Steve Henwood believes that doubting your faith can actually be a sign of progess


Part 2

In the last article we began looking at the how we deal with our doubts while leading others. You can read that here.. 

In part 1 we looked a few basic principles. Here we’ll look at a few specific reasons that might be the root of what you are experiencing. (Each ‘response’ is in addition to what we talked about in part 1).

First off, some encouragement : Experiencing doubt can feel like a step backwards. Losing ground. It can actually be a marker of growth.


Big progress doubts

The account of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14 is a useful touchpoint. If we were to freeze frame that moment and wander round conducting interviews it would be telling. Ask the disciples in the boat about the state of their faith and it may be quite high scoring. They are in the midst of new revelation – Jesus walks on water?! Awe and worship abounds. Ask Peter, who is out of the boat walking on water “how’s your faith?” and he may very well answer as he sinks “not as good as it was.” He may even feel Jesus’ backs up this assessment, hearing his rabbi described him as having “little faith.” But the description is relative. His faith was little compared to what it needed to be to keep walking, but it was a) certainly greater than it used to be and b) outmatching his peers who stayed in the boat. Peter’s doubt was exposed through his progress, an experience his fellow disciples had yet to step into (or in Peter’s case, onto). Experiencing faith wobbles often comes with moving forward. What feels like loss is actually a gain indicator. Peter’s real wobble kicks in when he’s experiencing real success, because that is the moment he stops looking at Jesus.


Response : Take a good look at what’s going on with you. Are you new in post? Are you stepping out into new things or being stretched? Is it simply that you are noticing fresh impetus in your walk with the Lord? Have you been experiencing success in the ministry, answers to prayer or favour? If so, are you now feeling overwhelmed and inadequate? Set your sights back on Him. Dig in with prayer and worship. Find the assuring passages of God’s faithfulness to you, meditate on them and memorise them.


 Painting God - the recalibratiion effect 

There’s a well-used story of a child at Sunday school painting a picture.

“What are you making?” Asked the teacher.

“A picture of God.” Says the child.

“Nobody knows what God looks like?” The teacher says pedantically.

“Well they will do when I finish my picture.” (Mike drop).

It’s a fun story for the banter but it’s also key for us now.

We all draw our picture of God. Just like with book characters or voices from a podcast, we mentally create for ourselves our version. Then, through this filter of our own making, we engage with the real, living God. This is nothing new, Jesus is highly experienced at walking with eager disciples who are filled with misconceptions about Him. Along the way we’ll make small, unconscious corrections, but every now and then, as we grow in our knowledge, faith and understanding, that whole picture becomes increasingly flawed. Something causes us to take a hard look and we what we thought was true now seems inaccurate and unsustainable. Good. You are seeing what you didn’t see before. Your younger Christian self wasn’t as good at drawing God as you thought. (Unsurprising. Have you ever looked back at your prize pictures from when you were 5 years old? I mean seriously, your mum doesn’t even have arms).

You are experiencing normal discipleship growth. I know it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like you are losing your belief in God. This is such a common misdiagnosis.

 You are not losing your belief in God, you are merely losing belief in the picture that you drew of Him.

Response : Just like a snake shedding a skin or a child letting go of one monkey bar to grab the next one, now begins the process of ‘redrawing’ - asking questions, reading, praying and, as we said previously (see part 1), worshipping regardless. If you can, identify if there is something specific at the heart of it (a disappointment, a big question etc) but don’t overthink it if you can’t. Just make sure your diary is filled with things that are going to help you rediscover Him afresh. Teaching resources, long walks, retreats, extended prayer times, prayers from others.

Growing in faith means many (all?) of us go through this repeatedly over the years in different ways. Some seem to breeze through every one. For others it can sometimes be a time feeling like endlessly swinging but failing to grasp the next rung. Hang in there. He (the real He) knows you and sees you. Be patient. Again, as said in part 1, don’t go it alone.

Learning to clock when this season is upon you really helps. Doubt becomes less a “oh no it’s all disappearing again” and more a “ah well, here we are again.” That said, don’t be blasé, skin shedding time is when reptiles are vulnerable to parasites and predators. Guard yourself well.

 That said, dealing with doubt isn’t always a sign of growth.

Old faith

Just as growth can expose us to doubt. So can the lack of it. I remember a youth from my previous church asking to meet up. Years on from being a star teen and now struggling with belief, it was clear why. She’d been trying to sustain an adult Christian life with the faith framework of a 17year old. Somehow everything else had moved on, except her walk with God. She wasn’t totally unplugged, just stuck. She had yet to discover the God of 20 somethings and all that He is capable of doing and being.

Those of us who spend our lives teaching the same material over and over to children and young people, can easily put ourselves in a rut in the process. Even at its simplest the gospel is spectacular. But without the continual illuminations from deeper truths it can feel basic, underwhelming and wholly inadequate to the task of facing down the older world we inhabit.

Response : When was the last time you learnt, studied, meditated and dug deep into something that was unrelated to what you are prepping to teach? Gain the counsel of wiser heads around you and work out a plan. Paul advises Timothy to ‘kindle afresh/fan into flames’ that which he had. It may not take much, it may take a while. In this case, it’s not simply discovering God afresh but also how He is truly Lord of the world you inhabit.

The wardrobe

Sometimes to keep things tidy, we shove the stuff we don’t want to deal with in a cupboard and shut the door. It’s perfectly normal. Wallowing in every unresolved issue serves nobody. Some things stay there quite happily til heaven. Others are leaning hard against the door. Why wasn’t my friend healed? How do I know I’m not making this all up? Is my lovely Muslim neighbour really lost? They’ll let you carry on so long but eventually they tumble out and won’t go back in.

Response : Like going on a Rosen bear hunt, the only way is through it. External input and personal investment is likely the best course. Whether it’s counselling, a training programme or just an evening with a wise soul, be ready to take as long as you need. A few years back some of the big apologetics questions I’d stored away came out to play. It was a season of months of reading, book investments, seminars and long walks with bigger brains until I reached the point where each bit was either resolved or able to go back in the wardrobe again. I know a church leader who used their whole sabbatical to tackle their wrestling with Old Testament violence.

Last words

Of course, there’s a multitude of other things we haven’t touched on, nor do we have the space here to do so. But I say again what I said before, dealing with doubt is a normal experience even for those who lead. You’re not failing and you definitely not disqualified, seasons of doubt are all part of the gig. Trust that the author of your faith can lead you through it.