General Considerations on Science and Religion Dialogue in Congregations
The materials accessible via the Resources link have been prepared for use in group or individual study. Specific expertise is not expected or required but an individual with some general knowledge of any of the particular topics should be able to productively use them to make a presentation or lead a group discussion.
It is always wise to know one's audience. This makes it possible to best address group and personal needs but also to prepare for encounters with individuals having diverse opinions, differing educational and spiritual backgrounds, etc. This is particularly so when it comes to traditionally contentious issues such as evolution and Biblical interpretation but can also be a source of concern with any topic at the science and religion interface.
Unfortunately, there will always be those who are more concerned with protecting their current turf than with analyzing whether their beliefs are true and how they can have reasonable confidence in them. Helping participants consider that (1) any mechanism is potentially within the purview of an all-powerful God, (2) that many science and religion issues are not central to a Christian worldview, and (3) that humility is easy to talk about but hard to practice can sometimes help soften the realization that one's current views (religious or scientific) might stand in need of some revision.
Opening the door to science and religion dialogue within churches offers the possibility to engage people with topics they may have suppressed due to fear of what they could find or for which there has not been a suitable venue for discussion and study. Often there will be a significant contingent within a church that is open and eager to participate in further conversations but gains in understanding and tolerance for positions not currently one's own can be slow in coming. Gains will be most likely to occur when there is strong pastoral support (and ideally leadership) in this area and where ministers within a congregation communicate with one another about objectives and methods. The conversation should cross over into multiple ministry areas and age groups if it is to deepen and impact the congregation over a longer time frame.
A blend of large and small group presentations, classes, and reading/discussion groups can be productive for reaching the widest range of people in a congregation but in many (if not most) congregations it will be important to promote science and religion as a conversation and not necessarily the church's stance on a particular topic. Churches might productively view this as an opportunity to develop in a way that can more effectively engage the world and bridge the gap to those with differing cultural biases and backgrounds. This suggests that this conversation can, therefore, have an evangelistic function. Certainly it offers the chance for dialogue that would otherwise be difficult or impossible, encourages individuals to become better listeners, helps minimize the use of unproductive religious jargon, challenges members toward rational support for their faith, and contributes to personal and group transformation.
For this to occur, ministers should be prepared to walk with individuals (members and others) down a new path as they face the prospect of evaluating and perhaps changing perspectives on issues thought settled or never previously considered. This may even come to be seen as an important component of discipleship training. The goals are congregations that are more inviting, hospitable less fearful of various perspectives, opinions, and beliefs yet which remain true to their distinctive Christian calling.