A Reversal

In a presentation at Hardin-Simmons University, David Benner (You Tube – https://youtu.be/3hkO1ZmQ56Y) tells the story of a friend who gave up his church membership because he found that religion added nothing to his spirituality. Later he indicated that he found that his spirituality was too anti-intellectual and offering nothing to his humanity. That story sounds like a modern parable raising questions about the way the church has operated throughout the centuries – bring people into membership (religion), help them grow in their faith (spirituality), and then move them into mission (humanity).

The Seeker Church movement adapted that model to what they thought was a modern mindset– entice people with an entertaining style of worship (religion), once in the door engage them in serious faith growth (spirituality), and … The problem was that, while thousands of people thronged to the worship / entertainment extravaganzas on Sunday mornings, only a much smaller sub-set was willing to be involved in continuing programs to develop their faith or move them into mission. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral seems to have undergone a similar fate.

As the number of “spiritual but not religious” grows and church participation continues at exceedingly low numbers, perhaps it is time to explore other options, models that are not based on the same assumptions – namely, religion is the precursor of spirituality which produces an integrated humankind. What if that model were reversed?

What if the primary focus were on what it means to be fully human, engaged wholesomely in the human community – caring for those in need, going green, building up relational infra-structures, ensuring tender justice for all, standing in solidarity with those who seem to be different from the norm, ensuring that no one is marginalized or dis-enfranchised, protecting the weak, feeding the hungry, …? Then, out of the striving for human (humane) concerns, a need is felt – a need for something more, something deeper, something sacred.

The community of human activity can’t exist on activity alone. We are a meaning-seeking people. We have a deeply implanted need to pay attention to that unheard inner voice that has been calling us into action, enticing us beyond ourselves. That insistence comes from the depths of mystery, the depths of our human unconsciousness. Mystery is woven into our being and must be attended to or we will run out of steam with our attempts to put our humanity into action. The development of our spirituality becomes essential, not to the deepening our church membership or upholding our religious practices, but to the living of our lives. Life itself calls forth the engagement with our inner self.

But spirituality itself can become so alluring that it distracts us from our activity in the world, from our growth into personal wholeness and maturity. The spiritual masters have suggested practices to their novices. Those practices are designed to support the spiritual formation while keeping the novice engaged in the world around. We call the collection of those practices religion and communities of practice are called religious associations (churches, temples, mosques, fellowships, etc.)

What would happen if a congregation’s new member class were a week-long mission trip to an inner city soup kitchen, or engaging in a Habitat for Humanity building blitz, or assisting medical personnel at a health clinic in Haiti, or preparing meals at the Sacred Stone camp of Native Americans in North Dakota? What if those new members were committed not only to the mission enterprise but also to a year-long weekly small group experience in which they would debrief their experiences and explore the spiritual dimensions of their personal growth during and after those experiences? What if one of the questions to be explored during the small group experience were “What practices might I need to continue my growth in faith and how might I regularize them in my life?”

What might result from such a reversal sounds more like Gordon Cosby’s experiment that became known as the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., or Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA, than what is happening in most of our congregations today.

Is such a reversal possible? Yes! Is it probable? That is up to you and me…

In a presentation at Hardin-Simmons University, David Benner (You Tube – https://youtu.be/3hkO1ZmQ56Y) tells the story of a friend who gave up his church membership because he found that religion added nothing to his spirituality. Later he indicated that he found that his spirituality was too anti-intellectual and offering nothing to his humanity. That story sounds like a modern parable raising questions about the way the church has operated throughout the centuries – bring people into membership (religion), help them grow in their faith (spirituality), and then move them into mission (humanity).

The Seeker Church movement adapted that model to what they thought was a modern mindset– entice people with an entertaining style of worship (religion), once in the door engage them in serious faith growth (spirituality), and … The problem was that, while thousands of people thronged to the worship / entertainment extravaganzas on Sunday mornings, only a much smaller sub-set was willing to be involved in continuing programs to develop their faith or move them into mission. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral seems to have undergone a similar fate.

As the number of “spiritual but not religious” grows and church participation continues at exceedingly low numbers, perhaps it is time to explore other options, models that are not based on the same assumptions – namely, religion is the precursor of spirituality which produces an integrated humankind. What if that model were reversed?

What if the primary focus were on what it means to be fully human, engaged wholesomely in the human community – caring for those in need, going green, building up relational infra-structures, ensuring tender justice for all, standing in solidarity with those who seem to be different from the norm, ensuring that no one is marginalized or dis-enfranchised, protecting the weak, feeding the hungry, …? Then, out of the striving for human (humane) concerns, a need is felt – a need for something more, something deeper, something sacred.

The community of human activity can’t exist on activity alone. We are a meaning-seeking people. We have a deeply implanted need to pay attention to that unheard inner voice that has been calling us into action, enticing us beyond ourselves. That insistence comes from the depths of mystery, the depths of our human unconsciousness. Mystery is woven into our being and must be attended to or we will run out of steam with our attempts to put our humanity into action. The development of our spirituality becomes essential, not to the deepening our church membership or upholding our religious practices, but to the living of our lives. Life itself calls forth the engagement with our inner self.

But spirituality itself can become so alluring that it distracts us from our activity in the world, from our growth into personal wholeness and maturity. The spiritual masters have suggested practices to their novices. Those practices are designed to support the spiritual formation while keeping the novice engaged in the world around. We call the collection of those practices religion and communities of practice are called religious associations (churches, temples, mosques, fellowships, etc.)

What would happen if a congregation’s new member class were a week-long mission trip to an inner city soup kitchen, or engaging in a Habitat for Humanity building blitz, or assisting medical personnel at a health clinic in Haiti, or preparing meals at the Sacred Stone camp of Native Americans in North Dakota? What if those new members were committed not only to the mission enterprise but also to a year-long weekly small group experience in which they would debrief their experiences and explore the spiritual dimensions of their personal growth during and after those experiences? What if one of the questions to be explored during the small group experience were “What practices might I need to continue my growth in faith and how might I regularize them in my life?”

What might result from such a reversal sounds more like Gordon Cosby’s experiment that became known as the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., or Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA, than what is happening in most of our congregations today.

Is such a reversal possible? Yes! Is it probable? That is up to you and me…

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