“Doubt isn’t toxic to faith; unexpressed doubt is.” – Kara Powell

I’ve occasionally been told that I have the “ideal” small group. My girls are life-long followers of Jesus, great friends, strong leaders, passionate about serving others, and super active at church. Students like that would never struggle with something terrible like doubt… right?

Well, a few months ago, my girls were at my house late one night, and I decided to try something. I asked them to take a few minutes to write down, in silence, every doubt and question they had about God and their faith.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done something like this, but something about this time was different. Maybe being snuggled up in my living room made them feel safe and at ease. Maybe it was because our conversation wasn’t happening inside the walls of a church. Maybe it was just the right time.

Whatever the reason, for the next two hours, those girls poured out a seemingly endless stream of questions, frustrations, and doubts.

Doubts about God. The Bible. Interpreting Scripture. Church. One girl threw her Bible across the room.

They were asking really hard questions. Questions that don’t have easy answers. Some questions I’m not sure even have answers.

It was scary. It was messy. It didn’t have a nice, neat conclusion. I was freaking out a little. But it was also one of the best conversations we’ve ever had.

And here’s what it taught me…

  1. MY GIRLS HAD DOUBTS. Before that night, they hadn’t really talked about them (or even acknowledged them). But they were there.
  2. DOUBT ISN’T A BAD THING. Initially, this conversation was TERRIFYING. But, eventually, I realized I didn’t need to panic. My girls weren’t throwing away their faith or renouncing God. They were just trying to figure things out.
  3. DOUBT CAN BE A REALLY GOOD THING. Seriously! Not only is doubt not inherently bad, it’s actually a sign of a normal, healthy faith and (even better) can be a catalyst for a deeper, richer, more rooted kind of faith. My girls’ questions revealed that something really important was happening – they were thinking, wrestling, and trying to approach their faith with honesty and integrity. And that’s a really good thing.
  4. CREATE SPACE FOR DOUBT. That conversation didn’t create my girls’ doubts – it just gave them an outlet to express them. But what if I hadn’t made space for that moment? What if I chickened out or shut it down? What if their doubts had never been expressed? Could this be a clue to why so many teenagers walk away from church? Has the church failed to address (or even acknowledge) the questions and doubts that weigh on their hearts? Have our churches been guilty of sending the message, Honest questions not welcome here?
  5. BE SENSITIVE TO THEIR INDIVIDUAL JOURNEYS. For some of my girls, acknowledging their doubts was freeing – but others were terrified. I realized I needed to be sensitive to the needs of each student individually – to guard their hearts. Some needed clarity and resolution for their questions. Others needed permission to continue thinking and processing on their own. Some needed reassurance and comfort. Others needed to hear that it was ok to not have all the answers.

It’s been months now since that conversation with my girls. Today, their doubts aren’t resolved, but they haven’t thrown away their faith either. Instead, I think they’re discovering a new way to believe – a deeper, richer, more honest way – characterized by wonder, mystery, a lot of humility, and a love for God that is growing and deepening every day.

So, yeah, I’d say doubt can definitely have its benefits.

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Elle Campbell

Elle works in middle school ministry with her husband, Kenny, at The Chapel in Buffalo, New York, where she oversees small groups and volunteer development. When Elle isn’t hanging out with middle school students and their small group leaders, she’s blogging and developing resources for Stuff You Can Use—a site she and Kenny developed to connect student and children’s ministry workers with super helpful, practical, and high-quality ideas and resources.

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