Spiritual but not religious, Part 5,637

Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly writing for the Alban Institute:

It has become common for religious seekers of all ages to make the following statement: "I'm spiritual, but not religious." Often this claim is given as explanation for leaving a particular church or choosing not to attend church at all.

Sadly, contemporary Christianity has often failed to address the spiritual hungers of church members and seekers exploring the spiritual resources available beyond the doors of the church. This neglect has spawned a generation of what Kent Ira Groff calls "spiritual orphans," people who have little or no knowledge or attachment to traditional religious institutions.

In the quest to experience the divine, many postmodern seekers believe that the least likely place to find spiritual wisdom is in the church. Many seekers believe they can find better spiritual nurture by watching Oprah; reading books like The Secret, The Power of Now, or The Shack; or going on a yoga retreat than by participating with any intentionality in ongoing communal activities such as worship services, Bible studies, or adult educational or service programs. We regretfully admit that in addressing the spiritual journeys of millions of North American seekers, the church has been, to paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King Jr., a "taillight" rather than a "headlight" in illuminating the pathway to spiritual vitality and wholeness for our time. The church has often given people shallow theology and repetitive tasks without providing relevant pathways to experiencing God in and through our particular era's global and personal challenges.

While we recognize that the church's failure to address the spiritual hungers of many contemporary seekers, including youth and young adults within congregations, is the result of many factors, we also believe that solid ministerial spiritual formation is necessary if pastors are to respond creatively to the pressing needs of seekers as well as congregational members. If we pastors are not people of prayer and spiritual depth, it is unlikely that we will be able to provide adequate spiritual nurture for congregants, most especially those young seekers and committed Christians who crave an experience and relationship with the divine.

There is wisdom in this article, but I'm also interested in hearing about how one gets seekers to seek at your particular church.

Comments (1)

Maybe it's time we stop beating ourselves up for not providing what, I suspect, most who say they are spiritual but not religious, are not looking for. Too often that pious sounding phrase sounds like little more than a justification or an excuse for avoiding the serious discipline real religious spirituality demands and a means to avoid looking odd in a society that still expects lip service to religious values if not their practice.

If folks can find what they are looking for in the pabulum Oprah serves up or comfort in the shopping mall or endless re-runs of Law and Order, well and good. Fear of empty pews should not tempt us to offer watered down competition.

Civil society has seldom treated the church kindly. The church's job is not to try to emulate it, but to show Jesus and do justice. Then there will be something to find for those who don't know what they are seeking, if anything.

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