Our timing was not great. Launching a new endeavor only a few months before a global pandemic was unfortunate. Our central emphasis—forging relationships between church leaders and science professionals as a means of strengthening the church—was difficult in a time of social distancing, remote everything mediated by screens, and communal stresses few of us saw coming.
Once again, the Bible and science agree. It is the cycle Jesus succinctly summarized in Matthew 10:8–freely we receive, so much so, that out of gratitude we are inspired to freely give.
I’m grateful for gratitude because, when we practice it, life is better. Paul reminds us, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, that even when life is hard, we’d do well to “be thankful [grateful] in all circumstances” (NLT). I’m grateful for gratitude because it leads to praising life and to praising God for life.
Outside of holiness circles, John Wesley’s contributions to our theological understanding, his approach to social action leading to transformation, and the use of science as a tool for social improvement have gone unnoticed or altogether ignored. As this introduction hints, my approach to theology is decidedly Wesleyan and, in the same way Greg Cootsona circles back to St. Clive when he writes, I cannot help but talk about St. John Wesley and his contributions to Christian thought.
Leading a church already had its own set of challenges. Add 18 months of pandemic, social upheaval, and political unrest, and it is indeed overwhelming. Part of what makes it so difficult is that both pastors and their congregations are overwhelmed and worn out. The data on depression and mental health bear this out. Our collective mental health is not good.
I’ve found that scientific studies of religious life reveal that we don’t have to give up “religion” to be “spiritual.” In fact, religion at its best makes us more deeply spiritual. For those who care about the vibrancy of the church, particularly those who lead congregations, instead of feeling discouraged at SBNRs walking out the doors of the sanctuary for good, our hope is that engaging science can lead them to the deeper spirituality they seek.