Church in an Age of Doubt
These are not the best of times for the church in America. Every year more than 2.5 million people leave the church. Often church is viewed with suspicion as it is seen as a place of judgment and as a pawn of political leaders. The typical response of churches to people experiencing doubt has not helped. Christians with doubts often feel silenced or shunned by their church. With all this in mind, we might be tempted to believe that the days of the church as we know it are over.
Maybe not. In his new book, Brian McLaren points out why he still sees a need for the church despite its weaknesses. He points to the rise of hate and extremist groups (like the ones we saw on January 6 storming the Capitol). He cites research which indicates that these groups offer three important things to their members- meaning, a sense of purpose and belonging. These are the very things which churches offer people! He rightly reasons that authentic and loving churches are a powerful alternative to these extremist groups (and to youth gangs as well in my mind).
He further notes that while our public schools are equipped to promote intellectual growth, they can not promote moral development. Churches, however, are a school for moral development. At our best, we help people become more like Jesus. That is called making disciples. Jesus gave us this task over two thousand years ago. When we do it well, we help people individually and help our community also as these disciples are released to live in the world. The catch to doing discipleship well is that we need to love people in the midst of their doubts. Kathy Escobar put it this way: “The art of loving each other well is letting people be where they are and not trying to convince them to be where I am.” Surprisingly, it is by loving and accepting people where they are, that those same people can find the motivation to change. Fortunately, we are a church; love and acceptance is not only what people need, it is what we do. As long as we continue to do this, we will have a future.