Focus More on Faith than Religion

tribesBy Lauren Voyles, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Godin makes a critical statement on the first page of the book: “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate” (1). Through the myriad of examples he uses throughout the book of people stepping out and leading tribes, it seems that this model can work in any setting, both corporate and religious. I think this could certainly work in a post-congregational setting. Godin doesn’t discuss faith or religion extensively, but his discussion of the two, beginning on page 79, is intriguing. Spiritual leadership outside of church walls, I think, is based on the difference between faith and religion, and how the two undergird one another in the body of Christ.

In this section, Godin suggests that faith is what drives leaders and groups forward, and that without it there can be no true progress (79). On the contrary, religion is comprised of rules that are imposed upon faith. In addition, he suggests that religion is part of maintaining conformity. I see pros and cons to this sharp distinction, but its merits are critical, I think, for post-congregational evangelism.

For example, based on our first class discussion, I imagine that an alternative, post-congregational setting might be attractive to those who are 1) turned off by organized religion and 2) are interested in particular subjects (like running, for Sweaty Sheep). Based on content in Godin and Adams, a useful model of leadership might be to reach out to one’s inner and middle circles, specifically to those interested in a particular topic or activity, and begin listening sessions regarding a new worshiping community. In turn, these closer groups could then funnel information to their friends, thus making new connections and growing the size of the group. This is particularly important now, since we know church memberships are rapidly declining.

(I thought of my own passion for immigrant advocacy: as a faith leader, I could begin a worshiping community of immigrants and their advocates, making the group subject-based.)

All that to say: I think we have to focus more on faith rather than religion.

On my undergraduate comprehensive exams for the religion major, I defined religion as a “unifying ideology.” That contains rituals, songs, orders of worship, etc. But, as Godin suggests, we can get lost in religion and forget faith, which is the root of progress. Religion provides a structure for faith, but faith must also fuel our religious practice. That second component, if it is the focus of a new ministry, will not only attract people, but feed their faiths so that they reflect the kenotic love of God in this world.

As churches and membership rolls shrink, our religious practices will look different from the congregation-clad model we are used to. So, we must hold religion and faith in tension as new worshiping communities and ministries form. (As I was reading, however, I remembered people from my youth who claimed that they had a relationship with Jesus, not Christianity per se. I was troubled by that statement then, and I still am for some reason.)

As Godin suggests, a major stumbling block to leading a tribe is fear (43). The key, he claims, is to recognize the fear and then move forward (44). This is what pastors and other church leaders must do in order to transform the church in this modern age. However, with a shared interest and a way to communicate, the church as one large tribe, which is made up of much smaller tribes, can move forward if we have faith that God is leading us. On that note, I think Godin’s dichotomy (and simultaneous symbiosis) between religion and faith can fuel new ministries while honoring congregational models that are still in place.

The crux of what leadership will look like is this: during scary times ahead (and now!), our shared interest must be Christ, and our communication must center around being the church in a faithful manner, however a tribe’s activity manifests itself (running, immigrant advocacy, eradicating homelessness, etc.). It will mean being creative and, as Godin repeats, recognizing fear and resistance in an effort to move forward. This could mean anything from new worshiping communities/tribes to careers in community organizing in an ordained capacity. It will mean stepping back and giving participants/congregants a space to voice concerns or desires for the tribe. And, most of all, it must be collective.

May it be so!

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