Once a person has gone through a faith crisis, what can church leaders do to help? David Ostler offers 3 suggestions to help leaders create a more comfortable atmosphere at church.
David: In the second part of the book, I talk about three major principles that I think are important for people to feel, for them to remain affiliated with the church, after they have a faith crisis. I think if leaders understand these three issues, they can find ways to be able to reach out to people and to accommodate them, to help them, to love them, to accept them, all of these kinds of ministerial words that we want to have there. Those three principles are first trust. Individuals need to trust the community that they’re in. They need to trust the leaders. They need to trust that the engagement with the community will help them and that that community can guide and give them a confident path towards their spiritual goals. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. There’s a lot of different ways trust can break down. You can lose trust that the Prophet speaks for God. You can lose trust that the church will authentically represent its history, you can lose trust that the church will be transparent about the way in which it administers its affairs. You can lose trust in someone who’s broken a confidence. You can lose trust that if you say something, there won’t be a penalty for what you say. So trust becomes a big issue. And as I surveyed members that are in a faith crisis, many of them have lost trust in all of those aspects. I can share some of that data with you if you felt like…
GT: Absolutely! We love data.
David: Yeah, you and I kind of eat data for a living, don’t we? So I asked these faith crisis members about trust. This is 320 people who responded that are in a faith crisis. I asked them questions, and one question I asked is, whether they agreed with this statement, “My local leaders can help me with the important decisions in my life.” Zero percent strongly agreed with that; 9% agreed with that, which 91% have disagreed in one form or another. So, if they’re going to church, and they’re feeling like their local leader cannot help them with the spiritual issues in their lives, then we as a church have failed. These are largely people that are earnest and wanting to connect to God, and to resolve their spiritual concerns. They’re not enemies of the church. They’re people that just have concerns, and they’re trying to sort them out and understand what they believe.
GT: Even I would put myself in the 91%, and I go to church.
David: So, here’s another one, “I am comfortable disclosing my current beliefs to my local leaders.” And 3% strongly agreed with that; 22% agreed with that, which means 75% disagreed with that in one way or another. Then it goes even further, “From the outside do you appear as a traditionally believing member of the church?” Of this faith crisis group that has no trust in their local leaders, 78% said that from the outside they look like a traditionally believing member. So, on the outside, they’re shiny and bright, and they’re wearing all the right clothes, and probably even in serving in the right callings. But underneath, they can’t express the concerns that they have, and that they’re really struggling with. When they call it a faith crisis, that means they’re evaluating whether they remain affiliated with the church. So, those are the kinds of concerns that you get with trust.
There are two types of people who attend the LDS Church: leaders and non-leaders. No matter whether we are a leader or not, what are some ways to make church better for those struggling with their faith? David Ostler has some great ideas.
David: We don’t have to have a leadership role to be able to minister. So some of the things that I think we can do individually on this is that we can learn the issues and find ways to understand what other people are feeling, and then support them as they’re feeling that. So, for example, in a gospel doctrine class, if I’m participating, or if I’m teaching, and a comment comes up that I disagree with, or I think is wrong, or is controversial, I can respond to it in a particular way that is ministering, that reaches them, that says, “I understand. Tell me more about that. I really appreciate you raised that. That’s a different perspective than what I’ve thought before. Thank you for expressing that.” Then also to be able to find ways to make sure that the class doesn’t jump all over someone.
GT: Well, that’s what I was just going to say, because you’re going to start getting people, “Well, I bear testimony,” whatever.
David: It’s a skill, and we have to practice it. There isn’t some magic answer on how to do that. But sometimes we can say things like, “I know some people in the class will disagree with what you’re saying. I appreciate how brave you are to say it anyway.” I think that helps that person know that you know what’s going on in that class, and you know that they took a risk by asking that. I think it helps the people that might want to testify away that issue, to understand that there is a person behind the comment, and that they have feelings and that they are struggling with that.
What do you think of Ostler’s suggestions?