The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are “deconstructing.” This development is being talked about in some spaces, but many Christians are still unaware (a reality that has sad implications) or dismissive about the trend. Deconstructing means something a little different for everyone experiencing it (either first or second hand), but in general, it refers to growing disenchanted with at least some of the beliefs you grew up with. And, this trend seems to be most prominent among Millennials and Gen-Z.

I want to start with a strong word of affirmation: if you’re deconstructing, I don’t doubt that that’s a good thing. That may be a surprising thing to hear a pastor say, but as John Mark Comer points out, many elements of our faith NEED to be deconstructed, and Jesus himself led people in a version of deconstruction (“You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”). Did you grow up believing that anyone who questions a hyper-literal six-day creationist reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is caught in a satanic agenda? That should be deconstructed. Were you taught to hold your nose at anyone who sins in ways that differ from the ways you regularly sin? Deconstruct that.

I’ll go a bit further. Have you found yourself questioning God’s existence or goodness? Have you been doubting how the Bible can be considered God’s word and fully accurate? Do you wonder on occasion or regularly if Jesus actually cares about what you’re going through? If you answered yes to any of those questions, chances are you’ve been pressured by the culture of shame and fear we cultivate in many churches to simply keep silent and pretend to yourself and to everyone else that you don’t have those questions. But I’m here to tell you that if these questions are forming in your mind, you should find healthy and safe ways to ask these questions legitimately. To wrestle with them in earnest. Don’t let anyone make you feel unspiritual or immature for asking questions like this.

If you’re feeling like you’re not allowed to be disappointed when your prayers go unanswered and apparently unheard, or to question what you’ve always been taught, I encourage you to read Psalm 44 slowly and carefully. Pay attention to what’s being expressed and consider the fact that these questions, complaints, and accusations are recorded IN Scripture AS Scripture. That’s a big deal. Don’t try to be more biblical than the Bible. If the sons of Korah are allowed to wrestle with God like this in the actual Bible, then so are you.

“The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are deconstructing. If you find yourself deconstructing, I doubt that’s a bad thing.”

I also encourage you to think carefully about WHAT SPECIFICALLY you’re questioning and WHAT SPECIFICALLY you find yourself rejecting. If you’re turned off to the concept of church because you see tons of churches covering up child abuse, sexual abuse, and institutional bullying in order to protect their reputations or their leaders—well, so am I. But I’m here to tell you that the Church will be better off if you’re able to work with us to weed these things out of the Church rather than walking away. (But also: if you need to walk way, walk away. You don’t need to stay in a place where you’ve experienced abuse just out of some vague sense of obligation.) If you’re skeptical of Christian teachers ignoring the genres of the Bible and using selectively literal interpretations of certain passages (say, for instance, the book of Revelation) as a test of who is in and who is out—I’m with you there, too. (Here’s a guide I put together years ago for reading the Bible in light of its literary genres—a practice that could sort out a lot of what is dividing us these days.)

You might be afraid of being too honest with yourself, afraid of where you’ll end up if you let go of too many of the things you’ve held onto. I empathize on that front. I find some comfort in this regard in the fiction writing of Flannery O’Connor. She was a Catholic who wrote in the mid 20th century. Her stories are jarring, sad, and often violent. Yet she insisted that her faith was running throughout all of her stories. Often her characters would speak against Jesus (like Hazel Motes, who passionately preached “the Church of God Without Christ.”) But Flannery insisted that these characters were not godless. She said that their virtue lay not so much in their firm faith, but in the fact that they were never able to fully leave Jesus behind. She described Jesus moving between the trees in the backs of their minds. Or to borrow a phrase from the poet Christian Wiman, Jesus was like a thorn in their brains that they could never fully ignore.

Perhaps that’s all you’ve got left. You know your beliefs are not what they used to be, but you also can’t bring yourself to leave everything behind. Maybe you’ve given up on the Church but you’re still drawn to Jesus. I can say with confidence that that’s not nothing. And actually, it’s a lot. A faith that has been dismantled, stripped of distraction, and honed down to its essence has got to be better than an intact system that is problematic and easy to discard. That kernel of faith may be just the building block to begin from.

I’d encourage you to build in honesty with people who are willing to engage you in honest conversation. However, don’t just hash it out completely on your own, or only with a bunch of disillusioned people. See if you can find some people whose faith you respect, even if you don’t intend for your faith to look exactly like theirs. Don’t stop asking questions. If you deconstructed by allowing yourself to ask questions, don’t pretend you’re not still drawn to Jesus, Scripture, or some idealistic version of Church that you have yet to see in real life (if that is indeed the case). Let that same impulse to question and dream draw you back to some version of reconstruction. You don’t have to rush, and you should be honest, but it’s too easy to pull things apart without ever doing the hard work of putting something back together. I don’t want to be dismissive of what you’re experiencing, but I know we will all be better off if this deconstructing generation finds a way to put in the hard work of helping us swing the pendulum of what Christianity is meant to be.

For more on that, and on what the existing Church can do to help a deconstructing generation, I’ll write again next Monday.

Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for nearly 20 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark is a pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, California. His books include Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music and the New York Times bestseller Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, which he co-authored with Francis Chan.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The first time I heard the term “Desconstruction” was recently in Pastor Mark’s message at Creekside Church, from May 30th. I must confess that after hearing it through the first time, I was left confused. The term deconstruction wasnt any more clearer to me- Another Chrstian friend of mine asked if i understood the message because she was having trouble too especially since Psalm 44 was the Scripture reference. Since we’re not Miillenials or Gen Z, but more mature than these age groups, maybe that was the reason for the not understanding the term deconstruction.

    Several days later when I was quiet, I read Psalm 44 again slowly and got a much better grasp of what the twist was. There is such praise to God for His faithfulness to their forefathers, and cries of desperation and rejection as well as abandonment. 2 extremes in this Psalm.

    I also looked up the meaning of deconstruction and saw a few synonyms— breaking down, pulling apart that made it clearer for me and saw the relevancy to what some of us could be experiencing today.

    The pandemic, everything shutting down, racism, shootings, political unrest, a whole host of other stressful issues over the last one-and-a-half years. It’s no wonder there are questions about where God is in all this or where is He at all.

    The message both for the Korah priests from Psalm 44 and for us today is to keep our Lord and Savior our primary focus. To think of all He has done, is doing, and will continue to do into eternity. When we allow all the world’s issues to become more important or we focus on them way too much, that is when we become unhinged, broken and pulled apart both individually and collectively as believers. Satan loves that!

    We need to support each other in grace and love and treasure our entire Church body. Jesus Christ is our healer and our refuge but His Church is His Bride.

    Thank you Pastor Mark for such a compelling and encouraging message both at church and on this website.

    • Linda,

      Thank you for doing the work to try to understand what people are talking about when they use the term “deconstruction”. This article was the most home-hitting article for me on Jackass Theology because this was basically my story. I want to share it with you so that you can get an even deeper understanding of how important this moment is in the life and faith of many many Millennials and Gen Z.

      I was born into a culturally catholic family, knew it was important to go to church, “follow” the teachings of the church, and “believe” that Jesus was real and he is God, but beyond that I would say that my family had no understanding of the actual Gospel message, nor did the Truth of a God loving us enough to die to rescue us have any actual impact in the way we lived our lives. In high school I hit a bit of a depressive state and took my faith more seriously for a bit, but between getting messages from TV evangelists like Benny Hinn and the dogmatic teachings of the catholic church, I eventually realized that this whole Jesus thing wasn’t working because I was still sinning, and still had no real idea what the actual Gospel was.

      I didn’t really think about Christianity much until after college. I moved into a smaller town in the bible belt of Missouri for work and this was my first real exposure to a community of people who claimed to take Jesus seriously. Let me tell you, some of the most bigoted, angry, reactionary and downright hateful attitudes greeted me when I met some of these people. Looking back as I type this, there were some true disciples in that bunch, but they were so drowned out by the culture Christians (I am using this as a general term, I am not making a claim on a person’s salvation. God help all of us, we are all sinners) that it left a very, very bad taste in my mouth towards Christianity.

      After getting some work experience, and being tired of the culture of bible belt Missouri, I move to what I considered “the promised land”. The Pacific Northwest, in one of the most secular cities in the USA! Finally! As far away from the bible belt as I could get! I was young, making money, and single in a city that promised that whatever my heart desired was mine for the taking. Booze, weed, bicycles, women, whatever I wanted I got…..but why did I feel so empty? Eh, who cares I’m finally living my dream…..right? I did want a wife and a family though, so through an online dating app I met a woman who just had something different about her. I would later describe this as “class” and the foundation of that “faith”, but at the time she just carried herself in a way that other women I was involved with didn’t. As I got to know her more, it was apparent that her faith in Jesus was an important part of her life, in ways that actually effected how she lived her life. Instant turn-off, and to this day the closest we’ve ever come to breaking up was when she asked me what my worst nightmare was and I answered “going to church”.

      I don’t know why I stuck around, but I started having questions. What makes her different from other women/people? Where is this hope for life coming from? Why is she so different even from other people who claim to follow Christ? I had to know, and the only place I knew to look was in the New Testament. As I started reading the Gospels, I started having even MORE questions. Who is Jesus, OUTSIDE of whatever slant a denomination wants to give me. What did he do? Why did he do it? Who is he, REALLY? Once I started I couldn’t stop, I read the Gospels in one sitting, then re-read them.

      I started getting angry. WHY HAD I NEVER HEARD ANY OF THESE STORIES? WHY WASN’T I TAUGHT ABOUT -THIS- JESUS?! Jesus was (is) awesome. He directly challenged the hateful, arrogant disposition of the religious leaders of his day, which for me in my context was the bible belty leaders in Missouri. Jesus was a human in a way that I was not and it slapped me in the face. It was challenging, yet hopeful. It started my “deconstruction” of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, I ever knew about Christianity. Most articles on “deconstruction” make it sound like some little thing and moves on, or that it’s only for people who are antagonistic to Jesus and are trying to “stick it to the church”. Linda, this was TERRIFYING. I knew Jesus was awesome, and was the type of human I wanted….NEEDED to be. I also knew that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, that you can’t just listen to any random pastor or even denomination. I would be awake for days straight trying to understand if the Eucharist from my youth was the actual body and blood of Christ or not. I would question my sanity that I could actually believe that some middle eastern dude who died a criminal is the King of the world. Didn’t these dudes just make up the whole story for followers and money??? For months I just read books, listened to podcasts (The Bible Project), and watched apologetic videos (Inspiring Philosophy). By the grace of God I came out the other side with a reconstructed faith that is firmly built on the Rock that is King Jesus.

      Sorry for the short story, but something about deconstruction that articles can’t really express is the emotions behind it. It’s a life-altering, identity shattering, worldview changing event in the lives of many people in the church. I would argue that any person who claims that they have a faith in Jesus that is their own outside of whatever their parents and friends believe has gone through deconstruction and reconstruction of some sort. The reason it’s such a big deal now should be an alarming crisis to the church, that young people who have eyes to see and ears to hear and reading their Bibles and then looking at the modern American church and are seeing a MASSIVE disconnect, and therefore have two choices: 1) Shed the excess from what their parents believe and have taught them and re-build with a faith that they can claim as their own -or- 2) walk away entirely. Mark nails it on this point in his article.

      I can promise you that if you are part of a church that has people anywhere age < 40, you will have people who have already deconstructed and reconstructed, who are in the process of deconstructing, or who will deconstruct in the future. The ONLY reasons I am a disciple of Jesus right now is because of the workings of the Holy Spirit and because I managed to find orthodox Christian teachers (Tim Mackie, Bible Project, Inspiring Philosophy, Michael Heiser, Jackass Theology) who were able to help me reconstruct. That job may fall to you, Linda, in your own church context, because this trend is not going to end anytime soon, and in fact may continue to increase. God bless you all, and I will see you in the New Creation.

      • Wow, Frank! What a story. It’s so cool to hear what God has done and to hear your heart in this. Beautiful. Thanks for enriching this whole thing, and I’m so honored that we’ve gotten to play a small part in what God is doing…

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