We walked together into the valley of the shadow of doubt

The church I served for twenty-four years in the Washington, DC, area was full of people like you. Many were raised Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal but dropped out either because their questions were unwelcome or because the church’s answers were unsatisfying. But over time, life outside of a faith community was also unsatisfying, so one way or another, they found themselves in our company. Many told me our church was their last hope: if we couldn’t help them, they were done with religion forever.

Year after year, these spiritual seekers would come to our church and then get up their courage to make an appointment with the pastor. They would enter my office full of hope and caution, some with long and well-articulated lists of questions and nearly all with a vague but pervasive sense that, on one hand, their beliefs weren’t working for them, but on the other hand, those beliefs connected them to something real that they couldn’t walk away from.

They would leave my office with my best answers, and I would often be left with their toughest questions.

Between their doubts and my own, it’s no surprise that I went through my own intense period of faith deconstruction. Doing so is hard for anyone at any time, but doing so while being paid to believe and spread belief can feel like a combination of temptation and torture. It’s made all the more difficult when all of one’s professional peers are similarly being paid to believe.

I was fortunate: a member of my church leadership team came to me one day and said, “We need to decide if the journey you’re on – this journey of rethinking your faith – is just your journey, or if it’s our journey too.” I begged him not to bring this question up to the leadership team; I was afraid he would precipitate my being fired or half of my board quitting. Thankfully, he did not do what I asked but did what he felt was right, and the whole board responded with a message that brings tears to my eyes decades later as I write these words: This is not just your journey, but a journey we’re on together, they said. Please lead us through it. We trust you. And we need you.

That pivotal moment made it possible for me to remain in the pastorate and explore, question, learn, and grow with this congregation for over two decades. We walked together into the valley of the shadow of doubt, and I wouldn’t have survived as a pastor or as a Christian without their companionship.

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren