One question we might ponder, as Christian leaders, is whether our interest in science and faith interests anyone else, especially those in our youth groups, our college fellowships, or more generally, our congregations. Is it more akin to a collection of Russian Matryoshka dolls made in 1892 or original and unreleased recordings of Miles Davis and John Coltrane from 1962?
In other words, is science and faith a pet interest or a topic that will land with my congregation? Even worse, will it create controversy?
Drew and I have pondered this extensively, and we’re convinced that the answer depends on whether we as leaders connect with the felt needs of our congregation. What do they “feel” when they think of science?
Our job as leaders is to help people move from felt needs to real needs. I’ll say more below, but let me start with a story when I felt a little unsure about moving across country—from New York City to Chico, California—to begin a new position.
Took the Leap and Where I Landed
I had just started as associate pastor of adult discipleship at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and I wanted to make a splash. I also wanted to share with my congregation something about what I had spent a significant time learning and teaching about—how the discoveries of science livens up our faith. I wanted to bring science to my new church.
So, in my second month, I called the Chico Enterprise-Record (the daily paper that serves our town of 100,000) to see if they were interested in a story. It seemed like a long shot, but to my surprise, they promoted the class with front page picture—something that certainly didn’t happen when I called The New York Times! And though Bidwell Presbyterian was a growing congregation with 1600 members, I still didn’t anticipate 120 people waiting expectantly for something to happen that very first night of class. We had to move from an adult ed classroom to the Sanctuary. It seemed I had hit a felt need, like science and faith wasn’t simply my pet project.
I learned again that first night of class that our task as Christian leaders is to move people from felt needs to real needs. Felt needs are simply wants, wishes, and hopes in our gut that reflect basic necessities for life like safety and physical essentials. Real needs are deeper and in their truest form what God has for us. In the case of science and faith, the real need is to see that science helps us grasp God and creation more completely and taps into a curiosity of our congregation to expand our view of our Creator and Redeemer. But we have to start with and identify felt needs.
And the felt need about science in our congregations is often uneasiness, the fear that if we accept modern science, we’ll lose God. What congregations don’t want is science without God. Or even more that science denies God’s activity.
- Elaine Howard Ecklund on why we need to bring science to our congregations.
- Barna found that many millennials leave because the church is “antiscience”.
- Time magazine on Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and his Christian faith.
- Check out the free trial for my new online course designed to help you engage science in ministry.
- Christianity Today on “Bringing Science to Church.”
- Writer Jevon Bolden on felt needs vs. real needs (especially as it relates to writing).
Seeking God with Science
For most of us, it’s not about a resistance to science; it’s about science with no God. It’s about those voices that proclaim science’s power to oust God from the universe. And sometimes, despite what scientists themselves say, the culture or political powers will change that message. The first cosmonaut in space Yuri Gagarin was quoted by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev—in line with the Soviet philosophy—to have announced, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.”
Interesting, it seems like Gagarin, a Russian Orthodox Christian, never proclaimed that, but that the officially atheist government put those words in his mouth. The Soviet Union started by not finding God on earth and therefore couldn’t see God in space either. In fact, Gagarin’s friends remember his saying, “An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and his heart.”
The great news about bringing science to church is that we find more and more places throughout this astonishing creation to look and to see the Creator God we know in Jesus Christ.