Dealing with doubts (iii)

21 06 2010

Over these few posts, I am offering 10 thoughts on dealing with doubts; 4 temptations and 6 encouragements, loosely based on Jesus’ interaction with Thomas in John 20:

2) It can be tempting to share our doubts to an inappropriate level.

By this I mean not at all, or too much.

Thomas certainly isn’t guilty of bottling up his doubts. He’s pretty outspoken about them:

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. I’m a doubter and I’m open about it!”

But for many of us, the temptation is to hide our doubts, not let people know we have questions, and issues for fear of what they may think. In Christian circles sometimes the biggest fear is being labelled a ‘liberal’!

There are many reasons why leaders may feel the temptation to keep their doubts hidden:

  • Fear of man
  • You don’t have anyone close that you can share questions with
  • Fear that your pay cheque depends on not having questions!
  • Fear that we’re meant to have all the answers, and that if we don’t, people won’t follow us
  • Unrealistic expectations that true leadership involves showing no weakness

These are just a few reasons. There are many more. None of them are good enough. If we are going to lead well, we need to deal with our doubts publicly, but not too publicly.

Let me give you three reasons why we need to be open about our doubting and three reasons why we need to be cautious:

Doubt in Public: Why we need to be open

  1. If we are not open about our own struggle with doubts, then we will come across as arrogant, aloof and inapproachable. We will ultimately present a distorted version of ourselves – a lie.
  2. If we do not publicly demonstrate that doubting is a regular part of Christian life, and model how to deal with your doubts and grow from them, then we will leave the people we lead feeling condemned. They will look at us and think ‘they have no questions, doubts or problems! I can never measure up to the kind of person they are!’ We will also not equip them to handle their own doubts well.
  3. Being open about dealing with doubts gives us an intellectual credibility. If you can show your unbelieving friend that you wrestle with the big questions about your faith, many of which will be stumbling blocks for them, you will make Christianity seem more academically credible and appealing to them

Doubt in Private: Why we need to be cautious

  1. Sometimes we can talk about our doubts so much that onlookers think ‘he’s pretty flaky!’ and don’t want to follow us. It undermines our leadership. Either that or we end up creating a culture of questioning things rather than holding firm to evangelical truth. People think ‘my leader is constantly questioning things, therefore I should too’ and we end up on the slippery slope towards rejecting anything that vaguely resembles an orthodox doctrinal statement. We can create a culture which values that ‘the conversation’ far more than ‘the conclusion.’
  2. We can end up retreating into an attitude of empathy rather than proactivity. If I meet with a dozen people and we all admit we have doubts, and nurse each others’ wounds, perhaps exchange doubts and say ‘hey, you know what? I’m not sure about that either’ we can end up just patting each other on the back rather than working to find a solution! The reason for being open about our doubts ought to be to get positive input toward reaching a resolution.
  3. We can end up putting doubts into the minds of our weaker brothers, many of whom will never have even considered a particular theological conundrum that you’re grappling with. Some questions need to be thought through by every believer, and others don’t. So don’t raise doubts that will cause a weaker brother to struggle with their faith, if it’s not wholly necessary. You may be in a position to grapple with your doubt and reach a conclusion, but they may not be. So don’t plant a seed of doubt in their mind, unless you’re willing to help them root up the weeds and cultivate some truth as well!

I could give you a number of examples of times I’ve got this very wrong… and fewer (but still a couple!) of times when I think I’ve got it right. This is a particular challenge for preachers, who want to show a level of authenticity and openness, but can sometimes unwittingly go too far and undermine their authority, or cause the audience to struggle. It is essential that we learn to know whether the context is appropriate for you to air your (or other people’s) doubts.

Application

Practically speaking, I would encourage you to:

  • Be open about the fact that you don’t have all the answers
  • Demonstrate that you are a person who grapples seriously with doubts, and do so in a way that equips others to follow your example
  • Be selective with who you share the details with. Choose wise people who will keep you accountable, empathise, be pastoral, but refuse to watch you lick your wounds. Choose people who will help you find a resolution
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