An exploration of deconstruction and how we can shepherd well from here on out.
Peeking Under the Rug
A topic that started bubbling up within Christian culture just a few years ago has become one of the greatest sources pain, frustration and confusion in regards to my own Christian life. A wind of doubt and deep questioning of the foundations of the Faith has swept through our churches and proven to become an artifact that is now too big to simply sweep under the rug. The dust has still yet to settle— it’s always either floating in the air or being kicked up into all of our faces rendering us half blind and struggling for sanity. A continuous, choking, breath of grief and loss. Loss of friends and congregants. Loss of faith and stability.
But what is it that is being being kicked up? And why does compassion for our brother bring one believer back to the feet of culture and the other back to the foot of historical faith?
All questions I would like to observe here.
My frustration and confusion over what is now so casually regarded as “deconstruction” is finally transforming into curiosity. I now believe that the fear-response that came out of my heart when I was watching people fade into the sunset holding hands with this movement, was simply because I just didn't understand why. My initial thought was that people were being weak and following the crowd instead of fighting for connection with their leaders. I witnessed people around me being pulled out of the pews for concern of friends who were bleeding, wounded, and running as far away from the church as possible. And although it was a noble pursuit, I knew in my heart that where they were being pulled into a place of chaos.
A place where faith is tested by how "compassionate" you are willing to be— an impossible test, because it’s one that nobody wants to fail.
I was angry that the task at hand felt like a zero-sum game. You either support the hurting person and relinquish your historical faith, or choose your historical faith and lose every person who is hurting too much to witness your choice to stand by something that has caused them so much pain. And after a couple of years of listening and educating myself on what was going on around me, I think I have a greater understanding than what was once a simple and naive frustration.
How do we honor and validate our wounded sister as we tow our own burden of the cross that we all must carry as individuals? How do we construct our faith in a way that will stand the test of time?
My answer: the truth and nothing but the truth.
Resources & Their Outcomes
In the wake of my confusion, I turned to a few resources that gave language to what I was witnessing around me. I specifically chose these resources because they are provided by people who walk closely with Jesus and preach the historical faith. A few of those resources were, and still are, Theos U, a subscription-based theology course website, The Rise And Fall Of Mars Hill, a podcast by Christianity Today, as well as the podcasts of Becket Cook and Alisa Childers.
And on the flip side, as I started paying attention to those who are deconstructing and looking into the resources they're leaning on, I noticed that most prominent influencers who are implicating deconstruction center the conversation around sexuality, philosophy, or experiences of abuse/hypocrisy in the church.
And you know what, for the most part, I don't blame them. The more that I listen to stories of abuse in leadership, the tragedy in lack of compassion, or even fear around a congregant's questioning, the more I understand why they are where they are.
However, this is certainly not to say that many influencers who call themselves Christians and are causing people to walk away from their faith, are innocent. They are not. There are voices who aim to tear the Church apart from the outside-in. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. These people who are knowingly tearing people from the fold and will face Jesus one day and have to account for all of the souls lost because of the irresponsibility in their teaching. They know what they are doing.
A correlation that I found is that those who were questioning, but grabbed onto resources provided by doctrinally strong leaders, were able to stay in the faith. And those who grabbed on to resources provided by people who have deconstructed or walked away from the faith, followed suit.
If you are questioning but want to come out the other side in love with Jesus, connect with those who are in love with Jesus and love His Word.
For those of us who are genuinely trying to be a good shepherd, there are a few observations that I've made that seem innocent at face value, but may be adding to the problem of people experiencing so much doubt in the church right now. Be assured, I am preaching to myself here and am learning to make adjustments in my own life. But I found an interesting thread: hope.
Hope is a powerful tool. If we’re not careful, the human proclivity to hope can lead people into a place of disillusionment.
Hope is a form of a promise.
When testimonies are softened or adorned with overnight success or leave out the depth of pain and possible heartbreak in the process, we are telling a lie. And worse than that, we are luring real people into disillusionment when their testimony doesn’t look like the magical turn-around that someone may have foolishly claimed it to be, when in reality, it wasn’t.
Not to say that instant miracles don’t happen, because they absolutely do. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But when it isn’t instant and we intentionally hide time or leave out the medical treatments that may have been performed, when the rubber meets the road in the audience’s life, we are almost better off omitting the testimony altogether than misleading them in their faith. I believe that to adorn testimonies, even in the smallest iota, is one of the most powerful manipulations on the planet. If we purposefully hide it, it’s an untruth. It’s a sin.
Miracles are the most powerful when we tell the real story. Why? Because it has the humanness that we can actually relate to! People want to hear that they’re not alone, but they will always feel alone when we leave out the hard stuff and skip to the end.
Hope can also cause one to write-off unhealthy leadership in order to feel like they are a part of something important on the earth. When we are not calling each other higher in our character, we are building the church with popsicle sticks and Elmers glue. Because if questions and accountability are too heavy for leaders, they have no place leading. The moment there is any pressure, the structure buckles, and that is simply not the kind of church God is building.
The willingness to omit crucial conversations out of fear of punishment from leadership is not just a sin against yourself, but against the Church. Why else would we think that so many church leaders have fallen so hard in the last few years? I believe that, in part, it is the lack of courage to call for accountability. Lack of courage in the leader to ask for accountability. To be open with their spouse, close friends, and counselors about their stressors, temptations, sin, or even their own personal trauma.
Find a leader who intentionally seeks out open, candid, fellowship with their spouse, friends or counselor, and is willing to adjust when a flaw is being pointed out, and I’ll show you a leader I’m willing to follow.
So how can we inspire hope while maintaining authenticity? And how do we maintain accountability in proclaiming the truth and nothing but the truth? These are all questions that we must ask ourselves as we move into a new era where the polarization between modern culture and Christianity is only getting more tense.
One way that we can safeguard the church is to make sure we aren’t poking holes in our own stories. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and there will be no place to find fault. Because when fault is found, the fallout can be furious.
Another way to safeguard the church is Biblical and doctrinal literacy. I believe in the gift of leadership and the anointing of the Holy Spirit to preach, but without doctrinal literacy, we may see growth in church attendance, and even in baptisms, but it doesn't mean much if we aren’t building strong Christ followers.
Part of the construction of the church is doing the job of teaching people why we believe what we believe. Why we believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant.
One of the attacks on the Church and on the Word at the moment is the Bible’s inerrancy. This argument is used as a tool to pull apart the character and judgment of the Patriarchs, as well as the writer’s capability to actually hear from God. Because the modern church isn’t being formally educated on good doctrine, they are falling for the temptation of culture to conform to its ways.
And this is why some walk away. When they feel they’ve been lied to, manipulated, ignored, or they simply haven’t been educated on the foundations of the faith, they are highly susceptible to “deconstructing” or even abandoning the faith altogether.
Return To Our First Love
I think I understand now why so many worship songs are written about returning to our first love- Jesus. I think it might be the only way back. That is, the only way back in. Into that tender place of the Lord in our lives and His gentle leading. A return to the simple love of Christ and the joy of freedom and redemption in Him. The deep trust that He knows what is best for His children and the willingness to carry our cross and live this life of adventure with Him
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” - Revelation 2:4-5
This is certainly not the hardest that the church will be pressed. So to what end will we allow our hearts to be contorted to the beat of a depraved version of empathy, and at what point will we come to a line that we will not cross. Some will never find that line. Their structure has been crushed, either by abuse or by their inability to humble themselves to the Word. However, for others, the line was drawn for them a long time ago; namely in the creeds and in historical Christian doctrine.
Wise As Serpents, Innocent As Doves
Let me close with an excerpt of a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr in 1959:
“Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”
Be wise as serpents: know the Word, know doctrine, and speak the truth.
Be innocent as doves: listen with compassion and withhold judgment knowing that true injury may have occurred in order for someone to be in the deconstructed place they are in.
Are there any renovations needed in your faith? Are there any adjustments required in order to strengthen your foundation? Whether it's continued education in Christian doctrine in order to be a more responsible teacher, learning better listening skills, or learning to be more honest in your speech; we all have room to grow. Although we cannot each take full responsibility for the deconstruction movement (it's roots are deeper than that), we can, however, shepherd well from here on out. Myself included.