On the Journey: Sabbatical Report Part I

For starters – an apology.  I’d hoped to make more of a formal presentation about the sabbatical experience back on the 10th of September when we had a kickoff potluck at church.  Unfortunately, what I’m finding is that it’s difficult to carve out the extra time to pull that together while back in the midst of regular ministry.

But as a way to begin sharing some of the insights of our group study, interviews and reading, the next three “Lamplighter” articles from me will highlight one facet of what we’ve learned along the way.  Out of necessity, these will be some simplified observations, intended to serve as landmarks that can guide us as we consider the journey of our ministry together and the mission God sends us on.

Spiritual, but not religious

Throughout our learning process, one theme kept coming up.  Just because people aren’t connected to a church doesn’t mean that they don’t care about God or have some kind of faith that is important to them.

This sense of faith and spirituality may vary widely in how important it is to the person and what resemblance it may bear to what we could call historical Christian orthodoxy (that is, what the majority of Christians could come together around across history).  This reminds us not to assume where anyone may be spiritually just because they’re not a part of a church, and to look for points of connection where God is at work in the beliefs they hold and the questions they are asking.

What’s important?

The reading and interviews we conducted highlight several recurring points of connection among those who are not connected to a faith community:

  • They care about people in need, and are willing to get involved to do something about it.
  • They want to be valued as a person and able to contribute and participate.
  • They aren’t necessarily against tradition or ritual, but it has to be meaningful.
  • They are accepting of people and of questions, and need an environment that reflects this.
  • They are largely fed up with faith that is reduced to moralism or compartmentalized to a Sunday morning.

Changing dynamics and implications

We also noticed changing cultural trends that impact the assumptions we make about communicating the Gospel and how we do ministry.

  • We can no longer assume that most people (outside OR inside the church) are familiar with the basic stories, history or theological basis of our faith.  The de-churched do not default to trusting authority figures and groups, which means that we need to carefully consider the kind of language we use and the methods of teaching and discipleship we employ.  One of the core elements of that includes dialogue over lecture.
  • According to the Barna research, many who are disconnected from church also report feeling alone, not having significant connections with other generations.  They report high levels of loneliness, stress, and concern for the future.  (Although not unique to this group, these indicate ways the church can seek to minister to needs they are experiencing.)
  • People have enormous choice with how to spend their time – both for entertainment and for volunteering.  Most unchurched people do not view the church negatively, they just don’t think it’s relevant.

That’s a sobering thought – but it also lets us know things we need to pay attention to, and where we can direct our energy to be more effective living out our call to share our faith and help one another walk as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Things we can encourage and grow in:

  • Communicating and demonstrating faith as a way of life that touches all parts of life.
  • Encouraging intergenerational connections and relationships in church life.  Talk with Jen Koenigs to learn more about opportunities relating to this.
  • Remembering that people are not projects.  Let God work and open opportunities over time.
  • Listening to the questions people are asking before we try to offer answers.
  • Examining what we’re doing in our programs, small groups and church activities: ask how it is relevant to people outside the church.
  • Creating opportunities for dialogue and conversation around the core of our faith; seeing discipleship as a relationship-based process rather than a program we graduate from.

There’s a lot to absorb – yet we’re already leaning into what it looks like to live this out.   God is at work in the world around us, and there are many opportunities to connect with and encourage what God is doing in someone else’s life.  The wild thing is that as we join in this mission of God, God not only uses us to help others, but that we are changed, and we grow in the process.

Blessings on the Journey,

Pastor Brian