During the interview process I am discovering that for many of the young women who left the faith, their experience growing up in the church never focused on a relationship with God. Despite the fact that many of the churches were Bible-believing and teaching churches, there was a disconnect. Most of the women in this category are biblically literate; they know the “right” answers, but knowing the right answers never made a heart difference. Their perception was that faith = church culture and moral behavior. They never understood that there is a big difference between faith = church and faith = knowing God personally.
Michelle is a 24-year-old who was raised in an evangelical community. She says that while growing up, “I didn’t feel an emotional connection to my faith or any kind of emotional belief in God that I can remember. All the people that I love and care about raised me to have this firm belief in God and what the community’s doing, but I didn’t have that.” Her church community, like many of ours, focused on teaching sound doctrine and biblical knowledge, which is great but might not be the whole answer. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 8:1, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Perhaps, in our desire to impart important knowledge, we’re not adequately imparting the love part. Or more specifically, we’re not adequately imparting the love relationship with God. Amanda, a pastor’s daughter who has left the faith, says “I was always in doubt that I was doing religion right.” It breaks my heart because she thinks that faith is about “doing religion right.”
When I asked some of these women about grace, nearly all of them knew the theologically correct answer. However, throughout the interviews it became clear that the behaviors and actions of the Christians they grew up around were larger influencers than the doctrine they were taught. If they saw mostly judgmental attitudes that were based on church culture/values or rule-following as a method of attaining righteousness, they left. Other words the women used to describe the negative attributes they saw among Christians were: fear, small-minded, petty, poisonous, prejudiced, and self-righteous. It struck me that largely, it is not God that these women are rejecting. They are rejecting the negative behaviors that they have seen in Christians, and if that’s all they have been taught about God, they toss Him out as well.
Through this process, it is becoming clear to me that we, as God-loving people, should be acting differently. Instead of expressing disapproval, exhibit grace. Instead of expressing frustration with immaturity, show patience with the growing process. Instead of merely hammering on the importance of sound doctrine, we ought to BE the doctrine while letting Christ’s beauty shine through us.
I’m not saying that we’re not doing these things. Many, many of you are actively loving others well and unconditionally. In fact, the interviews show that women who saw grace and unconditional love expressed tended to remain in the faith. Emily, a 23-year-old who retained her faith, characterized her church members as “authentic” and says that her mentors “modeled how to seek and find God in ordinary things – like books, music, movies, etc. – in everyday life.” She adds, “I think that concept of a genuine, personal relationship with God being central to the Christian faith was started in me young. I think another big thing that was drilled into me and that I carried with me throughout middle and high school was that the point of being a Christian was to love God and love people.”
It seems that we need to teach God AND exhibit God to help our young people make the connection.
So, we need to keep it up. Live our life of faith authentically, transparently, and with great love. Just like Jesus.
Keep hoping. Keep praying. Keep loving.
Kristi, for WeConnect