Many scientists have had positive experiences in church communities.
“I love my church,” says one biologist, “I especially love my small group.” He goes on to talk about the church (in general) and his small group (in particular) and what they mean to him. There are people within his church who irritate him by continually challenging about evolutionary theory, but overall the community of faith he is part of provides great Christian community for him and his family.
All of the scientists I interviewed who were active in a church mentioned friends and the community of faith as a reason they attended. Like the biologist mentioned above, faced some suspicion from some people, but the quality relationships they were able to develop with even a few people outweighed the opposition they encountered.
“My pastor is really supportive of my career,” one physicist commented. Some scientists felt that their church – in most cases, in particular their pastor – was actively supportive of their scientific endeavours.
Most of the scientists I talked with felt that overall their church – and their pastors were neither unsupportive nor overly supportive of their scientific work.
But a few scientists did tell stories of church leadership who went out of their way to actively encourage them. In some cases this was as simple as going for coffee and asking about the scientist’s work or visiting their lab (“Not that he (the pastor) had a clue what I was talking about”). In other cases, scientists were encouraged to talk about their work (see “Opportunity” below).
A few talked about how their pastors would speak positively about science and faith, use quotes or stories from Christians in the sciences, or invite scientists to share briefly in their sermons. “Just presenting science as normal for Christians is great,” one scientist commented. After one service that featured several video clips from scientists talking about their faith (from testoffaith.com), one visitor (a science student) commented, “I have never been in a service like that before. It was so cool to hear that in a church.”
One scientist commented, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we prayed over and commissioned a new professor or a student beginning their studies? We could pray that God would really help them learn about him and grow in their faith through their research …”
A few scientists shared how their church had given them opportunity to talk about heir research and, in particular, how their scientific expertise and faith intersect. Some of these experiences included
- several scientists having opportunity to talk about their areas of research and faith in evening talks
- an hydrologist talking about water use, conservation, and Christian environmental ethics at a church-hosted community adult lunch
- a chemistry professor telling children’s stories with and “erupting volcano,” or “elephant toothpaste” (hydrogen peroxide and water)
- a medical doctor sharing about the ethical challenges he faces as a Christian dealing with end-of-life issues
“Church reminds me that biology is not the only thing in life,” says one professor. He talked about how all-consuming his research, teaching, and academic life is. He appreciated the balance and perspective that church brought to his life. So many of his colleagues (Christian and non-Christian) simply had little to their lives outside of their careers. He shared about his involvement with new immigrants, international students, justice issues, and other things that came through his church involvement. In his mind, these enriched his life in ways that would not have happened apart from church.
Another agronomist talked about how refreshing church was to be able to talk with people who were doctors, electricians, retired, students, teachers, and so forth. He loved the variety of people – occupationally, generationally, and ethnically – that came with church. At work, people all had similar interests and backgrounds, but church was much more eclectic.