Pastors: If Your Deconstruction Gets You Crucified, There’s Hope of Resurrection

Pastors: If Your Deconstruction Gets You Crucified, There’s Hope of Resurrection April 15, 2022

For pastors deconstructing your faith, the events of Holy Week become a showcase for how your faith shift can get you crucified. 

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

In my last article, I talked about the first half of Holy Week. Palm Sunday was all about Jesus confronting empire. Like Jesus separating himself from the theology of his day, your changing theology can also alter your politics. This can give your parishioners reason to turn against you. Monday marked the day that Jesus cleared the temple. Pastors who reevaluate their religion often come to a point of saying, “enough is enough.” Of course, this can win them enemies among religious leaders. On Tuesday, Jesus called out the hypocrites and blind guides. When your faith revision causes you to confront hypocrisy you never saw before, it may solidify your congregants’ resolve to get rid of the preacher. Let’s take a look at the rest of Holy Week, and how it may lead to your own personal Calvary.

 

Wednesday – Time to Rest

Scriptures remain silent regarding the events of Holy Wednesday. Perhaps Jesus used this day to rest. Maybe he fished with the disciples or prayed by himself. If so, it was certainly because he suspected what was ahead, and needed to prepare. Given that it was Wednesday, good Evangelicals might expect him to be in Bible Study or choir practice—because church doors must be open mid-week. It’s amazing to me how some believers superimpose twenty-first century church structures on top of first century Jewish life. But the fact is, Jesus probably took the day off on what was traditionally a work day. He had long ago deconstructed certain days as holier or more mundane than others.

You’ve probably done the same—deconstructing Sabbath laws and allowing yourself to work on Sunday but take a day off sometime during the week. You’ve probably also discovered that often your church members don’t understand a pastor’s schedule. You’ve needed to be careful that they don’t find you napping, lest they call you lazy and remind you of all the lost sheep out there. Rest too much, and they’ll say you only work on Sunday. Yes, the fact that you’ve deconstructed enough to allow yourself to rest during the week can often reap criticism from the church.

 

Thursday – Losing Dear Friends

Jesus’ radical teachings that came from his faith shift caused him to lose friends and gain enemies. Thursday saw him gathering his disciples for a final meal, then heading to the garden to pray. One friend in particular, disappointed in his master’s deconstructed and reshaped teaching and political opinions, betrayed him into the hands of religious authorities. The faith that formed Jesus’ upbringing turned against him when his critique hit too close to home. If he’d never dismantled the flawed teachings they handed him as a youth, he’d have been just fine. But the new beliefs that came from his reevaluation led to new teachings that ostracized friends and fellow teachers alike.

If your path of deconstruction has caused some of your dear friends to desert you, you’re in good company. Many deacons, elders, and other church leaders who had your back in the good times will turn on you quickly if they see you questioning established doctrine. Fellow ministers with whom you’ve built deep relationships will shun you or argue with you in public. Rather than giving you the freedom to explore and question, they’ll label you a heretic and ask for your resignation. Be careful about revealing too much before you’re ready, or Judas just might kiss your cheek.

 

Friday – “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani”

Hanging from the cross, Jesus asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” You’ve heard it—and maybe you’ve even preached it—that because God cannot look on sin, the Divine Parent turned an offended face away from the Son who bore our sin. The problem with this notion is that God can never deny Godself and could never have abandoned Jesus on the cross. So, what did Jesus’ agonized outcry mean? Simply this—in addition to the unimaginable anguish of the cross, Jesus’ situation caused him to doubt his own belovedness.

Let’s not glorify deconstruction. It really sucks. Deconstruction can be like dominoes that fall one after another. One problematic doctrine leads to a whole set of untenable dogmas from your church or denomination. The Bible becomes fair game, and after that the church traditions topple too. Everything’s up for reevaluation. It can feel lonely, especially when you lose friends, family, or church members over it. When you get crucified before the church board or even lose your job, you might ask yourself the same question Jesus did. “My God—why have you forsaken me?” Deconstruction isn’t trendy or sexy—it’s excruciating and scary. And, like Jesus, you might not see any hope before the end.

In the crucifixion’s grief, it seemed all was lost. Jesus lay in the tomb, and the disciples scattered. Deconstruction had led to death, and hopelessness held the faithful bound. But, as the old sermon by S.M. Lockridge says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” They didn’t know it yet, but resurrection was on the way. It’s the same for you, when deconstruction leads to the death of all you’ve known. It may feel like Friday. But Sunday’s coming. Remember—the end isn’t the end.

 

Resurrection Day

If the events of Holy Week serve as a showcase for deconstruction leading to crucifixion, then Easter promises resurrection. Whether your faith shift has led you from conservative to progressive Christianity, or whether it’s led you away from the faith altogether, there’s still hope in the message of Easter. You don’t have to believe in a literal resurrection to know that life can arise from death. Like Jesus from the tomb, or like a sapling from a stump, you can rise from doubt, abandonment, agony, and despair.

Deconstruction is like the grief of death—you’re never the same afterwards. Just as you never get over the loss of a loved one, you can never un-deconstruct. The cord is cut; the golden bowl is broken. While you can’t put the pieces back together, if you still yearn for God after all the dust has cleared, you can rebuild a new relationship with the Creator. Your old dead theology doesn’t mean an old dead God. You can thoughtfully develop a relationship with the God of your new understanding—whether or not your family, old friends, parishioners, or colleagues agree.

Finally, if you’re a pastor whose deconstruction has threatened or ended a job, there’s hope of resurrection for you. That loss might be a blessing in disguise, setting you free from the constraints of a doctrinal system that held you bound. Just as Jesus left his grave clothes behind, you can step out of the old wrappings into a new and glorious career.

If you still feel called to ministry, you may need to look into changing to a denomination or church that more closely fits your convictions. That could mean going back to school, if you’re up for it. Or, you might consider social work as I have done, helping the marginalized in a full-time capacity rather than the occasional benevolent request that crosses a pastor’s desk. Or, you may decide to step back from helping professions and focus on something entirely different. I know former pastors who have found fulfillment as carpenters, painters, or bus drivers. They say it’s refreshing to work with something physical instead of handling theological concepts and vicarious trauma. Read my article, “Pastors, Should You Hang Up Your Robes?” to explore more. However you reconstruct your career, let me assure you. As painful as it is now, it will feel like resurrection once you’re free from the systems that control you today.

Yes, Pastors just want to be like Jesus. And just like him, deconstructing your faith can get you crucified. But just as Jesus’ resurrected body differed in glory from that of his earthly body, so your rebuilt life and faith can be infinitely more free than what you knew before. This Holy Week, if you feel like your faith shift could lead to the dismantling of your ministry, let me encourage you. It may feel like Friday—but Sunday’s coming.

 

 

About Greg Smth
I live in the beautiful Fraser of Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as an intensive case manager with formerly homeless people and those currently experiencing homelessness. Prior to that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for a dozen years. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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