I had a very interesting thought come to mind this morning, after reading a post by a passionate Christ-follower, and former church employee. It seems that he was recently released from the staff of a church struggling with sustainability.
His struggle was the typical "why me?" after a very short notice upon his return from a sabbatical, which the church had provided upon his request.
Often when HR cuts are necessary for economic reasons, those on the edge of corporare compliance become the easiest to remove, once evidence of an ill fit has been sufficiently justified. Unfortunately, the reality may be our unwillingness to truly value individualism.
The thought that hit me, upon reading his story, was that there may be a spectrum akin to that of autism even in how we define spirituality.
By the way, the simplest definition I have found for Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
That then led toward a possible explanation for the numerous and varied brands of churches, somewhat symptomatic of our struggle with individualism, which I see as a good thing. Actually a God thing, as I have said several times before. Yes, I believe each of us represent a piece of an inexhaustible Being, your piece never exactly replicated, but so critical to the kingdom that we each fully unpack our piece.
Given that I love to learn, and with all respect to the growing numbers of those now so conveniently identified as being on the spectrum, I decided to see where I landed. Another underlying reason for my thoughts around autism also exists, which you will sense as you read.
After a brief online analysis (not sure of its validity), my results: You Have A FEW AUTISTIC TRAITS Showing Up, But Not Full-Blown Autism.
Then I began thinking through my 75 years in the church world, reflecting on the diversity of churches. Splintering off, may be a more descriptive term, especially among mainlines. Early on in our still relatively young nation, few well established denominations existed.
That has changed dramatically in the last couple centuries and even moreso in my lifetime. According to the National Humanities Center, the "Protestant establishment" dominated the religious scene in the United States until the 1960s. The "Protestant establishment" included seven mainline denominations:
Baptists, Congregationalists, Disciples, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians.
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the United States now has more than 200 Christian denominations. Globally there are now some 45,000!
Christianity globally is divided into six main groups: The Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Restorationism.
In the United States, Christian denominations are usually divided into three large groups: two types of Protestantism (Evangelical and Mainline) and Catholicism.
According to Statista, Catholics have the largest number of Christian adherents among the various denominations due to the diversity of Protestant denominations.
Why all this diversity? I would venture to say, it is the uniqueness of each individual, compounded by our innate desire for belonging, and then the mounting tension that emerges when the emotional band width of a group of humans gets stretched too far for a particular leadership style.
Now for that underlying experience I dpoke if earlier.
I recently had the privilege of meeting and praying with a family of five whose children I had not yet come to know. On the front end of our time together, I noticed a certain intensity coming from one of the siblings. The parents noticed the movement of the young man, as he soon stepped out of the neat circle that had formed, shifting so as to place some distance between us. Then coming back in, but only after reorienting the circle, so that Mom was between us.
His parents then shared with me that their son was autistic. My bound with him seemed immediately strengthened, as I knowingly adjusted to a different intensity when engaging him. It occurred to me, that I had been quite different in my approach with his twenty- something year old sister. Something spiritual was going on, even she sensed my shift and began to tear up, moving in even closer. Think spectrum versus either/or.
Oh, and brevity is going to be a challenge again, so stay with me.
My 4th generation Pentecostal background has exposed me to some of the most amazing of people. Most very literal in their approach to scripture and yet passionate in their pursuit of spiritual truths. The gifts of the Spirit seemed always evident in most services, with miracles expected, and often bonifiable.
Yet, as the desire to share "the Gospel" with others who at least in their minds, were trapped in a stayed orthodoxy, academics became the necessary bridge. With that came the launching of Bible Colleges.
Those colleges over time for sake of growth, given that their sustainability was no longer likely from required church contributions alone, morphed into full blown liberal arts colleges. Then by way of a legitimate academic accreditation, entitled to use the term, universities. That was not all bad.
The irony now seems, at least from my 50 years of observation and participation, that the preachers produced, though more academically sound in their understanding of scripture and far more adept at institutional leadership, now face another challenge.
Frankly, without the use of high tech, enhanced sound and lighting, it seems that the emotional bond within the Body of believers, once driven by a sincerity of personal and corporate pursuit of the gifts of the Spirit, leaves many with only an exciting and entertaining event akin to a concert. Of course, with a good Bible based message toward the end. Signs and miracles, transformational community impact, not so much.
I'm not saying weve got it all wrong, and maybe cessation was the plan of God, but signs and miracles seemed the secret sauce of the Early Church.
Just being real!
I think of a recent conversation with a very dear and well degreed friend. Before retirement, he was an endowed professor of communications at a nearby university. He often reads my writing. Over coffee, which we try to have together about every 3-6 months, he was trying to encourage me to keep writing until better discovered.
We were discussing the difference in our writing styles and our audiences. Both of us intrigued with terms like "paradox" and the epiphanies that often come in moments of heightened emotional conflict. A conflict so often triggered by differing spiritual perspectives, one growing in possibility given the number of generations now living at once.
He spoke to the need for such transparency and edginess as is often evident in my attempts at writing. He shared his intrigue with the spiritual phenomena experienced during my lifetime. His words went something like this, your writing requires and inspires deep reflection and personal inquiry of oneself, "mine is so academic it often sucks air!" He got my attention given his credentials.
We come from totally different places on the spiritual spectrum but are able to share deep life experiences each time we meet, because of love.
Back to the aforementioned prayer circle; when love had locked my heart in with that of the young autistic teen, I felt his hand as he stetched his arm to reach around behind his mom, which he had earlier placed between us. He then firmly gripped my forearm, perhaps in assurance of a felt love and respect. We had connected spiritually!
One in the Spirit though light years apart on the spiritual spectrum! There is a message here for the Body of Christ, if we would only "Come reason together!"