This week a lead singer of a Christian band publicly expressed his lack of belief in God. As a part of a long and well-thought out Instagram post, Jon Steingard from Hawk Nelson announced, “I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”
I don’t mean to single him out or to shame him. In fact, I applaud his honesty. I sincerely don’t believe anything I write in this blog will reach him or win him back. Instead, I’m writing three blogs to encourage anyone who might share his doubts about the Church, the Old Testament, and God.
I’ll start off each blog with a quote from Jon. Then I’ll talk about how I experienced something similar. Then I’ll finish each section with how I found my way out. These blogs won’t be comprehensive, but I hope they’ll encourage you in your faith.
Manipulating the Church
“I… began playing and singing on worship teams, and started leading worship at church and youth events. Even then I remember being uncomfortable with certain things. Praying in public always felt like some kind of weird performance art. Emotional cries such as “Holy Spirit come fill this place” always felt clunky and awkward leaving my lips. A youth conference I attended encouraged every teen to sign a pledge that they would “date Jesus” for a year. It felt manipulative and unsettling to me. I didn’t sign it.” – Jon Steingard
I’ve read this quote many times today, and the “date Jesus” part always makes me laugh. It takes me back to a gray cement wall in the hallway of the old Detroit Lions football stadium. The cement wall was lined with what I remember as hundreds of yards of wide white construction paper with “True Love Waits” signatures from teenagers who had committed to not have sex until marriage.
I was 17 years old, freshly recommitted to Christ, and attending a 70,000 seat Acquire the Fire youth conference with my youth group. I was not only asked to commit to Jesus over and over that weekend. I was also asked to commit to abstinence, spending quiet time with God every morning, and many, many other things.
The sermons ended up sounding more like 5 minute elevator pitches for really passionate commitments. None of those messages were inherently wrong. In fact, some of them contained great pieces of advice, but the emphasis seemed wrong. And by early Saturday afternoon, I had mentally checked out. Everybody in our youth group had.
Luckily, my youth pastor hated the event and had the wisdom to stop placing any emphasis on massive youth gatherings. But my teenage interpretation of late 90’s Christian pop culture left a scarring mark on me.
The Performance Art of Commitment
Up until very recently, I found my identity in what I did for Christ, not in Christ Himself. It’s not a shell I can easily shed. I still slip into praying out loud as a type of performance art, and I still get a little disappointed if I stutter or misspeak during the prayer.
I also have mindlessly sung worship lyrics that never made a whole lot of sense to me. And, yes, I did “kiss dating goodbye” in high school. But I courted a lot of girls. I also dated Jesus, but I two-timed him secretly many times with porn.
When I was seeking the life-giving water of the Gospel, the popular Christian self-help books and conferences sprayed me with an emotional firehose of commitments. Commit to abstinence! Commit to going on a missions trip! Commit to giving money to a kid in a third world country! Commit to praying around a flag pole! Commit. Commit. Commit. Do. Do. Do.
For most of my life, I committed to everything and failed miserably. And I’m glad I failed.
My failure helped me realize I couldn’t find my identity in what I did for Jesus. Instead, I’ve been given an identity based on what Jesus did for me.
The “Deeper Things”
As a teenager, I thought the self-help commitment-driven version of Christianity pitched to me at youth conferences equalled the “deeper things of God.” It turns out, I was wrong. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has always been the deepest mystery I could ever fathom.
When Jon wrote about not signing up for the date Jesus pledge, he said, “It felt manipulative and unsettling to me.” I’ve felt the same way multiple times at 90% of the Christian events I’ve attended. And it’s always when the speaker pitches a product or a commitment.
I’ve been a worship leader and a speaker on a small scale, and I know how easy it is to use my platform to sell products and get kids to make long term commitments. So I understand Jon’s frustration with toxic church culture, because I’ve been disgusted by it at times and participated in it at other times.
Instead of getting people to hear a message, pray a prayer, and commit to bear a bunch of fruit right away, I need to encourage the people around me to rest more deeply in knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection. When I know Jesus and rest in Him, He gives me the well-rooted identity I need to bear the fruit of genuine love for God and people.
When we each begin to rest in the identity He’s given us, the Church will change.
Now when I see superstar Christian salesmen or saleswomen making manipulative pleas to commit to a new cause or buy a new book, I try to remember one thing: Jesus isn’t asking me to make a bunch of commitments to Him. He’s asking me to rest in the commitment He’s made to me.
Here’s Jon’s full statement on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
I’ve been terrified to post this for a while – but it feels like it’s time for me to be honest. I hope this is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. I hope this is encouraging to people who might feel the same but are as afraid to speak as I am. I want to be open. I want to be transparent with you all – and also open to having my heart changed in the future. I am not looking for a debate at all – just a chance to share my story in the hopes some good can come from it. I love you all.
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