Bruce Hendrich and his family were Colorado transplants in East Tennessee who felt God calling them back to the Denver area to plant a church. Bruce discusses the challenges and differences between church in the Buckle of the Bible Belt and a culture that is spiritual, but suspicious of Christianity.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner, and today our guest is church planner from Denver, Colorado area, Bruce Hendrich. Bruce, welcome into this edition.
Bruce Hendrich: Thanks Chris. Appreciate the opportunity.
Chris Turner: Well, it’s been a great tour that Lonnie Wilkey, our editor of Baptist and Reflector and I’ve had, as we’ve been able to go through and talk to our four church planners there in the Denver area that have been Tennesseans and have moved out that way. But you are actually moving back that way. How did you get from Colorado to Tennessee and then back to Colorado?
Bruce Hendrich: Okay, I’ll see if I can keep it short. That’s a God thing by any stretch of imagination. I grew up on a little farm out South of Akron, Colorado, which is Northeastern Colorado, and had a heart to be a missionary, and actually specifically a missionary pilot mechanic. I went to Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, in their missions program out there. Then I transferred down to Tennessee for the aviation training. While I was in my aviation training down to Tennessee, I met my wife. We went to the same church and we ended up teaching at Moody in the flight training program there for 14 years. Then after that, I became a pastor in the church that we were attending. Then after our kids grew up and my wife’s parents passed away, she was primary caregiver, we had some freedom to do what we thought we really wanted to do, which was to be missionaries again. And so, God opened the door for us to come out and start a church in Colorado and my old stomping grounds.
Chris Turner: Wow, that’s been quite a roundabout journey to get home.
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, it has been. I tell people all the time that I’ve finally grown up and know what I want to do with the rest of my life.
Chris Turner: Well, you definitely are in a strategic place, just from what line I’ve seen being in the Denver area and just how really doesn’t look anything like what we think about culturally here in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We’ve talked to our quote “Tennessee church planners” there. Just from your perspective, how would you describe the spiritual climate, the spiritual attitude of where you are?
Bruce Hendrich: I would say it’s very not Christian, but very spiritual for the most part, and so we have way more opportunity to have spiritual conversations here than probably we did in Tennessee. It’s surprisingly an easy conversation to talk about Jesus here because people are pretty much anti-Christian, but they’re very into spiritual conversations.
Chris Turner: Oh.
Bruce Hendrich: If we can give them a different picture of what it means to be Christian, then we have a great opportunity to share the gospel.
Chris Turner: When you talk about that, I mean how do you lead into that conversation? When they find out what you do, or you strike up that conversation, I mean is there a curiosity there? Or, do they come at it from a perspective of-
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, there is. The beautiful thing about it is, even though I’m a native Colorado, there are so many people moving to Colorado for so many different reasons. And so, our first and most common question that people ask is, “Well, why did you guys move to Colorado?” And we’ll just say, “Hey, I’m glad you asked. We just saw a tremendous opportunity to take what we know about Jesus and bring it out to a place to where people just don’t know that much about Jesus. We moved out here and started a church.” Then they kind of, their jaw drops, and then we just kind of give them permission to ask for more information. Or, if they just say, “Man, I don’t want to talk to you any more about that,” we’ll just give him some space. We know that in Colorado, you have to sow a lot of seed for a long time before you can harvest-
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Bruce Hendrich: Because they’re just so far from Christianity. They’re pre-Christians at the earliest stage that you could possibly be any of them, so it just takes a lot longer and we’re just trying to be a little more patient and give him an opportunity to have space to believe what they want to believe. And hopefully, by our lifestyle they will say, “I’d like to know more about what you believe and why.”
Chris Turner: Yeah, so it’s interesting you should say that. As you mentioned, people migrating to Colorado, that really has been the case here in middle Tennessee especially, but all across the state where we have people coming with corporations that are relocating.
I mean, just in my neighborhood, I mean my next door neighbor is from Michigan, the couple of cross the street’s from Chicago, three doors down, two doors down is a couple from California. At the end of the street is a couple from New York via Florida, and Wisconsin next to them. There is this migrating so this whole idea of the buckle of the Bible Belt, and this whole Bible-saturated South really is, as if it wasn’t already a bit of a myth to begin with. It’s becoming more so, and we’re starting to look more like other places as far as what peoples’ spiritual background is. There really isn’t that … You really can’t draw that assumption that people have any biblical literacy at all.
How do you … I mean, you’re still connected to Tennessee and have family here and support base here. When you look back over into Tennessee, do you see like Denver being the future of where Tennessee is headed with the different peoples’? Really it’s a people group and if so, what do you see as things that not only pastors, but believers in our Baptist churches really need to be thinking about as that cultural shift happens?
Bruce Hendrich: Coming from East Tennessee, it’s obviously a little bit behind middle Tennessee, probably West Tennessee, but I’m sure it’s coming. One of the frustrations that we had in East Tennessee was it was such a tight community that me being an outsider from Colorado, I had to work long and hard to become a person they were willing to listen to because they were pretty suspicious of outsiders. But our sons both living in Nashville and just knowing a little bit more about the state, in general, I definitely can see what you’re saying is happening. I think part of it is just as our culture changes and jobs become primary and family become secondary, people are just going to be moving wherever their jobs take them.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Bruce Hendrich: A more mobile society is definitely going to mean that we’re going to have a lot more diversity than what we’ve had in the past, at least compared to East Tennessee, which there was very little diversity from our experience there. What that does for us is it just makes us much more committed to living out the Christian life as a platform for having people ask us why we do what we do.
We hadn’t been in our town for maybe more than a week or two, and one Sunday morning we were pulling out of our driveway and one of our newly met neighbors said, “Where are you guys going so early on Sunday morning?” We said, “Church,” and he gave us this look like, “Really?” Just must have come from planet Mars or something, and we’d just met him a time or two before then. And so, we didn’t let people know right off the bat that we were there to plant a church, we just wanted to build relationships and we didn’t want to scare people away.
We started out that way and we found that that’s so common around here is because there are so many people that come to Colorado for reasons definitely not related to church and Jesus, we just have to live an attractive lifestyle that gets them asking questions as to, “Why are you the way you are? Why do you do what you do?”
Chris Turner: But it really sounds like that the whole approach is to remove an impediment that a person has, a hurdle there that they would have to overcome for you to get a hearing and really focus more on a gospel-type conversation than having to explain a denominational type of conversation.
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, that is so good and true. We find that when the people do get farther down the road and they’re ready for that conversation, we can tell them why we’re Baptist and why we think it’s valuable to be connected to a group of people that have common beliefs. But at the same time, knowing that, for instance, Catholic church, people already know a lot about Catholics and so they’ve already made up their mind whether they want to have anything to do with Catholics or not.
And so we have a lot of people that just check us out because they’re not intimidated by the name that we have. It’s just, “Oh, okay. These guys, let me see what they’re like.” Generally, what they find is they like us and it’s only later on that they’ll say, “Oh, I’m surprised that you’re Baptist because I like you guys.”
Chris Turner: What bridges would you say that you use? Whether its community service, where you make those connections and establish, build relationships with people that you see working in that culture that we need to have our eye on, and really start thinking about how we’re going to integrate those types of bridge building strategies here in Tennessee as we deal more and more with the migration of people that come in that are either pre-Christian or post-Christian.
Bruce Hendrich: Well, my experience back in Tennessee would say that I think most believers think that the church somehow is going to reach people with the gospel. And my personal opinion is, the church isn’t going to, not at least the organized church. The body of Christ has to change the mentality that says it’s the church’s job to bring people into the church to get the gospel so that they can get saved.
I think we’ve got to just give that responsibility back to individual Christ followers and say, “No, it’s your responsibility to be the kind of Christian that like I Peter 3:15 says about labor life in such a way that people want to ask you for the hope that you have.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Bruce Hendrich: I think that is the best bridge building, is just live a life that’s attractive enough that people will say, “I want to know what makes you tick.” Whether it’s sacrifice, service, we mow peoples’ lawns, we babysit neighbors, we dog sit, we do anything and everything just to show them that we believe that Jesus came to not be served, but to serve.
That’s the reason we came to Colorado, not to be served, but to serve, and that gets peoples’ attention because people out here are super self-centered and when we have a Christ-like attitude that says we’re here to just be whatever you need us to be, do whatever you need us to do, that builds a bridge for us to have a conversation.
Chris Turner: That’s interesting you should say that because as you’re saying that, what came to my mind was the verse from Corinthians, it’s actually the theme verse for our annual State Convention Meeting this year, which is, “Become all things to all men so that I might save some.”
Just really that whole idea that Paul seeking the opportunity to share the gospel, but in the process serving people in a tangible way that people aren’t projects to be checked off, but generally having that love for people, especially that love for lost people and seeing their need for the gospel. It sounds like you guys just really have that focus and keeping that before the people in the church where you work.
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, I think it’s really important, first of all, for us to model that and then we just pray that God leads us to the people that have that kind of a heart because there are some Christians out here that are more of a consumer mindset. And to be honest, they’re not really going to help us accomplish the mission that God’s given us. So we don’t work really hard to reach them, we work really hard to reach people that see the value of service, and sacrifice, and community.
Rather than doing church stuff and asking people to be involved, we connect with our community and we say, “What are you guys doing that you’d be willing to let us come alongside and help with?” What happens is, we have a partnership that people say, “Hey, this is the first church we’ve seen that really cares about our community versus about their own agenda.” We find that when we love the community well, people sit up and take notice, and eventually earn the right to share why we’re here.
Chris Turner: Yeah, just really that being in and among the people, and being involved, and just giving your life for that. What would you say are some prayer requests that Tennessee Baptist could be praying for? Not just your family, but the work and some things that are going on there and in the area where you’re at?
Bruce Hendrich: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is I think about all the times where Paul asked for prayer in his letters to the churches that he was going. I think part of the reason that he was doing that is because what we’re doing is extremely taxing, spiritually, emotionally, physically. We’ve had more kinds of challenges from all kinds of different directions since we started doing this than we ever did doing ministry in Tennessee. There is a real strategic spiritual battle that’s going on, and so we certainly need just more prayer covering.
All of us guys are feeling that, one of the guys that I have a great relationship with, a fellow planner that planted about the same time we did in this town similar to ours, that’s fighting cancer. My wife’s facing some pretty serious health issues and it’s just like we just don’t know if that’s coming from the enemy, or if it’s just test, but it sure is distracting. It makes it harder for us to stay really focused on the task here, which is building relationships, and making disciples, and multiplying leaders, and eventually multiplying churches.
Chris Turner: Yeah, and then as far as ways that they can be praying for the folks in your church and just kind of, I’m sure their spiritual development and continued discipleship, growth, and maturity. What, what is kind of your vision you see for what you’re planning?
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, I think one of the things that we really would appreciate prayer for is, we would love to raise up leaders within our churches that have the same passion, the same desires that we do and they would become not only leaders in our church, but they would become the future church planners in our church plants. We tell people all the time, “We don’t want to be a mega church. We want to be a momma church.”
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Bruce Hendrich: We just want to have a lot of babies, and we just think that our biggest obstacle is not finances, our biggest obstacle is just having leaders that have a heart for doing what we’re doing, and willing to make the sacrifices that you have to make in order to bring the gospel to people that otherwise aren’t going to ever hear it.
Chris Turner: Yeah, most definitely. Well, just few days that we spent out there among you guys, just really saw the spiritual challenge. Just the broad diversity of the things that you deal with, with just cultural-related issues, and where we are as a nation. You guys are dealing with some of all of that, but it did seem like the spiritual warfare aspect of that was certainly prominent. So definitely, praying for that.
In any way, is there a tangible way that Tennessee Baptist might be able to help in the work that you’re doing?
Bruce Hendrich: Well, we love when you guys send out prayer walkers and prayer orders. We just had a couple ladies that came through last week I think it was, and they were able to hear real time prayer requests, and we were just able to tell them some of the specific things that we’re wrestling with, that’s always a huge blessing.
If we can ever come out and just share with you guys just the things that we’re learning and the things that, I mean, you have been a tremendous blessing, that PBC in general. Our ascending sending church, and our supporting churches out there in Tennessee have been awesome for coming out and partnering with us in some of our outreach opportunities.
But even if we could just come out and just share our heart on occasion to be a blessing to you guys because it is a challenge to make the transition from being a traditional church to a church that really is effective in reaching lost people.
Chris Turner: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that would definitely be something that would be worthwhile for our pastors to have the opportunity to learn from you guys, just as we talked about with as much as culture is changing. I mean, growing up in Tennessee myself, it’s just interesting to see not only the demographic shift from people here in the United States, but with a 145 different people groups living in Tennessee now, this is kind of like this isn’t your grandfather’s Oldsmobile anymore.
I mean Tennessee really is a diverse state, probably always has been, but it certainly seems more prominent now than it was at any time in the past. And so what you guys have to offer to us, I mean you guys are a glimpse at our future, and so hopefully we can figure out a way to get you guys involved in that. Well, Bruce, thanks so much. We’ll be sure and commit those things to prayer and we appreciate you spending a little time with us today.
Bruce Hendrich: Yeah, thank you for the opportunity and thanks for all the support you guys have given us along the way.
Speaker 3: Thank you for listening to radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector, the Official News Journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radiobr. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the Cooperative Program and gifts received through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. For more information, visit tnbaptist.org.