We are nearing the end of our special series about exvangelicals. We invite you to read previous parts of the series or click on the free eBook at the end of our final article. Feel free to share it with anyone you know who has tough questions or doubts. You can also share it with parents and friends of someone going through it.
As we promised in the last part of our series, we want to share some important steps you can take to help someone who is in the process of deconstructing or deconverting — even if that someone is you.
[Podcast version available the end of this post.]
First, let me say that I understand deconstruction and deconversion. I went through it as a teenager. My “trigger event” was a contentious church business meeting where I saw and heard church leaders stand up and say terrible things about other people — some who were in the meeting and some who weren’t. I was 12 years old and had just become old enough to attend church business meetings. What I heard was very hurtful to people I knew. I began to see leading members in our church as mean-spirited and hypocritical. That was the beginning of my deconstruction. Four years later I told my parents I wasn’t returning to church. Three years later I was an atheist. My “deconversion” was complete.
I put quote marks around the word deconversion because I had never been converted. I walked the aisle of our church at the age of ten and told the pastor I wanted to join the church. I attended special classes for several weeks and was baptized, but I had not become a Christian. I did what kids were supposed to do by my age, but it wasn’t because I wanted to be saved from my sins or know Jesus in a personal way. I just went through the religious motions.
It should have been obvious to older people in the church that I wasn’t saved, but no one talked with me about what was behind my bad behavior. They scolded me, but no one asked me what I was thinking or feeling. No one seemed interested to know if I had any questions or doubts. Maybe they didn’t notice. Maybe they didn’t know what to ask. Maybe they didn’t care. That’s why I say I understand deconstruction and deconversion. Even though my trigger event happened more than 60 years ago, I can still feel the emotions as if it were yesterday. That’s how deeply the deconstruction and deconversion process is for many people. It helps to remember what it felt like if you went through it. If you haven’t gone through either, which I hope you haven’t, realize that the emotional pain can be very deep.
From my experience and the experience of so many people who have deconstructed and/or deconverted, here are some helpful steps you can take to help someone who’s struggling right now.
- Love People — that seems so simple, but it’s at the heart of both the problem and the solution. If you love people, really love people, you’ll watch out for them. You’ll want the best for them. You’ll want to help hurting people find answers to their spiritual and emotional pain. If you don’t love people, really love people, you won’t watch out for them. You won’t want the best for them. You won’t want to help hurting people find answers to their spiritual and emotional pain. Love is the key. Either we love people the way Jesus loves people or we don’t. God loved us so much that He sent His Son from Heaven to earth to die for our sins and give us the gift of eternal life. Jesus loved us so much that He volunteered to die for our sins and give us the gift of eternal life. Jesus didn’t just talk about love, He actually loves. Love is not what we say. It’s what we do. Love does. Love goes. Love cares. Love gives. Love helps. Love meets the deepest needs of our soul. Like the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, love is “the greatest.” He also wrote that anything we do without love is wasted. It’s just a bunch of empty noise.
- Prepare Yourself To Help People — Be sure you are ready to help people who are going through spiritual deconstruction or deconversion. Unfortunately, church leaders haven’t done a good job preparing Christians to help each other spiritually. Church programs often focus on doing things for others, but are not big on making disciples. Making disciples includes learning everything Jesus and His apostles taught. That includes doing good things for others, but it also includes being able to make disciples and teach them to make disciples. Making disciples often includes answering tough questions and helping people through periods of deep doubt. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 are great chapters to read about how to use spiritual gifts to help people, but don’t miss the context. The focus is not on what spiritual gift you have but on holy living and helping people (Love God, Love Others). Before Paul wrote about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, he wrote this: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” After he wrote about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, Paul wrote this: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” Before Paul wrote about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, he wrote, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” After Paul wrote about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, he wrote, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” It’s clear that spiritual gifts are not about us. God gives gifts to His children so they build up each other for God’s glory. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 about Jesus giving gifts to the Church, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” God has gifted you so you can help others, but that doesn’t mean you are prepared to help other people with your gift. You need to understand your gift and how to nurture it. Find someone with a similar spiritual gift who is helping people the way you’d like to help people. Ask that person for help in learning how to use the gift for God’s glory. Be sure the person you learn from is well-grounded in God’s Word and in prayer. If they aren’t, learn from someone else who is spiritually mature. Don’t be fooled by celebrity. When you’re ready to help people, go and make disciples.
- See People — Don’t just “see” people. Really SEE people. There’s a big difference from seeing people attending church, youth group or small group and SEEING people at church, youth group or small group. Seeing people spiritually means you see how they’re doing spiritually. It’s nice to check on someone to see how they’re feeling or how their sick relative is doing, but I suggest we go deeper than that. We need to see people with spiritual eyes. Also remember that communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Watch people’s body language when they’re sitting alone, talking with others and talking with you. Do you see anything that might indicate they are hiding or hurting? By that I mean they may be hiding information or emotions to cover problems or pain. Watching people closely and lovingly is an important part of helping people.
- Hear People — Listen to what people say. Really LISTEN to people. What do they say to other people? What do they say to you? Do you hear anything that might be a clue that there’s more going on in their lives than what they’re saying publicly?
- Care For People — If you care for another person, you will demonstrate what you’re thinking and feeling through your actions. You will want to spend time with them. You will want to develop a deeper relationship with them. You will want them to know you care and will prove it through your behavior and actions.
- Build Trust With People — Building trust means you have to be “trustworthy.” Depending on the relationship you have with a person, that may come quickly or take time. People who are in the early stages of deconstructing are often open with people who express interest or concern. However, people who have been deconstructing for a period of time may have had bad experiences with other Christians and may not be ready to be hurt again. If that’s the case, love them and prove to them that you are different. You care about them, will listen to them without judging them, and won’t leave them just because they’re asking tough questions about Christianity.
- Treat People with Respect — We need to be careful not to think more highly of ourselves than we should and not think lowly of others. The temptation for that exists when we talk with people who are deconstructing or deconverting. The Apostle Paul explains it well in his letter to the Galatians: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:1-5) Helping someone who is having questions and doubts about their belief about God and the Bible includes bearing their burdens. Deep questions and doubts are burdens to people. Read through their deconstruction/deconversion stories or listen to them talk about it and you’ll see that this is a real burden for them. You will share in their burden as you listen and search for ways to help them see the truth of God’s Word.
- Ask Deeper Questions — Based on your love for people, what you see and hear, and developing a deeper relationship with them, you can ask deeper questions that open opportunities for deeper spiritual conversations. That’s where you can ask them how they are doing spiritually. As you listen to how they answer, ask more questions. Make sure to give them plenty of opportunity to be heard, really heard, about what’s bothering them. Don’t take offense if they believe something different than you. Your opportunity to talk will come. Here’s a simple acronym that may help you. ALPS = Ask. Listen. Pray. Speak.
- Give Good Answers — The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Colossians in Chapter 4 — “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” The Apostle Peter wrote this in 1 Peter 3 — “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” If you are well prepared, asked good questions and listened carefully, you’ll be ready to answer them. Be sure your answers are good ones. Many deconverted people say that even well-meaning Christians gave them terrible answers to their questions. That may be somewhat subjective on their part, but it’s still worth considering. People going through deconstruction or deconversion are not interested in “pat” answers. They want substance. They want thoughtful answers. They want both love and logic. Remember that Jesus is both the Love and Logic of God expressed in Flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
How do we give good answers to people deconstructing or deconverting? We’ll look at that in the next part of our special series:
EXvangelical – What’s That?
Life of an Apologist – On the Importance of Love – Faith & Self Defense
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Faith and Self Defense © 2021