Pastor’s viewpoint: Nov. 28, 2015
Maybe you already know what an SBNR is? I had a good friend who spent his Sunday’s fishing; he’d tell me he was closer to God on the pond than in the church. I had another friend who didn’t come to church because, “it’s filled with hypocrites.” (The standard answer is, “There’s always room for one more.”) I had another friend who “can pray anywhere.” Then there was the friend who told me he didn’t come to church to protect me; he said the roof would cave in if he came.
We’re into grouping people and the SBNR group is “spiritual but not religious.” They believe God is available outside the church, they don’t like what they’ve seen inside the church, and I don’t absolutely disagree with them … but there is a problem.
A new study by Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion, found that 65 person of SBNRs never pray with another person, never attend worship, nor ever read the Bible or any other religious text. SBNRs are not religious and, it seems, they are not very spiritual either. Unlike Hannah in 1 Samuel, they don’t see the church as a place to take their problems and, according to the Ammerman study, they’ve not found another place.
“9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’” (1 Samuel 1.4-19)
With a background in science, I like concrete, meaningful, and specific evidence. SBNR is too vague and RBNS is an empty gesture; we have too much of that already. Hannah wanted more than anything to bear a child; but it didn’t happen. So she went to church and prayed. She’d be an SAR, spiritual and religious.
“20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”” (1 Samuel 1.20)
Charles ‘Buddy’ Whatley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Woodland & Bold Springs United Methodist churchss pastor, marketplace chaplain, and missionary to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.
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