Two Simple Truths About Christian Deconstruction and Young People Leaving the Church
Much like “Critical Race Theory” and its family of ideas, “Deconstruction” is a term that people use to mean different things. This, exactly like CRT, creates arguments where people talk past each other and make no real effort at healthy dialogue. We all know this but we still must recognize it: In this social media age, it yields more attention to be extreme and simplistic than to be nuanced and thoughtful. People want info in 280 characters, and they want to feel strong emotions. We thrive on simplistic, detached outrage. None of this is good for society.
So today, as I have with CRT in the past, I want to skip over the controversial hot takes and talk directly to two very simple yet crucial aspects of the mass exodus of teenagers and young adults from the Evangelical church, which both data and my anecdotal evidence affirm is reality. I do not want to get into convoluted definitions of “deconstruction” so I will say I am using it simply as the process by which a person begins to wrestle with and then significantly doubt fundamental truths about the Bible and subsequently departs from the church1.
Your understanding of “deconstruction” may be different to any varying level, but that is what I want to talk about. I hasten to add on that note that doubt can be healthy, but what I am speaking to is more a crisis of faith that leads a person away from God.
With that in mind, here are two things I wish every Christian could agree on when it comes to these tragic issues of people questioning Christianity to the point of abandoning it. I’m giving them together because they need to be understood together in my opinion:
1. The church needs to own its mistakes and failures that helped foster a culture of deconstruction.
2. Everyone of adult age who stands before God will give an account of their lives to him, and will not be able to blame anyone else.
You can see I am going for a yin-yang type effect here. Some things in life and theology are extreme. But many others require balance. Let’s tackle these two things, one at a time.
First, while I do not want to unnecessarily bash the church, I think it should be obvious that if you love people, speaking truth to them is loving. This is a harsh but helpful truth: the church in a lot of places has created an environment where young people come to disillusionment and doubt easily.
And what I mean by that is this: America has changed drastically in the last few decades in ways the church has not. Many young people see advances made in popular culture in the area of racism. Yet they see racism both subtle and overt in church people. It is hard to prove this kind of thing with data, but I know I for one have heard church people my entire life tell racist jokes and refuse to go to hospitals where people of different color skin, or first language were doctors.
I know many people read things like that and say, “Well I’m not like that” And maybe even, “I don’t know anyone like that”. But if you talk to just about any churchgoer or former churchgoer under the age of 35, they almost certainly will have these stories2.
Furthermore, another way in which this is true is in areas like what millennials and Generation Z want out of church. There is some research out there that proves that it isn’t as simple as loud, modern music, casual dress, or smoke and lights and atmosphere. One article I read said they desired one-on-one mentorship and to go out and do acts of service for the needy. I know this area has been a weakness for many churches. It is easier to prefer large gatherings and bible studies in-building. It is harder to invest in a person individually and to get outside the walls of the church to get your hands dirty serving people3.
Lastly, I’ll add that I think churches are often guilty of squashing questions that manifest any semblance of doubt. American Christianity thrives on knowing every answer and having “strong, unwavering” faith. Yet often in the Bible, people who express doubt get the microphone. Notably in Job, Psalms, and several Old Testament prophets. I think the church would do well to not be harsh toward young people who are wrestling with things.
I recall in my early 20s while at Bible College having a serious mental and spiritual internal war over Christian salvation by faith and works. Because I read James carefully for the first time in my life. I am thankful I had friends who encouraged me instead of mocking me.
There are many other things I could add, like how many churches have covered up abuse and adultery in leadership scandals, but that suffices as a start. The church must own our sins and not chide all of this deconstruction movement as childish and sinful.
Yet at the very same time, I think it is fair and important to point out that no person of adult age can blame the church if they choose to leave. No one of reasoning age will stand before God with any excuse. This is a point I made in an article I wrote two years ago on how we make Jesus political and I got some pushback on it. Yet while I listen carefully to all pushback, I cannot budge on this.
It seems to me some young Christians, who have not left the church but remain sensitive to those who have, lay all of the blame for young people leaving at the church’s feet. But this is not biblical. Leaving one church because it has major issues that can hinder discipleship can be healthy. Leaving The Church is not. We do well to be ever cognizant of this and to communicate it.
Churches need to change, clearly. But young people need to find a church or some Christian community that will afford them Bible teaching, accountability, corporate worship, and the opportunity to live in harmony with other believers. American individualism in every generation already cuts against the biblical ‘oneness’ of Christians. This generation seems to be combining this with deconstruction in a poisonous and potent way. Often either it’s “Me and Jesus vs the World” or it’s “Me vs. those hypocritical church people”.
So I advocate strongly for everyone to have healthy dialogues, even in the comments section here. But it is my sincere hope that all Christians can agree with at least my two big statements, even if we disagree about some details. So fire away below. I am all ears.
- I know some will want there to be a difference between leaving the church and leaving Christianity. But I do not think there is a difference. Even if your community isn’t a brick-and-mortar, meet-on-Sundays “church,” no true Christian can live without the body of Christ. ↩
- Please note that I am well aware that it is popular in America, especially among young people, to attribute some things to racism that may not be so. I have written about that elsewhere. ↩
- This is also just my personal experience and observation: churches often do social justice ministry with the youth but far less with adults. That could be a part of this whole deconstruction discussion. ↩
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2 thoughts on “Two Simple Truths About Christian Deconstruction and Young People Leaving the Church”
Excellent comments. “Red Pen Logic with Mr. B” had a related post this morning explaining why someone’s tweet that Martin Luther was a “deconstructionist” fit nicely in 280 characters but wasn’t really the same as someone leaving (as you so aptly put it) The Church.
Thank you for tackling a very difficult and controversial subject with kindness, respect, and insight. I am sure I’ll share again on this subject.