Collin Hansen

On today's show, Mike Cosper from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky is sitting down with Collin Hansen from Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama and the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. They talk about his work on the "young, restless, and reformed," the church's place in a shifting culture, and his own personal journey into ministry and his life's work. 

Learn more about Redeemer Community Church here.
Learn more about Sojourn Network here


Amber Williams: Hey, this is Amber William from Sojourn Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and this is Sojourn Network.

Mike Cosper: Hey there, welcome to the podcast. My name is Mike Cosper, and I'm one of the board members of Sojourn Network, where we exist to plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches that last.

Each week on our show, pastors and leaders from the network sit down to talk about church planting and ministry. What they've learned, how they've grown, and what they might be able to pass along to others.

Today's show is a little unique. I'm sitting down with Collin Hansen. Collin is an Elder at Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, which is a Sojourn Network Church. But for his day job, he's the Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition. 

He's also the author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. That book came out about 10 years ago, and in the time since, Colin has had a front row seat for the Reformed Movement because of his work at TGC. He's uniquely qualified to talk about that movement, to talk about pastoral faithfulness, and about the church's place in a shifting culture. So we talk about all of that, and we talk about Collin's own journey, his personal journey, into ministry and into his work.

I also consider Collin a dear friend, so we had a great, wide-ranging conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening.

Collin Hansen: I grew up on a farm in South Dakota. That's shaped me in a lot of ways that I do understand, and I'm sure in a lot of ways that I don't understand. My father is still a farmer. He'll turn 60 years old this year. 

My mom's just about to retire as a preschool special ed teacher. My dad was also the chairman of our school board, and my grandfather had served on that school board, the same ... So we had all ... My mom, and my grandparents, all went to the same school. 

I lived right down the road from my great-grandmother, and my grandparents. Then next door to us were my aunt and uncle, and two of my cousins. That's in a corner of southeastern South Dakota. Fairly isolated. 

When you grow up five miles outside of a town of 250 people, that's how you know you're a little bit isolated. Fifteen minutes from a town of 5,000 people, and then about 45 minutes from a town of about 150,000 people. That's Sioux Falls.

Yeah, a loving home. My dad had been an engineer in college, and so just in terms of farming, he was not particularly successful, but not for want of effort and for want of know-how and even brilliance. But growing up in the '80s and '90s on farm was just not exactly a lucrative proposition.

In fact, at one point, I had two uncles and my grandfather and my dad who were all working on the farm, and through a crisis in the 1980s that shrunk down to my grandfather part-time, and then my dad. 

That was, I mean ... there's no bone in my that ever could have been a farmer. I don't know what would have happened. I guess I just would have been some kind of esoteric failed farmer in a previous generation, or something like that. I don't really know how that was supposed to work. But also, there was never really any particular encouragement toward that. Probably because ... I mean, it didn't take my dad long to realize I didn't have much of an aptitude for it. 

I would say, interesting, farming makes me think a lot about ministry in general, because both are callings. I mean, I guess everything's a calling to a certain degree, but the point is, it's one of those professions, it's one of those responsibilities that if you don't feel a burning passion to do it, a desire ... If you don't see it, in a certain extent, as your identity, you really shouldn't bother. Because it will not reward you otherwise.

It's one of those ... I don't know how many other professions are like this, but it's one of those where you can work your tail off for an entire year and lose tons of money. I mean, I suppose there are other ways where you do that, but ... And also, to any number of different factors outside of your control. 

The market could fail, or any number of different weather events could lead to failed crops, or any number of other different natural events could lead to failure. It's just one of those things where the bare minimum is hard work, day and night, for all spring, summer, and fall, for uncertain results. You learn a lot of work ethic in that environment, but also you learn that there's a lot of factors outside of your control in this world.

Mike Cosper: What got you out of South Dakota.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, so about a quarter of my class went to college. I graduated in a class of 36. My parents were always very encouraging and supportive toward college. Which, again, in a class where a quarter of your classmates go to college, you don't take that for granted.

I guess it's a funny story. I was in agriculture class. I took four years of agriculture. I was in a computer lab, and we were running a CD-ROM program. It was supposed to match you up with a college. Why we were doing this in ag class, I don't understand. But that happened to be it.

I punched in, "I'd like to go to a private university in the Midwest and do journalism, and I want them to have a major sports program." It popped up like, "Congratulations! There is one school that fits that criteria. Northwestern University, outside of Chicago." 

I was like, "All right. Sounds interesting. I don't know much about this place. I think they played the Rose Bowl once, and something like that, and-

Mike Cosper: Sports journalism was-

Collin Hansen: Sports journalism was-

Mike Cosper: ... the [crosstalk 00:06:19].

Collin Hansen: That was what I was heading in to do, and Northwestern produces a lot of sports journalists. That's what I was heading out to do, and I remember my parents, we visited. We're sitting there with the admissions counselor, and my dad says, "Okay, tell it to us straight. Can my son get in?" And she says, "No. There's not a chance there."

I decided to do it anyway, and somehow, by God's grace, did get in. That was a proud moment for our family, and my dad worked hard to be able to make it work financially. Northwestern was also generous to us in that.

It's so interesting. I live in a very different kind of place now than where I grew up, and you see the way that people are formed in their work, and their aspirations for life. I've looked back, and I've wondered, "Why wasn't I a lawyer, or something like that?" Because that's the exact skill-set that I have. Why didn't I do something like that? And I realize, "Well, I didn't know any lawyers." I didn't know any doctors, really, other than the ones that I would see on occasion.

Your horizon is shaped by those experiences ... the people around you, and as I looked back on journalism and on writing, well my grandmother has been a newspaper columnist for decades. We're talking 50-plus years.

Mike Cosper: What did she write?

Collin Hansen: She continues to this day, in her 90s, to write a weekly column for the Madison Daily Leader, in Madison, South Dakota. Population, again, 5,000-6,000. She was the previous society editor. That means, "So-and-so visited from so-and-so, and they had coffee together and talked about this." I mean ...

She was also the parish visitor in the United Methodist church, which meant she just went around to everybody and sat down during the day and talked about what was going on. She's that kind of connected social-butterfly. 

I realized, I guess, that that had introduced me to the world of publishing. I suppose not many other people where I grew up had that direct experience, but my first job was working at the printing press. I'm just doing the most mundane tasks there, watching the newspaper press work. But just being in that same office ...

Then I worked in customer service for a larger newspaper, and would get up at 4 something a.m. to go in, or 5:00 a.m., or something like that to go in for my weekend shift the summer before I went off to college. I had to make money, and also I just wanted to be around the business, but I didn't know anybody to connect me to actually do much writing, or anything, though I did volunteer on some sports writing there.

Yeah, so that formed me in ways that I don't ... It took me a while to realize, of course, that was one of the viable options I saw, because it was right there in my own family.

Mike Cosper: Throughout all of this, what role was religion, faith, Christianity playing?

Collin Hansen: That's another area where it took me a while to realize how I was formed. I have the somewhat typical evangelical narrative of 15 years-old, "Once I was blind, now I see." I mean, it was a very dramatic, instantaneous conversion for me. It was a youth retreat weekend at a local Lutheran church that some of my high school friends had invited me to.

Many of my other friends would subsequently become Christians through this ministry. I don't know if I would call it some kind of revival or something, but it was definitely a moment that shaped many, many, many lives.

It took me a while to put myself within the broader stream of my own family history, and I actually wrote an article a couple of years ago about why I am not longer a United Methodist. It seems like everywhere I've gone in life, I've been surrounded by people like me who grew up in the United Methodist church, but are no longer Methodists. 

What I ultimately concluded was, I was so Methodist, actually, that I had to leave the United Methodist church to find it. Because the modern United Methodist Church in America has long since abandoned its evangelical beliefs in many quarters, including the quarters where I had grown up. Not universally so, but in many quarters.

My family history, on my grandfather's side, through my mother, were Welsh Calvinistic Methodists going back to the original revivals in the early 1700s, before they came in the 1850s to Wisconsin, and eventually, to South Dakota. As an evangelical, God has no spiritual grandchildren, so your whole ... It's all about you and God, and nothing else in there, but it took me a while to realize just how deeply Methodist I was.

This was a quintessential Methodist experience that I was having, in the classic sense, and to this day, now every night before bed with my two kids, we sing through Methodist hymns ... The Methodist hymnal, I should say. A lot of them are Baptist or whatever else there, the hymns in there. But we love to sing those songs together. It's just a little hymnal that I have from a church back in South Dakota.

It's just one of those ... and not with any of those new-fangled gender-neutral pronouns, or theological corrections that they've made. It's old-school, but it's just one small way that I want to reinforce the spiritual inheritance that I didn't realize I was receiving, but that I want my children to experience.

Mike Cosper: You get to Northwestern, go into journalism ...

Collin Hansen: Yeah, it's kind of an interesting ... It's not as much of a winding road from there. I'm one of those strange people who went in as a European history and journalism major, and I earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism with a major in European history, and that basically has been everything that I've done since then.

I mean, ultimately, I realized I just could not spend my waking hours doing anything other than serving the church in some way, so that steered me toward Christian journalism, or I use the dreaded adjective ... "Christian" as an adjective, there. But journalism in direct service of the church, I guess you could say.

Right there in Chicago, I had Christianity Today magazine, just in a different side of the city. More or less, just ... I had been reading ... Malcolm Gladwell's work has influenced me here of understanding where we are in time shapes who we are. We have certain opportunities that are not available to other people, and certain opportunities that we take for granted and don't realize. 

But for me, it was coming of age in journalism as a newspaper journalism major. That was my concentration there. Interning at a newspaper. Realizing that that is not really going to work in the future. But-

Mike Cosper: Meaning you saw the medium itself was not sustainable.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, it just ... That was ... I mean, the dot-com bubble was the firs thing to reveal, so I was there. I was in college from 1999 to 2003. We were coming right off of the wake of the dot-com bubble, which one, taught us that not just anybody could make riches on the internet. That was also before social media, where a lot more people would make a lot of money on that.

Just realized the publishing industry was coming right off actually its best years ever, but when I was at the newspaper, you could see the classifieds were going away. The classifieds were what was keeping newspapers going. 

It's funny. People had an illusion with newspapers. They thought, "Well, I subscribe to it for the articles." Okay. No, they subscribe it for the funnies, the classifieds, and the sports page. That's why people were doing it, but once the classifieds went, sports was moving ... I mean, blogs would come along eventually, and just ... The newspaper industry was in trouble. You could see that ...

I was reading Christianity Today online. I was seeing this thing that they called "Weblog," published by Ted Olsen, who would later become my boss. I was like, "Okay, there's something here in this online Christian world here." Basically, just went to them straight up and said, "I really want to work here." And that's it.

I didn't have any other plan. Was engaged to my now-wife at the time. She was also a journalism major, and she was planning to do sports journalism. My wife and I were on this trajectory toward a six-month hopscotch of like, "You go to this small television market, and then this small television market, and this one." She decided that was not actually the Lord's leading, so she didn't really have a vocational way forward. So we thought, "Okay, we'll just give this a shot with journalism here, in the Christian realm."

It was funny. I had two other job opportunities. One of them was to cover high school football on a three month fall gig in Birmingham, Alabama, where my wife is from, and where we now live. I decided not to take that job, though that actually probably would have been a good route forward. I probably would have been, in few years, covering Alabama football. Probably would have then been covering national sports, and things like that. But still glad I didn't do that.

Other option was to move to Tupelo, Mississippi to work for the American Family Association. I declined that job as well. But then the other option was a $20,000 one year internship, basically, at Christianity Today International-

Collin Hansen: -internship, basically, at "Christianity Today International," which meant I was working on a book about Billy Graham as a researcher, was working for "Christian History & Biography" magazine, and also for a little magazine called "Men of Integrity." I remember writing I think it was- No, it wasn't my first. We did a newsletter back then and I'd written about the Iraq War. 

Remember, this was 2003, so I wrote about the Iraq invasion and the historical precedence for Christian persecution when they're caught between the East and West in the Middle East, but I also remember hearing about this crazy new book that I knew some people reading, but was really kind of beneath us as a dignified Christian history journal. That was "The Da Vinci Code."

I'm almost certain that my little response to "The Da Vinci Code" is still probably the best thing- Or not the best thing, this doesn't have the best thing I've written, but it's probably the most widely read thing I've ever done. That was a phenomenon for years and years and years, and that was the power of the internet right there.

Mike Cosper: Yeah. Describe that a little bit for me. You don't have to go into the details of the article, but essentially you responded to the conspiracy theories of "The Da Vinci Code" and debunked-

Collin Hansen: Actually it was a family member of mine who I knew did not know much about church history, and all of a sudden he's telling me, "Well, you know that they invented Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325." I'm like, "That's not true." Then he mentions a couple other things. I'm like, "What are you talking about here?" This family member is not exactly a friend of the Catholic church, let's put it that way. He's like, "Oh, it's this great new book, 'The Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown. It's a page-turner." I was like, "Okay, maybe there's a little space here for me to write a little bit about the history. 

Mind you, I didn't hardly know any of the history there, so I'm just opening up a few textbooks or whatever, but this was before everybody wrote books. This was the controversy that everybody wrote books about well before Rob Bell's controversy that everybody wrote books about. This was a much bigger one, just a cultural phenomenon. Then later on, the Tom Hanks movie would come out and then there was a whole new wave. We're just talking hundreds of emails and angry emails and things like that. 

It's weird. These were the George W. Bush years, so it was a lot of talk about the influence of Christians, but it was also setting the stage for the new atheists. This was a big part of that wave that would lead up to that. Yeah, just interesting years.

Mike Cosper: What led you away from "Christianity Today?"

Collin Hansen: Yeah, three years I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School doing my Master of Divinity. I left "Christianity Today" not because I was unhappy, not because I couldn't see myself continuing to work there. I was able to go from the $20,000 internship with a one-year guarantee to within nine months of that, switching to becoming the copyeditor of "Christianity Today" and then moving on to being the news editor, and then would take on a lot of the theological coverage and things like that. That's where I wrote the cover story "Young, Restless, Reformed," and things like that in 2006.

Mike Cosper: Which led to a book, right?

Collin Hansen: It did lead to a book, and then 2008, 10 years ago. But even when I went to Northwestern, which had been a Methodist school at one point and I mentioned that Methodist background, they still have a Methodist seminary right in the center of campus. I thought, "Okay, well, if I wanna be a pastor there's a way forward." Now, clearly my theological development had not really settled into where it needed to be, so I didn't really understand the dynamics. I worked with a student at the seminary from Africa who came in exasperated one day to work at the library and said, "I never envisioned a seminary where you don't use the Bible." 

That wasn't gonna be an option for me, but I knew in the back of my head, "I love journalism, I love writing, but realistically, I don't know. It just seems like I'm more called to local church ministry." That's where I headed, to go to seminary. Left that behind. I continued to write some things. I wrote a book when I was in seminary with one of my professors, but it was on history, a history of revivals. I wanted to be a pastor even though I also liked doing journalism, just put it that way. But then nobody hired me out of seminary. 

I fully expected- I was on a scholarship that required me to be a pastor and I searched diligently, but for whatever reason, that internal call was not being affirmed through the external call of a church, and it was a series of strange events that I can only look back on as a mixture of providential mercy to the churches that might have hired me, certainly, also to me personally. There's still a big part of me that would love to serve in that capacity going forward, but I've had to settle into this strange vocational land where my entire adult life since undergraduate on people who have encouraged me in three different directions as a pastor. 

I should say not just external encouragement, but this is my own internal draw, but as a pastor, as an academic or a scholar, or to journalism. I've kind of just settled into for whatever season of life God has me into this strange hybrid of all three. My office is at Beeson Divinity School and so I serve on the advisory board there and try to help guide and mentor students in the school in whatever small ways that I can, serve as an elder in our church, and doing a lot of shepherding, a lot of leading, and also some teaching there. Then of course my job with the Gospel Coalition keeps me in touch with local church leaders and employs a lot of that journalistic background. 

I don't know if this is where the Lord has me forever, but it does appear that my background has prepared me for this unique hybrid of these three different callings.

Mike Cosper: One of the things that I'd love to hear you talk about, you've had a front row seat to this whole reformed movement. I think whether you're inside it or outside of it, it's been hard to ignore over the last seven or eight years in evangelicalism. You're, as people have traced it out, or as I've heard it traced out, you're sparked by John Piper at the Passion Conference and then out of the emergent church comes Mark Driscoll, Dan Patrick, and then the last seven or eight years has seen in many ways for some of those guys, at least, the rise and fall of all of this. I'd love to hear you just comment on what are some of your observations on this thing that's really about 10 years old, 12 years old. 

What have you observed? 'Cause there's an epidemic, almost within this movement. There's broader things happening. There's the Bill Heibels controversy and all of this kind of stuff. But within this movement, I could sit here and list a dozen names, many of which people have heard of, many of which people haven't heard of. They're more of local situations. But the themes are pretty consistent in terms of failure of leadership, domineering, bullying, all of these kinds of things.

Collin Hansen: I've gotten to the point where if you planted a church 10 years ago or so, 10 to 15 years ago and you're in your mid-40s and you've had some success, you're almost guaranteed to fail. I don't know what it was, but there was some kind of toxic brew in that mixture. Maybe I'll take a stab at explaining it this way. I was talking with a young college pastor recently. I saw him at an airport. We were coming back from a conference together and he said, "Collin, I know you wrote the book on the growth of reformed theology, but a lot of what I see today is not actually a lot of interest in reformed theology." 

He mentioned a different theological and ecclesial strain that he saw a lot of people being drawn toward. I said, "Okay, well, what is it about that group that draws people to them?" He said, "You know, I don't really know what it is. I think it's just popular. I think that they like the energy behind it, they like the bigness of it, they like the vision. I think they see themselves perhaps, I don't know, maybe just leading something big or being famous or something like that. They're looking up to a lot of these famous leaders." That gave me a window back into my other writing and I thought, "Well, how many of these leaders and ordinary folks were in it because of the bigness?"

Now, later on, only after 2006 and beyond would it come to be known as a big kind of thing that you would want to join. But before that, it was still kind of the developing counter-movement to a lot of the other stuff that was drawing a lot of the young people's energy and attention, and perhaps filling them with notions that we are the future. We are the ones to take this over and we are the ones coming with a critique, with a way of how things should be done. 

If anything, social media and other things like that have only exacerbated these temptations for young people, but I wonder, Mike, how much of it is simply the temptations of youth in an American culture of expressive individualism where we all envision ourselves being kind of the next big thing. I just wonder, even for people who might have planted small churches that never went anywhere, how many of them went into it imagining that they would be the ones who would not turn out like Mark Driscoll with the big church and stuff like that?

But I do think if you go back to that era of church planting, I'm talking here about 2006 to 2012, there was the explicit expectation from some church-planting leaders that if you did not have a megachurch that you were a failure, that you had done something wrong. You were not working hard enough. You were not evangelizing enough, or you just weren't good enough. You know, maybe you should just join up a multi-site and beam in somebody else's good sermons, 'cause yours clearly don't cut it. If they did, you'd be like me.

I guess it's a little bit odd, Mike, that we didn't see sooner that that is a toxic spiritual brew.

Mike Cosper: Yeah. It's so interesting to me because I was part of a church that was planted in 2000. We were reformed from the beginning, but because of the practices of our church, the liturgy of these various things, we were quickly lumped in with the emergent church phenomenon and we learned a lot from that phenomenon. We were drawn to certain elements of it. But I think so much of what shaped our early years and the idealism of that was purely a reaction to the megachurch culture of the '90s that was very hyped up, very- And these were the critiques at the time, was very hyped up, it was very shallow, it was very suburban. It's the world of Willow Creek. 

I remember when [inaudible 00:27:48] was planted, I came to it from a church of about 1500 people. A lot of what was on my mind going into this is, "That church is just way too big. You can't do effective ministry. You can't have real community." All those kind of idealistic things. Then you fast forward to 2008 and we had well exceeded that number and there's this momentum and there's something that happens just from growth itself that because it's growing, you change your perspective and you go, "Obviously God's doing this. Obviously we're doing something right here. Maybe big church isn't so bad after all. Maybe platform isn't so bad after all." They're just these incremental decisions that you make that radically change the philosophy of ministry and radically change the way you see yourselves as pastors.

I mean, I'm talking personally here, the way I saw myself as a pastor. Though I thought about platform and all those kinds of things changed over those years. I wonder, though, I say all that to say this. I'd love to hear your perspective on this. Would the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement, particularly the megachurch world of it, would that exist apart from what happened in the '90s with those other megachurches? It seems to me in many ways the movement began as a reaction to that, but then kind of became that.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, maybe it would help to think of it this way. We all react. We're all shaped by our parents and then we all react to our parents to a certain extent. That's in our cultural air. That's a particularly western, educated notion, middle class notion that you have to react to whatever your inherited to be able to find your own identity. Then as we get older, you realize just how much you were shaped and formed by your parents and you find yourself making the same decisions that they made and you find yourself rationalizing and justifying things just as they did, and you start to see, "Okay, actually, things were a little bit more complicated than I ever understood them to be. Oh, now I can see how the busyness of life sets in and you make certain expedient decisions and, oh, I can also then see why you would make this choice because what's the alternative to this choice? Oh, and then 10 years have passed and then 20 years have passed." 

You are what you never thought you would be. To a certain extent, I do think that's what's happened and I can see that in my own church, even just as we've evolved in 10 years. We've had to get back to some of that original DNA, realizing that our momentum, the culture's momentum, takes you to a certain place and you have to be really vigilant about pushing back on that if that's not where you want to go by conviction. I do also think, though, that not every church from that "Young, Restless, Reformed" world ever had necessarily a negative view of the megachurch. Some of them, and I would list Mark Driscoll as an example here, actually that was what he was looking for. That is who he was modeling himself after.

I guess I don't know from the earliest stages if that's what he was thinking, but it was very clear certainly within the realm of the Gospel Coalition's ministry and my time there from 2010 that he clearly was seeing himself and his own movement as an inheritor, a successor, to the megachurch movement as an extension of that, just with some reformed[inaudible 00:31:26] and some charismatic expressions there. I think there was some ambivalence there, but at least in the DNA of that church-planting network, I think there was actually the expectation that we are the new megachurches, it's just instead of Hawaiian shirts we just yell at you while dressed like hipsters. That was the difference.

Mike Cosper: Right. Watch MMA.

Mike Cosper: What you're saying about the reaction stuff reminds me of that GK Chesterton quote. It says, "If you're conservative when you're young, you have no heart, and if you're liberal when you're old, you have no head." That seems to be, as I get older, more and more true.

Collin Hansen: Well I think it's just part of coming of age. I think it was a David Brooks' column years ago. He talked about adult formation. In your 20s, it's all about defining yourself against what you've inherited, and it's all about carving out a name for yourself. That certainly rings true for me. I'm different from where I grew up. I'm different even from where I went to college in some ways. I'm fiercely protective of getting credit for certain things that I've worked really hard on. I want people to know that I did this. I'm willing to push myself beyond certain limits.

It's just amazing when I look back on the year 2007. It's the year that I wrote Young Restless Reformed, which was published in April of 2008, but I was also traveling around the country writing cover stories for Christianity Today that would become part of the book as well. I was writing editorials. I was acquiring these other articles. I was also teaching myself Greek to prepare myself for seminary. It got so bad that at one point I told my wife, "The time that we're gonna spend together is between 7:00 and 9:00 PM on Friday nights." That felt to me like a quintessential 20-something moment of you've got to push, you've got to claim, you've got to build, you've got to fight. 

Then Brooks talks about how you begin to transition into your 30s and 40s and realize that you can't accomplish anything significant alone. You've got to be able to work together with others. You begin to find some satisfaction in being able to build teams and be a part of teams and accomplish really big things right there. You're not always worried about getting all of the credit for it. By the time you transition into your 50s, kind of the prime of your career in some ways, you begin to take a lot of satisfaction in what people do who you've mentored. It's all about what these people coming behind you have accomplished. You celebrate their wins as they try to make a name for themselves. You're gratified knowing that it wouldn't have been possible without you.

Then by the time you get in your 60s and 70s, you realize, everything I have is just inherited from generation and generation and generation and generation before me of people who, you just start to realize that I'm not so different. I'm not some special snowflake here.

Mike Cosper: Snowflake in the sense of uniqueness.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, exactly. That's right.

Mike Cosper: Not in the political sense.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, sorry. That's right. I'm not so different from my grandparents or my great-grandparents. You start to think about things like family history and family of origin and think about things like of your great-grandparents, your great-great-grandparent who maybe immigrated or something like that. You start to see yourself as part of a much broader tradition. I've found that generally to be true of a lot of different things there. I do wonder what that looks like for church life as well, of what might the maturation process look like for churches as they begin to learn of what we can all accomplish together in our cities and what we can then accomplish together by raising up younger leaders and things like that. I'm just hopeful that whatever shape this takes that it'll follow that path of humility and generosity, and I actually do see a lot of encouraging signs of that.

Mike Cosper: If I can quote Richard Rohr in front of one of the editors of the Gospel Coalition. He talks about ... He's got a great book called Falling Upward. His framework in it is that there's these, it's a you, me, and archetype thing of at this early stage of your life, you're the warrior. Then after you've conquered and established some things, you're the king. Then you transition from the king to the sage. What he talks about in the book that's so interesting, and I remember reading this. I read this book as the Mars Hill flame-out was taking place. But he talks about we have a culture that's a warrior culture and it's all about bravado and achievement and conquering and having dragon blood and all of this. 

I mean, you look at our president. Our president is not taking pride in the achievements of others and taking on the posture of a sage, and all of this. He's a warrior. He is that archetype. Anyway, as I read the book and thought about what was going on inside of our movement, it seemed like there was that failure to make that transition. Well, one of the things that was really interesting is inside Ax29, it didn't matter how old your church was. I don't think it's this way anymore. I think Ax29 is a beautiful healthy organization these days. I love what Steve [Temiss 00:37:12] and Matt Chandler have done. So, I'm gonna caveat that before. 

But I remember when we were part of Ax29 in 2010, 2011. It didn't matter how old your church was or how big your church was. You always talked about it as a church plan. There was never this sense of making that transition from we are in this planting phase, which is a brutal no-holds-barred, overwhelm the opposition and make this thing happen because church planning's so hard and there's so much against you. There was never a transition from that posture to the more pastoral posture of going, okay now God has brought this body of people here, this community of people here. They need to be shepherded, discipled, and empowered to evangelize and be the church. 

I think that mentality caused pastors to be resistant to health polity, plural leadership, all of those kinds of things. When you said a while back, "If you planted your church within this window, you probably are going to fail," I think that spirit is probably what was in the water to a certain extent.

Collin Hansen: I think that's probably true, Mike. When I was describing that progression, which it sounds like that's the same progression that you're talking about there, which makes me think in places like the church planting world or the Southern Baptist Convention, we need more sages. Maybe that's why I'm partial to people like David Dockery, who I think, or Timothy George, two of my mentors up close and from a distance, have that sage role within the Southern Baptist Convention. I think we need more of them. But that would make a lot of sense that I'm describing a path of maturation, but not everybody launches that way. Sometimes it's an aborted launch at some point. You stop at a certain point.

I will say this about leadership. A typical characteristic of poor leadership is a continuous contentiousness. That's because it's easier to build coalitions through opposition. We see this in politics. You see this in church life. You see this in the para-church and all these different ... and even in athletics, things like that. You can build people, and certainly in the military and in history. You can build a coalition of people when you all oppose something, but then you get power and you lose the united front from that. Then all of a sudden, when you try to cast a positive vision for who we are and what we want to do, everybody starts pulling in different directions. If you retain that warrior spirit, then you're always looking for a fight. You're always looking for somebody else. Sometimes that's within your own church.

If that warrior pastor never transitions to the administrator who equips others to be able to do that work, and then ultimately the sage who says, okay let me help you as my experience and accumulated wisdom to be able to help guide you. Which by the way another person who would fit this bill within Ax29 now would be Ray Ortland. Sam Storms would be another one. I think what you've probably seen from them in maturation is that some of the younger leaders have identified some sage leaders and said, "Look to them."

In fact, we did an article about Ray Ortland at the Gospel Coalition that pretty much it said just that. I think that makes a lot of sense that the warrior leaders never put down their spears, never transitioned into people who could lead a benevolent empire. 

Mike Cosper: I think what's encouraging is I think a lot of pastors are learning from this, and I think a lot of leaders in general are learning from some of these experiences. Real quickly, just to wrap up, I'd just love to hear you say what are one or two things that you're encouraged about in terms of the future and maybe what we've learned from all of this.

Collin Hansen: I remember years ago, when ... It's funny to me to think about Young Restless Reformed and how when I published the article in 2006, there was a significant amount of opposition, but also just a lot of doubt and a lot of skepticism. I think it was even to the book in 2008 where I still wondered, is this actually a thing that I'm manufacturing, that was something that people had criticized me about. And now, 10 years plus later, that's just nobody says that anymore. Nobody thinks that this is the figment of my imagination or something. It's rather foolish to even say. 

But some people would also say, as a criticism at the time, this is only built around a few strong personalities. And especially they would cite John Piper as one of those personalities. It never struck me as correct, and not because there were certain personalities that never even made it into my 2008 book, namely Matt Chandler and Tim Keller aren't featured in that book.

Mike Cosper: Oh wow. That's like the last man standing. 

Collin Hansen: Well, yeah, but I would also say that a lot of that has to do with the unique role of cancer in his life and God's, you know the thorn in the flesh. A kind and severe mercy there to him, to bring the sobriety of mortality. But it always struck me as incorrect the way people would look at the movement and think it's about these big personalities. That's the way dime store historians and yellow journalists think about things. Interestingly, it's not the way I approached Young Restless Reformed. I would go to these bigger places, but then I would always juxtapose it. 

I would always feature somebody that nobody had ever heard of before, and just talk to some person and tell that person's story because the point was this is not just about the story of some famous guy and what it's like to be in his house or in his church, or something like that, or in Mark Driscoll's amazing garage, study, and things like that in Seattle. That's not what this is about. This is about these people's lives who have truly been changed and transformed by grace and are sharing this good news of Jesus with others. But the key there in terms of encouragement then, is that it's all about the churches that these people have planted and that they've invested in, these institutions that they've built that are bigger than themselves that are not merely about gratifying the ego.

So, for all of the high profile flame-outs and the unknown flame-outs that you and I are well aware of in our own circles of ministry, there are simply a lot of people laboring faithfully week after week in obscurity who are not tied up in all of the big controversies, and not even aware of all of them. That kind of stuff just doesn't go away. Revivals always fade until Christ returns, but the best revivals historically speaking leave behind institutional landmarks that outlive them.

I do think that that's where we're headed, especially through these local churches. I'm thankful for that and I'm really encouraged by that. If you get your head out of a lot of the media world that you and I professionally live in, and you get into the lives of these people and these stories, you see a pretty encouraging picture of what God's doing, that when the history books are written about our era, the Trump era, nobody will ever mention.

Mike Cosper: But that's a lot of what the Gospel Coalition's trying to do as well, is just to shore up those institutions.

Collin Hansen: Yeah, to shore up those institutions and also we just don't see ourselves as the front lines. We're not the place of action. The goal is not to get everybody to come hang out on a blog or hang out in a Facebook comments section, god help us with that endless Twitter thread. The goal is for us to be nothing more than the folks who are trying to help bring beneficial timely resources to the church leaders, the Sunday school teachers, the small group leaders, the moms, the pastors, the elders, people like that, that we're just trying to get good resources to them who are doing the work. That's why it makes the job so fun, because you get to see these cool things. If we can just shine a spotlight on some cool things that God's doing that can encourage people around the world, then we've done our job.

I think as long as we retain rather humble expectations, I think we'll be all right. We're not the destination. We're just the guide.

Mike Cosper: That's great. Well, thanks for being here. 

Collin Hansen: Thanks, Mike. 

Mike Cosper: Today's episode was recorded, produced, and edited by TJ Hester. It was mixed by Mark Owens. Our music is by Sojourn Music. Thanks for listening. We'll be back in two weeks. 

This episode produced by Mike Cosper
Editing by Mike Cosper and TJ Hester
Mixed by Mark Owens
Music by Sojourn Music
Graphic Design by Casey Smith
Website Design by Brannon McAllister
Learn more at

Casey Smith