Another unsettling pattern emerged during my interviews. Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking “insolent questions.” Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them. One was slapped across the face, literally.
At the 2008 American Sociological Association meeting, scholars from the University of Connecticut and Oregon State University reported that “the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in de-conversion was in amplifying existing doubt.” De-converts reported “sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers.”
Churches often lack the appropriate resources. We have programs geared for gender- and age-groups and for those struggling with addictions or exploring the faith. But there’s precious little for Christians struggling with the faith.
There’s nothing wrong with pizza and video games, nor with seeker-sensitive services, nor with low-commitment small groups that introduce people to the Christian faith. But these cannot replace serious programs of discipleship and catechism.
Youth workers pay particular attention to this. Not only do we need to provide a safe environment for kids to express their doubts, but we need to be equipped to help them find answers. If we chide them for asking difficult questions, or fail to provide them with the answers, it’s no wonder so many walk away from the faith. Many fine Christians have thought about the kind of intellectual challenges your young people are contemplating, and they have provided thoughtful answers. We must equip ourselves with this knowledge so we can help our Christian youth work through their doubts. Indeed, we should not wait for someone to express their doubts before we offer them the answer. We should proactively communicate this information before they have reason to doubt. If we engage in intellectual inoculation it would result in fewer spiritual surgeries (or casualties) down the road. It’s always much easier to prevent the fires of doubt than to put out a blaze once it has started. While some youth will surely leave the Christian faith due to moral rebellion, let it not be said that they left the Christian faith because they were not persuaded that it is true.