The introvert behind the pulpit


The introvert behind the pulpit: For these preachers, devotion to ministry requires balancing need for solitude with passion for sharing God’s word.

No offense, but people drain Mark Littleton of much-needed energy.

Here’s what invigorates him: sitting in his church office — alone — with his Bible, study books, computer and a Diet Dr Pepper.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be around people,” said Littleton, pulpit minister for the Athens Church of Christ in Tennessee. “I don’t mind that, for short periods, when it’s balanced out by my ‘alone time.’”

Like a surprising number of preachers, Littleton feels much more comfortable standing behind the pulpit than approaching strangers at a church fellowship meal.

“I think I was in my 30s before I realized that most preachers in my experience were actually introverts,” said Bruce McLarty, 57, a longtime minister who serves as president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and describes himself as slightly more extroverted than introverted.

Based on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, Lance Bennett qualifies as an introvert.

However, a person visiting the Riverside Church of Christ in Lafayette, La., where Bennett preaches, might never guess it.

Related story: What role does personality play when hiring a minister?

This story appears in the November 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

5Q+1: Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

GETRELIGION.ORG — Godbeat pros will convene in Atlanta this week for the Religion Newswriters Association’s 65th annual conference.

In advance of the national meeting of religion journalists, RNA President Bob Smietana did a 5Q+1 interview (that’s five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion. I’ll sprinkle a few #RNA2014 tweets between Bob’s responses.

Q: For our readers unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your journalism career and your background in religion writing. And catch us up on how your beloved Red Sox are doing after winning a third World Series title in 10 years last season.

A: I’ve had a pretty fun career. I wrote a weekly religion column in college then decided to go out and save the world by working at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Turns out I was terrible at saving the world.

So, in my mid-30s, I became a writer instead. I started small — my first freelance religion story paid $35 — and then landed a job writing for a small religious magazine in Chicago called theCovenant Companion, where I stayed for eight years. One of my big breaks came in 2001, when I got the chance to spend a summer at Medill, studying religion writing with Roy Larson.

Eventually I became religion writer at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, which I loved. Spent six great years there. Now I write about research and church trends for Facts and Trends magazine here in Nashville.

This analysis of media coverage appears online at

Faith in a fading icon


Faith in a fading icon (reporting from Calvert City, Ky.): Kentucky church members stay true to their Christian values while operating one of the nation’s last remaining drive-in theaters.

CALVERT CITY, Ky. — As the sun sets in rural western Kentucky, the marquee lights shine at the Calvert Drive-in Theatre.

For many who enjoy the outdoor movie experience, the nightly double features stir nostalgia and fond memories of simpler times.

But for theater manager John Harrington and his wife, Paula — faithful members of the Calvert City Church of Christ — the 61-year-old drive-in represents more than a fading icon of Americana.

It’s a way of life.

“It’s a family business that was built by John’s grandfather,” Paula Harrington said.

As their Christian faith influences their business, the Harringtons refuse to show R-rated films.

“The last R-rated movie we ran was ‘Passion of the Christ,’” John Harrington said, referring to Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours and crucifixion.

This story appears in the November 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

A medical miracle on NBC News

A medical miracle on NBC News: ‘The hand of God at work’ in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly

GETRELIGION.ORG — The hour-long NBC News special “Saving Dr. Brantly: The Inside Story of a Medical Miracle” aired Friday night.

The report by NBC’s Matt Lauer features an exclusive interview with Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the often-deadly Ebola virus while serving as a medical missionary in Liberia.

It’s an incredible piece of journalism that includes additional reflections from Brantly’s wife Amber, Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham and doctors and nurses involved in his care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

As the special begins, Lauer emphasizes that Brantly’s faith will play a major role in this story:

He may be one of the luckiest men alive, and Dr. Kent Brantly probably thinks there are two very good reasons for that.

He attributes his victory over the deadly Ebola virus to a combination of faith and science.

As a devout Christian and a physician, he’s a man of both.

He was serving as a missionary doctor in Liberia when he became infected, and tonight in an NBC News exclusive, Dr. Brantly and the brave medical team that helped to save his life tell for the first time the extraordinary story of how he was cured.

This analysis of media coverage appears online at

In Kentucky, a dispute over church, state and taxpayer-funded foster care


In Kentucky, a dispute over church, state and taxpayer-funded foster care (reporting from Melber, Ky.): Rather than adhere to proselytization rules, a Christian children’s home gives up its seven-figure state funding.

MELBER, Ky. — Surrounded by pastureland and soybean, corn and tobacco fields, a rural children’s home associated with Churches of Christ cared for abused and neglected boys and girls for 24 years.

In the last fiscal year, New Pathways for Children received $1.3 million in state funding to provide around-the-clock care and therapeutic treatment for up to 27 boys and 12 girls at a time, state records show.

But in recent weeks, the western Kentucky home gave up its government contract and returned all the children in its care — many with severe needs such as drug dependencies and mental health issues — to the state, executive director Ricky Burse told The Christian Chronicle.

The action came after the state asked the Christian child-care organization to accept new contract language that the home believed infringed on its religious liberty.

In an interview on New Pathways’ 25-acre boys’ campus — 260 miles southwest of the state capital of Frankfort — Burse said he consulted with the home’s attorneys about the new language.

This story appears in the October 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

September 2014: GetReligion

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Women as clergy: The stained-glass ceiling and one-sided journalism. Published Sept. 2.

Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang. Published Sept. 3.

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff’s Jewish faith makes headlines. Published Sept. 4.

Southern-fried stereotypes? Surprise, but this faith-and-football story serves up real meat. Published Sept. 5.

A medical miracle on NBC News: ‘The hand of God at work’ in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly. Published Sept. 9.

The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes’ front page. Published Sept. 10.

Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not ‘Islamic,’ but not everyone agrees. Published Sept. 11.

Doughnut holes: Story on Christians targeting Naughty Girls pastries is all sugar and no spice. Published Sept. 12.

Guess who’s making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!? Published Sept. 16.

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion. Published Sept. 17.

A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum. Published Sept. 18.

‘Jesus is not a member of the NRA,’ Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014. Published Sept. 21.

Best of the Godbeat: At #RNA2014, Religion Newswriters Association honors top religion journalism. Published Sept. 22.

God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church. Published Sept. 24.

Devil’s in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic ‘black mass.’ Published Sept. 25.

Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the ‘black mass.’ Published Sept. 26.

Cristo can move mountains, Spanish-speaking church believes


Part of The Christian Chronicle’s “One Nación Under God” special project.

Cristo can move mountains, Spanish-speaking church believes (reporting from Elgin, Ill.): In a Chicago suburb, a Latino congregation experiences growth and contemplates a multicultural future.

ELGIN, Ill. — Tears of joy flowed as the Elgin Church of Christ, a Spanish-speaking congregation northwest of Chicago, stood and sang the invitation song.

For the 305 men, women and children who filled the Iglesia de Cristo’s auditorium on this recent Sunday, the hymn’s words — translated into English below — held special meaning:

Savior, he can move the mountains

My God is mighty to save

He is mighty to save

The voices that rang out testified to this fast-growing congregation’s emotional, 25-year journey — from an Anglo church’s basement to a cramped rented facility to this first assembly in an 11,000-square-foot building all its own.

“I can’t believe it,” said Hector Gonzalez, 71, one of the handful of original members. “We work for a long time and try and try and try. Finally, God hear you.”

Gonzalez touched his hands to his heart as he tried — in broken English — to put his glee into words.

This story appears in the October 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.