Of course not! Yes, some of the more evangelical and fundamentalist denominations tend not to tolerate questions or doubts. But most congregations have seekers, people like you who are asking questions. It’s a normal part of faith development. Many people still attend church even though they no longer believe a fair amount of what is said. These people can play a crucial role in congregations. They are the ones who raise questions, who challenge, who help bring about growth. They tend to take their faith seriously and won’t accept pat answers that don’t make sense to them any more.
But ‘coming out’ as a seeker can take courage. For many people still firmly rooted in the conventional, traditional faith story, seekers can be experienced as a threat. Does that mean that seekers must remain silent or leave their family church setting? Not necessarily.
There are many steps a seeker can take within a congregational setting:
► A first step is simply living with the tension between the traditional statements of faith and one’s own integrity. Dualistic thinking tends to force us into a choice – it’s either this or it’s not. Much of mature adult thinking, however, learns to live with paradox and contradiction in some form of creative tension. It’s “both and.” Living in this tension between tradition and personal experience can be very creative and productive.
► As a second step, you may also be able to live with worship as it is and do the translation for yourself: you sing the hymns (or not) but you reinterpret them in your own frame of reference. Many seekers find this works for a while and then it gets too cumbersome, and they long for hymns with theologies that speak to them.
► A third step is belonging to, or starting, a group which reads the more recent spiritual and theological writings which challenge traditional understandings. Belonging to such a group may provide you with some solidarity as well as some validation. Our generation is the lucky one: never has some much quality material been written by first-rate theologians, biblical scholars and scientists for the intelligent layperson!
► A fourth step is talking with your minister and engaging him or her in discussions around the new theology; sometimes ministers are themselves simply waiting for their congregations to be ready for a move away from traditional faith statements. You’d be surprised: after all, ministers have read the literature well before you as part of their training!
► A fifth step is to lobby for an alternative, or “seeker,” service. You may have enough members in your congregation to start one. Be gentle, move slowly, but with integrity. You never know, you may be surprised at how many people might feel relieved that they are able to be freed of incomprehensible and outdated theologies.
► If all else fails, and you feel ever more isolated and marginalized, then perhaps you need to seek the fellowship of other seekers. Check the major “seeker” websites and find out if a church or group near you is experimenting with alternative sacred gatherings or worship services. Sometimes leaving a congregation is an escape from responsibility, but sometimes it’s a matter of sanity.