TikTok and and you know, and they're just naturals at that. Yes. And at the same time, not only is it just the clergy, but we've got to take into account what do our congregations look like. UM. And that's been where I think we you and I as as gen xers UM, still may have a slight advantage UM in that we're still a bridge generation UM where we can we understand um the world of our you know, slightly older boomer friends UM and boomer folks that are still in the churches UM, which is still a large number. I mean that boomer generation is just so numerically large that it is still still makes a significant impact in our world. UM. And at the same time, we can look at our younger colleagues and younger church members who are you know, in their thirties and down into their twenties and UM, you know, even down into their upper teams, you know, young adults UM. And and we can see them and see how their world is different. So we can serve as a bridge to kind of have those two kind of communications happening at the same time. UM. But you know, a lot of the churches that I go into, I'm still relatively young, and I'm pushing fifty. And if I'm still relatively young when I walk into that that church, UM, or you know, maybe the pastor or a couple of families are younger than me. Um, we got that's something to take into consideration too. How how easy is it for the congregation to access the um the technology and the shifts that were that are happening in the world because they're just not We weren't trained for it. You know, that was something that that we knew growing up. You know, I even in college, you weren't talking for me. We weren't talking about you know, color screens. If you're talking about color screens for your computer, it was a color you know, it was still a monochrome, whether you played on the green screen or the amber screen. Was kind of the way of things even in college for me in the early early nineties. Um, I was in college about the time that the Internet went public. You know, so email wasn't a thing back then. You know, my my daughter in college now obviously she handles everything online. You know, all her class uses are selected online. I still had to go talk to somebody. We had to fill out a piece of paper, and that piece of paper had to be trans transported physically over to another building and then they had to sit down within you know, check marks on other pieces of paper. It's all electronic these days. UM. And so yeah, the speed of things is happening, and I think or is has increased. UM. And one of the reasons probably the church's lag is that we are also predominantly older. The church has grade over the years, UM. And there's probably a hundred and fifty different reasons for that. UM. The overarching is that, uh, we've lost some connectivity, we've lost some relevance UM through the years. And the why that has happened again, that's probably a conversation that can can take a couple of hours on another day. But UM. So not only do we have to think about how...

...we pivot as pastors, but how do our congregations um still access church UM for the older congregation, older members of our congregations, that is still going to be in person UM. And so we still have to make sure that we've got ways that we're um, you know, serving their needs, filling their needs, meeting their needs UM and at the same time educating about the expectations that you know, younger younger members of the congregation. We might see once a month, they might watch every worship service, you know, they might see them all online, UM, which is another thing to think about. You know, uh, I think gen X, you and I think we're still the I think we're the Facebook generation. Once we start getting down into the millennials, they're less interested and not on um Facebook, or certainly don't use it as much. So if we're live streaming to Facebook, is that the most effective way to reach them? Mm hmm, I maybe not. You know, maybe there are other ways, um, other ways to get that information or to you know, to to engage a different demographic. Yeah, this is you know, I have done some stuff on UM, starting to do some stuff on TikTok, and there are That's an interesting medium for a lot of different reasons. And Yo, one it's just so different. I still always have a little bit wariedness about privacy concerns, but I try to be careful on that too. But but just on the whole trying to do TikTok, it's it's like me trying to learn German, which is not impossible. You can learn a new language, but it's very different because it's you have a whole I think generation that they're used to things that are much more quick and to the point, very short. UM. So you know, this is not where I'm going to be doing soliloquies um. And I think that that's something that's difficult too, because it's it's just such a different language than Facebook, for for example. Yes, and yet the thing I've started doing that I started watching um so I have I've yet to record a video for TikTok. Um. I thought I was going to do one UM this October for clergy appreciation and then I didn't. Um I got cold feet. UM So I don't I don't know when my first video will ever be post did on TikTok. Um. I don't know that I have fully thought about what I want to say yet, and so that that's kind of one of the things that's been holding me back. But I've been watching TikTok for a while UM, and what I'm finding is, in addition to the brevity UM. Yeah, I think I've discovered that there's yet another layer, maybe to the conversation about generations, and that layer is talking about issues of accessibility um and Um. I've been particularly interested in issues of diversity and on TikTok and the issue that comes up most for me is the issue of nerd diversity UM, which is something that we have not talked about in churches, and I think an area that we are we're way behind the curve, maybe UM, because it's a conversation that has not been had. UM. So when we start thinking about uh, I think I think we've had uh maybe a centering of a neurotypical UM framework that I'm not sure actually exists UM or if it does exist, all right, maybe I should say it this way. There has been My eyes have been open to the breadth and um beauty of the diversity of our way of thinking about the world, a way of processing information, and way of you know, the ways in which we are...

...many of us neurologically diverse in one way or another. UM. That was I first began my journey into kind of thinking about that a little more uh several years ago when I had a young man whose family I knew, and a young man is autistic UM, and so I began to Uh. His name is c J. So I began to figure out how how to communicate with c J differently. UM. You know, I have sarcasm is one of my natural languages, but I can't use sarcasm with CJ UM because it just doesn't process UM. So I needed to be more clear in my communication UM with him, and then certainly we had some really fun conversations about faith. But see J is very concrete in his thinking, and faith topics are often not concrete. We're talking very you know, complex and ethereal kinds of conversations or language that I'm used to using all of a sudden, I can't use anymore those metaphors, just I had to shelve them. Um. So there was that was my first kind of experience. UM and and UM. I think it is safe to say when you've met and a person with autism or an out an autistic person. However they prefer to delineate that you've met one autistic person. UM. Yeah, there's a lot of difference and diversity even within that. So what works for one is it was what works for one. UM. So my experience with c J was my experience with c J. Since met um other friends who are somewhere on the autism spectrum. UM and uh different each time each person has a has a different expression of that. UM. What I'm also noticing now is a prevalence of d H d uh certainly amongst our genets, friends and colleagues. UM. Probably myself included, I think I'm undiagnosed UM at this point. UM. So that's one of my New Year's resolutions early UM is to pursue and figure that out for myself over the next twelve months or so. But UM, we start talking about a d h D and how UM folks with a d h D or some form of that, uh process information and access information differently. Our church services are not really well designed for that. My son has a d h D UM, and yeah, church is not a thing that he can do because because he doesn't process information in the same way UM, not UH disability, it's a different ability, you know, he just processes information differently. And so one of the things that I think we have the opportunity as churches moving forward, UM, is to consider how best do we meet the needs and learning experiences and UM social experiences of a very diverse population UM, and and diverse in ways that we just that you can't see when you first look at someone, right, because that's that's one of the things with neurodiversity, is you can't see someone's mind, and with some some exceptions, you may not know, no, at least when you first see somebody, you may not know. UM what they're what they're, UM, what they're neurological frameworks are like. UM, you know, people wouldn't know until they spent a lot of time with me. They probably won't know the things that are a d h D like that are in my life. Um. Some that really helped me focus and get work done in in some creative ways. Um. Others certainly hinder me from doing anything creative. You know, these those kinds of things. Somebody on the autism spectrum, you're not going to know that when you walk up to them maybe, UM, And you know,...

...well, it's interesting kind of you bring that. I mean I am on both um because I was diagnosed with Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum, and a d h D. UM, which makes it really interesting. Um. The world is unique because on the one hand, I try to do something short is UM hard because I can just talk about anything. UM. But UM, you know sometimes the whole about faith being concrete, um, that is is a challenge. I mean, I think you learn, at least what I learned as I was getting growing up, is that there are just some things that don't compute, don't always make sense, and that's kind of what faith is is that you kind of have to trust that it's there. Um. But it's not something that comes easy. UM. You know, there is a I think it's stereotypical. I don't know if it's really always that true, but UM, a belief that people who are in the spect intent more to be atheist because it's harder for them to And I think that there is I can see that. I don't think it's impossible for someone on the spectrum to have faith. It's just that I think we access it very differently, and it has to be accessed differently because we can't. Yeah, I can't see it in the same way that other people have seen it. Yeah. And some of that is UM also maybe a a greater awareness or still changing morphing understanding of um, understanding of the breadth of our diversity. Um. That's the hard way of saying. We didn't use we called autism other things when you know thirty forty fifty years ago, Uh, we called a d h D something different or didn't we forced folks to fit into a mold differently years ago we were learning that maybe we need to adapt the way we teach, the way we you know, do lots of things to to adjust it. And the same is true around issues of mental health. Um. You know, we hear issues today that we would describe as a mental health issue when we read ab out them in the Bible. It's you know, reported as demonic possession. We would describe that as not demonic, not possession, but we would describe it as maybe a mental health issue. A notable one would be, you know, we are a legion. Maybe it was D I D. We don't know, but we would certainly think about things differently. Um uh. In today's world, we do the same thing about a lot of issues in that scientific realm because we've made some understandings discoveries. Has has changed through the years. You know, the majority of the world no longer believes that the world is flat, nor is the Earth the center of the universe, things that may have been held in the ancient world. Um. So, one of the things that I think we're you mentioned, you know, a lot of a lot of folks who are on the autism spectrum are um or at least the stereotype is that they tend to be atheist. I think we're also just finding a greater, um greater experience maybe that that more people who are atheists are willing to say that they are UM. And at the same time, we're finding out that more people UM are some are are never diverse in in some uh some passion. So, you know, I think both of those maybe increasing. I don't know that they're related. They could be m but I think we One of the things we're experiencing these days is UM a change in the way we understand the world around us. So, you know, the understanding of typical, what...

...is typical that that's kind of diminishing. Uh. You know, I'm I'm reticent to say what is typical or standard or you know, centered in any kind of experience because I don't know that that really exists anymore. I don't know that it ever existed. But our worldview has shifted so much that now that we we understand that, maybe it doesn't exist. You know, your experience of life is dramatically different than mine. We grew up with different, you know, different experiences growing up UM by living in different places, by being different people, by having different people in our lives. What does a typical experience look like? I don't know. I don't know that there is one UM. And so to take a science metaphor. We've moved from kind of this predictable Newtonian understanding of the world towards a much less predictable, quantum understanding of the way things are happening. Things aren't as cut and dry, nice and neat as we once thought they were. M hmm, I'm for I for one, I'm okay with that. UM. Frankly, I like it. UM. I think it adds some beautiful diversity to our understanding of the world. At the same time, it is challenging to UM find words and images and ways of understanding that transcend my experience, because your experience is different. So at the same time, I think one of the things that that I'm noticing, UM, is that the importance of narrative and story is still growing UM. And that understanding in the church as as we continue to understand the importance of narrative UM, and narratives that over or that transcend, you know, overarching narratives that transcend the stories of our lives. UM, as we begin to talk about that a little bit more and understand that a little bit better in churches, UM, that's where I have a real hope UM. And that's where I think the most hopeful of our futures kind of lie in understanding and appreciating the diversity of our world UM. And that that is best expressed, I think, at least right now, best expressed through the idea of story, UM and relationship and conversation. Do you think that that's something that we haven't been good at in the past, That you know, the story was not something that was good, and now of a sudden we're or it wasn't really I shouldn't say it wasn't good, It wasn't wasn't really thought of And now that we're having to try to figure that out. Yes, And I think it's a it's a um, we're retracing our steps um. Because obviously there was a time uh. And I'll go back to biblical uh. You know, ancient world stories was all we had, right UM. What I think happened um is post Renaissance UM. Certainly as we entered into the modern era, we had the Austrial Revolution, and we had this this technological revolution that has since UM superimposed itself on top of the industrial revolution. I think we began to think about humanity as those machines of industry UM, and and that we were somehow you know that we could be patterned and reproduced. And quite frankly, that's our you know, public public education system UM is an industrial model. If you think about it, We're going to pour this these pieces of information into if you know these pieces of information, if you have these add ons to your UM. You know, we we installed we install algebra, and we install you know, English, and we install history modules. Uh and and then you'll be able to function well in society. You'll be able to carry out the work. UM. I...

...don't love that model. I mean I understand it, and it may be the best model we have for education because everything else is super complex. UM. But it's not really reality because humans are not machines UM, and we are way too unique. We are more like individual craft pieces. UM. Then we are products of an assembly line. So UM that goes in hand in hand. I think with we lost some of the beauty UM for efficiency, and now we're trying to regain that beauty while still maintaining some of the efficiency. And and that's an interesting I think we live in an interesting time. I don't know how that's going to turn out, UM, I don't know how it turns out of my own life. So is that do you think that that's an issue, especially with mainline Protestant churches that especially of the maybe from the mid century of the twentieth century, it was very much that kind of industrial model that I just know and that we're trying to now have to it's not working anymore. No, it's not. I don't know that it ever did. It certainly looked like it did. UM. It's a there's a combination as an industrial model, UM. And then we have layered on top of that, maybe in UM the late twentieth century. UM, so the nineteen seventies, eighties, nineties, I think we see layered on top of the industrial model a corporate model mm hmm. UM. And I don't know that either model is great for the church, UM, but we still have them. I can't count the number of churches that I've that. UM. You may have had a similar experience where UM, at least ten years ago, the Constitution by laws looked pretty much like they did in nineteen seventies. As a matter of fact, they may have been the nineteen seventy version of the Constitution of by laws UM, and hadn't been adapted much by you know, UM. And you know that's that's not good because because we're not in the same world. The water in the river has has flowed past us, we're not in the same world anymore. UM. So yeah, I think it is particularly UM has been particularly impactful for mainline Protestants, Like you said, certainly those of UM churches. UM, that we're kind of born of that modern or modern era, that modernist ideal disciples, maybe particularly partially just because that's what I know bad. Um. You know, we were a quote unquote frontier church with all the challenges that come with that word and idea. UM, but we were very very much born out of this idea of modern modernity, of industrialization. UM. That's really when we were getting our Uh. You know, the foundation of our church goes back to that. And UM. There are others that that handle that better maybe differently, um, but yeah, you know, I think there's a sense in which maybe the evangelical church faces some of those same challenges. Well, I was gonna kind of say that, and I don't want to because I think it's always easy to kind of dump on them. Yeah, you're right, but but there there is some of that too. It's just that it's just different. It's not the same that you would find in a mainline church. But there is a kind of a corporatiss kind of model, especially kind of one worship and all that that. I think, I don't know if it's working as much anymore in there field. I mean, it's I think that both traditions are kind of having to realize that this is more of a craft than it is a you know, kind of a factory. And that's that's it's a different mindset. And I'm just thinking about this. So this is a completely unprocessed thought. So I could be entirely wrong. Um, but if my memory of church history serves the evangelical church kind of as a movement as a whole really happened a little bit later than what we classically defined as...

...like a mainline Protestant church, UM, that that was a later development. And so I think you said something interesting there that's kind of got me. Now I'm thinking about something that will have to do a little bit of more pondering on. UM. But the evangelical, more evangelical expressions of Christianity tend more you're right towards that corporate model. UM, or maybe even and I hadn't even thought about this until now, but almost an entertainment model exactly that that maybe I haven't considered. But if we think back towards like the eighties and nineties, again entertainment changed and really supplanted in some ways corporation. Mm hmm um that we really shifted towards with the advent of cable television, um, and now streaming and and internet has has made some changes to that as well. That's an interesting UM. I have to I'm going to have to give that one some some some consideration and thought, um, because most of my UM thought about church leadership and organization has We've we've talked about the industrial, talked about corporate, but I haven't talked about the model of entertainment. Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. I think there is something to that whole kind of model of and which I also think is maybe why it was in some evangelical church is a lot easier to pivot, yes, because a lot of this was entertainment or based on an entertainment And you know, I don't say that saying that the message what they weren't taking that seriously, but it was that was the model. But I don't know if that's working. Yeah, I wonder if it's still working. I don't Yeah, I would say that, at least for me, that never worked great. I was involved when I was a teenager, so in the eighties, I was involved in a nondenominational church. UM and you know, a lot of formative stuff happened through that congregation, But it was it was a cross between and has become more so entertainment. But it was crossed between corporation and entertainment models. UM. And But like I think, like you, I want to be very careful as I say that, because entertainment could be seen as a judgment on and I don't want to make it a judgment about faithfulness, about about any of those things. It's not. I think it's just a frame. I'm talking about entertainment only as a framework for the way in which we engage the community. The point to the point of church in those churches like that has always been to help people understand and begin to develop a relationship with God. Has been that. UM. Does it work for everyone? That's a question that can be answered. Is it the best model? Again a question that can be asked and answered differently. UM, Is it a faithful model? Again, We've got all sorts of questions. Does it breed folks who might be in it more for notoriety than for actually growing the kingdom of God? Maybe? Um, but I don't want to make that. I certainly don't want to make that over our change judgment. Um. You know, we could talk about specific situations all day long, and even there I'd be hesitant to try to pass judgment. I still want would want to assess and evaluate from my perspective, how well did that work? Okay? Um? And you know there are there are certainly pros and cons, benefits and detriments to any format you know. Um. Uh. We everything that we we developed that we called church, um, the religions and the institutions that we build, Um, they are human seeking after the divine and so therefore fraught with challenges. Um. We don't do anything perfectly. Nope, No we don't. And that's okay. Sometimes those imperfections are quite beautiful. H I've got a I made made for us during COVID, I kind of...

...re entered my woodworking phase of life. I made a coffee table m hmm. And it isn't perfect. Um, it's become less perfect over time. UM, but there's there's some beauty there UM. And I you know, uh, I still remember the process um, which was the most important for me. And it wouldn't come as any surprise that anyone who knows me at all that I tend to be a process the elogion as well. UM. That that's what resonates for me. UM. It always has um once I really have given it some thought. UM. And so for me it is about journey and change and growth and um and oh that word transformation UM. You know, growth, development, discernment, transformation. Those are all key kinds of things in the world, at least the way I envision it UM. So UM. Yeah, I don't want to be again I want to say, I don't. I don't want that to be a judgment on evangelical Christianity, because without it, I wouldn't be who I am today mm hmm. And yeah, and that's kind of why I'm a bit hesitant, because I'm the same way I grew up, came from an evangelical background, and while I may not agree with some things theologically, I don't miss it because without it I wouldn't be who I was, right right, and we can have those I think we can. I hope we can have those debates and conversations and dialogues because I think if we have them, and we have them, well we all grow and we learn. UM and and those are that's what's really really um exciting to me. UM. It's why I've been blessed to be able to maintain relationships with folks from a wide spectrum of faith, Christian and otherwise, because those relationships and those conversations have really helped me understand what it is I believe h and how I want to live out live that belief out in my life. UM. So, yeah, I may come to different decisions that their decisions may not be mine. Uh, it may not be where I would choose to worship or would feel comfortable or fed in worship. That doesn't mean it's not important for somebody. UM. And I really do have faith that a majority of majority of leaders, regardless of what kind of religious body you're a part of, the majority are really in it for the right reasons. You know, they really are hoping to um create or um um co create or recreate a community of faith that draws people closer to one another and closer to the divine however, they you know, imagine and explain those those concepts. So wrapping this up, I want to ask this question is, since you are mintaryly deals with transformation, where do you see churches five years down the line, especially in mainline churches, churches in your region? Um, and where do you think culture is heading that the churches kind of have to adapt to. I think we're going to see, um, churches continue to adapt and evolve, maybe almost retracing our steps in some ways. UM. I see us being a little bit smaller continually. Um, that's not a bad thing. UM. I think there needs to be an intentional emphasis on building community and relationships. And one way to do that has worked in the past and I think will continue to work in the future is very intentional small group models. So a larger congregation needs to be really intentional about being small groups focused. Smaller congregations are already small groups. UM, we just need to be intentional about it again, intent and thinking carefully about what we're doing. UM. I think the online is not going away. Hybrid is not going away, So find a way to embrace it.

Find a way that works for you and the congregation you're a part of. UM to build and maintain those relationships. UM. I think that is going to be the emphasis and probably should have been our emphasis all along, has been in some places to greater and lesser extents, but an emphasis on relationship, on building those true communities that really do support one another. UM. As we journey through this life. UM, and I think it's also going to be important for us to address those issues of diversity. UM. We're going to have to find ways to to better minister to a broader spectrum of folks. UM. So how how do we address neurodiversity in our forms of worship, in our life together? How do we make that work for more people? UM? And I think that that is often done, like I said, better in a smaller, smaller group. It's difficult to do that in large group settings. UM. It's difficult, not impossible, but difficult. We need to be you know, different learning styles that we've we've talked about through the years, those kinds of things. We've got to take those all into into account. UM. So churches will be smaller, we need to be nimble. UM. And UH, just know that the world's gonna keep changing. It's gonna keep changing. And I think one of the particular challenges for us as disciples, maybe a good number of mainline UH denominations, is we've got to figure out the ways in which we take UH an important position on some of the very pressing issues of our day. Climate change, UM, reproductive rights, racism, patriarchy. These are all issues that often we just have not talked about, at least didn't talk about when I was growing up. UM. And they are issues of faith, UM. And and we need to be able to have some really constructive dialogues. And you know, it's time for the church to take leadership again and beyond the cutting edge in some of these areas. We mainline churches, we've been silent for way too long, UM, because we've been afraid that if we take this standard that stand, we might alienate somebody, might push somebody away. And yeah, that's a real that's a reality. And I get it, UM, And I know that's difficult. I've fell into that same thing as a congregational pastor. UM. I kind of still fall into that same trap as regional middle judic y ministry because you know, I'm trying to trying to keep people happy, because quite frankly, I do like to be able to eat and have a nice, nice house and a roof over my head, and warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. I like all those things. And that's real. It requires keeping people happy and and funding the ministry. But at the same time, I think, um, we we have to have to identify what are important issues are and cultivate ways to have helpful, in life giving conversations around that so that we can really be transformative of our world and society. UM. Maybe it's my evangelical upbringing, but sometimes I noticed that churches play too heavily on the not of this world idea. Um. Maybe not, but we're in it right now, and I think part of our call as people of faith is to make a positive impact in the world. UM. So I really want to hold up that. Yeah, let's take a stand, uh and stand up for what is right. Um. And many people are doing that. Um. But but we live in a time where that is difficult. UM. And Uh, I don't think it makes it any less important. Okay, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much for this conversation. It's been great, Dennis, it's been great. I kind of wish we were a little bit closer and we talked more often, but we've got zoomed we should do this more often. Well, we will try definitely. All right, all right, take...

...care. Well. I hope that you enjoyed the the time with Alex UM and I hope that it was helpful for your ministry. So a note about the podcast UM. For the last year so I my podcast host has been sounder UM, which I've has been a very good podcast those and they have decided they're not They're still doing something podcast audio related, but what they won't be doing is podcast hosting. UM. That will be actually ending up ending very soon. UM. So I have moved the podcast over to sub stack, So if you've already subscribed to the podcast, you don't have to do anything, just keep listening as you always do. UM. That's said, since we are it would be on on substack and substack does allow for writing and all that. I'm going to be putting more content on the site, written content on the site, UM, and I'm thinking at some point, I don't know when that's you know, some of those articles and maybe UM, I also do videos of these interviews that before it goes up on YouTube. I may put them, um kind of behind a paywall, UM for people to watch before they go public, so that won't happen right away. UM. I really want to build up the content and um really the readership and listenership on the site first. But you can check things out by going to Church and Maine at dot substack dot com. UM. And I think I'm also going to be moving the Church and Maine. UM. I've been using podcast page for the public website, but since this is going to be on sub stack, it probably makes more sense to not have that anymore. So that UM, the Church and main dot org UM will will probably at some point be pointing to the sub stack page. UM, so just that you be aware of all of that. So that is it for this episode of Church and Maine on Dennis Sanders, your host. As always, say thank you so much for listening. It really means a lot. Please share this episode with someone that you know, take care, god speed, and I will see you very soon.

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