Steve Henwood looks at what to do when you feel your own faith is shaky

Part 1

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot light, losing my religion.

An inevitable go-to reference for anyone old enough to remember 90s band REM. Conversely, the song itself isn’t actually about losing belief at all, but still, those words can feel wryly familiar.

Except for the bit about the spotlight.

Me in the spotlight is where we seem to be fine. On the platform or ensconced in a bean bag, bible in hand, surrounded by eager/vaguely-engaged charges listening to you espouse gospel truths, inspiring anecdotes and pithy wisdom – me in the spotlight is doing the do. Me in the Corner however, that can be different - quietly leaking faith, burying the fear that maybe the whole package is dissipating and not wanting to look too hard in case I really am losing my religion.

Just as patients assume their GPs are immune to the bugs carried daily into their rooms, so those of us leading others in faith are presumed to be immune. Immune from big doubt, from big wobbles and from the kind of unresolved questions that jackhammer at the foundations of belief. That’s obviously not true when you say it like that. Yet still we impose those expectations on ourselves. And, since this faith is the very thing that qualifies us for the role we carry, we can’t admit to be weakening in it. And, if you are employed by a church, then your income depends on the job that depends on your ability to muster genuine faith at will… and well, that’s a tangled mess waiting to happen.




When my wife had a miscarriage, one thing that struck us both was how many other people began revealing that they had had the same experience. People we’d known for years began sharing openly and sensitively what it was like for them. It wasn’t that they were intent on keeping it secret, it was more that the occasion for sharing something so personal never arose. Yet, once our own circumstances were revealed, so too were all the stories of others. Through the tapestry of shared experiences our grief remained but our sense of isolation dissolved.

So it is with this. A couple of decades in full time ministry has allowed me to be in places where unflaky, hardened workers in the gospel have shared their own challenges. The beloved pastor who spent months leading a new church while wrestling with total unbelief. The solid bible teacher who piped up during sermon planning with “anyone else find this bit of Jesus’ life so hard to find plausible or is it just me?” The one in the car who suddenly read aloud the bus Alpha poster saying “’Ever wondered if there is more to life than this?’ Yes I do and I’m a Christian.”

Each time I’ve experienced this, even from inspirational giants with the enviable testimonies of God’s provision and miracles. I’ve found myself wrongfully surprised (see above) and quietly liberated.

It hasn’t resolved my own challenges but their openness prevents me from accepting the notion that whatever I have been working through is unusual and exclusive.

Sharing some of this recently at a training session for first-timers in Children’s and Youth ministry, I saw again what I often see, visible relief appearing as they realise a) they are not alone and b) we can talk about it. 

So let’s talk about it a little here. How do we go about leading others in faith while carrying doubt ourselves? What could actually be going on and how we move forward through it all? We’ll do this in two parts, getting to a few specifics next time. For now let’s tackle some basics.


The Hypocrite Question

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Your wrestling now does not disqualify you ministering.

“Objection! Isn’t it hypocritical doing an assembly to teenagers about God’s love when I don’t think he’s even there?”

No. Because we are more than just who we are in a given moment.

Your role as a pastor, teacher etc is no more dependent on you feeling confident in God’s existence today than my role as a father is dependent on me feeling unwaveringly grateful and joyful towards my children.

Also, it’s not all on you. You are part of something so much bigger. God’s love, the truth of His word preached down the ages, the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work around you, these do not rise or fall according to how your worldview woke up this morning. You’re okay, it’s not ‘the gospel according to you.’

“Okay, but surely we don’t just carry on regardless?”

AGREED. As long as you remember - working through it as you go and thinking you are disqualified until it’s sorted are two different things.


Low Power

It may not actually be a big faith issue at all. It may just be a flat battery. Ministry takes it out of you, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Children’s and Youth ministry peeps can be notoriously bad at serving much and receiving little, especially the key leaders / paid staff. Keeping rotas afloat, working in separate rooms from the ‘main’ meeting, not emerging until most people have gone. This doesn’t just leave you feeling a bit spiritually flat, it will have a depleting effect on your core being.

An afternoon with Netflix and a bag of nachos might help you unwind but we all know they are both too nutritionally deficient to be a regular intake. It’s understandable. After hours of leading kids/youth in prayer, worship and bible study, tending to your own can feel like just more work. Nevertheless, learning to nurture` your own discipleship is just a big a part of the role as it is learning to resource others. Treat yourself as one of your charges – a favourite one. Do for yourself what you would for them. Seek out mentors, new resources, a new group if that helps. If you don’t have a ministry budget for books, personal training ask for one. Break the mould. One colleague I know is always changing up their time out with God (recently it was trail biking while listening to everything they could find on the book of Romans, including the ESV audio version!). See how things are after a bit of proper recharging.


Above all, prayer (1) - help my unbelief

So said the man asking Jesus for a healing (Mark 9). You are absolutely allowed and positively encouraged to cry out to the God who you’re currently not sure is there. We all know why people clean their house before the cleaner comes but it’s still silly. Stop waiting to get somewhere before you begin and start where you are. Not that fussed either? Too weary to bother? No problem, tell Him that too, (what? You think he’d be surprised?). Ask for His help with you disinterest and disbelief towards Him. Take a leaf out of the Psalms and tell it like it is.

The way through this is always towards God, not hiding away.


Above all, prayer (2) – being prayed for

Whatever the cause or reason for what you are going through, prayer is always key, especially the prayers of others. If you don’t have people you regularly pray with then get them just for now. Even if you don’t want to be fully open (working for a church makes us more cautious amongst those we serve or work with) don’t eschew their prayers completely. “There’s some things I’m working through, please pray for me,” - that’ll do. There are times when leaning on your brothers and sisters is vital. This is one of them.


Contyend for Worship

I was taught long ago that worship is a primary battleground and usually the first thing to go. Long before other areas begin to wane, our thanksgiving, praise and worship has already been flagging. Making worship a priority is always true, but particularly now. It can feel odd, directing it to a God you are unsure is there but that doesn’t matter. It’s through the act of taking our sights off ourselves and putting them firmly on Him that we come to rediscover Him and know Him better. Using Music and singing is great, but not the only means of worship available ( and no, just putting tracks on in the background while you do something else doesn’t count - actively engage!). You could try something new from other church traditions. How is less important than just doing it.


Talk it Through

Nothing beats having someone to walk with you through this. Really can’t think of someone? That’s a prayer request. If local is too close to home then travel or connect online. Saints past must look with envy at the digital resources available to us. Use them.


Final Words

Next time we’ll look at some common reasons for dealing with doubt and what we can do about it. But for now, if this is the season you find yourself in, be encouraged. I hope you’ve heard so far you’re not alone. Above all, He is with you through it, the author and completer of your faith.