The Pastor’s Faith, Part 2

What do you when you don’t believe something anymore?

It happens. Former ideas and understandings get discarded, be them around traditions, theologies, certain readings of particular texts. Sometimes the theological floor moves a little (or a lot) and the pastor stands inside certain biblical passages with a different point of view. It’s a not a discarded faith, but one that has been rearranged.

How do you navigate a change in faith and belief while leading a congregation.

A few things to consider:

Is your new perspective a necessary one for all people? Does your newly adopted way of reading Genesis 1 matter all that much in the life of the church? Probably not. It’s good to remember that everyone doesn’t have to see and understand things in the same way in order to be a faithful and loving people. People can read Genesis 1 as literal or they can read it as a polemic against the Babylonian text of Enuma Elish or they can simply read it as a wonderful work of Hebrew poetry and the church can still come out alive and well. When teaching, it’s better to say something like, “Now, there are multiple traditional readings of this text…” and then offer them up for people to hear and process. (This is better done in classroom or group settings than in the sermon.) You don’t have force people to take your side, especially in readings that don’t really move the needle for the life of the church.

There will be times, however, when a different understanding does impact the life of the church. Take the role of women, for example. If your perspective has shifted from women having a limited role in the life of the church to one that involves them at every level of leadership, then you have some work to do with your people. But that work will take time and patience as you lead through the change. Remember: when there are visible changes in a church due to a shift in belief, it can be hard for people. Those changes account for moments when your people recognize the differences in traditions and theological understandings in the room, and that can be uncomfortable territory for some, as church is supposed to be a place of community and sameness. And when there are newly marked differences, social tension can arise. The trick is in how you usher in change while maintaining a culture of difference and perspective.

One final thing: I recommend sitting quietly with your change of belief for some time, maybe a year. Before applying new theological rhythms to the life of the parish, we must allow those to take root in our own lives first. To cross one of the many lines of options for the Genesis 1 reading and then to get up the next Sunday to share your wisdom will be hollow at best and self-serving at worst. Take the time to develop the fluency you need to offer additional understandings. Well-informed theology is rarely fit for Twitter.

Grace and peace,

DS

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