I was amazed to discover that a podcast I’d followed since its inception — StartUp Podcast — was going to be doing its latest season on church planting! And focussing on an Acts 29 church plant in Philadelphia, no less! The trailer itself is intriguing, hearing church planting talked about seriously by a secular narrative journalism source.
It turns out the reporter himself, Eric Mennel used to be an active Christian, involved in church plants, although its unclear exactly how he’d describe his religious beliefs now. There’s a bit more about this in the final episode of the season, where he ponders why he stopped going to church a year ago… about how he still would call himself a Christian but he struggles to ‘surrender’ himself to God.
He had actually featured in an earlier season of the podcast, talking about how the secular podcast company could be strangely intolerant of evangelical Christianity. That’s worth listening to… or even reading the transcript (I LOVE transcripts!) — here’s a short excerpt:
ERIC: I was sitting outside the studio listening, as is my job for these things. And you guys started talking about religious diversity in the workplace, which was fine and interesting, but you started talking about basically writing off populations essentially because we just have to decide like who are we gonna, what we value as a company and who are we gonna target as our audience member and what are we going to develop contents around and that..that worried me, a little bit when you guys started talking about that. You know Alex, you said you don’t think we have any Evangelicals on staff..I grew up going to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and I am still a practicing Christian, and I go to church every Sunday, I have like a life group that meets in the middle of the week and half of us are StartUp listeners, a lot of StartUp fans….
ERIC: But I think I don’t know that you want to cater to people who have the same beliefs as Rush Limbaugh, you don’t wanna to cater to radical beliefs in any sense like that’s not what we are trying to do, but like the thing like 71 percent of Americans identifies as Christians and there’s a large variety of Christian out there.
ALEX: How many people in the office know that you go to church every Sunday do you think?
ERIC: Probably a handful.
ALEX: Do you ever feel strange telling people?
ERIC: No less than 3 times did I stand outside with my headphones on listening and think about knocking on the door and then, like, no no no I’ll sit back down. When you said we don’t have any Evangelicals on staff or anybody who could..I almost like walked around almost to the window here so you can see me. Thought about waving but like, no no no, not right, not right. There’s always a tinge of discomfort like there’s always a little bit of discomfort when it comes up.
ALEX: What is that discomfort, are you worried about like incurring judgement on somewhere or is that something that you are worried about?
ERIC: I guess there is a fear about not being taken seriously to some extent. Because you believe in something that like some very smart people discount as complete hokum, you know? That you are therefore associated with that. As a Christian for me there is a feeling of responsibility to be open about your faith and to not cower when it’s easier to coward. Because it’s much much easier to deny Christ, you know, it’s much more comfortable.
There’s so much to like in this podcast… the same high production quality and skill at narrative journalism and hipster quirkiness that marks most Gimlet stuff, but also an amazing honesty and reality in the kinds of issues that the church planter and his wife (AJ and Leah Smith) talk about. They do a whole episode on the struggle between faithfulness and fruitfulness, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility that is really close to home!
Given that Eric Mennel himself used to be a very active evangelical Christian, it’s not surprising that he is very generous in his manner of reporting, really letting Christians speak for themselves on their own terms. Gosh, it’s refreshing! And it’s a great example of how helpful it is to be represented by your own community. Outsiders, no matter how well researched they all will just get things wrong in millions of little ways. So much of this StartUp season, by contrast, gets things right.