What do I do if my church does not accept me as a scientist?
Wherever two or more evangelicals in the sciences are gathered, in my experience, this question inevitably comes up. I hear it often, and not only do I find it to be one of the hardest questions to answer, but its prevalence saddens me.
I should not have been surprised when it came up last month in a program with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It was a response to my claim that the best way to engage science in church was by scientists and church leaders working relationally to develop contextual programs for their congregations. You know that spiel—it is our Standard Model.
I was not at all satisfied with the answer I gave then, so here is an attempt to offer a better reply.
The Easier Scenario
There are many churches that value science and are welcoming to scientists. Our experience at Science for the Church is a biased sample—science-affirming churches gravitate to us and those wary of science do not. Still, there are many, many churches that would affirm a scientist in their midst and fully engage with them as a scientist.
So, I would always encourage scientists to look for a congregation where they and their family can grow as Christian disciples. Find one with the right mix of worship, preaching, community, programs, mission, and theological orientation that also welcomes you as a scientist.
And to church leaders reading this—this is a reminder that you need to be explicit in communicating that your congregation welcomes Christians in the sciences, incorporating them fully into the body of Christ.
But the reality remains, many scientists are already embedded in their church, a congregation that has been their home (and often their family’s home) for years. It may have been the church in which they were baptized and/or married. It may be the church where they worship alongside parents and grandparents and lifelong friends. For many, shopping for a new church is not an option.
- In a video, one scientist describes his experience among Christians.
- The Colossian Forum has an excellent resource to help your church turn conflict over science into an opportunity for discipleship.
- Download The Standard Model (in English or Spanish) to learn more about the process we have seen work again and again to help churches better engage science.
- We offer several resources on thinking about science and Christian vocation. We are developing a curriculum that deals with this topic and can help your church understand the ways science is godly work (and the ways it is not).
The Harder Scenario
For the scientist deeply rooted in a church that is not accepting of them as a scientist, I have no simple reply. You must navigate your history with the church and in those rooted relationships with family and friends. Some may be willing to up and leave, but most, I suspect, will not.
For those that stay, find a supportive community with other Christians in the sciences. This could happen within your church—especially in larger congregations, you are probably not alone. Seek out other STEM professionals and form a prayer group or Bible study where you can support each other.
Or you may need to look outside your church. Consider organizations like the American Scientific Affiliation (now with over 30 local chapters in the US and Canada), BioLogos (their Forum is a good place to start), or even a neighboring church that you discover is science-friendly. Don’t be shy about seeking peers outside of your congregation. Reply to this email if you want help finding the support you need.
Can The Standard Model Still Work?
We have worked with scientists who have such a deep history and are so beloved in their church that they were able to initiate conversations around science that would be taboo for anyone else. Trust and a history of steadfastness in the church still means something to many congregations.
If that does not feel like your situation, I do believe our Standard Model could still work for you, but the process will need to be more deliberate. It may start by finding a few other individuals in the congregation that also want to see the church approach science differently. It may require that group connecting to the right person(s) in leadership to form a small reading and learning group. You may have to open up and reveal the pain you have felt from your church. Be prepared to help others see that your work in STEM is godly work. It will be wise to avoid subjects you know could rock the boat, focusing instead on your experience and on less controversial topics.
What is needed for the Standard Model to work is trust between church leaders and scientists and then between them as a group and the wider congregation. Building trust is hard in this day and age, but begin by sharing your love for Christ and for your church. Tactfully express how the church is pushing people like yourself away because of its approach to science. Maybe, with a boost from the Holy Spirit, that will be enough to start to open the door.
More is Needed
This is a bit better than what I said in that ESN webinar last month, but by no means is it a final word. Many of you have experiences that can enrich and deepen what I have offered here. Please send your responses to us via email or comment on Facebook where we post each newsletter, so we can learn from you.
A huge motivation for us at Science for the Church is to support Christians doing science and to help the church become a place that embraces you and supports you to be the hands and feet of Christ in the halls of science. Pastors need to know when our churches are inhibiting Christ followers from fuller participation in God’s work.
Science should never be a barrier keeping anyone away from Christ and his body, the church. Together, guided by the Holy Spirit, let us pursue a day when that hard question is no longer so prevalent because scientists are accepted in our churches.