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Flourishing Congregations Institute

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In August, the Advancement of Science (AAAS) through its Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program hosted a Science for Seminaries Faculty Enrichment Retreat. At this retreat, there were many opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with scientists and other theologians about how they incorporated science into theological curriculum. One of the great conversations that I had was with “Tony.” Tony was one of the scientists who worked on the Hubble Space telescope and was a layperson in his church. What impressed me about Tony was not only his scientific expertise, but his deep Christian faith.

 

It seems many Christians turn to pastoral leaders with questions about science and its implications, yet clergy members often have little exposure to science in their theological education. In a 2015 study by AAAS (Perception Project), they discovered that conservative Protestants consulted scientists about scientific questions at equal rates with the general public (14%), but are more than twice as likely as other respondents to look to a pastoral leader for answers to such questions. As a theological educator I ask myself: where in the theological curriculum are there conversations and teaching with future pastoral leaders about the relationship between science and theology? As a pastor, I often ask myself: am I equipped to speak knowledgably and thoughtfully about science and theology?

 

At this point, I have a number of wonderings when it comes to flourishing congregations: Do flourishing congregations have leadership that provide space to address the relationship between science and religion? How can neuroscience help us understand the discipleship process better, especially for how the brain works? In what ways can research in neurobiology, the empirical support for somatic regulation, and the growing field of epigenetics help us better grasp the conditions around trauma and our pastoral care responses? Or how well have we trained congregants in our parishes in their evangelism efforts or engagement with the community to answer questions about science? These are some of my ponderings these days.

We’re Reading…

 

The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

 

The central premise of this book is the second part of the Great Commandment: Loving your Neighbor. The authors ask: what if Jesus actually meant your next-door neighbor or the people a few doors down from you? The book addresses issues that prevent us from being good neighbors such as fear and busyness, helpful strategies in being a good neighbor, and reasons for being a good neighbor. Not only is it a biblical mandate to love our neighbor, but Pathak and Runyon argue that the motivation to do so is not because of our own agenda, “The ‘agenda’ we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It’s tempting to offer friendship with strings attached.” The authors further make clear, “Sharing the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives is the right motive, but it cannot be an ulterior motive in developing relationships. We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we are converted.”

 

Although I would like to see more connections with the local parish, the book gives us a call to find ways to love our neighbors in an unconditional way without anticipating something in return..


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