Doubt, Dogmatism, Deconstruction, and the Co-Vocational Future of the ChurchApr 21, 2022
How are Doubt, Dogmatism, and Deconstruction shaping the future of the church in America? That's our topic for this episode of More Than a Pastor.
We’re continuing our series on why I think the future of the church in America is co-vocational. And we're exploring cultural, social, and economic trends that I believe will lead to smaller churches and co-vocational pastors.
Last time we talked about Progressive Theology, Racial Justice, and LGBTQ.
Today we’re exploring the growing culture of doubt and deconstruction in the evangelical church - especially among Millennials and Gen Z - and how I think the church’s typical response only serves to magnify the problem.
If it is, indeed, a problem. But first…
I’ve got a free resource that I’m offering during this series, and it’s called “How to Know if Starting Your Own Business is Right for You?” In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. And the three most important things every pastor needs in order to launch and grow a successful, profitable business. Download your free copy today at www.morethanapastor.com/biz.
When Trying to Be Right Goes All Wrong
Have you ever had a conversation - that should have been short, sweet, and to the point - totally blow up on you and take way longer to resolve than you had imagined?
I had that type of experience with one of my sons…maybe 10-12 years ago…when he was a young teen.
There was a situation that wasn’t a huge deal, but I wanted him to know that I thought what he did was wrong. I can’t recall exactly what the situation was…I think it had to do with how he had responded to one of his siblings - and I just wanted him to know that his action, and what I thought was the attitude behind it, was wrong.
But instead of receiving my words and saying , “OK dad, you’re right,” he wanted to explain to me his thinking on why he did what he did, and how he had come to the conclusion that he, in fact, was not wrong.
I responded by reminding him, as if he needed the reminder, that I was his dad, and that as the dad I had judged that what he did was wrong and he just needed to accept it, apologize, and move on.
“But Dad,” he said, and he kept trying to make his case and share his perspective. But I wouldn’t let him. I kept trying to stop him from saying anything more.
It got drawn out. It was frustrating.
Looking back, I realize that I had failed to create a safe space for us to have an honest conversation, for me to hear his side of the story. I had failed to put our relationship first, in the midst of the conversation..
Instead, I had stoked feelings of anger and injustice within him, and frustration within both of us for a conversation that could have been over within a couple of minutes but I had escalated it into a debate for what seemed to be like an hour.
If I would have offered him a safe place, and a “soft answer,” to borrow from Proverbs 15:1, to turn away wrath, things could have been so much different. Instead, I used harsh words which stirred up anger within him.
In the end, my argumentativeness and desire to be right crushed my son’s spirit, harmed our relationship, and created emotional distance between us that took time to heal.
The Era of Doubt, Disillusionment & Deconstruction in the Church
And that’s exactly how I feel about the church’s response to the age of doubt, disillusionment, and deconstruction that we’re experiencing right now.
It’s especially noticeable among those in the Gen Z and Millennial Generations, right? But have you also seen it growing among their parents and even grandparents as well? I have.
Pastors, churches, and denominations have many answers for why so many people dealing with doubts and disillusionment are leaving the church…and even leaving their faith.
From my perspective, it seems like most tend to blame cultural secularization, biblical compromise, and the “deconstruction is cool and trendy” vibe put out by influencers like Science Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor (or whatever Michael calls himself these days).
You could probably name some other famous evangelicals who are now, through their process of deconstruction, exvangelicals...including some prominent former pastors.
But I wonder…could there be something else that we’re missing…another reason why so many are becoming disillusioned with, and leaving the church, or leaving the faith altogether?
Here’s what I think. And you are free to agree or disagree, of course…
The Way the Church Typically Responds to the Disillusioned Often Fuels their Disillusionment
I feel like the way in which the church has typically responded to the disillusioned only adds to their disillusionment, and confirms for them that it’s time to leave the church.
And here’s why. When people express doubts about certain doctrinal beliefs, or question labels or systems that seem dated, hold people back, or are unjust, Christian leaders have typically been more known for…
- Demonizing doubts and stigmatizing doubters, rather than providing safe places where people can express their honest doubts about faith without being labeled.
- Rushing to correct questions and doubts with our official pat answers, instead of truly embracing and engaging with those with their questions and doubts.
- Doubling down on our dogmatism, claiming certitude on issues where we probably don’t have certainty, instead of being honest and humble about things we’re not certain of, and being willing to acknowledge our own questions and doubts.
- Toeing the “company” or denominational line to preserve and defend the labels and structures that don't seem to fit anymore, instead of looking at them critically with a fresh set of spiritual eyes.
I know I’m painting with a broad brush, and there are always exceptions out there. I hope you and your church are one of them.
So like I’ve said in every episode of this series, I’m not here to stir up theological or political debates.
My goal is to share a perspective on social, political, and cultural trends which I believe are creating shifts that will greatly impact the future of the church for generations.
Shifts that will lead to financial struggle for many churches in the face of a sustained decline in the giving of tithes and offerings. Shifts that may lead many full-time pastors into co-vocational ministry, needing to work in the church and the marketplace in order to provide for their family.
So, after all this, you may be asking, OK Rich, how should we respond when thousands or millions of Christians come to a point in their lives where they feel like the faith system they grew up with, or have been engaged in, no longer fits them?
Well, I’d like to answer that question the same way Jesus did…with more questions, ha ha!
6 Questions to Help the Church Respond to the Era of Doubt, Disillusionment, and Deconstruction
- What if how we’re framing the problem is the problem? There’s no doubt that these shifts will create disruption that will impact every church. And with any serious disruption, we can view it as a problem or an opportunity. A curse or a blessing. Something that we might not have asked for at the time, but in the end, was something we needed.
- What if this era of doubt and deconstruction is actually the revival we’ve long been praying for?
- What if everyone needs to deconstruct their faith system at some point when it no longer seems to fit? What if we could normalize doubt? And create a safe place to honestly talk about our own struggles in the faith, the things we’re not 100% sure about, a place where we can air our honest complaints and questions toward God.
- What if, with humility, we intentionally reached out to the doubters, the disillusioned, the misfits, and the people on the margins, and created a place of belonging, where labels get dropped, and people are just able to be completely real with each other?
- What if we could tap into the pain and trauma people have experienced in church or with Christians in the past, and turn that around into something God can use to grow them and reach more people? What if their pain was their super power?
- What if Jesus wants to deconstruct American institutional churchianity (that has put politics above kingdom, marginalized women and minorities, perpetuated male dominance and toxic culture, marginalized LGBTQ people, and cast stones at those who question or doubt it) in order to bring about the kind of organic, missional, life-giving communities he intended his church to be?
So, to wrap this up, I don’t believe this era of doubt, disillusionment, and deconstruction is something to be feared or cursed. I believe it is something God can use and is using to remake his church.
Maybe the traditional, institutional model of church we’ve known for the last 100 years is going away…and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we see more smaller, fresh expressions of church…churches that don’t look like churches, and pastors who don’t look like pastors, to reach our communities.
Now is the Time for Pastors to Start Their Own Business or Side Hustle
And maybe now is the time for pastors like you and me to take a good look at how we could leverage our ministry know-how into sustainable income through our own business or side hustle? So we can serve God and provide for our families, no matter what?
Well you might be asking, Rich, how do I know if starting a business is really right for me?
I’m glad you asked! Because I’ve put together a simple PDF entitled, “How to Know if Starting Your Own Business Is Right For You?” and in it I outline the top 12 signs that you’ve got what it takes to start your own business. You can just read through it and assess yourself. And I also include the three most important things every pastor needs in order to launch and grow a successful, profitable business. Download your free copy today at www.morethanapastor.com/biz.
In our next episode, we’ll wrap up our series on why I think the future of the church is co-vocational. And we’ll talk about pandemics and church economics. I hope you’ll join me for that.
Well, that’s it for this episode of the More Than a Pastor show. If you enjoyed it, would you please do me a favor and subscribe, and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to support the show, and only takes a few seconds.
And until next time, remember that you are more than a pastor. Saying yes to God’s call doesn’t mean you HAVE to say yes to feeling stuck, broke, and unfulfilled in your life and ministry. Let’s work together to create the life, impact, and income you were made for!