Why isn’t spirituality taught in Christian churches?!?

I am in the middle of an article by Sandra Schneider, entitled Spirituality in the Academy, found in the book Exploring Christian Spirituality, edited by Kenneth Collins, and am completely blown away at the massive implications and conclusions that I’m coming to in response to what Schneiders is writing about.

She makes note that until about 20 years ago, spirituality as a term and specific form of study was not used at all outside of Catholicism… including other religions, but especially within Protestantism. Part of my own (and many that I know who are not in the church) frustration with the churches I have been a part of is that there is no real teaching on processing and/or growing in direct spiritual experience of God.

So if spirituality was not even an issue when most of all current and past leaders of our Protestant churches went through seminary, then it is no wonder that they do not know how to teach it in their churches. Schneiders mentions also that spirituality involves an approach that is cross-disciplined… including other religions, psychology, anthropology, history, experience… and the FEMININE and the BODY (I would add our mother earth as well). I would be suprised if any of us cannot think of at least one specific example of church leaders who have openly rejected or neglected the importance of these aspects of Christian experience. If Protestantism has grown more than Catholicism in the last 20 years, what does this say about the state of the church in the world?!?

So the gift that we are being given is absolutely critical to the future of Christian community and our global community. It is no wonder that people are leaving the church and joining the yoga studio. We don’t give them the tools. Kat said this morning that maybe it would be important for us to do a workshop on Christianity and yoga… I can’t think of a better idea. Maybe this could happen in the church, too!

Anyway, I will leave it at that… thoughts anyone?

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15 thoughts on “Why isn’t spirituality taught in Christian churches?!?”

  1. A major component of organized religion seems to be about control. Controlling the beliefs and behavior of the flock. The church wants to be the authority. They want your knowledge to come through them, to be based on their teaching, based on your faith in what they tell you. If you can experience things directly, if you can learn on your own, draw your own conclusions, then they lose much of their authority and control. My beef isn’t so much with what is taught, as much as how. The best teachers show you how to think for yourself, how to experience things yourself, how to see what works and what doesn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong. The why and the how. Most churches don’t do that. Good yoga teachers do.

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  2. Nate, it appears that you understand spirituality as “processing and/or growing in direct spiritual experience of God.” You say, “…churches (you) have been a part of…” have not taught this. Your conclusion, “So if spirituality was not even an issue when most of all current and past leaders of our Protestant churches went through seminary, then it is no wonder that they do not know how to teach it in their churches.”

    A couple questions. 1) In what ways was spirituality taught in the churches you attended from ages 4-12? 2) Is it possible spirituality was taught in the churches you attended but you didn’t catch it? 3) On what basis can you take the experiences of one author and a dozen churches and make such a sweeping judgment of most leaders?

    Since you haven’t been in all the churches out there, I wonder if you are open to learn from the observations and experiences of others who have been in a few more churches and grown up within the church culture that frustrates you in this way?

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  3. Dan B, the questions you ask make me think you missed the point of the post.

    But in any case Nate, because of the wide scope involved in spirituality Churches wouldn’t necessarily use the spiritual approach since some elements involved go against the teachings of their church. Tantra for example comes to mind. The teachings of tantra are the most spiritual, sacred teachings that I have happened upon ever yet I would wager that no church would want to be apart of a teaching that is so seemingly far-fetched and wild.

    The Church has done the best they can from the level of consciousness that their leaders have been able to operate from. I personally have found that level to be limiting which is why I am one of those that prefers Yoga but for others on the same level of consciousness as the church, it MIGHT be enough.

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  4. Dave,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I think there definitely is a fear and control issue within organized religion as a whole. These have been a big part of the motivations for a lot of pain that various religions have caused throughout history.

    To teach people that they can experience God subjectively in their own ways means smaller churches and less money on Sunday mornings. To many churches this is a big problem!

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  5. Shevy,
    Thanks for the thoughts. Dan B is my dad and he was a pastor during those years… so there’s the context.

    I agree that there are various spiritual paths that are not needed to be taught in churches. Spirituality is obviously not restricted to one path. I do think though, that there are centuries of treasures within their tradition for Christians to draw from and many do not.

    I appreciate your reflection on the level of consciousness of many church goers and that they may not need to go any further. As an insider to Christianity, I say that we have seen how far this level of consciousness can go. If we are to, as Jesus spoke about, live in the “kingdom of God” which is here, now, we must go further in our consciousness… or we will continue to do harm in the name of the divine and our message will not be one of good news to the world.

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  6. Dad,
    Shevy was right. You did largely miss my point. And I am thinking you may be unneccessarily defending the years I was in churches that you were pastoring. I will keep my response as quantifiable and objective as possible so that it doesn’t sound like I am saying my perspective is “better” than yours.

    I would define spirituality as the process and growth away from self focus and isolation and into direct experience of the divine other/mystery/greater force. I don’t use God, becuase this usually entails a Christian focus. I perhaps should have said “most” churches I have been a part of have not taught this to much degree. My conclusion was more that “the gift that we are being given is absolutely critical to the future of Christian community and our global community” and what if we could build a stronger teaching of spirituality in our churches.

    My statement about pastors not knowing how to teach spirituality was not a judgement… it was an observation based on their education. Most pastors, minus Assemblies of God pastors have to have an Masters and be ordained. This is not so much about their spiritual leadership as their biblical knowledge. We must admit, Dad, that my seminary education, while not “better” per se, realistically is going to be a broader focus of study with newer information and development of thought and ideas. In the last 25 years, there has been MASSIVE amounts of development within the Christian community (and for many factors I won’t get into)!

    Your question about ages 4-12 cannot be answered by me as that age level is still pretty young to process linearly and in language one’s experience of the divine. And your second question is, of course yes. Thirdly, Dad, my basis for observation is based on far more than just one author and a few churches. Let’s take after age 12. Before college, one church, baptist. While in college, 2 baptist churches. After college, in MN, 2 baptist, 1 Congregationalist, one emergent church, one presbyterian, and one independant. In those times, I have had countless friends who have been Catholic, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Lutheran, charismatic, Quaker, ex-church, buddhist, yogic, shamanic, and more. I have read from all these perspectives and the class I am in now is focused on the history of Christian spirituality. I am willing to learn from other perspectives in and out of the church. I’ve been doing it for years. I don’t know everything.

    Now a question from me… you can answer this from your experience attending or leading churches. How many Sunday sermons or adult education classes have been focused on Christian spirituality (not theology, not biblical interpretation… but tools for experiencing God for one’s self)? How many sermons on Luther? Aquinis? Antony of the Desert? Origin? Saint Theresa of Avila or Saint Francis? Saint John of the Cross? The Wesleys? Meditation or Contemplation? Importance of Nature? The feminine aspect of God? The importance of the body in our faith journey? Even Augustine or Gregory the Great? How far back in our church history does the focus of the sermons go? Who started the Baptist denomination or the Evangelical Free denomination and why is this not important? What is our spiritual and religious heritage?

    This is spirituality within the teaching of the Christian church. I won’t even get into the workshops, silent retreats, or centering prayer groups. I am interested in how you would describe degree and focus of the spirituality emphasis in the churches you have been a part of.

    As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions.

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  7. Do we agree that each of us is spiritual, that is, does each of us have an identity that goes beyond what we can see, taste, smell, hear and feel? Then spirituality is the effort and ability to get in touch with our spiritual side, its meaning, where it comes from and where it leads us.

    I agree that Christianity has taken a “narrow” approach to spirituality. The focus of Christian spirituality is on understanding a holy and loving God who is Spirit, how he connects with us, and what all this means in terms of our relationship with him. That search begins with a clear, understandable, and non-contradictory revelation of God through Jesus and through what God teaches in the Bible. That is different from efforts to connect our spirit to God’s Spirit through the writings/lives of Luther, Aquinis, St Theresa of Avila or St Francis, etc.

    I think you missed MY point. From ages 4 to 12 you made some very significant discoveries about God. For example, you made a commitment to serve God with your whole body, soul, and mind. You learned about God’s love, forgiveness, and faithfulness through the revelation of himself in the Bible and the reflection of Jesus in your parents. These understandings of God, and many more, you embraced by faith, not through education, not through other religions, and not through the massive developments in the Christian community. You grew spiritually and you understood the connection between God’s Spirit and your spirit. Your spiritual growth was based on faith, not education and not in knowing more.

    When Peter tried to prove his spiritual maturity by getting out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus, he sank and cried out, “Lord, save me.” What did Jesus say? You of little education? You of limited perspective? No, Jesus reached out, caught him and said, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” True spirituality that transforms our life comes from faith in and connection with Jesus. End of story. I am sorry, but the experience of Peter, your experience as a child, and the experience of many others of us in the Christian community prove that “the future of Christian community and our global community” is not being held back by inadequate education, it is held back by a lack of faith.

    “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18)

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  8. Nate, in response to some of the questions raised in your blog, I have looked back at some of the experiences that have lead me on my journey of faith.
    In my experience, at age 10, I had the opportunity to attend 2 different classes at my traditional church. One was on the history of the Christian church and the other on the Life of Jesus Christ and his teachings. These classes were taught by our pastoral staff, whom I still regard as “spiritual” men of God. We were taught how to study the word of God and had experiential prayer groups. In my early teen years we had groups that met regularly for community sharing and prayer, experiential instruction in meditation, fasting, and the spiritual disciplines. What I took into my adulthood was a hunger to know God on a deeper level. Yes, there were the many “disillusioning” issues related to legalism and “dos and don’ts” and I don’t remember most of the pulpit sermons…but there are a few. They are times when scripture shouted to me God’s truth and my heart was soft and prepared to hear Him.

    I believe that our faith and spiritual practices can only be focused on Jesus Christ, abandonment to him, and not other religious traditions. As Jesus stated, “the door is narrow.” Jesus frequently quoted the OT Deuteronomy where God told his loved ones, “you must not be ensnared by enquiring about their gods,” “you must not worship the Lord your God in their way,” “you must not mix their practices with yours.” He told them to destroy completely the symbols representing other religions so that they would be completely focused on Him. I believe that no matter what we learn from others’ lives or writings, it is dim in comparison to what we learn from the God of the Bible and the life of Jesus. I came to believe that his love for me and spiritual direction for my life was already available to me by faith, walking with Him daily by spending time with Him, not by a seminary degree or the study of other people, religions, or traditions. Those things can become a distraction from knowing God and our relationship with Him. God names himself Jealous (Ex. 34:14). Jesus quoted, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37). True spirituality comes from putting our faith wholly and completely in Jesus Christ. Only He can fill that longing that we all are seeking to fill. He said, “Come to me…I am gentle and humble in heart, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11: 28,29).

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  9. I submit that this conversation is less concerned with the problematic presentation/implementation/process of Christian spirituality, and more concerned with differing perspectives theological perspectives on “true spirituality,” in which case, I will weigh in.

    All our perspectives on what constitutes “true spirituality” stem from our understanding of Truth/the Divine. Nate, I agree with your above definition of spirituality. However, I would add “and/or gods,” to its ending. I agree that we are all spiritual beings, with the capacity for transcendence. However, the more important existential/spiritual question is not “how better to learn or achieve fulfilling spirituality by our own devices? (Then, look at all the ways the contemporary Christian church has failed to teach spiritual disciplines).” The better question is “in what direction is my spirituality focused? In what ways has Jesus enabled my spirituality to be redeemed and therefore true.”
    I submit “false spirituality” always takes the form of self-oriented worship. It can sound pious and sincere, but its power is derived from that which is broken within; like a deep seeded spiritual blackhole, sucking up all things spiritual in an attempt to experience satiation. This false spirituality is manifested in the spiritual pursuits for the sake of personal betterment, gratification, peace, control, etc… To take Jesus seriously (“I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14) entails that the blackhole spirituality can only be completely satiated by a Christocentric spirituality. I submit that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, enabled a holistic redemption, even redeeming our screwed up spirituality.

    I recognize that the Christian church is a community of broken people, attempting to work through the dynamic process of the sanctification. However, the extent that the Christian community reveals Jesus to a world entrenched in blackhole spirituality, is the extent to which “true spirituality” can grow and flourish. Apart from Jesus, other spiritual pursuits lack the power to redeem the inward dysfunction of self-worship.

    Thoughts?

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  10. Ryan,
    I appreciate your thorough response. Always good to hear from you on these things! I agree with all you have written, in terms of Christian spirituality… and even true spirituality being that which is not self-oriented worship. I agree that there is a lot of that going on.

    In your definition, I would add the perspective that it is not only within Christian spirituality that we find people who have moved beyond the “blackhole spirituality” of self worship. It is tricky sometimes to see it, as with yoga which adheres, at the core, to the statement that the “divine light that is within me recognizes the divine light that is within you.” There is a real effort to pay attention to the presence of the divine in all things, including and especially ourselves. I would say that this not worship of ourselves, but an appreciation for all beings.

    Anyway, I too, believe very strongly in a Christocentric spirituality… and I would go as far to say that what is done for a small group of “believers” is done for the world and for all time. Whether individuals and communities call it by that name or not, the work of Christ is available and accessible to them.

    Blessings, cousin!

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