But, looking around his office, I guess Mitchell wasn't lying when he said, "This is not your grandfather's church."
And he's not your grandfather's preacher, either.
Besides being a pastor, a Hollywood bigshot and a former Daily News Sexy Single, Mitchell has been a political aide to former U.S. Reps. Bill Gray and the Rev. Floyd Flake. Mitchell also served as executive vice president at Ohio's Wilberforce University during Flake's sometimes-controversial tenure as president there.
Speaking of her new pastor, Kamau Stanford, a teacher at Mastery Charter who attends Salem Baptist, said: "His approach to religion is very 21st century. It's really dope, contemporary stuff."
During the afternoon I visited Salem, Mitchell was in pastor mode, talking with a congregant about the launch of a new choir and joking with others about finding a December bride among seniors at the church. Mitchell was dressed nattily in a black velvet blazer with a Burberry pocket square and red-trimmed Adidas sneakers.
"This is very much an open-source kind of faith," he told me. "I look at my job as helping to install an app on somebody's smartphone and making sure that whenever they need to use it, they are able to turn it on."
His father's house
Born in Philadelphia in 1970, Mitchell grew up in Wynnefield, the son of the late Rev. Frank B. Mitchell Jr., a longtime pastor of Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in West Philly. Marshall Mitchell's grandfather, who grew up in a Jewish orphanage in Baltimore, was a pastor at Enon Baptist Church.
"My father was this oddball, 65-year-old pastor who had a 32-year-old wife, and I am their third son. So, my dad started late. My dad had his first child at 58," Marshall Mitchell recalled. (His brother John is an Inquirer sports reporter, and his other sibling, Frank, is a singer with Opera Philadelphia.)
"My dad was a great runner at Lincoln University in the 1920s. His best friend was [poet] Langston Hughes. I was named after [Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall, who was one of my dad's roommates in college," Marshall Mitchell said. "That was kind of the cultural milieu that I was raised in."
While attending Howard University, Mitchell worked as a floor assistant to Bill Gray, who was House Majority Whip at the time. The Rev. Flake named Mitchell chief of his congressional staff when the rising star was just 24.
"You can't find a better guy than Marshall Mitchell," said Flake, now senior pastor at Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens, N.Y. "There's no limit to what he can do."
His Father's voice
Early on the morning of April 16, 1997, Mitchell's high-flying life took an unexpected turn. He'd been restless and unable to sleep - an unusual state for him.
What came next was even more unusual: "I literally believe that I heard the voice of God define for me what I should do."
Mitchell felt that God had called him to preach, although not necessarily from a pulpit.
By that July, Mitchell had enrolled in Union Theological Seminary of New York. But shortly before graduation, he left to help his mother care for his 94-year-old father, who had been injured in a fall. He stayed in Philly, doing educational consulting before once again going to work for Flake, this time at Wilberforce, a small, historically black Protestant college.
Flake's tenure as president of the financially struggling school made headlines in 2011, after the New York Post reported that the salaries Flake had paid his staff, including Mitchell, were considered excessive by some faculty members. Mitchell, whose salary rose to $144,000 in 2005, said his pay was justifiable, considering the salaries at his previous positions.
"My first two years [at Wilberforce], I made $72,000, which was a quarter of what I was making before I went out there," he said.
In 2004, Mitchell's friend and Salem Baptist pastor the Rev. Robert Johnson-Smith II died unexpectedly. His wife asked Mitchell to help, and he began flying in from Ohio to deliver guest sermons.
Two years later, when Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz of Anschutz Entertainment Group decided to finance a movie about Wilberforce University's founder, English abolitionist William Wilberforce, Mitchell got involved in promoting the film, hoping to reap some benefits for the school.
He said Anschutz encouraged him to leave the school and go to Hollywood, where he co-founded Different Drummer.
When I caught up with Mitchell, he had just preached two Easter sermons. He's not one to sit still - he still flies out to Los Angeles almost every week - but, for now, his main focus is the church.
"I guess my next big project right now is Salem Baptist Church and making sure that they have a good pastor," he said.
With Mitchell directing things, Salem Baptist should brace itself for blockbuster success. Can I get an amen?
On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong