Beliefs change. At least they should. As we go through life, we learn and grow. Our faith should always be growing and maturing. However for many this change can be a little more extreme. For those people, there comes a point when they realize the faith they had doesn’t add up. Which leads to deconstructing their faith (and hopefully reconstructing).
A systematic pulling apart of the belief system you were raised in. This typically happens when one has questions/doubts about their faith that go unanswered. Eventually those issues force themselves to the surface and must be dealt with, sometimes brought on by an event in your life that the faith of your childhood didn’t prepare you for (death, loss, difficult season).
Mike McHargue better known as Science Mike went through a deconstruction journey that took him from a Christian to an atheist and then a Jesus follower. He sheds light on how common this is.
“Sociologists tell us that—and it varies a percent or two year by year—but 43 to 44 percent of people will go through a major faith transition at some point in their life,” he says. “And that’s any faith transition. So that can be from one Christian denomination to another denomination; that can be from belief to atheism; that can also be—and this happens—from secularism to some form of religiosity. But 44 percent is a huge number.” Mike HcHargue
The point is that this is a huge movement that isn’t slowing down. I think this a positive and healthy process that can bring about a more genuine/authentic faith. That’s been my experience, more on that in a minute. But I want to point out one issue with deconstruction… That is REconstruction is often ignored.
We are pretty good at deconstructing our faith, our belief system. But building it back up is a whole other ballgame. Most people don’t go in with how to reconstruct a better healthier faith. Rather they just tear everything down and are left with their faith in shambles. That’s what I did. And I wish I had a better plan from the start. There’s a few “do’s” and “dont’s” I learned through my deconstruction journey.
I’ll try to keep this brief; the point isn’t deconstruction, rather reconstruction. But I want to lay a little of the foundation for where I came from.
My deconstruction started in late 2016, but the roots go back 8 – 9 yrs before that. I kept my questions and doubts hidden for much of my adult life. But eventually I couldn’t keep it hidden any longer.
I’ve always been one to question things, but this was a much deeper level of questioning. I questioned EVERYTHING. The Bible, the goodness of God, sin, heaven/hell, the purpose of the church, prayer… Just about every aspect of my faith.
In the beginning it was a healthy questioning. I wanted to know why I believed, what I believed, and I wanted my actions to be based off my beliefs. But there was also fear associated with it. At times I felt that I was asking questions that you shouldn’t be asking. I should just have faith and believe right?
This feeling was compounded since I worked as a Pastor (and I still do). I’m the last person that should be struggling and asking these questions, right? I should just know the answers. At least that’s what I felt. (side note… A pastor doesn’t need the answers, they need a genuine faith; even if that means it’s struggling. It took me a while to learn that)
But then things started to shift. In the middle of my deconstruction process, life happened I guess you could say. At first it started small; things at the church I work for went a little haywire. Nothing crazy. Just our lead pastor leaving and then a tornado ripping our building apart. You know…normal things.
Those were tough and added more to my plate. But at that point nothing I couldn’t handle. But then my wife and I had a miscarriage. (read the story here: Miscarriage, Anger, Hope, and Trusting God) And that was the tipping point. I felt like I had nothing left. I hadn’t yet figured out what I believed, and now my life seemed to be upside down. Not the best place to be.
Here I am, a pastor, who’s supposed to have answers and have their faith together. And I don’t even know what I believe. How did I get here?
I didn’t go into this with a plan. So I had no idea where to start rebuilding. I had no idea what to do and what not to do. The only thing I had going for me was that I was determined to rebuild my faith. Not to what it was. But to what it should be. Without the junk and cultural influences.
Through my reconstruction process I learned a few things… Here’s some “do’s” and “dont’s” that helped me.
Do Read the Bible
This is one that I did not want to hear when I was going through my deconstruction. But it’s what I needed to hear. Don’t stop reading the Bible; or maybe for you, start reading the Bible.
For sometime I ignored this, except when I was writing a sermon. I know, I was a hypocrite (I still am). But for some reason God still uses me. I don’t get it, but I’m thankful for it.
What finally convinced me was a challenge I gave to a Small Group my wife and I lead. I challenged them to read their Bible and journal for a month (there was a specific directions, book, and duration, but I don’t remember what). I realized that if I was going to hold them accountable for doing it I would have to do it too. Crap.
So I did. I read my Bible just about daily. And when we finished the study with our small group I kept going, and I really haven’t stopped since. Looking back that decision to read my Bible marked a significant turning point in my journey. It wasn’t better the next day. But slowly my faith was getting rebuilt. And not just rebuilt, but rebuilt on a solid foundation.
Do read your Bible.
If you want to know how check out: How to Read the Bible (better)
Don’t Withdraw from Community
I wanted to. I wanted to hide from everyone, because I was scared of what would happen if people found out what I was going through. But community is important. If you want to have a good shot at rebuilding your faith into something that is healthy and flourishing you need community.
Now that doesn’t mean you need community with everyone.
For more on the importance of community check out: Can You Be a Christian and Not Go To Church?
Do Pray HONEST Prayers
If you do nothing else, do this.
I find a lot of people are hesitant to actually say what’s on their mind when they pray. Not like you’re going to surprise God anyway. Just say it. Or write it, or shout it. However you pray, pray honestly.
Just look at David in the Psalms. You don’t have to guess what he’s feeling, he doesn’t hide it. If he’s mad, sad, happy, angry, or at peace you know it because he shows it. Not only that he’ll use descriptive language to describe it. We should follow his example.
Often when we pray we try to be vague and act like it’s not a big deal. That’s not an honest prayer. If something hurts, confuses you, angers you, makes you happy, or whatever, use the words that best describe what you are feeling.
Praying honest prayers (telling God what I was feeling, how I was struggling, and I didn’t understand) helped me reconstruct more than anything else.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
There’s many people out there that have doubts and questions about their faith. But there’s some fear that keeps those questions and doubts hidden. I did this for quite some time. For me it was the fear of what others would think. As a pastor I felt I had to have all the answers and a strong faith.
I’m the last person that should be struggling and asking these questions, right?
I had to overcome that fear so that I could wrestle through what I needed too. My guess is for everyone that goes through this there’s fear associated with it. Fear is natural, but don’t let it stop you. What I’ve found on the other side of fear was well worth going through it.
There’s often a cost associated with deconstruction. It comes in many forms: loss of friends/family, jobs, childhood faith. Deconstruction means you are taking something apart. Reconstruction means you are putting things back together without the bad stuff. In other words, you are going to leave something behind.
Almost all deconstruction has some element of grief. You are losing something that was a big part of you life for a long time. For some that’s more than others. Sometimes people have to leave a toxic situation at a church, family, or friend group. While it’s healthy to do that, goodbye can still be tough.
Leave space for yourself to grieve what you lost. I didn’t lose any friends/family, but I did leave parts of my childhood faith behind. The biggest element I left was the certainty I had. And that took some time for me to move past what I lost. It might seem trivial. But it’s a part of you that is changing and that can lead to a need to grieve for a period of time. And that’s okay.
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Here are some great resources to help in your deconstructing and reconstructing:
Pastoral Response to Faith and Doubt
Awhile back I gave a message about faith and doubt and how we should respond. It’s a little more encouraging/pastoral than this article. You can watch it in the video below.