Getting Religious About Spirituality

This is a guest post by Matthew Brough, Pastor of Prairie Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, Canada for over 13 years. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife, Cheryl, and their daughter, Juliet. You can visit his site Spirituality For Normal People, and contact him here and on Twitter. If you are interested in writing a post for us, visit our Guest Post page. You can also view other guest posts by clicking here.

Getting Religious About Spirituality

“I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I’ve heard this little phrase hundreds of times, but I’m not convinced. After years of working as a pastor, of trying (though often failing) to put Jesus first and truly trust Him, I have come to the conclusion that spirituality needs religion.

When I say spirituality needs religion, I am not talking about doctrine or theology, although they are important. What I mean is spirituality needs to be structured.

“I’m spiritual but not religious” is like saying I don’t want to follow any rules or patterns in relation to God. This is an attractive idea because we get to be in charge. We can do what we want, when we want. I can be “spiritual” while drinking a latte at Starbucks, while biking, while sleeping in, or while watching Netflix.

For most of my life, this was the kind of spirituality I practiced. It was an “I believe in God but I don’t really want anyone or anything to tell me how to connect with God—I’ll do it my own way” kind of spirituality. This, of course, meant not really connecting with God at all.

Spirituality needs structure because human beings need structure. You already have structure in your life. You naturally gravitate toward certain behaviors and habits. You brush your teeth, you shower, you make coffee, you drive the same route to work, you take the kids to dance lessons. We all know that we are creatures of habit, yet for some reason we struggle to build healthy spiritual habits.

People like the idea of a spirituality that they choose, but the problem with that is that most of us don’t make the choice for spirituality at all. Rather, we let other things determine our life, and we simply say we’re “spiritual” or not. Whether we claim the spiritual label or not, we often miss out on God, and miss out on the best life available to us. We miss out on a freedom and a joy unavailable anywhere else. Not structuring our spiritual life is a big mistake.

Saying “I’m spiritual but not religious” is a bit arrogant, really. Ignoring religion is ignoring centuries of wisdom about organizing the spiritual life around particular practices. Doing away with religion in favor of your own personal spirituality is elevating your own ideas above millennia of reflection about the spiritual life.

There is another way to think about being religious. When someone is religious about something, they are the truly committed.

If someone is religious about their exercise routine, that means they do not miss a day. Let’s stick with this analogy for a minute. If you are trying to get in shape, you exercise, but there were will be a lot of days when you don’t feel like it. There will also be days when you stop caring about your fitness or your weight loss goal. You will probably at some point lose faith in the whole process.

Those who say they are all about fitness, but haven’t cultivated the habit of working out, end up quitting. But the ones who are religious about their exercise routine, stick with it even when it is tough. Not only do they persevere, but they also tell others about their workouts, posting about them on social media, or just talking about it over lunch with friends. They have people who they work out with who hold them accountable. They take their running shoes with them on vacation so they don’t miss a day. They are all in. If only we were that religious about the fitness of our spirits.

Imagine if every follower of Jesus starting living out their spirituality religiously. Imagine if we all stuck with it even when doubts crept in, or when it didn’t seem to be “working.” Imagine if you got religious about your spirituality.

    This is a guest post by Matthew Brough, Pastor of Prairie Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, Canada for over 13 years. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife, Cheryl, and their daughter, Juliet. You can visit his site Spirituality For Normal People, and contact him here and on Twitter. If you are interested in writing a post for us, visit our Guest Post page.

    Please note: We reserve the rights to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

    • Cheryl

      Great message. Being consistent with my spiritual life, like reading the bible and prayer has always been a challenge for me. I find weekly worship and my faith community keeps me accountable but I can always do more. We all need to be reminded that spiritual is about community.

      • Thanks for the comment! Agreed that spiritual practice needs accountability and is best done in community. I think, as well, we need moments alone with God. Perhaps the best combination is a community that encourages personal scripture reading and prayer time. I am still working on all of this as well.

      • Great point Cheryl! Thanks for reading!!

    • Anthon

      I agree that being spiritual allows people to ensure that no one will confront or challenge them on what they believe. It’s as vague as saying that I have Canadian values – we all have some sense of what might be meant by that, but there’s very little substance. And I agree with Cheryl that worshiping together helps build that sense of God’s presence, while reminding us that we are not meant to be alone in our walk with God. We can be blessed by the sense of belonging, the true sense of community.

      • Thanks for sharing Anthon!

      • Great point about the vague-ness of saying “I’m spiritual.” Thanks for commenting Anthon!

    • Chris Pullenayegem

      Yes, I often call it “Spiritual but not accountable” for the reasons mentioned. We want to be in control which makes the entire premise of being under Gods control a bit farcical. Everyone has a spiritual longing (it was placed there by God our creator). The challenge has always been to connect back with and come under the control of the one who created us in the first place.