Welcome to Horizons of the Possible.

I’m Russell Smith.  I’m the pastor of historic Covenant-First Presbyterian in downtown Cincinnati.  I’m also a dad, a Southerner in the Midwest, a lover of books and movies, among many other things.

I want to help you grow in your relationship with God.  I do this by storytelling, encouragement, and curation of inspiration (What does that mean? See the post “Daddy, What Do You Do All Day?”)

Everything in our lives is spiritual: work, family, hobbies, finances, romance, art – everything.  And therefore, just about anything can be a venue for spiritual growth.  While trying to encompass everything, there are some main themes that I find I come back to again and again:

I address these themes through this blog and through my other writings (You mean there’s more?  You bet – go see the Books and Other Media page).

Of course, if you’re in the Cincinnati area, I’d love for you to drop by Covenant-First and visit us for worship, 10:30 on Sundays and Noon on Wednesdays.

So sit back.  Browse around.  Check out these top posts from the first quarter of 2017:

And don’t miss these top posts of all time (as of April 2017)

I hope you feel encouraged in your spiritual growth!  And before you leave, be sure to sign up for the Horizons of the Possible  e-newsletter.  You’ll receive a regular encouragement and inspiration in your inbox.



8 thoughts on “About

  1. Russel: I told you I’d share some work I’d done on where denominations are headed.
    Where Are Denominations Headed?
    Where are denominations headed? What will they look like in the future? As I understand it, denominations developed more in the USA than other places around the world. The fact that there are representative samples of denominations around the world is more due to the missionary movement that emerged from the United States than anything else. In most of Europe, the different expressions of Christianity were established as state churches. There were minority expressions also, but they were definitely reminded that they were protest groups and not the official expression of the faith.
    Part of the reason that denominations were birthed in the United States was the peculiar environment present at the beginning of our nation. As we are fond of celebrating, many early immigrants came to this country in search of religious freedom. What many people do not remember is that they came searching for religious freedom for themselves, not necessarily for others. There were several attempts to set up their particular expression of Christianity as the new state church.The Puritans and the Anglicans are examples of this. I think it was Robert Handy, church historian, who pointed out that the fact that there were multiple expressions in the same geographical area forced them to consider a new arrangement from that which they knew in Europe. If any one of them was going to have freedom, they needed to grant that freedom to the others as well. Presbyterian’s had to tolerate Methodists and Baptist in the same community if they wanted the freedom to be there themselves. Actually late into the 19th century there were still state churches in some regions of our country.
    The result of this “I will let you exist if you will let me exist” arrangement was the development of what we call denominations in a multi-denominational society. One of the forces behind what we call the separation of church and state was the recognition that for this multiple expression of Christianity to exist, the state could not support any one church. Therefore churches had to develop their own monetary support through voluntary donations from their members. There are many who attribute the vitality of Christianity in this country to the fact that their survival depended upon this need to attract new members and appeal to them for their monetary support.
    Sometime around World War 2, there was a movement to centralize and organize denominations in a similar manner to the ways that business was organizing to be more efficient to support the war effort. Robert Hutchinson, a Southern Presbyterian, traces that development in a book that he published sometime around the 70′s. I will review his argument in a future writing. His main thesis was that there was a centralizing effort for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness. Local churches were urged to support the denominational structure and let those who were experts send the missionaries and establish national priorities and programs.
    Now there is a seismic change taking place, the shape of which is not clear. Yet there are some hints now emerging. First of all, members of local churches no longer have a sense of denominational loyalty. On any given Sunday, if you would ask the members of a local church how many were born into that denomination, less than half of most congregations would raise their hands. Combine that with a strong anti-institutional attitude in all areas of our society and you severely weaken any sense of loyalty or obligation to the denominational structures. This is exacerbated by the strong reaction of members to any pronouncement or action by the hierarchy that goes beyond the comfort zone of the local church member. In effect, the money to support these structures is drying up.
    As I recently drove across the midwest, I was struck again and again how many community churches were springing up. These are churches that have very little connection with other churches in anything like the previous denominational structures. They are free of any inclination to focus any of their resources on a structural hierarchy. They are also free to attend to the feelings of their members and adjust accordingly without being hampered by any sense of tradition. Localism is the new trend.
    The fact that such an arrangement can lead to isolation and a distorted understanding of the challenges of faith that can be brought to us by those who differ with us does not carry much weight with these churches. There is a sense of disestablishment that continues to impact the church. At one time we were “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” church. With the split between the East and the West, and the development of nationalism, as well as the Protestant Reformation, there developed multiple expressions of the faith. While there was no longer “one” Christian church, in many areas there was one “approved” or state church. In this country we disestablished the state church but there was an implicit Protestant establishment. Over time that gave way to a Catholic/Protestant expression. Now it appears that at the same time that we are wrestling with what it means to be a multi-faith society, we are also disestablishing denominations and multiplying the fractured expression of Christianity. If we take seriously Jesus admonition that the world will know that we are Jesus disciples if we love one another, we are probably not making a very good witness. What we are doing is being forced by circumstances to reexamine what it means to be a powerless church. As we lose the influence that was gained when Constantine made Christianity the official faith of the empire, we may be being led by God to rediscover what it means to be a servant church. Servants rarely have any official power but they do have a strong affect on those around them who do have power. Perhaps learning how to be servants of others over whom we have no control will lead us to reflect on Jesus’ ministry and therefore ours in a new way. Can denominations learn that as well or will they just fade away? And if they do fade away, how will we make connection with the worldwide expression of the faith that breaks open our isolationism and helps us listen to God with fresh ears?
    What are your ideas about what will happen to denominations? And if these unfolding events have God in them, what is God doing?

    • Wow. A very thoughtful analysis. I agree that denominations are fading – though they won’t die out. The successful ones will adapt to the current social environment by becoming more like equipping agencies rather than regulatory bodies. Thanks for your thoughts, Steve.

  2. One area been thinking about is how denominations can use social media to build communities around shared mission concerns and theological challenges.If, as Tom Friedman — Flat Earth–suggests, the internet empowers the individual for good or ill, then maybe part of our connectedness should be to challenge & lift up the theological truths that can be connected across the human created boundaries that divide us.
    Keep moving on the journey.

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