Why “Spiritual but Not Religious” is NOT Enough
As a person who works with young people, I hear quite often from young adults who just graduated from the “youth group bubble”- “I’m now spiritual, but not religious.” I’ve actually gone through this with my own young adult children. It’s tough to hear, but you justify it with “well it’s ok, it’s their own form of connection with God.” But is it REALLY ok?
According to Wikipedia “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) is “a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. Spirituality places an emphasis upon the well-being of ‘mind-body-spirit’ . . . In contrast to religion; spirituality has often been associated with the interior life of the individual.”
The Reverend Lillian Daniel has explored this topic extensively. What started out as a short essay for The Huffington Post has developed into enough material for a book “When ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ Is Not Enough” (Jericho, 2013). In her writings she discusses her exasperation with people who felt compelled to tell her in “dreaded conversations” mostly on airplanes, once they find out she is a minister, their explanation of why they are “spiritual but not religious” . . . predictable shares of “I find God in sunsets” or in “walks in nature." Her point is “who doesn’t?”
Father Mike Schmitz, (http://BULLDOGCATHOLIC.ORG) is bold enough to say that this approach that “Spiritual but Not Religious” is just an individual being concerned only with their wants and needs. “I don’t actually have to be concerned with what God might want; I’m not even asking God about how he wants to be found or how he wants to be worshiped. I am merely doing what I want to do.” He states “Our spirituality has been formed and informed by our religion.”
Reverend Daniel states “There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts about oneself. What IS interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself."
So what does this mean in our Methodist tradition? I found on www.umc.org an article addressing lessons for the church from the ‘spiritual but not religious’ featuring the Reverend Linda Mercadante and her book “Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious”.
Here are some lessons for the church that she suggests that I feel apply to ministry with young people:
- Live Your Faith This is crucial for our work with young people that we walk the walk of our talk. So many times in the life of the church and ministry, young people do not witness the connection “between one’s inner life and outward behavior."
- Value Diversity Now more than ever, young people are looking for church that is inclusive and makes a difference in the world at large. Mercadante learned SBNRs are interested in diversity “when it fosters compassion and peace rather than division and conflict”. She sites our open communion table as an early tradition of “all” being welcome and “a witness to our emphasis on the prevenient grace of God.”
- Focus on mentoring relationships All current research and writing on successful youth ministry starts not with programs or curriculum, but with relationships; showing up in young people’s lives as a caring, supportive adult. This adult who is associated with a ministry then holds value based upon the investment in a relationship, and therefore models and gives value to seeking a life of faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Mercadante references similar relationship in the early Methodist movement. “Wesley’s model of discipleship included gathering people into small groups where Christians were strengthened.”
- Life Transformation Our young people need to know they are making a difference, that the life they lead matters. A SBNR’s spiritual journey according to Mercadante is “not solely about the afterlife, but more about the perspective and high value on self-fulfillment. They want to be on a path to finding and being their best self."
With our rich history of social justice, caring for the poor, and call to our mission of “transforming the world”, we as Christians, as Methodists, live in the hope of resurrection and the assurance that “our faith enriches our lives daily." A faith that calls us to be in a full relationship with God that includes that sunset, but also a place where a body of believers don’t have to invent God, or go it alone, but live out a life of faith as one Body of Christ.