“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17, NASB).
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching at a local UMC congregation in Philadelphia. The lectionary’s Old Testament passage focused on Jacob’s trip from Beer-sheba to Haran and his dream of a celestial ladder with ascending and descending angels (Gen. 28:10-19a). True to form, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to use science to introduce dream stages and unpack a bit of brain science to help parishioners develop a deeper appreciation for how God communicates with us and helps us experience his divine presence. So I talked about REM stages, dream cycles, and how neurotheology can help us make sense of religious experiences.
At first, I felt apprehensive about the congregation’s possible reaction to these perhaps unfamiliar subjects, but their response pleasantly surprised me. The congregation was enthusiastic about using science to build a pathway for looking beyond current realities and learning to experience God in new, unexpected ways. Moreover, a new appreciation for different approaches to the biblical text began to develop in the minds of those present. For me, this is one of the most satisfying aspects of working at the intersection of faith and science.
Probably at this point, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, easy for you to say.” Of course, I understand that many congregations do not have clergy trained to engage in the science and faith dialogue. But do not fret! SftC can help you develop the capacity, leverage the networks, and build the support needed for your church to thrive in this area. Here are some ideas:
Build Common Ground
It may sound counterintuitive, but we begin with the idea that scientific inquiry helps us understand that creation actively reveals God’s handy work. This is why the psalmist wrote about the heavens, the moon, the stars, and the rest of creation as actively revealing the glory of God (Psalms 8 and 19). Therefore, engaging in science is directly connected to our Christian heritage of scientific inquiry and discovery. Moreover, building on this heritage, our congregations can find consensus on using science to define, address, and find answers to the real-life issues they face today.
What am I talking about? Is your congregation concerned with matters related to social justice and equality? Or have you seen a recent uptick in the conversation around climate change, resource conservation, or creation care? Maybe, you are pastoring an aging flock that can benefit from a broader understanding of healthcare. Engaging with modern scientific discovery can help your congregation address these issues and minister effectively in these spaces. Please know that even if you don’t have research scientists within your community of faith, you may already have the connections and people you need to help lead the way. Social scientists, STEAM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) teachers, healthcare professionals, and others can be invaluable assets to assist you in getting started.
Introducing your church to the science and faith dialogue starts by finding what works best for you. It is followed by engaging concerned partners and stakeholders that can partner with you in leading the way. And it is sustained by a proactive approach to preaching, teaching, and programming that promotes and includes science at its core. What I am describing is SftC’s relational approach, called The Standard Model (TSM), and it can help you revitalize and reinvigorate your ministry today.
- Take a closer look at how churches have used The Standard Model to engage science and faith.
- Here is a comprehensive list of our curated materials on our relational approach.
- In “A Science-Engaged Ministry Bears Fruit,” Drew unpacks how pastors can work with scientists to foster congregational growth.
Develop an Achievable Goal
One of the most important things we have learned at SftC is that avoiding science and failing to engage it seriously weakens our witness to God’s mighty works. When we look beyond what may seem comfortable to us and decide to engage science, our churches reap positive benefits like growth (both spiritual and numerical), spiritual vitality, and increased relevance. I have seen inner-city communities of faith identify healthcare as an immediate concern and partner with organizations like Cities Changing Diabetes to address these concerns. Others identify with climate change and have formed partnerships to design community gardens, plant trees, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat urban heat islands.
The point is that introducing your church to the science and faith dialogue begins by identifying the issues that affect your community and developing an achievable goal. This goal must be simple enough that your church can embrace it and move it forward. This is not our concept, but the counsel God gave his people: “Write down the vision and inscribe it clearly on tablets, so that one who reads it may run” (Hab. 2:2).
We understand that while engaging science and faith may be easy for some, it can be a bit challenging for others. That is why we have developed The Standard Model. Our model will help you move beyond abstractions to create a simple and achievable program. These six comprehensive steps focus on developing a team of devoted stakeholders to guide the process, a framework to help understand your unique ministerial context, a method for discerning God’s leading, help for designing a suitable program, resources to launch your program, and a comprehensive process for evaluating the results. In other words, we have removed the guesswork so you can help your congregation enter this space safely and on a solid foundation.
Take Decisive Action
As I finished my sermon, I asked the congregation to consider how Jacob rose from his slumber and took decisive actions to align himself with God’s new revelation (Gen. 28:18-19a). He built an altar, renamed the place, and embraced this new and extraordinary direction. Perhaps today, you are feeling that same challenge. So, I invite you to follow God’s leading and take this new and exciting path.
If you need more information or don’t know where to start, visit our website SciencefortheChurch.org. If you need help and want our consulting services, please reach out to learn more about the services we offer. Also, you can invite our team to lead a workshop, teach, or preach to introduce your church to the science and faith dialogue.
In Nobis Regnat Iesus,