There are many Christians in a process of doubting and deconstructing. The most visible evidence of this is the chorus of Christian “celebrities” who have announced their departure from the faith. Underneath this are statistics to support that the younger generations are increasingly drifting from core beliefs, church attendance and personal “Christian” designation. I want to highlight 3 ways Christians encourage their own to deconstruct and drift from the faith.
Culture of Simplistic Faith
“You just have to believe!” That is the response many receive when asking genuine questions about doubts they have regarding Christianity. Others are offered simplistic solutions to complex, difficult questions. By way of example, I spoke with a woman who was the subject of church abuse from her pastor. She confided in a friend about it, and the friend counseled her that, if she had faith then this should no longer plague her. I find that response incredibly simplistic. It is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. Instead, we as the church should be able to bravely engage in difficult questions and experiences. The Bible does not shy away from these complexities and neither should we. Our faith does not require us to disregard our rational mind nor our heartfelt emotions. If we do ignore those doubts or experiences, it leaves us feeling as if the Christian faith cannot substantially respond to the human experience. God can handle these things and we would do well to engage them rather than “just believe.” Like Job at the end of his book, we may find a more satisfying hope and deeper faith.
Churches Do Not Pastor the Doubting
Churches have recreation ministries, coffee ministries and all kinds of affinity-based ministries. There are pastors for just about everything as well. If you look at ministry job boards, mingled in with more common job postings are things like “Social Justice Pastor,” “Pastor of Digital Campus,” and even other roles like “Production Specialist,” “Lighting Director” and “Social Media Manager.” Yet, I do not know of a single church that has a formal ministry to the doubting or deconstructing. I do not know of a single “pastor of apologetics” or any formal staff position assigned to shepherd those who are doubting, drifting or deconstructing. I find this concerning given the trends we are seeing among Christians (drifting and deconstructing). One could make the case that caring for the doubting/deconstructing is the job of every pastor and ministry, but in my experience that does not actually happen. If pastoring the doubting is everyone’s job, you can be sure it will be no one’s job.
Use me as an anecdotal example. I have a doctorate degree in apologetics and a passion to shepherd the doubting. Yet, I have not had a single church that I have served initiate with me a way to use my passion and expertise. And, often, when I bring up ways we can engage the doubting as a church, there is a blank stare. It isn’t that they don’t see it as valuable. They do. It’s that they do not know anyone who is actually doubting. My assumption is that (given the statistics), the doubting are present. But, we have not actually engaged with people about their doubts. So, like sheep without a shepherd, they are lost in the mix of ministries and priorities the church deems more important.
What if we build ministries that serve the doubting? What if we hire staff to shepherd those who are drifting or doubting? How might God use such a shift in priorities? One of the reasons I started Doubting Thomas Mission is that I hope to train churches and leaders on how they can effectively reach the doubting and deconstructing.
Making Majors Out of Minors
Another issue I see is when Christians make bigger issues out of minor/secondary issues. While much could be written on this another time, I think the point needs to be made in brief. Here is an example: For many Christians (and apologists) the debate over “young earth” or “old earth” is an area of major concern. I find this very problematic because whether or not someone holds to young or old is, in my mind, of secondary concern as long as one holds to the idea that the God of the Bible created all things however He did it. Sure, there are important things to discuss related to the age of the earth and issues related to interpretation and adherence to God’s Word. But, once we are talking about God creating the universe, it becomes an in-house debate. The problem, though, is that some treat those who don’t hold to their position as being “outside” the Christian faith. This is just one of many secondary issues that Christians unnecessarily give primary importance.
Here is where I think our historic, orthodox creeds can help us. These help us remember what is of primary importance. While much more needs to be discussed beyond the creeds, these gets us a long way down the road and give us something we can agree upon (rather than divide over). If we make secondary issues primary, we may be driving someone from the Christian faith because they cannot hold to a secondary belief. I believe that grieves the heart of God.
There are perhaps many more ways Christians encourage their own to doubt and deconstruct. And, this is to say nothing of the cultural ideas and assumptions outside the church that influence doubt and deconstruction. Regardless, it is my hope and vision that we, as Christians, will learn how we can gently, humbly, faithfully and substantially engage with those who are doubting. If you would like to learn more or engage in a conversation, feel free to reach out to me: Doubting Thomas Mission