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An Interview with Frank Rose, Part 2

Here, in the second section, Frank and Alanna discuss the limited role of women in the church, which is a potential stumbling block for newcomers. Frank then shares two scenarios that the Theological School could take to enrollment. Each attracts a different student body to dramatically different ends. Where does the church want to go? Read the first part here. -Editor

F: So what’s another question you might have?

A: Well, one thing I’ve been thinking about is gender equality. I went to two different weddings recently. One was a Lutheran service led by a young female minister, who was my age, and another was a Jewish wedding led by a female Rabbi. I talked at both places to people about the structure of their churches, asking when women were welcomed into those positions and how that took place. The responses I got from each were similar - the shift took place in the 1970s and 80s. It felt odd to see that the church that I identify with is thirty or more years behind where I see other churches. I realized that if I brought someone new to the church it would be hard for me to explain to them why a woman couldn’t be a minister.

F: Yes, oh yes. And you see, here again you have the difference between the headquarters view of the church and the frontier view of the church. In any congregation where you have a fairly high percentage of new people there’s ferment about this, because people come in and they say, “Why don’t you allow ordination of women?” And there the conversation’s going on, and often the answer seems so weak. “Oh, it’s because this reason, or this reason, or this reason.” They say, “What?” “Well, because the Writings...” “Well, show me in the Writings.” And they show them this and that, and [the newcomers] say, “But that doesn’t say you shouldn’t ordain women.” And they don’t buy into the argument. So in the frontier situations, it’s become an increasing embarrassment and hindrance to growth. Whereas in headquarters, where you don’t have as many new people, they’re more into the, “Well, we’ve got to do it right. And it must be right because we’ve been doing it all these years this way. We’ll change once you show us the rightness of this new concept of ordaining women.” But that takes forever, that kind of change.

A: Will you describe what you told me earlier, about two possible approaches the Theological School could take to enrollment?

F: Yeah. Okay, scenario number one is a representative of the Theological School goes to the boys’ school and says, “I represent the Theological School, and some of you might want to apply to Theological School. You may or may not get accepted. And after the first year, you have to apply again, and you may or may not get accepted then. And you might get your degree but not be ordained. And if you get your degree and are ordained, the chances are you’ll go out and serve a dying congregation—how many people would like to do that?” [laughing] That’s scenario number one. And scenario number two is, “I represent the Theological School.” (And now I’m looking to the future, so talking to the boys and the girls.) "We’re a small church, but we have an enormous future, and we’re looking for talented, energetic people to join the team and build the church. And we’d love you to apply to Theological School. And we’d train you as best we could, and give you everything we know. But then we would like to send you out and have you come back and tell us what you’ve learned so that we can all learn how to grow this church. And there’s an unlimited potential in the world. Who would like, who would like to sign up?” And the point I make is: the hands that go up in the second scenario are different than the hands that go up on that first interview. We have tended to attract people who love the doctrines, and some of them aren’t particularly comfortable with people, but they’re very comfortable with the books. And we need to attract people who like to work with people and who enjoy the challenge of going out and taking the church to others. And we’ve already seen some of that. We’ve seen some people come to Theological School with that goal, that idea, that, “I want to learn how to take this out to the world.”

A: Well, I really appreciate that perspective and that vision, it’s inspiring. Closing thoughts? Do you have anything else you’d like to add to this discussion?

F: Yes, and that is, one of the biggest weaknesses in any organization is the thought that we know something. It’s the not knowing that promotes growth, because you then have to say, “I need to look again. I need to look at the Writings again, but I also need to look at what’s actually happening.” The word ‘minister’ means to serve somebody else, to minister to them, and the whole point of the church is to minister to people. And you can’t minister to people unless you know people and unless you have some way of keeping in touch with them and really hearing from them what’s working for them.

Church growth can be summarized in two words: satisfied customers. And my definition of a satisfied customer is someone who comes to church and feels so good about it, they want to bring a friend. By that definition I don’t think very many of our people are satisfied customers. That’s what I mean about the church being in decline. Fewer and fewer of the people, even those who come to church, are what I would call really satisfied customers. Once you get satisfied customers, the sky’s the limit! But, as any firm producing any product knows, you’ve got to keep on learning, and you’ve got to keep modifying what you’re doing, because your goal is to serve people. And you can’t serve them unless you’ve satisfied their real needs. And the church is there to satisfy one of the most important human needs of all, which is our spiritual life. So, it’s got a great future, a great purpose, but, we will never serve that purpose unless we really learn to listen to people and have a willingness to translate something to serve them so they understand it and they can make it something that changes their lives.

A: Well, thank you.

F: Thank you.

Frank Rose