There’s an article in Today’s New York Times about “divinity consultants in the workplace.” The main idea is that people are spiritually adrift (and not only because of Covid-19, although that is mentioned as a contributor) in life and work, so some companies are hiring spiritual guides to bring “spiritual richness” to the workplace.
So many ways I could go with this topic. I’ll start with the premise: That people are spiritually adrift.
I tend to agree. Overall, the Church isn’t growing. Oh, and please don’t try to argue that with me. I’ve done academic research. The only issue is to how steep the decline actually is. And you know what I hear when I say that? “But…OUR church is growing! We’ve grown 5% per year the last three years!” My response: What are you measuring? I guarantee you it’s Sunday worship service attendance. You do realize all that tells you is that you have a worship service that’s attractive to people of your theological bent. Which is good, for sure. But it isn’t Kingdom growth.
Oh, yeah. And can you tell me if that 5% are new believers who now attend or if they simply migrated from other churches? Spoiler alert: They can’t…but they could if they wanted to. I think that’s important.
So, yes. That leaves many as spiritually adrift…and companies see this as an opportunity for their brand to be compassionate and to highlight capitalism’s ability to have a moral center of sorts. So they hire folks with divinity degrees as, for simplicity’s sake, office chaplains.
Because they understand that ritual is important in people’s lives.
At Harvard Divinity School, scholars have been studying the trend away from organized religion for decades. Their consensus is that while attendance at formal services is at a historic low, people are still looking for meaning and spirituality.
(note: it’s a given that service attendance is at an historic low)
People are (and always have been) looking for meaning. This falls in line with Pascal’s “God-shaped vacuum” and Romans 1. I agree wholeheartedly. The unfortunate reality is that churches haven’t been effective in discipleship–which causes people to become disillusioned and eventually drift away. We promise an abundant life and then unintentionally reduce that to services and small group attendance and mission trips and serving somewhere on Sundays rather than stripping away the ecclesial trappings to focus on what practices allow for fully following Jesus Christ into that abundant life He pretty clearly mentioned is why He came. Check John 10:10.
Anyway, the response of these workplace chaplains is to focus on the formative nature of rhythms.
The Sacred Design Lab trio use the language of faith and church to talk about their efforts. They talk about organized religion as a technology for delivering meaning.
“The question we ask is: ‘How do you translate the ancient traditions that have given people access to meaning-making practices, but in a context that is not centered around the congregation?’” Mr. ter Kuile said.
See, we all have rhythms. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Some are personal. Some are corporate. Some folks wake up & have coffee and ease into the day. Others wake up, shower, eat and head to the office. Some take the long bike ride every Saturday. Some take the yearly family vacation. These personal rhythms form us.
Same for our corporate rhythms. Super Bowl Sunday. July 4. MLK holiday. Back-to-school. Football season tailgates or Friday afternoon Happy Hours. Some go to church or mosques or temples every week. Elections & voting. Crossfit. These are things we do as citizens of a country or with like-minded people that also form us.
But did you notice the phrase “translate ancient traditions…?”
This is where the Church can and should shine. Christians have a long and varied history of spiritually formative practice that are so very easily translated into our times. These are well-documented, and are both personal and corporate in how they manifest themselves.
And these rhythms are designed to bring us to a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing less will suffice. Nothing less should suffice.
See, the article rightly points out the limitations of an office-based spirituality, namely the inability to create authentic community (“Can we be in deep community if I can fire you?”) and a boutique approach to spiritual life (“…people pick what they want from different faiths and incorporate it into their lives — a little Buddhism here, a little kabbalah there. It is consumer-driven religiosity.”).
And again, this is where articles like this tell us what we already know: The Church can create authentic community and provide a response to the God-shaped vacuum that people have. And they can do it in ways the corporate context can’t.
This is the hope the Church offers the world. This is what gives me hope. I believe in the Church. And the I’ll continue to bang the drum of discipleship. Effective discipleship. One that doesn’t make it easier for believers to come and fill up seats on Sunday and then head to lunch and go on with their lives until the next week and leaves them disillusioned.
But rather one that teaches the “why” of rhythm. One that teaches the “how” of rhythm. One that teaches the “Who” of rhythm. So that people will truly love God and all that entails. So that people will truly love their neighbor and all that entails.
Spoiler alert: you’ll lose a lot of yourself in those pursuits.
But one that teaches so much more than smelling cloves to celebrate getting a domain name or creating funerals for failed projects. Because that’s disillusioning in its very own way.
The bottom line is that, in either case, ritual for the sake of ritual eventually fades and highlights a spiritual hunger.
The church would do well to focus on substantive practice in the way of Jesus. He said it Himself: Feed my sheep. Right?