Yesterday on Twitter there was a stream of tweets about leaving church, doubting the faith, the Bible, and the church, and the like. Among the tweets were references to two very honest blog posts about doubts that people have these days.
One of them was at Jason Boyett’s blog on beliefnet.com entitled “Turning Point”
The other one appeared at patrolmag.com entitled “Life as a Leaver” by Anna Scott
I understood those tweets. I understood those blog posts.
I understood those tweets and posts as both a pastor and a follower of Jesus Christ. If you are in ministry, if you are involved in the Christian faith you will deal with doubt and the spiritual residue of doubt, both your own and those of others.
I was struck, as I read both posts, by a couple of things;
1. The doubts of both writers (and Boyett’s post was an anonymous posting from someone else) had their roots in significant losses. For the one the death of a friend’s child and for the other the death of a marriage. Doubt is nowhere more certain in our lives and faith than when tragedy of all kinds strikes.
2. But the second thing that struck me was the intense and substantial level of involvement by both persons in church life and the ministry. Neither of these persons were “fringe” people. They were deeply involved and deeply committed persons to God and to the church.
This brings me to an a parallel observation that comes out of my reading of these two posts and my own experiences in my 20’s and 30’s
How often has doubt come out of nowhere because of being over involved and overextended in ministry that, in my opinion, leads to burnout?
I am of the opinion that in our desire to keep younger adults involved in the life of the church (and I certainly want them to be involved) we perhaps encourage a “fast track” into greater levels of involvement/responsibility that by the time they hit 30, can cause many to be burned up and out. Then, add in episodes of conflict, both the severe and normal kind, and significant losses that impact one’s self, and you hit a wall of pain and grief and often have no way, and most important, no process to resolve it.
I was there at 30. After five years of full-time ministry, plus a seminary education, experience with severe conflict in the two churches I had served as a youth minister and a lack of a support network to help me process my emotions and personal issues, I nearly walked away from everything and everybody and I ended up resigning from the ministry vowing to never return. It took me, or perhaps it required of me, a four year “sabbatical” and a clear call of God to return to ministry. 18 months of weekly counseling was a part of that time as well.
During those four years I clearly remembered an image of me standing half in and half out of the door of “the church.” It was symbolic of my attitude toward the church. But in that image, I also heard the Spirit say, “Are you going to come back in and be a part of the church or not?” That was a marker in the road of recovery back to spiritual and emotional health. I could have gone either way but I chose to re-embrace the church in all of its sacredness… and humanness.
I acknowledge and respect the raw and honest feelings and attitudes of those whose words are in the aforementioned posts. There are other pastors and church leaders who feel the same way that are older and who no one knows are feeling these same things. They are men and women who have served and are still serving the Lord.
But I also pray that the true and living God will come to them through safe and spiritually healthy care givers that will help them re-embrace a true and Biblical, and ultimately a stronger and robust faith that will help them face their doubts, their pain and do so in the embrace of a God who wrestled in the wilderness and at Gethsemane with temptation, fear, abandonment, and I suggest, doubt.
These are my Thursday thoughts.