Information access and social connectivity are proliferating as never before in the world’s history. This trend will continue. The consequences are and will be monumental, both for society and for the church. The spread of troubling historical details is having it’s effect within the ranks of membership. Many start to question, doubt, reach conclusions and ultimately face the painful decision to stay or leave the organization that has played such an important role in their life.
This guide is NOT meant to help answer questions about our history, doctrine or current policy. Discussing all these issues should be acceptable at church, with friends and family, and especially with leadership. But, there are 3 problems. 1) Our church culture stifles and often penalizes open discussion. 2) Most members have not studied the issues in detail. On the other hand, members with doubts will often have spent 100’s of hours. 3) Dialogue frequently descends into argument, with both sides trying to convince the other. Hard feelings and judgment routinely result.
This guide IS meant to help frame a forum that has real possibilities to build and reinforce friendship, love and trust. The elements summarized below undergird all the chapters that follow. If you make the attempt to do these four things, productive and satisfying discussions will be the result.
Focus on Common Beliefs
All members of the church actually maintain a set of common beliefs. This includes those who are traditional believers, those with doubts and even those who have left. These common beliefs are at the very core of our religion. We all hold them most dear. Yet, we spend very little time discussing our commonalities—the most important stuff.
“We find we’re not so different if we’re willing to spend as much energy on what we have in common as we do on what we don’t.” That’s not original with me. But, it certainly applies here. We need to spend much more energy on what really counts and what we really agree on.
Create a Safe Space
To most rank and file members, it doesn’t resonate to say that there is no safe space at church to discuss questions and doubts. For those undergoing or have undergone a faith crisis, it quickly becomes clear that our culture effectively inhibits the discussion of troubling issues.
Receiving validation is a basic human need. Yet, in those rare instances where questions are discussed, validation is totally lacking. It’s absence significantly impairs trust. It often makes the difference between winning friends or creating enemies.
At least, try to. This is a tough one. It’s so hard to empathize with the pain and loneliness of a faith crisis unless you have experienced it yourself. Losing a child has got to be agonizing. However, I can only imagine it. I can’t know the detail or depth of it. But…it helps to simply recognize that the pain is real.