Spiritual But Not Religious

My amazing sister doing yoga in Costa Rica.  Follow her on Insta - @sunmermaid

I've been working full time in a ministry-like capacity at a small town church for almost a year now.    As the singular childless, spouseless church member - yes, I fall into that ever so trendy millennial category - I often find myself scratching my head at the religious culture that this church, and what I would imagine many others, have developed.  Among many things, one subject that surfaces frequently in committee meetings is the "spiritual but not religious" discussion.  And, perhaps like other churches too, this SBNR lifestyle is spoken about gravely, as if whispering it too loudly will bring the same dire affliction upon the regular church goers.  Better to sit in a pew on Sundays thinking about the beach than be at the beach thinking about God, isn't it?

The problem I have increasingly found with the church is its inability to move beyond what worked for the last generation into what it can be for the next.  Many churches make the mistake of trying to sell a product, rather than focusing on bringing people into relationships not just with Jesus, but with each other. And more importantly, it's about making an old story relevant to our lives today.  The themes are more than applicable - injustice, love, friendship, pain, forgiveness - but the delivery is often intimidating or condescending, full of rules and regulations.  It's a fine line between holy ritual and stuffy tradition.

If I'm completely honest, my once thriving and deep love of religion is now fading into something more accurately described as vague spirituality.  My connection with God has undoubtedly faltered over the past year - I feel my faith most profoundly when I'm doing yoga, and am most frustrated with it when I'm at church.  I feel my sense of spirituality slinking away from me, and I'm simply too exhausted to do anything about it.  But most importantly, I'm absolutely okay with all of this.  I'm not worried one bit.

Perhaps the challenge for the church is to somehow embrace this laissez-faire attitude of myself and other young adults, rather than pushing a somewhat irrelevant lifestyle on a generation consisting of dreamers and adventurers - a generation raised to think outside the box.  We're most likely not going to find ourselves in the church given the way it's marketed to us now, and I don't see this as a detriment to the lives of religiously reluctant millennials or to the current church goers who voice such concern about us.  Spirituality is intensely personal, and there's no cookie cutter way to experience faith.

Last year, the senior pastor of my former church addressed this issue in one of his weekly e-newsletters:

In response to last week's reflections on the Millennial generation's absence from church life, I received this excellent and very respectful question from an active member:

"As you discuss the dilemma in church participation, I would dearly love to understand how you couldn't imbue the importance of church membership to your own children? My question is beyond a confrontational challenge. If the senior pastor of a large church cannot bring his children to church, then what chance do lay people such as myself have?"

This is a concern raised by many parents who have found church life to be an essential and joyous part of their walk in life and yet have watched their children, often raised in the church, deem the church irrelevant once they have left home.

I would never want "church membership" to be seen as an end in itself. The goal of our faith isn't to fill pews, committees, or potluck dinners. God knows that these days there are too many glaring examples of public hypocrisy by self-professed church leaders to suggest that going to church alone makes one a Christian.

The goal of our faith is to create disciples of Jesus, those who live by and aspire for the teachings of Christ and know his grace in their hearts. Just by simple observation of our own young adult ministry, it would appear that Millennials are far more interested in small groups and service projects than showing up to worship services on a Sunday morning. In many ways, what church will be for them will be much different than what church has been for me.

To our active members concerned about keeping their children in church, as one who didn't, there are social and cultural factors at work today over which we have little control as parents. That's not offered as an excuse. Just don't let the idea of your kids not attending church detract from fulfilling the vow we make at each baptism of an infant: to live in such a way that these young ones will learn what it means to lead a Christian life by our example.

Whether our children attend church or not, if they see Christ in our lives, they will find their way to spiritual community in their own time and place."

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