“What do you do for a living?” is a routine question that can be awkward for me. Here is a sample of the reactions I get when I tell folks I help churches to engage science. Why? Well, some folk take issue with the church and others with science (still others have issues with both). Even those open to the idea of engagement rarely see how or why anyone would want to bring science to church.
This is precisely what Science for the Church is about. Bringing science to church will continue to be awkward or worse until the church learns how to do it and do it well.
Today, I’m pleased to introduce The Standard Model (TSM)—our most robust effort yet to show how the church can engage science in a way that bears fruit. It is as foundational to our work as its namesake is to particle physics. Over the coming weeks and months, we will release three interrelated aspects of TSM: (1) a how-to guide for churches; (2) a series of video conversations between scientists and their pastors; and (3) ongoing consultation and services provided by our team to help strengthen your ministry through engaging science.
Today, you can access our first video. As pastor Will Rose of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, NC, says at the start of his conversation with Duke University epidemiologist Whitney Robinson, “There’s a stereotype that perhaps faith and science shouldn’t be here in the sanctuary together.” We hope this suite of TSM resources will help you to break that stereotype in your context.
Relations Between Scientists and Their Pastors
As I explained a few weeks ago, The Standard Model of Particle Physics identifies the most fundamental particles of nature (quarks, electrons, muons, and the like) but also describes the relationships between them. Our TSM is similar; it’s about identifying key boundary pioneers and establishing fruitful relationships between them.
This is something long-time readers have heard again and again. Our work begins with and is dependent upon relationships between pastors and the scientists already in our congregations.
If you remember one—and only one—thing about TSM and how to effectively engage science in a Christian ministry, this is it: relationships matter, and the best way to engage science in the church is for its leaders to work side by side with science professionals.
Our videos model these relationships and their benefits. We begin with an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor and an epidemiologist whose work focuses on women’s health, but there are plenty more to come. Over time we plan to record conversations representing the diversity found in the Christian church: evangelical and progressive; denominational and non-denominational; small, midsize, and mega; representing varied cultures and confessions. Likewise, we aim to include a range of scientists: tenured and in training; academic and industry; teachers and technologists; representing varied disciplines and domains. Eventually, we hope to share one that mirrors your own experience. In the meantime, we can learn from the experiences of scientists and pastors in other parts of the church.
The Standard Model: Simplicity to Address Complexity
As you know, the intersection of science and faith can be complicated. Not only is the terrain vast, so are the ways the two relate. If you have been reading us long enough, you have a sense of just how vast and how complicated this space can be.
For this reason, how one addresses faith and science will differ from one ministry to the next. The topics, the approaches, and the receptivity will vary among our churches. The beauty in TSM, however, is its simplicity. Church leaders working alongside scientists are the common denominator. They know the distinctives of their congregation and they are granted a level of trust outsiders lack. Together, they model for the rest of their flock how to talk about issues, some of which are complex and controversial, where science and faith intersect. As such, they address two of the greatest barriers to fruitful conversation across differences: a lack of trust and an absence of models.
Rev. Rose tells Dr. Robinson in WATCH this short clip how he learned to embrace asking questions even as much as having answers through his engagement with really smart scientists and scholars.
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...We will be collecting newsletters, videos, and more within our resources page to help you better understand The Standard Model.
...We have written about the value of church leader and scientists teams again and again and again and again.
...Email us for a sneak preview of The Standard Model How-to Guide, which we will be releasing soon through our website.
...Also email us if your church has been strengthened by intentionally partnering with scientists. We are always on the lookout for ministries to profile as we help others to see the value of The Standard Model.
The Standard Model of Particle Physics received considerable attention for its predictive power. The Higgs Boson (aka the “God particle”) was predicted back in the mid-1960s and, sure enough, it was found in 2012 by the Large Hardon Collider at CERN. Predictive power is essential to any robust scientific theory or model.
That is one of the reasons we believe The Standard Model is an apt name for our relational approach for helping the church engage science. While we only recently dubbed it The Standard Model, we have seen it work for over a decade in nearly 100 Christian ministries. Intentional and sustained relationships between pastors and scientists predict a range of potential successes: new members, enhanced community reputation, spiritual growth among participants, confidence in a congregation’s ability to tackle tough issues, youth involvement, leadership development, and reenergized ministries and ministry leaders.
WATCH: Hear Will Rose reflect on how TSM has invigorated his ministry:
We have some ambitious dreams at Science for the Church. We imagine a day when no one will react like this when you bring science to your church. It might even mean I need to find a new job; one that makes it less awkward for me when I tell a stranger about the work I do.
We predict that if enough churches and parachurch ministries commit to The Standard Model, our dreams can be realized. To the glory of God the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, together let’s make it so!
P.S. On February 16th and 23rd, Science for the Church will be hosting a free virtual leadership development workshop entitled Race, Science, and the Church for the Presbyterian Synod of the Covenant. Everyone is welcome to attend! We’d love to see you there.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.