The recent cultural turmoil in the United States has not skirted around the church. Many of the crises impacting other spheres have been found within Christian communities as well, sometimes to an even greater extent.
The church is facing a credibility crisis according to Reconstructing Faith, a new podcast by the North American Mission Board hosted by Trevin Wax, NAMB’s vice president of research and resource development.
Rather than simply critique the church for her failings, however, Wax takes an honest look at the problems, considers timeless Christian truth and seeks to spur a conversation that helps the church rebuild and restore the church to Christlikeness.
“For years now, we’ve seen the church rocked by sin and scandal, and our credibility as Christ’s followers has been diminished,” Wax says in the podcast’s trailer.
“Reconstructing Faith avoids the simplistic, knee-jerk reactions you see on social media and instead looks at the church the same way you’d look at your home after a natural disaster,” he noted.
Looking to history
In early episodes of the podcast, Wax uses the illustration of flood recovery in a home.
The deluge of water and mud may have caused serious damage and rot in the home, but the main structure and the foundation remain strong. The home is salvageable, but repair requires removing the flood-damaged contents, applying mold remediation and rebuilding.
Each episode tackles a different topic that has often generated conversations and sometimes controversy within the church. The episodes blend audio clips from the recent past, music and interviews with scholars and pastors, interspersed with commentary from Wax.
So far, six episodes of 12 have released, with new episodes dropping on Thursdays.
“What’s been encouraging to me in the responses so far has been how many people have captured the heart behind the podcast, which is really to start rebuilding, to do something constructive,” Wax said of the feedback he has received so far. “There’s only so much church critique that we can take without us also, eventually, asking the question, ‘Okay. Where do we go from here?’”
The challenges facing the church in recent years are not foreign in its 2,000-year history. From confronting heresies in the early church to rooting out corruption during the period of the Reformation, the Church has faced seasons where she has not lived up to the biblical, Christlike character she is called by God to embody.
That’s why Wax aims to look back into church history for inspiration on how to move forward. The podcast also draws on global Christianity and vibrant communities around the world that can provide insight for American Christians as to what is most important.
“I want to see the church helped. I want to see the church stronger,” Wax said. “I want to see pastors strengthened, encouraged and exhorted, stirred up for every good deed. That’s the goal. That’s the heart.”
Dean Inserra, author and founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, has been a guest on the podcast discussing purity culture and chastity, but he has also benefited from the resource.
‘Missteps and failures’
“The Reconstructing Faith podcast is here at the right time,” Inserra said in written comments. “Through conversations with different leaders, Trevin is able to acknowledge the missteps and failures of the church without forsaking the faith delivered once for all to the saints.”
As a pastor in a major college town, Inserra regularly encounters young adults who are wrestling with the cultural issues Wax addresses in Reconstructing Faith.
“It is refreshing, because in our hyper-sensitive online culture, it is rare to see someone publicly contend for the faith and analyze things honestly rather than stomp all over it,” Inserra said. “It has been helpful for me pastoring in a college town where deconstruction is a common trend.”
The challenges facing the church have generated myriad conversations surrounding Christian faith with many young people undergoing processes of “deconstruction,” inspecting their beliefs in light of recent cultural turmoil and trends — often with the result of leaving faith behind completely.
Nearly 30 percent of pastors reported seeing church attendees “methodically deconstruct their faith” within the last two years, according to Lifeway Research.
A recent Gallup poll indicated that trust in institutions across the board has fallen off significantly in recent years, and the Church has been unable to avoid the trend — confidence fell 21 percentage points from 2009 to 2022.
In 2020, a Barna study found that 36 percent fewer Americans attend church weekly than in 1993. That figure dropped noticeably between 2011 and 2012 and has remained around the 30 percent mark since.
“First, why are things changing and how can so much change be occurring?” David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said of the study.
“Social research is very limited in answering how or why questions, yet it’s very effective in demonstrating that change is, in fact, happening — and at a relatively rapid pace,” he said.
How much has abuse in church culture impacted peoples’ willingness to trust Christian leaders and remain in churches? Hypocrisy, inconsistency — real and perceived — within the church is having an impact.
“I think there’s a hunger for those of us who are left and that are still here and still care,” Wax said. “There’s the feeling of, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’ There are lots of people who have walked away from the church for various reasons, not always because Jesus’ teachings are hard but sometimes because the church has really messed some things up.
“The church is going to let us down,” he said. “People are going to let us down, but at the end of the day, I’m still looking up saying, ‘Jesus, where else are we going to go?’”
Christ has promised that he will build His Church, that He will work and move mightily through His people, said Wax.
“The question is not, ‘Shall we stay, or shall we go?’ The question is, what do we want the church to look like,” Wax noted. “What part do we play in the church looking more like Jesus in the next generation — not so we can get the applause of the world but so that we give glory to Christ.”
Reconstructing Faith is designed, not to provide simplistic or final answers to those questions, but to help pastors and church leaders begin having discussions along these lines, identifying rot where it exists in the Church and rebuilding so she reflects the holiness and beauty of Christ.
To learn more about and listen to the podcast, visit here. Reconstructing Faith can be found on any major podcast platform.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Brandon Elrod and originally published by the North American Mission Board.