While some might say there are few things more quintessentially Lutheran than the hot dish, not every Lutheran grew up eating various forms of this starchy casserole at church potlucks. Three millennial-aged ELCA pastors are using the hot dish—and the cozy church culture it tends to represent—as a token to expand the view of Lutheranism in their weekly half-hour podcast called “To Hell with the Hot Dish.”

Meant to be more symbolic than literal, the hot dish represents many of those stereotypical, yet time-honored, traditions that can often get in the way of deeper conversations about faith. With this podcast, first-call pastors Kyle Rouze, Alex Hoops and Lorne Hlad hope to challenge listeners by discussing topics that aren’t often mentioned during coffee hour after worship.

“We hope to open up the conversation about our faith as disciples of Jesus,” said Hlad, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Loveland, Ohio, in the podcast’s first episode. “What does it mean to live out our faith in today’s context and culture? We hope to challenge that cliché casserole culture by talking about things that you might not think can be talked about in church or by pastors.”

Themes for each episode range from discussions of church seasons, such as Lent and Holy Week, to examining specific issues like the link between fitness and faith. The pastors’ goal is to approach each topic thoughtfully but always include a healthy dose of humor.

“The church has taken itself way too seriously for far too long,” said Rouze, a pastor of Calvary Lutheran, Richland Hills, Texas. “I think it’s a healthy exercise to be able to laugh at ourselves, to realize that we can both laugh and still be incredibly faithful.”

Hoops, a pastor of Bread of Life Lutheran Church, Minot, N.D., added: “It’s meant to be a playful reflection. Humor can help us realize that sometimes we put our own observances above the more important things, like our identity in Jesus.

If we lose sight of that because of the annual meatball dinner, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ”

Rouze initially came up with the idea of using a podcast to help people think about their faith between Sundays and to reach those who might not have time to attend adult education classes. He knew Hoops from the latter’s internship at his church and Hlad is Hoops’ friend from seminary.

Streaming faith perspectives

To this day Rouze and Hlad have never met in person, but after months of group text messages and weekly video chats, it’s clear the three have a comfortable and established camaraderie.

The podcast’s first episode came out in February, though the trio has been working on the project since last summer, fine-tuning the show’s format with the help of family and friends.

Topics often come up from their everyday experiences as pastors or from ideas that listeners have suggested. They discuss each week’s topic beforehand but don’t really follow a script, preferring to let the conversation flow naturally. When possible, they invite guests on the show to provide an outside perspective for listeners.

Because of the distance between the three, each records his portion of the podcast on equipment they were able to get with a grant from Rouze’s synod (Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana).

Despite being new to the medium, the three pastors appreciate the potential that podcasting has to reach large and diverse groups. Though its audience continues to grow, the show has already proven its ability to appeal to multiple generations, gaining fans ranging from junior high catechism students to octogenarians.

Charles Rohloff, a 71-year-old member of Calvary, has been a regular listener since the podcast began. He cites its relaxed and conversational format as one of its biggest strengths, along with the three pastors’ excitement for the project.

“Kyle, Alex and Lorne are very passionate about what they are discussing, and they have great insights,” Rohloff said. “They motivate me to think and ask questions about how some aspects of our church culture may need to change.”

Another fan of the show is Rouze’s uncle, Don Rouze, who admires the work the trio has put in so far. “These three young men are busting at the seams to spread and expand the scope and boundaries of their congregations,” he said. “They work in a world of Facebook, Twitter and now podcasts. I respect their honest attempts to make fun of themselves and a stereotyped church culture that should be challenging itself to stay current.”

In the end, all three pastors agree that the main goal of the podcast is to start a conversation that listeners can continue long after each episode has finished.

“I think that’s starting to happen,” Hlad said. “I have people I’ve never met emailing me to say they brought up a comment in their Bible study  that we’d mentioned. That’s really inspiring.”

What’s a podcast?

A podcast is like an online radio program—it’s a digital audio file on the internet that you can download or listen to through a website (also known as streaming).

How do I listen to the show?

To listen to the show through a website, click here.

For instructions on how to download and subscribe to the show using your iPhone, iPad or Android phone, click here.

Krista Webb
Webb is a freelance writer in St. Paul, Minn.

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