O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Is the Church the Best Place for Doubters?

In the variety of interviews I’ve done for the new book, in print and radio, the interviewer and I always seem to agree on a few things:

1) Everyone has spiritual doubts, though many of us hide them.

2) It’s better to be honest and open about our doubts rather than to ignore, suppress, or disguise them…

3) …except we live in a church culture where doubts may be feared, misunderstood, and not entirely welcome. Which leads us back to #1.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But eventually we conclude with #4, which is something we always agree on, too:


4) Doubt shouldn’t keep us from continuing to pursue a life of faith, regardless of what language you use to describe it (“following Jesus,” “living as a Christian,” etc.)

For most believers, #4 involves going to church. The same churches from #3, that are not always comfortable with doubters. This poses a problem.

I’ve heard churches ask doubters to leave prior to a prayer service, fearing that the presence of spiritual doubt will diminish the power of that community’s prayer (James 1:6 gets cited in these occasions).

I’ve heard people say that they’d sooner admit to a porn addiction in church than to admit they aren’t entirely sure God exists.


I once got an email from a reader who said she was embarrassed to be seen reading O Me of Little Faith by her church friends and family members because she didn’t know what they might think of her.


Last week I interviewed author Nick Fiedler, who left organized Christianity a few years back while trying to come to terms with his beliefs. In response to a recent post, he commented with a question that I’ve been thinking about ever since:


After establishing that we are almost all doubters, my follow up question would be, ‘Is the church really the best place for doubters?’ In my experience, no.

Now there is always the exception, but when the doubt gets heavy or something substantial is doubted, the church gets antsy. Do you guys have a church that is good for doubters?

I want to open that question up to you. Earlier we discussed clergy who don’t believe. What about churchgoers who doubt?

Is the church the best place for them during periods of doubt — particularly if that church might be judgmental or negative toward them? Are you aware of churches who seem to do well with doubters? What can/should these churches look like?

This blog is read by pastors and parishioners. I welcome the comments of both.

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Danny Bixby

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

“Are you aware of churches who seem to do well with doubters? What can/should these churches look like?”
Yep, ours does. Our target audience is un-churched & de-churched, so the struggle of whether God even exists at all is something that comes up quite often.
I’d imagine there are people who don’t feel our church is a safe place to talk about their issues & doubts…but it certainly isn’t because of the culture that we’ve created at our church.
As for what it looks like, well it looks pretty crazy. You can be burned out on church whether you’re a drug addict or an upper class businessman. Families, singles, teens, 70’s, bikers, bouncers, and people who really “look” like your standard WASP.
Everyone comes here, even fundamentalists…though of course, it’s often to get fuel for why our church is an apostate, and they tend to not stay very long.
Attendance is just above 4k a weekend, and we’re opening a 2nd campus in early 2011.
North Point Church (don’t groan at me, I didn’t pick the name)in Springfield, MO.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

What I’ve personally found is that a lot of my fear about expressing doubt has more to do with me and the dialog in my brain than a lot of the ACTUAL dialog that happens when I express those doubts. I’ve found that, in general, when I start talking to someone about doubts that I have, the person that I’m talking to mirrors a lot of those same feelings.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times when there is judgment (and sometimes stuff that may not be intentional or “real” judgment but certainly FEELS judgmental), but I will say that I think a lot of time I invent drama where there isn’t any.
Of course, maybe that’s more of a “people as the church” thing than the actual “church service” thing. I’ve just found that people, regardless of the “church” tend to be a lot more understanding than I give them credit.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 9:57 am

^”What I’ve personally found is that a lot of my fear about expressing doubt has more to do with me and the dialog in my brain than a lot of the ACTUAL dialog that happens when I express those doubts.”
I’m so on board with that. I think the biggest doubters, almost by definition, doubt the resilience of their fellow Christians to handle doubters. Sure, some people really are hard on doubters (perhaps sometimes that’s even a good thing), but like you said, Jason, in your first point, everyone has doubts.
In short, I seriously *doubt* church is primarily the problem. In all the cases I can think of in the Bible, the cure for a lack of faith was hearing the Word of God and fellowshipping with other Christians.
In other words, I think it’s a hard situation but much harder alone.
-Marshall Jones Jr.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

I think church is a GREAT place for doubters. The worst place for doubters is a house full of like minds, sitting around feeding each other’s doubt. I am not scoffing at doubters, not at all, mainly because that would mean scoffing at everyone (at least everyone who is honest with themselves). My point (yes, there is one) is my experience is doubt tends to be seasonal (forgive my church speak) and experience and time (and honest observation) can wear it down. I am 50 years old. I have been a Christian forever (raised in a Christian home, solid family life, blah, blah, blah…) and it hasn’t been until the last few years that I could relax in my faith. Why? Because I have a lifetime of experiences that I can (must!) attribute to God’s work/involvement in my daily existence. At 25, 30, 35 years old I was less in tune to the every day involvement of God in my life. I was walking out a “bless my plans, please” existence. But now? After raising three kids, a handful of various jobs, 28 years of marriage–I can see God’s hand in everything. Grace looms large. And that is why we need to be in church together. Not a church that snubs the less that perfect but a church where experiences are shared and we can learn from each other. And we learn by listening, being as gracious as God has been with us and relating to doubt and unbelief because we have all been there and we understand the journey. And, most importantly, praying for each other–for eyes to see and hearts to believe. And to understand the words of Peter when Jesus asked him if he was going to leave Him: “To whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them and we know You are the Holy One of God.”

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Memarie Lane

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:26 am

The church I grew up in expelled my sister when she was 15 for not raising her hands during the worship service. Because of that, neither she nor my dad have attended a church service since, and that was 20 years ago. The churches I’ve gone to since have had a very welcoming attitude toward all comers. I don’t understand how a church can do otherwise yet expect to win new believers.
When I first read this topic on FB I thought you were asking about the doubter’s decision to attend church. It’s a difficult choice to make. Will church attendance serve as a crutch so the doubter can try to lock her questions in a box and wade in the shallows of pop-Christianity? Or will sleeping in on Sunday send her into the hopelessness of atheism? Are these things inevitable?

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Jonathan Charlie Chang

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

I hate when I let someone know I’m doubting my salvation and someone says, “Oh that’s just Satan making you doubt.” And I just want to slap them. If I were the enemy, do you think I would get you to doubt your salvation? If anything, I’d make you never doubt so when you die you’d stand before God and think you’re getting into heaven but you’re not. I’d want someone to be confident their whole life and never question anything. That’s why I don’t think doubt is from Satan.
I’ve been surprised though, I’ve told one of my really close friends and he opened up and said, “Yeah, I feel the same way.” Imagine the turmoil and lack of support I’d get if I didn’t tell someone. I’m glad social media and networking is here too because it helps me know there’s not something wrong with me and I’m not going crazy with doubting.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

I am part of the leadership at my church and for the last six years I have opened many boxes of doubt. It has never really been a doubt that God exists, it has been the doubt that what the church is doing is what we should be doing. That seems, to me, even more of a tricky question in my experience. I have found that most people get riled when you question the stautus quo and doubt that it is benefitting anyone. As a result, I have often opened the can of worms and have been told I am cynical and jaded. People like to label so they know how to approach you. I LOVE God, I just question why we continue doing things in our churches that have lost meaning and do not motivate people to truly live THE WAY. I often wonder if I am wrong to question things, but often come back to the things that Jesus said and did, questioning the religious system and once again I have courage to keep doubting, in a positive way. Things don’t change without doubters like me!!

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posted June 1, 2010 at 11:30 am

Some churches are definitely NOT going to help doubters. Other churches are going to be more open to conversations. I agree that the worst place for any of us is with a bunch of people who think exactly like we do.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm

In answer o the question “Is Church the best place for doubters?” My answer is “Depends on the church”. Just as there are people who stand ready to stone anyone expressing doubt, there are people who stand ready to listen and help you deal with it, whether through education, counseling or just agreeing with you. Both types generally exist in any church. If you’re lucky, there’s more of the latter than the former.
As for what it would look like? I would suspect thriving and growing.

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Jessica Renshaw

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Although there are good ones, I’m not sure looking for a good church is the best focus for someone with honest questions or someone disillusioned with God. Churches are composed of individuals, some of whom might be able receptive to open dialogue, not threatened, not defensive, and some who won’t. A good church can have individuals in it who can scar you or turn you away from church for a long time or forever. (And probably bad churches have good individuals who can draw you to God.)
I think being really, really honest with God directly, even if you doubt him or don’t believe in him at all, is the safest way to go. I found Christ when I started a prayer with, “God, I don’t know if you exist. If you do, you’ll have to show me because I don’t want to deceive myself–” And he did. He must have spoken an instant, inaudible “Peace, be still” to the raging storm inside me because it was there and then–it wasn’t.
Address your doubts to him. Get them out somehow, write them out, reason them out, talk them out, scream them out. Let him know what you’re feeling about him and why. He can take it. He’s been argued with, corrected, screamed at and kicked in the shins before and he doesn’t have an ego that will get in the way. He’s been crucified by people who doubt, hate or deny him–and he still comes up listening, caring, forgiving. But then be quiet and give him time to answer–in his own way and time. Doubt is not the problem. Pain (which may be an even deeper stumbling block than doubt) is not ultimately the problem. I wrote a poem once:
I told God I was angry;
I thought He’d be surprised.
I thought I’d kept hostility
quite cleverly disguised.
I told the Lord I hate Him;
I told Him that I hurt.
I told Him that He isn’t fair
He’s treated me like dirt.
I told God I was angry,
but I’m the one surprised.
“What I’ve know all along,” He said,
“you’ve finally realized.
“At last you have admitted
what’s really in your heart;
Dishonesty, not anger,
was keeping us apart.
“Even when you hate Me,
I don’t stop loving you.
Before you can receive that love,
you must confess what’s true.
“In telling me the anger
you genuinely feel,
it loses power over you,
permitting you to heal.”
I told God I was sorry,
and He’s forgiven me.
The truth that I was angry
has finally set me free.
I hope this helps someone, that it isn’t just one more piece of unasked-for or irrelevant advice. If you need prayer, I would consider it a privilege to pray with or for you. You can contact me through my blog and I’ll give you our phone number.

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shawn smucker

posted June 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm

i think our church is a great place for doubters, but we tend to emphasize spiritual trajectory and not the attempt to reach a fixed, static point or destination.

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Travis Thompson

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:47 am

There’s no doubt in my mind that the church SHOULD be a perfectly fine place for doubters, and I think books like yours are great for opening up important dialogue to make that happen. However, there’s also little doubt that, realistically, the church probably isn’t actually a good place in terms of openness and unconditional love and care for people who are struggling with faith. Paradox! Oh no!

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posted June 2, 2010 at 1:56 am

Well, having just reached the decision to leave our current church, i don’t know what the answer to be.
The church we have been attending looks like everything a church should be – on the surface. It is warm & friendly, they want to help people, the pastor seems to be open & honest, & the whole church seems to be deeply desirous to be pleasing to God & follow Jesus.
Doctrine is the dark undercurrent in all of this, however. There is so much negativity preached from the pulpit, & so much shaming. Our pastor was yelling this past week, “If you believe that Jesus came to save you, WHY AREN’T YOU JOYFUL? You HAVE TO BE joyful! If you’re not joyful, YOU’RE NOT SAVED!”
I honestly think he is very depressed. Also, i believe that he thinks all people are evil. Utterly depraved. Unable even to make the decision to want to follow Jesus (“only God can put that desire in someone’s heart to draw them to him” belief). This pastor won’t, in any context, use the word “good” in reference to people. In his opinion, that is a word reserved for God alone. In looking into the doctrine of this denomination, i find that this is what that church believes & teaches.
I, on the other hand, believe that most people want & try to be good & honest. We’ll never be good enough, we’ll never be able to reach God apart from Jesus. Still, i think most people strive to live by at least their own definition of “good.” I’ve never believed that people are a depraved/wicked/evil as some denominations make them out to be. Honestly, if we were all that wicked, people wouldn’t have children & strive to raise them well. We’d have children & eat them.
Yes, i struggle with doubt. But more i struggle to find a church where i can feel at home & not always having to wear a mask to cover what “is really” going on with me. I’m tired of having to bite my tongue all the time, to keep quiet with my issues so that i don’t disrupt or cause dissension within the body of this church.
And i’m done. Don’t know where we’ll go from here. Finding a “church home” feels like an impossible quest right now.
There are times i feel cynical enough to say, “Not only is the church not the place for folks who doubt, i’m not sure the church is the place for anyone!” However, i think that is my discouragement talking.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted June 3, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Our pastor was yelling this past week, “If you believe that Jesus came to save you, WHY AREN’T YOU JOYFUL? You HAVE TO BE joyful! If you’re not joyful, YOU’RE NOT SAVED!” — Kathryn
Like all those Joyful North Koreans dancing Joyfully with Great Enthusiasm before Comrade Dear Leader?

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posted June 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I don’t feel we need “church” in order to show our love of God. Sometimes it is more confusing and just piles on more guilt in many ways. It took many years for me to learn this. Headless Unicorn I’ve been in the same place. Maybe he thinks the louder he yelled the more you could hear. Someone might ask him why isn’t he joyful?
I do have to say that Church is not the best place for anyone who doubts at all. Most Churches are full of the “mysteries” that we aren’t supposed to know. If we aren’t supposed to know them, why is it so important to go and get taught? I read good books by many religious leaders and take the good and leave the bad. I read the scriptures of other religions and those that are the same, I try to put into practice. I have good friends, I volunteer, I go to church with my friend when she invites me but then discuss my feelings with her when we have our woman’s night.
Just because you go to church doesn’t make you doubt any less. Church should be comforting, not give more doubt. I truly believe that most Priests and Ministers have much more doubt than we do. Know we are not alone in our search and when we look with a different eye we sometimes find the truth.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I’m glad social media and networking is here too because it helps me know there’s not something wrong with me and I’m not going crazy with doubting. — J.C.Chang
I have to phone my writing partner (a burned-out country preacher) every week or two to ask “Did we go batshit crazy or did everybody else?” (So far, it’s been everybody else.)
P.S. Jason — I sent him a copy of your Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse a couple years ago. He got a big kick out of it, and recommends it as a beginning overview on the subject.

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posted June 5, 2010 at 12:17 am

My experience has taught me the best way to remove doubt of Heavenly Fathers/Mothers love for us is to help others. When a child I lived in a family who were Salvation Army Officers as far back as I can remember. I had the example of seeing Fathers work in person. That is where the truth is. Not where someone is telling you how you should feel or believe, but showing you that they truly believe. Not do what I say but follow me. I saw the love and compassion that was given to others in poverty that my parents took in because they had no place to live, mom taking care of children. Things like that. Through service is where your doubt will be ended,not in some church. Go to the place you are needed and you will find that which you are seeking.

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posted June 5, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Something that we often forget is that the battle isn’t flesh and blood, it is spiritual. My mom came up to visit this past week. We were raised as atheists and she still claims agnosticism (just in case). In the past 15 yrs. she has lost my dad (after 37 yrs. of marriage)to heart disease. Next was a fiance’ (died of leukemia) and most recently her second husband, one week after their first anniversary (from pneumonia). I have never seen my mother drink before yet while here became quickly worried about how much was being consumed. I judged her instead of being understanding. I prayed about the situation (after she left) and my friend was given a vision. She saw a very large demon screaming at her (condemnation and guilt) and my mom wasn’t even fighting back but just standing there and crying. I wrote her a letter and apologized and told her what a great mom she has always been. I couldn’t tell her about this vision because flesh cannot comprehend Spirit. But in prayer, I can war for her and I will. None of us are perfect,least of all me, just making progression about God’s grace. When the battle within the church comes around the corner (and it’s coming quickly) remember that it truly isn’t flesh and blood. It is God, making holy his bride.

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posted June 11, 2010 at 1:43 pm

If a church is not supportive find one that is. Going through doubt/unbelief is too tough without any support. Even though there are resources online, it is still good to have that personal contact. Someone who you can get coffee with and hash out your doubts. I think being too quick to dump church altogether may make it easier to give up on Christianity altogether.

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Hilary Chaney

posted November 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I doubted, and when I did, all my questions were answered. I have come full circle in that I doubted more than anyone could, and now I believe in my post-religion faith more than I can say. It’s a whole new way of looking at things, and it exalts in the best that we are as humans. This new faith has carried me through the gates into heaven on earth. It’s a radiant place, and we can all go there soon….hear about my trip on my blog at

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