Bell – September 2022

The Spiritual and Church Websites

Rev. John Zehring
August 25, 2022

A candidate for pastoral ministry told the committee which was examining her that she defined
worship as seeking an encounter with the Divine. The role of the pastor, she offered, was to lead
worshippers into an encounter with the Divine. Ever since, I have adopted that definition of worship
and of the pastor’s role. I know there are many reasons people attend or belong to churches, but
imagine the primary purpose of coming to church to be no less than to seek an encounter with the
Divine. That places the Spiritual front and center in the life of a community of faith.
When I have been invited to help craft a mission statement for congregations, I have generally
envisioned the primary mission of the church to be a center for spiritual renewal, an academy for
teaching and learning about our faith and how it applies to our daily life, a boot camp for training
advocates for justice and faith, and a springboard for service to God and to God’s children. There are
many other statements that could be added, but again, this mission statement places the Spiritual as
the primary endeavor of the church and its members.
In this age of Spiritual-but-not-religious – people who are not participants in a community of faith – the
Spiritual continues to invade the soul. A spiritual experience might arise from beholding the wonders
and beauty of God’s creation; from a time of personal need; from an encounter with a work of music,
art, poetry, literature, or other creative expression; from conversations with others; or simply popping
up in the soul for no apparent reason. It does not necessarily come on Sunday mornings at church. And
yet, even to those who do not frequent the pews, the Spirit of God stimulates, inspires, confronts,
challenges, reassures, comforts, or stirs a closer walk with God.
Now, suppose a person is seeking a closer encounter with the Divine. Suppose further that they might
guess that a church could be the place where they might find a deeper spiritual experience. And so,
they go online to search for the websites of churches. Will those church websites entice them with the
possibility of an encounter with the Divine? Will the church websites promote themselves as centers
for spiritual renewal, where the seeker can pursue their quest for a deepening quest to engage the
Spiritual? Will the websites call them out of their comfort zone to labor for God’s justice for God’s
children? Probably not even close.
So, as in informal, non-scientific examination, I searched for church websites pretending to be a person
seeking a deeper experience with the Spiritual. An encounter with the Divine? That’s what I was
looking for from a website. I might also guess that a church website searcher is not simply seeking a
self-centered spiritual high, but recognizes that the Divine also calls us out of ourselves to do
something for others. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What
are you doing for others?’” The searcher is not so much interested in a church’s history, social
activities, pastor’s personality, or fundraising projects, but wants to know about the church “What are
you doing for others?”
Seeking an encounter with the Divine? Searching for a deeper connection to the Spiritual? Hoping to
be inspired to translate your faith into work for God’s justice? See for yourself. Go to church websites
of congregations you know to see if they lead you into a deeper walk with God. A few come close, but
most miss by a mile. For those in church leadership, check your church’s website and rake it over the
coals to make sure it is consistent with your congregation’s mission and would meet the needs for
those more interested in spiritual growth than church suppers and yard sales. For those who are
Spiritual-but-not-religious and seeking an encounter with the Divine, God bless you and guide you in
your search. Should you visit a church, hold their feet to the fire and examine them on how well they
choose to lead worshippers into the presence of the Divine. Christian Citizen, August
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