Americans are more likely to invest time and money in “self-care” activities such as therapy, reading, meditation, or spending time in nature, a trend with important implications for the church.
According to the Barna Group’s new research, 25 percent of adults surveyed regularly find time to spend reflecting while in nature, 21 percent read books on spiritual topics, and 16 percent intentionally practice some form of silence and solitude. Some forms of spiritual self-care such as journaling and physical exercise such as yoga have not caught on with all ages, but are highly popular with millennials, who across the board are more inclined to practice self-care than other generations. Here are four thoughts on what this means for the church.
People Are Starved for the Spiritual
It’s easy to feel that our culture is becoming more “secular,” when the reality is that spiritual interest in America remains high. While evangelicals may have concerns about what that spirituality looks like, Paul’s speech to the Athenians about the “unknown god” is a reminder that a spiritually searching culture is an opportunity.
Rather than seeing a cultural interest in yoga or meditation as an alarming trend, it’s worth considering the upside: people are searching for a connection to the spiritual world, to peace, and to transcendent meaning. These are all things the good news of Jesus provides.
Self-Care Doesn’t Equal Self-Obsession…But It Can Become That
That being said, one pitfall of current spiritual trends is a narcissistic obsession with discovering “my truth” or “the real me.” Solitude, for instance, can be an indispensable tool God uses to lead people into freedom, but when done poorly or excessively it can create a constant inward focus or a belief that the solution to all of life’s problems “lies within.”
Pastors need to remind people that spiritual self-care should always lead to intimacy with God, and love toward others. Self-care’s fruit, when turned inward, rots, but blossoms exponentially when directed toward God.
Churches Should Experiment with “Programming” Spiritual Disciplines
Most church activities are, by definition, active. But what if churches experimented with being “actively non-active”? What if a pastor or lay leader guided people in a time of silence/solitude at a retreat center? Or taught people how to meditate on Scripture? Or subsidized a counselor’s fees to make them more affordable to church members in need of their services?
An idea like this could take off, or could fall flat on its face, but it’s worth testing your community’s waters for interest.
Our Weekend Services Should Look Different
As ChurchLeaders has covered before, silence in your worship service is a good thing. One possible reason society is flocking to “self-care” is because the constant noise of our world is chipping away at our souls and making us anxious. Rather than making our services move seamlessly from program piece to program piece, what if we collectively sat in silence for 60 seconds, and asked God to speak? What if after a song we created a time of reflection on what God might be saying?
If part of the church’s job is to tear down cultural idols and replace them with God, creating a countercultural stillness in our services might be a good place to start.
And one final point to mention in all that pastors can’t guide their community to a health they don’t have. When is the last time you spent time in nature, just being still and knowing God is God? Would you be willing to talk with a trusted counselor about that issue lingering in the background of your life? In this way, society’s self-care obsession isn’t just an opportunity for growth, but a reminder that pastors need self-care too.