Ministry on the Edges of Neo-Pagan North America

April 14, 2016

Since the early 2000s researchers have reported that the Pacific Northwest is home to the largest per capita sector listing “none” as its religious affiliation. “The region has been distinctive in that there has never been a dominant religious reference group,” says Patricia O’Connell Killen, who co-edited Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. “The Pacific Northwest has always been a region which has had a relatively meager religious affiliation,” says James K. Wellman Jr., professor and chair of the comparative religion program at the University of Washington.1

This trend of secularization is on the rise. With the tech boom, the greater Seattle region has drawn talent from around the world, particularly an influx of young professionals. “This cohort of high-tech, millennial culture is more secular than any other generation that’s come before,” says Wellman. “Between 32 and 35 percent of millennials have no interest in religion at all.” Contributing to disaffiliation are parents who don’t insist that their kids attend church, synagogue, or mosque, he says.2

Seattle is at the leading edge of a prevailing national trend: urbanization, tech culture, progressive values, and a “post-Christian” profile.3 Nonetheless, research also reveals that many 21st century Seattleites do in fact seek to commune with a greater power. And in this culture of abundance and opportunity, the options for exploring a spiritual path are endless. “The glorious physical environment in the Pacific Northwest is paramount. The wildness and sense of abundance contributes to a sense of possibility. This aura of openness continues to lead an explosion of entrepreneurship allowing a lot of creativity of what you might do with your religion. Whether it’s in a church, synagogue, mosque, the cathedral of the great outdoors, or a yoga class, Seattleites have options when it comes to fulfilling their Spiritual longings.”4

High value is placed on having the option to remain comfortably secular while pursuing a wide range of spiritual paths and communities. For the 21st century Seattleite, traditional religion is confining. Strict doctrine and regulations is cause for suspicion and disregard for the religious institution. Bottom line, Seattle appreciates a vast variety of spiritual options in their pursuit of connecting with a higher power. What is needed most is “to be better than I was yesterday”, to contribute to the well-being of society, and to find and live in peace.

Ministry Along the Way

How would one begin to walk with the spiritually curious, accomplished Seattleite? Where would one begin to engage in the story of Jesus in a culture disoriented to the Gospel story? It happens along the way. It’s a journey of being intentional and paying close attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. Praying without ceasing is imperative. As followers of Jesus, we join the work that is already being done. The Spirit is stirring hearts to faith, bringing forth societal transformation, and orienting people to the Gospel story.

Engaging and walking with the spiritually curious begins with a conversation. These conversations happen during everyday, normal life experiences: on the playground, at a Halloween party, or even sledding down a hill. Spiritual conversations seem to arise out of nowhere. Stories are shared, questions are asked, and insights are discussed. Often, the movement of the Spirit in the midst of the conversation is palpable. It’s a holy moment, a thin spot, where heaven and earth embrace. And then out of nowhere, the moment vanishes, interrupted by the myriad of stuff life brings. The immediate needs of life once again take center stage.

Still, a moment was shared in the midst of life along the way. We encountered the Holy One while pushing our kids on the swings. The conversations are brief and quickly interrupted, but an experience is shared, a bond created. Trust is built for the next time the conversation comes around.

Our walk takes us into the lives of the 21st century Seattleite on a daily basis. As we walk, we pray, we notice, and we listen. Walking with the spiritually curious requires flexibility, a heart to know and hear people for who they are, and courage to try new things. You do not often know how or where the Spirit will work, but it is imperative that we are intentional with the Gospel story we live.

There are many methods and ways of living a missional life. One is not superior to another. What is important is that you find a rhythm to live, and in living this rhythm, pay attention to what God blesses. Here is the rhythm we found to be helpful in developing the ministry of The House:

The House is a ministry with a dream: Our work is a continuation of engaging culture and bringing hope and transformation by joining God in the work he is already doing. Through sacrificial service (loving the world), authentic relationships (loving each other), and spiritual transformation (loving God), we bring about broader societal transformation in line with the Kingdom of God.

The House is a ministry that starts with a neighborhood: Who is your neighbor? The ministry of The House starts with the people we come in contact with on a daily basis. It is about being part of the fabric of a community and fully engaging in the humanity of it all. It means being where the people are, living among them, getting to know them, letting them get to know us. When we meet people on their turf, allowing them to really know us – including our spirituality – that’s when we find people who are curious about God and open to further spiritual conversation.

The House is a ministry that moves toward a gathering: As we engage in the community of a neighborhood, there is a natural movement toward gathering. A gathering that contains enough diversity to meet a number of needs while small enough to maintain a higher level of intimacy. From book clubs to spiritual discussion groups to game nights, people gather and share life together. We recognize that something often happens when people gather in a home that doesn’t happen in the workplace. We tend to relax and let down our defenses, we allow people into our lives in a real way. An experience is shared. Space is created to hear and see the tender work of God in each of our lives.

The House is a ministry that recognizes people of peace: As we become part of the fabric of the community around us, gather with others on a regular basis, and pray for eyes to see what God is doing, we begin to notice people who are spiritually responsive. This opens a door to begin engaging them in a conversation of how and why to follow Jesus. As people of peace come to faith, whole new networks of people are opened up to the story of God. Some new believers have the influence to reach their entire relational network with the gospel story. The person of peace represents the bridge between engaging culture and forming missional communities.

The House is a ministry for coaching, mentoring, and spiritual direction: As we begin to notice and engage those who are spiritually responsive, we have the opportunity to coach, mentor, and offer spiritual direction as they begin their journey with Jesus. The House is a ministry that comes alongside an individual in a relational way to help them discover God’s vision for their life and help bring that vision to fruition.

The House is a ministry that forms missional communities: A missional community is an intentional gathering of people on a spiritual journey with a longing to live out the gospel story. They are committed to sacrificial service (loving the world), authentic relationships (loving each other), and spiritual transformation (loving God). By getting started, a missional community becomes a closely-knit group of people on a mission together. As individuals of the group engage their own personal transformation and the transformation of those around them, they begin to see glimpses of a spiritual transformation taking hold in the larger community around them.

About the Author
  • Brian and Betsy Turnbull hail from Western Michigan. In 2005 they were sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church to start a missional movement in Northeast Seattle. Brian and Betsy moved west in faith to rethink church and Christian community. Through this journey they have been bringing people together in homes, coffee shops, and running trails. As they intentionally come beside people and gather people together, space is created to hear and see the tender work of God in each of our lives. Their work led them to create The House, a ministry of mission and discipleship.

  1. Feder, Michelle, “Are we Losing Our Religion? Searching for Spirituality in Seattle,” Seattle, March 2016. 

  2. Feder, Michelle, “Are we Losing Our Religion? Searching for Spirituality in Seattle,” Seattle, March 2016. 

  3. Robinson, Kathryn, “Is Seattle the Birthplace of a New Religion,” Seattle Met, April 2016. 

  4. Feder, Michelle, “Are we Losing Our Religion? Searching for Spirituality in Seattle,” Seattle, March 2016. 

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