It’s a question every parent of a small child hears every day. From the time we are able to speak, we ask questions about everything. Why can’t I leave the Legos on the floor? How much longer? Why do we go to church every week? Questions are the core of how we learn about the world God created, ourselves, and God Himself. Questions help fuel new discoveries and deeper understanding.
Young Adults today are the most educated generation ever.[i] They have spent years in classrooms honing critical thinking skills, learning, and investigating. As levels of education grow, so has access to information. Siri and Google put answers at our fingertips. But while we may be find out instantly if Chris Pratt is in that movie or the name of the song playing in the restaurant, often our most important questions go unanswered. When we have questions about faith, where do we turn? Is the church a safe place to ask these most critical questions?
“Church Refugees” is a recent book based on a sociological survey of “Dones”, those who had been active in the church and left. In this book, Dones say one thing that contributed to their leaving was the church’s closed off attitude toward authentic, deep conversation and questions. Author Josh Packard says it this way: “They (Dones) felt the ability to ask questions and explore various aspects of their faith wasn’t supported in the church, and it was a major factor in their decisions to leave. Even when questions and conversation were courted, it was often not in a truly authentic way.” [ii]
Our churches should be places where questions are welcomed, not simply dealt with. The church’s response to questions of faith can either lead to deeper understanding of our awesome God or leave us feeling isolated and uncertain. Even when questions come like attacks, church leaders should put aside judgment and resist the urge to be offended. Instead, using questions as an opportunity for building faith and relationships, they may discover opportunities for God to draw people to Himself from places of anger and hurt. Rather than seeing questions as signs of trouble, doubt, and even sin, they are truly an opportunity to discover anew God’s Law and Gospel.
Questions are an open door for conversation and study. Many church leaders have asked difficult faith questions earlier in our lives and found, as much as we are able, the answers. This is especially true of pastors who have spent years in the study of theology. Church leaders should avoid giving answers that close down further discussion and leave no time or room for conversation. In doing so, people can inadvertently be prevented from digging in and learning the answers themselves. Walk with them as they learn and offer them tools of navigation, from concordances to footnotes, the Small Catechism to LCMS.org’s FAQ section.
Luther asked questions, and those questions changed the church. We are about to celebrate Reformation Day, when Luther posted the 95 Theses for the church to discuss. These theses included questions meant to challenge the church’s teachings on the forgiveness of sins and selling of indulgences. Those questions started with Luther’s study of Scripture. Throughout his ministry, Luther’s continual questioning lead him back to God’s Word again and again. The Small Catechism and its explanation is filled with questions and answers. Lutheranism is built on questions and the ongoing search for a deeper understanding of faith in Christ in Scripture. This is a tradition we should be proud of and continue to embrace.
As we approach Reformation Day, let us ensure that our church is a place where others can wrestle with questions. God is actively at work in His Word, and it is through questions and study that the Holy Spirit enlightens the church. Not all of our questions will have answers this side of heaven, but we trust in a God that uses our human questions to continue to reveal himself in His Word.
[ii] Packard, J., & Hope, A. (2015). Church Refugee: Sociologists reveal why people are Done with church but not their faith. Loveland: Group Publishing.