Nobody likes to feel stupid. But we’ve all been there. We all can recall humbling experiences. Like that time a grad school professor semi-shamed you, with his superior intellect, in front of the class. Or that coach who chewed you out in front of the team for missing an easy layup. Or that neighbor kid who taunted you because you still had training wheels on your bike.
These things sting . . . and they stick with us. So we often avoid situations where someone might show us up, or make us feel inferior—even as adults. We’re smart people, but we’re still daunted by the prospect that someone smarter might correct us, particularly in front of others. It’s the grown-up version of being mocked about those training wheels: You’re just never going to get it, are you?
I’m pretty sure that’s one reason pastors steer clear of science. Few are experts in science and no one, pastor or otherwise, enjoys the humiliation of being corrected, especially in public. So, we simply avoid science. It’s easier that way. After all, a little ignorance really is bliss, right?
Pair Up with a Scientist!
But be encouraged! Yes, science is hard. And yes, scientists—with advanced degrees and expertise in areas few of us can comprehend—certainly can be intimidating. But really, they’re just like you and me, fallible human beings who make mistakes like the rest of us.
Sometimes they might seem Smarter Than Thou, but here’s why: They’re trained to be critical and to get the facts straight. Science would never progress if they didn’t have the ability to find flaws in others’ ideas and pursue new approaches to understanding God’s creation (whether they call it “creation” or not). In science, ideas compete in a game of survival, striving for replication and validation and the ultimate prize of having one’s name attached to a major discovery. As a result, the world of science can seem vicious and cutthroat.
Thousands of these critically-minded scientists sit in your churches every Sunday. So I understand why a pastor—whose expertise is the Bible and theology, and often with an undergraduate degree in the humanities—might be fearful of engaging science.
But again, be encouraged! Because I think such fear is misguided.
Scientists do want to get the facts right and to accurately investigate the natural world, but even more so, the ones in your pews—especially those on who sit on your boards, teach Sunday school, or volunteer with your youth—really want to be recognized not just as scientists, but as equal partners in the body of Christ. They want to be of service to the church.
The two programs we’ve run for the last decade rest on this assumption. Scientists in Congregations and the STEAM project both gave modest grants to ministries for programs led by the pairing of a pastor and a scientist. And they worked brilliantly.
The secret to their success was the trust that developed through the relationships that formed. The pastor had a science advisor to help ensure that the church got its facts right, and the scientist became known as a partner in ministry.
Many of these scientists used the language of coming out to describe the level of freedom and validation offered by this pairing model. These scientists badly want to be recognized as scientists, using their gifts in service to the gospel. This simple ministry model not only opens up ministry to an under-appreciated community of persons—scientists and STEM professionals—but it can also mobilize new volunteers, a need in every successful ministry.
- For examples of these pairs, check out Scientists in Congregations and STEAM.
- The largest science society in the world is helping scientists engage with religious audiences.
- That society—the AAAS—has a database of scientists wanting to work with faith communities.
- The American Scientific Affiliation takes science seriously, while nurturing faith & fellowship.
- Christians in Science is part of an international network of pros who connect science and faith.
- The CCCU includes scientists of faith at more than 150 Christian colleges and universities.
- SCIO helps CCCU faculty integrate their research with their faith.
- At Calvin Seminary’s Ministry Theorem, scientists share their work with the church.
Scientists Need YOU!
I recently attended a gathering of leaders interested in helping churches better engage with science. Most in the group were academic scientists, but they were also committed Christians hoping to finding corners of the church where their vocation was validated and their passion for ministry utilized.
These scientists don’t always understand the reality of ministry as lived each day by clergy and church leaders. They need partners within the church to help them understand how best to balance their desire to engage the church with science while also fulfilling their church’s ministry goals.
That is to say, they need you—the church leaders—to reach out and ask them to be a partner. They can help you say ever more intelligent things as you reach out to a segment of the population that often feels isolated . . . even if they are attending your church.
As to feeling stupid—well, it’s going to happen to all of us sometimes . . . even with a science partner to vet your facts. We all remain fallible. And it keeps us humble . . . which is a pretty good place to be.