“No one talks about it.”
This isn’t something new, but we’ve had a couple of high profile church leaders come out and reveal that they have lost their faith. First, Joshua Harris revealed through Instagram that he no longer is a Christian. Now Hillsong Songwriter Marty Sampson followed suit on Instagram in a now removed post to say that he is losing his religion.
One particular refrain in Sampson’s post is a litany of things he views as going undiscussed in the Christian faith. The number of preachers that fall. That there are not many miracles happening. Why the Bible is full of contradictions. How God is love but can send four billion people to a place because they do not believe. The hard questions.
“No one talks about it.”
In the response to Sampson’s confession, many have latched on to this idea that “no one talks about it.” They are determined to show the falsity in his statement. They point to the treatises in church history that wrestle with these subjects, they point to the online discussion that is occurring on these topics. They point to their experience in their church where they are supposedly having these in depth discussions.
It should be noted that the wealth of material in history and only are wonderful resources. They are great launching points.
But these do not negate the truth in Sampson’s confession. They do not negate the fact that these discussions (with special emphasis on the word discussions) generally are not happening. That we as Christians are generally afraid to have difficult questions raised about our faith. That generally in churches, we do not have much room for doubters.
We can write about it. We can hear a sermon on it. We can recommend a book on it. But we really do not want to talk about it.
We will point to old resources, to say read them and all your questions will be answered. Or we will give pat, rehearsed answers that we were told as if it settles the issue. How many have you heard? “Just give it over to the Lord.” “You just need more faith.” “Let go and let God.” “God’s ways are not our own and we’ll never understand them.”
These are true statements, but you must see how they can also be things that are not helpful to the questioner.
Our response stems from fear. We’re worried we won’t know the answer. We’re afraid of having to say those dreaded three words, “I don’t know.” We’re afraid of disagreement.
Then there is the other side. The environments that make us scared to ask questions. To expose our doubts and our struggles. For fear of being labeled a heretic. For fear of being ostracized from the group. For fear of not fitting in, because you don’t see what the rest of the group is seeing.
If you haven’t been a part of a church like this, I pray that you never will be. I pray you continue to find good, rich, honest, raw, difficult conversations. That you are able to continue to expose your greatest struggles and doubts in an environment that encourages it and pushes everyone to growth.
But please realize, that you are in a privileged minority in the church going experience.
More churches come across as closed off to questions. To new thought, to change, to old questions, to deep questions, to struggles (or should I say to specific struggles). Even if from the top.
Our pastor revealed a statistic in his most recent sermon that disturbed me. The average career for a new pastor is 1.5 years.
Sadly, there is a lot of additional information regarding the average career of a pastor that should concern any church member. Half of the ministers starting out will not last five years. Only one out of very ten ministers will actually retire in ministry of some form.
From their own words, they felt there were unrealistic expectations on them and their families, they have been hurt and burnt by the church, they are depressed, they are lonely. At the root, pastors are frustrated by the lack of commitment from the laity, concerned about finances, grappling with effective outreach, struggling in implementing change, overwhelmed in counseling, lacking community, combating a lack of spiritual maturity, fighting for engagement in the laity, at odds with church politics, and finding difficulties in relationships.
In Brandon’s words, too many sheep in the fold trying to hurt the flock, not enough sheep willing to be shepherded.
In that light, it’s amazing how prescient R.E.M. really was.
“That’s me in the corner,
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.”
We’re going to see more of these type of announcements coming. And not just because “they never really believed,” or “it was Hillsong, what do you expect,” or some other variation. But rather because we often don’t have room for anyone with deep questions. Anyone who is struggling in their faith.
We often are the worst at eating our wounded, our struggling.
And I don’t think it’s appropriate. After all look at how Jesus treated his “doubter.” With grace and compassion. He helped him through it. Put his hands in His hands to show him how much he cared.
Perhaps we could do the same.
Perhaps we could all admit that we struggle at times with our faith, and sometimes in very deep ways.
I’ll admit, I’m not sure that I can believe that the account in Genesis 1 is literally true or meant to be taken as such. I struggle with the passages that indicate both predestination and free will are supported in the text and that the answer to Calvinism versus Arminianism might be both. Reading Kings and Chronicles is a struggle in understanding how some of the kings could have been seen as the ones favorable in God’s eyes.
I struggle with how Jacob would be chosen over Esau, when Jacob was a liar and a thief. How Esau would still not be favored with his own redemption arc. Over the role of women in the Church today. Whether Hebrews written by a woman and that is why its author is omitted.
To read the text, to study the text, is to struggle with the text.
That’s a small piece. That’s just in textual analysis. I cannot imagine those who struggle with their faith because of the situations that life has brought their way. Those who have watched their children suffer and die. Those who can truly feel how capricious this world can be.
We ALL have something about our faith, about our belief that we struggle with. It’s just time to be far more open about it and to start discussing it. To let others know, it’s ok to ask.
Jamie and I share a quote that we firmly strive for. It’s from John Wesley to describe how Christians should live among each other, especially when it comes to beliefs. “In the essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”
We need to admit that there are far less essentials than we would like to believe. That there is a lot more room in which we need to allow liberty and display charity.
It’s time to see the best in people. To view them from the most charitable position. Especially our fellow believers who are struggling. Who are slipping.
Because if we don’t help them. If we don’t open up, and truly, deeply discuss their questions. To let them know it’s ok when the answer is “I don’t know.” To let them know we struggle as well. That faith is hard. That there are times when it can be a challenge.
Perhaps, most importantly, that you will be there alongside them wherever their doubts, their struggles, their faith lead them.
If we can’t do that - then who else will?
“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing - that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”