Are you "religious" or "spiritual"?

This article is contributed by my friend and pastor, Brandon Heavner. Many of us struggle to identify if we practice a religious. Or are we just spiritual. Brandon gives us some food for thought. 

“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”

I remember hearing this in elementary school, usually to encourage us to work together on a group project. But of course, most have heard this relatively modern proverb when it comes to youth sports. It speaks of cooperation and the value of a good old fashioned “group effort.” It also has something to tell us about the growing phenomenon of people identifying as “spiritual, but not religious.” As I understand it, to be “religious” is to participate in organized, institutionalized faith communities, be they Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc. To be “spiritual” is to pursue a higher power, or recognize a source of guidance, comfort, and meaning apart from one’s self.

As a Christian pastor, I occasionally encounter people who have become disenfranchised from the institutional church, yet still claim a deep commitment to God and the faith. There has been a growing desire for personal spirituality which has soared in the past few decades. Be it because of a history of abuse, disagreement with the church’s stance on social issues, or the perceived lack of available time to participate in the life of a worshipping community, attendance at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship have dwindled. This is, I believe, a sign of the brokenness of this world, and the need for healing to happen. Because the system is flawed, or because people have abused their trust as leaders in religious institutions, more and more have been burnt by the church, and seek to make their own path in search of a higher power and purpose- in search of healing.

Healing does not happen alone. For many recovering addicts, trauma survivors, the terminally ill, or the bereaved, support groups have been proven to empower and support participants. Rather than trying to make it alone, participants are surrounded by a community of people experiencing similar dilemmas, seeking answers to similar questions, and trying to live life in the pursuit of wholeness and joy.

The same is true with all aspects of life, including spirituality. We need one another. We need to be surrounded a communityof people who yearn for a deeper relationship with God, because God created us to be in relationship with others. Adam and Eve were made for one another. Jesus led a group of disciples who were always sent out in pairs. By participating in “religion,” the fellowship of believers who share common ritual and conviction about God’s calling on our lives, not only is our personal spiritual relationship with God strengthened, but so is our relationship with our neighbors. 

I am convinced that it is through these strengthened relationships that the abuses and injustices of the past which have alienated people are ultimately identified, disavowed, and overcome. I am convinced that this is how true healing happens. I am convinced that spirituality and religious practices are not mutually exclusive, but in fact depend on one another. I am convinced that there is no ‘I’ in team; but there are two in “relationship.”

Contributed by Pastor Brandon Heavner, St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bethlehem