Does doubt foster belief?

I am a musical geek.

Much to my husband's dismay, I listen to soundtracks constantly. Day and night, they're what I blast from Itunes.

Since I first got the soundtrack for The Book of Mormon nearly two years ago, one song has consistently captured my attention: I Believe. In this song, Elder Price recounts the many beliefs – even the absurd ones - he professes as a Mormon. In so doing, he laments “I can't allow myself to have any doubt” because “a Mormon just believes!”

The song is undeniably funny and yet, as a youth worker, it pains me. How often do our teens feel as though they can't allow themselves to have any doubt because Christians just believe?

Deep down, I think few adult Christians actually believe this. In retrospect, many of us can see how profoundly our faith journey has been impacted by wrestling with doubt. Even so, there is no denying that sometimes our church culture reinforces the idea that Christians "just believe.”

For example, I recently heard a guest preacher admit she chose to preach on the day's Epistle rather than the Gospel because among other things, it was an easier text. Such a message tells students that rather than wrestling with the hard things found in Scripture (and let's be honest, much of Scripture is hard), as Christians we are to just accept (or ignore) them because Christians “just believe”.

We also reinforce the idea that Christians “just believe” whenever we brush aside questions from students, regardless of how bizarre they are. When we respond to students' questions by saying, “Sometimes you just have to believe,” we reinforce the stereotype that they “can't allow themselves to have any doubt” yet again.

When we pretend to have all the answers and never admit our own doubts or questions, this, too, reinforces the belief that Christians "just believe”.

When we instill in our students that they are one particular kind of Christian – whether that be Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Pentecostal, non-denominational, or whatever – because that's what their family has been for the past umpteenth generations, that, too, encourages them to blindly accept a certain set of theological tenets rather than to question, doubt, and decide for themselves what they actually believe.

When we do these things - subtly or even unintentionally – we reinforce the mentality that “We can't allow ourselves to have any doubt” because a Christian "just believes”. In so doing, we short-circuit the process of faith formation.

In a recent article called Mormons who Doubt , author Jana Riess references James Fowler, who “indicates in The Stages of Faith that seasons of doubt are not optional if we want to progress in faith; they are catalysts to growth and new understanding.”

If that's true, then as youth workers, we are called to be curators of doubt who intentionally cultivate, encourage, and wrestle with our students' deepest questions and doubts.

Consider, for example, Job's response to God in Job 42: "I once lived by rumors of you; Now I have it all firsthand - from my own eyes and ears!”

Were in not for the intense season of pain and suffering that forced Job to confront his questions and doubts, it is unlikely his faith would have ever progressed beyond “living by rumors” of God.

So it is with our youth.

As youth workers, then, this is our calling: To help students move from living by rumors of God to firsthand knowledge of and experiences with God.

Fulfilling that calling requires us to help students admit and wrestle with their doubts so that eventually, they can confidently name what they believe, not because it's what Christians "just believe" but because it's what they've decided for themselves to believe.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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