Video Courtesy of Frank Thomas: Dr. Neichelle Guidry Talks Millennials, Technology, and Social Media
I’ve always wanted to do a homeschooling podcast with my son. We’ve talked about it so many times — what we’d talk about, how long it would be, yadda, yadda, yadda. We even purchased the equipment together, but I keep putting it off. “I’ll do it after I do this. It won’t work unless I do that. We need to plan for this.” Then I listened to a podcast by Dr. Neichelle Guidry called Modern Faith. In that podcast, she said, “What are the dreams of your heart? What are the ideas that you’ve had that you’ve said it’s too big for me? What are the things that are so big that you’ve talked yourself out of it? Unearth that thing.” She had my attention. But my mind immediately started moving to action when I heard her say, “I’m trusting in God to give me everything I need to walk this path of manifesting my goals, dreams, and ideas. I’m not sitting on them any longer— whether it’s a new mind, or a new heart, or new habits.” I’m recording my first podcast this week.
Dr. Guidry’s voice is soothing, soft-spoken, and powerful at the same time. She speaks authentically about the world around her and inspiring and motivating millennial women of color to lead and get out of their comfort zones. Though honestly, her messages will resonate with any generation. Dr. Guidry is currently the Dean of the Chapel and Director of the WISDOM Center at Spelman College. She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University (2007, BA) and Yale Divinity School (2010, M.Div.). In 2017, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy in the area of Liturgical Studies with a concentration in Homiletics at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Before her current position at Spellman, Dr. Guidry was the 2016 Preacher/Pastor-In-Residence at the Black Theology and Leadership Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary. And she served as the Associate Pastor to Young Adults and the Liaison to Worship and Arts Ministries in the Office of the Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago for six years. She was listed as one of “12 New Faces of Black Leadership” in TIME Magazine in January 2015.
Urban Faith had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Guidry about her approach to ministry, the new season of her podcast Modern Faith, and the woman she admires most in the Bible.
There have been exhaustive conversations about reaching the millennial generation and older generations. Still, I’m wondering, given your work at Spelman, what you see in Generation Z and how they worship and their attitudes about the church?
That’s an interesting question because, in years past, I used to be like heavy in these conversations about the church and millennial. Then I just got really tired of both conversations because millennials became very commodified in the church and it became less and less about a relationship and a whole lot more about how do we get them? It perturbed me because how do you talk about human beings in the same way that you talk about material goods? How do we get this? How do we get payment? And to me, it was just like an illumination of just how capitalist the church really is. It’s all about numbers in a lot of church settings, which to me is an ethical issue, a moral issue, and a leadership issue that cuts across so many different areas in the life of the church. And it’s actually part of the reason why I am not employed by a church right now because I don’t see the church as having the emphasis on humans. I [don’t?] see this happening in the college setting. I can think about my ministry in a college setting as a curriculum. I can think about what it means to teach compassion, not just preaching about it. I can provide frameworks and language and proxies to my students. Not just for hearing me preach a sermon or a Bible study on it, but actually providing frameworks for them to go and do it themselves. In some sense, generation Z is very similar to the millennial, where if there is a disconnect between what you’re talking about and how you’re walking in your life, we don’t believe it. And that’s why I really think the millennial generation was the pivot generation for the church. And as the emerging generation, generation Z is going to the ground that millennials have broken, the challenges that the millennials have raised to the church and to leaders, and they’re going to run with it. And I see my position as being a support to that. I love to see Holy disruption. I believe that that’s exactly what Jesus did himself and still does through us.
I saw on your site, shepreaches.com, that you’ve not only got inspirational messages, but downloadable tools ministry leaders can use in their own circles. What are your goals for the future of the site and also your podcast, Modern Faith?
I have actually pivoted a little bit away from shepreaches.com. I’m actually a podcaster now because I have a heart for people who have a deep spiritual yearning and a deep spiritual desire and want to connect with God but don’t have a lot of interests in institutionalized church and just looking at how the world is working. I mean, a lot of people are responding very slowly to how technology and digital media forms and/or the cloud-based digital community building is already one of the foremost ways that people are communicating and connecting. And so a lot of people are scrambling right now because of COVID-19, but there’s been a lot of us that have been utilizing these platforms. So shepreaches.com started in 2012 and was kind of in the first wave of millennials doing digital ministry. It was an amazing time. But time has evolved … my own life and my ministry have evolved. And as the gospel has really been ransacked in quality over the past four years and the dominant narrative in the United States around Christianity has been the conservative evangelical witness, I really felt like we need more. There needs to be more radically loving, just, and inclusive Christian voices that are also a part of this. And I’m not the only one. There are so many.
What will you cover in the new season of your podcast?
So, this next episode is talking about the kind of spiritual principles that are emerging for me about finding a balance between being informed and becoming a little too immersed in the news cycle. So topics such as what are the spiritual and mental health practices for self-care and spiritual wellness that we can hone to keep us in that healthy center.
And then there’s going to be a few episodes that focus specifically on spiritual discipline. Because part of what’s coming out in this next episode is positive and progressive and generative uses of some of the time that’s now on our hands. And so people were talking a lot about hobbies, then virtual hangout, then this and that and all of that is great. And I want to add practicing spiritual discipline into the mix.
That’s interesting you mention mental health. How do you think the faith community and the Black church handle mental health issues? Do you think there is still that stigma, even now?
In a sermon in chapel, I talked about this, and I express my joy at seeing how not only are we talking more about mental health, but African Americans, more Blacks and the diaspora, are going into the mental health profession and creating more resources. There’s so much out there now. There’s research, and there are podcasts, there are books, there are social media accounts that solely promote Black mental health and are flourishing.
In my past, I’ve had some mental health issues. When I was in high school, I, like many teenagers, had some anxiety and some depression. I know personally how “hell on earth” that can feel to go through. And so many people have bad theology thrown at them when it’s really about going to find a professional and perhaps even taking some medication. I see what’s happening right now as a movement of God and a movement of our spirit because Black people were dying in silence and shame, and in stigma around mental health and the church and our theologies, our operative theology was in support of Black death.
It’s taken time, and it’s taken education, and it’s taken broadening our thought patterns and our belief systems to come to a place where there are people like me, people like Melva Sampson, Candace Gamble, women of faith who talk openly about being women of faith and having serious self-care and mental health practices, including therapy.
Which woman of the Bible do you admire the most?
My heroine in the Word of God is Deborah in the book of Judges. She had the seat of power and the seat of leisure at the same time. She got out of that seat of power and went to the battlefield. So you see her mobility from a seat of power and comfort to the very front line for her people. One of the most powerful things about Deborah is when she prophesied that God was going to give the victory to a woman, she wasn’t even signifying herself. She was talking about Jael. What I love about her model is that even if it’s not me, even if I’m not the one that’s going to get the shine and the glory, another sister is. She’s my hero in the Bible.