A few weeks ago, my congregation’s associate pastor preached her farewell sermon. During it, she confessed a few doubts about her faith to us.
Afterward, one of my students – who’s been in the midst of her own spiritual crisis – talked about how much she related to and appreciated our pastor’s message. As a result of hearing our pastor’s doubts, this student left church feeling as though she belonged there. After all, if our pastor could wrestle with doubt and continue being a pastor, then surely she could wrestle with doubt and continue being part of our community of faith.
Unfortunately, this was a new realization for this student. Prior to that morning, she believed doubt and faith were mutually exclusive.
I wonder, how many of us have contributed to such beliefs?
Consider, for a moment, James 1:6-8,
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
As youth workers, we certainly don’t want our students’ faith to be like “waves of the sea driven and tossed by the wind”. Instead, we want their faith to be strong and robust, able to withstand and endure any trials life might throw at them. So we exhort them not to doubt. In the process, however, we communicate that doubt and faith don’t go together and that as a result, doubts (and the students who have them) aren’t welcome in our ministries.
Such an approach seems to contradict how Jesus dealt with doubt.
Just think about how Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubt. Rather than fear it, Jesus embraced it. He met Thomas in the middle of his doubt.
What if we, as youth workers, did the same? What if we entered into our students’ doubts, affirmed them, and sat with them in the midst of those doubts? How might our faith be mutually strengthened as a result?
As I’ve wrestled with these questions, I’ve been struck by an ongoing conversation I’ve had with my students. During the last several weeks, we’ve been studying the twelve apostles together. Each week, I ask students, “Which apostle do you most relate to and why?”
Time and time again, students say, “Thomas”.
Because like Thomas, they doubt. But unlike us, they don’t judge Thomas for his doubt. Instead, they see in him someone who was so committed to following Jesus that he couldn’t hide anything from him; Someone courageous enough to speak the truth, even when it meant admitting he didn’t believe something.
For students, Thomas’ story suggests that doubt and faith aren’t mutually exclusive; That doubt may actually foster belief.
If that’s the case, then maybe the real travesty isn’t that we doubt.
Maybe the real travesty is that a pastor can only admit her doubts on the day she’s leaving and that our teens may never feel safe enough in our churches to admit theirs.