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 heavy in these conversations about the church and millennials. Then I just got really tired of both conversations because millennials became very commodified in the church. It became less and less about a relationship and a whole lot more about how do we get them? It perturbed me because we began to speak of human beings in the same way that we spoke of material goods. And to me, it illuminated how capitalist inclinations of the church. Our preoccupation with numbers is an ethical issue, a moral issue, and a leadership issue that cuts across so many different areas in the life of the church. This is, in part, why I choose to do ministry in the college setting. In the college setting, I can think about my ministry as a curriculum. I can think about what it means to teach compassion, not just to preach about it. I can provide humanizing frameworks, language, praxes to my students. This is important because these tools empower our students to move beyond hearing me preach a sermon or a Bible study on compassion or kindness, and to embody these characteristics in the world. In some sense, Generation Z is very similar to the millennials, where if there is a disconnect between what a faith leader talks about and how they’re walking in 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 build on 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 their disruptive work. 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’ve gotten into podcasting as a way of democratizing the content that was laid on my heart to share. I have a heart for people who have a deep spiritual yearning and desire to connect with God, but have no interest or trust in institutionalized church. Many faith leaders are scrambling right now because of COVID-19, but there have been a lot of us that have been utilizing technology, social media, and digital media for community building. When I started shepreaches.com in 2012, I was kind of in a first wave of millennials doing digital ministry. It was an amazing time. But time has evolved, so have my own life and ministry. Furthermore, as the Gospel has 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 progressive, inclusive, and justice-oriented voices doing public theology. 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, the next episodes specifically deal with the Coronavirus, its implications and how we can spiritually survive this global experience. I’ll be 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, I will cover topics such as, some of the spiritual and mental health practices for self-care and spiritual wellness that can keep us in that healthy center.
And then there’s going to be a few episodes that focus specifically on spiritual discipline. Many of us have more time on our hands right now. And so people were talking a lot about taking up new hobbies, taking online courses, and staying connected via virtual hangouts. 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 Black History Month sermon in chapel, I talked about this mental health, and I expressed my joy at seeing how not only are we, as Blacks throughout Diaspora, talking more about mental health, but we are also going into mental health professions and creating more resources. There’s so much out there now. There’s research, podcasts, books, conferences, and even social media accounts that solely promote Black mental health and flourishing.
In my past, I’ve wrestled with my mental health. When I was in high school, I, like many teenagers, had some anxiety and some depression. I know personally how going through such experiences can feel like “hell on earth.” So many people struggle with mental illness and have bad theology thrown at them when our mental health requires going to find a professional and perhaps even taking some medication. I see the de-stigmatization that’s right now as a movement of God because Black people were dying in silence and shame, while our operative theologies were often 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 Benbow, Lyvonne Briggs, and many more Black 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. As a woman of power, she had the seat of power and the seat of leisure at the same time. But, when her people were in trouble, she got out of that seat of power and went to the battlefield. We see her willingness to leave her 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.