- One grew up with no religious tradition.
- One is a pastor’s kid who never really felt “the faith part” of his religious tradition.
- One is another pastor’s kid who explored a variety of faiths before returning to her father’s tradition.
- One is a Muslim American who grew up surrounded by evangelical Christians in Alabama.
They got together this past week in Austin for a South by Southwest conversation and it might have changed my life. The panelists – Ana Marie Cox, Ben Howe, Noor Tagour, and Bree Newsome – spoke about some of the authentic spiritual needs of people in every generation, tradition, and political demographic. Please listen here.
They range in age from 24 to 45 which is “young adult” only if your denomination’s average age is 60. But the next time someone says . . .
- Where are all the young people?
- Why don’t young people come to Church?
. . . invite them to listen to the South by Southwest podcast. They might feel uncomfortable (there’s a Muslim on the panel!) or sad or scared or tired. But I deeply believe that the future Church will look and sound more like this panel conversation than what happens most Sunday mornings in sanctuaries throughout this country. What’s the future Church going to look like?
- There will be more conversation and less sermon. Someone (a theologically trained leader?) might start the conversation, but there will be more back and forth, more grappling, more group spiritual direction.
- There will be more focus on faithful action that brings positive impact. More active service, and less “thoughts and prayers.” More worshipful work and less sitting in pews going through the motions without knowing why.
- We will remember that God is in control. We tend to nod and say those words while digging in to cling to our institutional power, pet projects, and deep-seated belief that our way is the best way. Letting go is perhaps the holiest practice of 21st Century ministry. (And speaking of letting go . . . )
- We will let go of finding common ground or agreeing in our divided world. “There are as many religions as there are people,” said one SXSW panelist. The goal is not to make everyone agree. The goal is to love each other in spite of our differences. Changing each other is not the same as loving each other.
- We will acknowledge that God is God is and we are not. We will remember that no one – not Franklin Graham, not Jerry Falwell Jr, not even Pope Francis – speaks unequivocably for God. We cannot know what’s best for other people. We cannot assume that God is on our side. We must trust God to know what’s best. We must seek to be on God’s side.
- We will remember that people don’t solve issues. God solves issues. We are simply tools for transforming the world, and we pray that we do this faithfully. (This is true even if we don’t acknowledge it. I don’t care that Stephen Hawking didn’t believe in God. Hawking’s life is still a miracle.)
- We will remember that relationships are everything. If we are in a congregation – whether it’s been 6 months or 60 years – and we do not have soul mates who hold us accountable for the way we live, we are missing out. A deep relationship with God and with God’s people is not only possible; it’s essential for spiritual growth.
- Spiritual communities will increasingly be about building resilience. In these days of overwhelming levels of violence, corruption, addiction, indebtedness, and trauma, there will be an increased understanding that we cannot endure without a power that’s greater than ourselves.
None of these shifts are new. Some of us have been writing and talking about them for a while. What’s new is that this conversation happened in a world famous, secular event.
We in organized religion must also remember that Jesus challenged organized religion. This is a wonderful and (for those of us in organized religion) terrifying season. But these times are not about us. It’s all about trusting in God and deeply believing that God’s plans are better than our own.
This is especially discomfitting for those of us who are most spiritually comfortable with a sermon, a choir, and pews. But just as God shifted the church in past eras regarding sermons, choirs, and pews these shifts are happening again. And if God is doing it, it will be good.
Image from SXSW. Left to right: Ana Marie Cox, Ben Howe, Noor Tagouri, and Bree Newsome.