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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Requiem of Urban Tales of Secularism

Written by: on January 19, 2020

Moving to the Bay Area in July 2019, was provocative and exhilarating. The accepted assignment to undertake was a role as Young Adults/Discipleship pastors within a 17year church with a congregation of millennials full of hope and potential eager to evangelize to the people of their broken region. Of course, being an evangelist at heart, great the anticipation arose to join them in this mission.

The soil of this post- Christian territory is fertile and prime for cultivation, with an estimated 60% unchurched and 47% dechurched population according to Barna Research.[1] However, before plowing the soil of this urban landscape, a season of preparation must be initiated to test the soil texture (spiritual temperature) and fertility (viable source of the gospel), and the ratio of adjustment (evangelist approach) needs to accomplish effectual kingdom work.

Experience in church planting within different cultures, contexts, and demographics offered a sense of comfort with the area of the evangelism in urban cities. However, experience alone eluded the unfamiliar territory of the vast spiritual landscape of mysticism, atheism, and intellectual elites. It would be nice to place everything into a cute little theological box, sealed with a ribbon of religion soundness and a bow of salvation, but life in Berkeley is not one simplicity.

Berkeley is a unique city in the East Bay of San Francisco, which is home to the University of California and the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement. It is a magnet for college students, artists, musicians, and young professionals. It also attracts creatives, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, community activists, and business coalitions. [2]

These people engage in complex problem solving that involves a great deal of independent judgment and requires high levels of education or human capital. In addition, whether they are artists or engineers, musicians or computer scientists, writers or entrepreneurs – share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.[3]

At the city’s urban core, there seems to be a rising awareness of the age of secularism.

Many are “looking for a more direct experience of the sacred, for greater immediacy, spontaneity, and spiritual depth,” in the words of an astute observer of the American scene. This often springs from a profound dissatisfaction with a life encased entirely in the immanent order. The sense is that this life is empty, flat, devoid of higher purpose.[4]

The terrain of secularization attributes to the decline or loss of religion (Yinger 1957), differentiation of religious from secular(Parson 1963), to an Englighment myth which views science as the bringers of light relative to which religion and other dark things will vanish away (Bellah 1970).[5] Contrary to the specific facets of the secularization theory, there is little to no retreat of religion in public life or decline in belief or practice; in often cases, it is the change in the conditions of faith.  Berkeley’s religious and spiritual scene is vibrant and suggests tolerance in the community, according to Patch.com. There are no shortages of religion or spiritual institutions; there are Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, and Buddhist temples – just as there are psychic institutions and yoga sanctuaries.[6]  

Though there is a need for further exploration of the secular age, in retrospect, it has always been a plight in which Christianity has faced since biblical times. Various stories in the Bible depicted the people of God contested continually against opposing religions, idolatry, immoral lifestyles, hedonism, and more. As the philosopher, George Santayana’s eloquent exhortation proclaims, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.”[7] The quote is a powerful reminder that the past, even the biblical history, is an essential key to understanding the present and the future of kingdom assignments. The issue is that the tension within the current religious/spiritual atmosphere causes the researcher and intellectual within to appoint a title to it to understand it. Secularism, in itself, has been recreated as an antithesis to help us approach the societal issues Christianity faces in its pursuit to share the gospel.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/Zqn6DDlGpWAa3

Are we living in a secular age? The answer is, yes, we are and always have been. Are there new obstacles set before Christianity in the present time? The answer is absolutely; many obstacles are new to us but not God. Is there a need to approach this secular season differently? The answer is YES. Apostle Paul said in Corinthians 9:20-23

And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the [e]law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without [f]law toward God but under [g]law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became [h]as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might, by all means, save some. Now, this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Therefore to the intellectual, become an intellectual. To the broken, become broken. The pathway may not always be easy; it may encounter people who do not believe in God, who identify as atheist and agnostic, who disagree with the Bible is accurate, and who disagree that faith is critical in their lives. However, utilize the knowledge of where secularism lands in the context of ministry, be grounded the wisdom and understanding of the Word, and be lead by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to meet people where they are to share the gospel through an outward lifestyle of worship and obedience unto God.

 

[1] “Church Attendance Trends Around the Country,” Barna, May 26, 2017, https://www.barna.com/research/church-attendance-trends-around-country/.

[2] Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Rob Rynders, The Sacred Secular: How God Is Using the World to Shape the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2016), 103.

[3] Ibid.125

[4] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 506.

[5] Jeffrey Hadden. “Toward Desacralizing Secularization Theory.” Social Forces 65, no. 3 (1987): 598.

[6] Emily Henry, “How Easy Is It to Be Religious or Spiritual in Berkeley?,” Patch, November 8, 2011, https://patch.com/california/berkeley/religion-and-spirituality-in-berkeley.

[7] Ibid. Hadden. 589

 

 

About the Author

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Shermika Harvey

3 responses to “Requiem of Urban Tales of Secularism”

  1. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Thanks for sharing your blog and your experiences, Shermika. It sounds like you definitely have a journey ahead of you as you integrate into the Berkeley landscape in the ministry world. Your passion is evident. I also applaud your perspective that we should “utilize the knowledge of where secularism lands in the context of ministry, be grounded the wisdom and understanding of the Word, and be lead by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to meet people where they are to share the gospel through an outward lifestyle of worship and obedience unto God.” Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you Shermika for sharing about the new context of ministry. Your reference to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 9: 20-23 is a great reminder that there really is nothing new in the secular age. It call for us to be adaptive and relevant to the cultural context and to depend on God to fulfil our call of bringing people to Christ. I pray that God will give you grace and the right strategy for your new context of ministry.

  3. mm John Muhanji says:

    I am encouraged by your testimony when you moved to the new community to do ministry and the majority of the people are young and vibrant and eager to learn the good news of the gospel. As a challenging community, I am equally impressed by your positive approach to the ministry in the community and how you are adapting to their environment and culture of the community in order to win them to Christ. You connecting and modeling with secularism age we are living in is incredible. I am very much encouraged by your humbleness and acceptance to join the community and build and grow the ministry together knowing you are working within a secular community. Thanks for sharing this with us. I appreciate it and encouraged.

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