One of the most painful experiences of my life was the discovery that someone very close to me, with whom I had served in a local church setting for many years, had “deconstructed” and no longer considered himself a Christian. I initially responded poorly by getting personally offended and aggressively making my arguments for the reliability of the scriptures, the historicity of the resurrection and the empirical evidence for the existence of God (all of which I firmly believe to be true). At the end of a series of intense conversations, he wasn’t convinced, I was deeply hurt and our relationship has not been the same.

Due to a few high-profile and very public stories over the last few years, deconstruction has become the popular term to describe those who wander from their previously-held faith. Furthermore, there is an entire online community of “exvangelicals” who have purposed to proselytize people away from what they believe to be our “messed up subculture.” And, to be honest, Christians have made that job extremely easy these days with so many financial, sexual, racial and spiritual abuse scandals across nearly every corner of American Evangelicalism. We have made ourselves a very easy target for such attacks!

Honestly, I am suffering from deconstruction discouragement. I have begun to speculate about this apparent wave of deconstruction stories as a modern phenomenon that threatens to shake the very foundation of Christianity and finally accomplish what so many others in history (Jewish authorities, Roman Empire, Islamic Jihad, Enlightenment Atheism, Communism, etc) failed to do. I recognize that there are a myriad of factors, such as the advent of the internet, the accessibility of social media and a growing detachment from traditional communities in favor of more individualistic lifestyles that may be driving this development. But the scripture reminds us on multiple occasions that this type of thing is going to happen, and we must not be surprised when it does (See Matthew 24:10, 1 John 2:19, James 5:19-20).

Recently, I was preaching through a little letter written by the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon and found something interesting. In his final thoughts to Philemon, Paul writes…”Epaphrus, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Philemon 1:23-24) Consider the stories of two men mentioned here.

Demas the DE-Constructor: The Apostle Paul mentions Demas twice in his correspondence with fellow believers in Colossae, and both times he references his faithful partnership in the gospel ministry. However, six years later Paul would mention him a final time in the following way, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10) Apparently, at some point along the way, Demas fell away from the faith and was no longer a part of the mission. As you read, you can feel the discouragement in the Apostle Paul’s words as he is processing this deconstruction. When he wrote Philemon, Paul appeared convinced that Demas would never fall away, yet that is exactly what he did. I know the feeling.

Mark the RE-Constructor: Many years prior, Mark was a “helper” (Acts 13:5) to Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but he abandoned the mission and returned to Jerusalem. We do not know the reason, but we do know that his departure from the mission caused such a serious disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they had to go their separate ways over the issue (Acts 15:39-41). By the time Paul wrote Philemon, Mark had re-joined the mission and was serving faithfully in Rome as a “fellow worker.” When Mark fell away, Paul was adamant that he could not be trusted and would never be useful to the mission again. Yet, fifteen years later, Paul’s affection for and dependence on Mark is obvious.

So Demas, the “DE-constructor” and Mark the “RE-constructor” are listed beside one another in the scripture. What are we to make of this? How should this affect the way we deal with both personal and public deconstruction stories? First of all, we must realize that both of their journeys played out over 20 years, and any snapshot of their lives along the way reflected an incomplete picture. Secondly, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is responsible for drawing people to Jesus; convincing anyone to simply agree with us about God should never be our goal. Repentance is the goal, and it has always been “God’s kindness that is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4) 

In light of this, I try to remember the following as I often lay awake at night thinking about and praying for my dear friend: his story is not complete, and God is still at work. With this in mind, I am deeply committed to passionate prayer for him and maintaining relational connection with him. This means I put my weapons of apologetics away and practice Christian love above all else which philosopher Frances Shaeffer called the “final apologetic.” Ultimately, we know that God is good, that he loves people infinitely more than we do, and that God is tenderhearted toward both the deconstructed and the discouraged. So, take courage and press on!

PS for Pastors:. We absolutely must find a way to make room in our churches for people to be honest about their doubts, disagreements and disappointments without fear of becoming anathema in voicing their concerns. One of my deepest regrets in ministry is that those who have fallen away or deconstructed did not give me the opportunity to process their doubts with them. To this day, I have not figured out how to create this culture in my church. However, I am 100% confident that as churches and pastors like me do not make space for people to process their doubts, YouTube and Twitter are more than happy to do so in our place. 

Please use the comments section below to share ideas on how to best address this issue in your church.

The following two tabs change content below.
John Welborn
Pastor John Welborn and his wife of over 17 years, Ashley, have 3 children, Gracie (13), Eli (11), and Charlie (6), as well as a Black Labradoodle named Maggie. John holds degrees from Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree in Evangelism and Church Planting. He was an itinerant evangelist before becoming Lead Pastor of Crosslink Community Church, Harrisonburg, VA where he served for 7 years. Since January of 2016, he has been serving as the Senior Pastor of Salem Church, Staten Island, New York. Pastor John loves to play golf, watch his favorite college football team, the Georgia Bulldogs, and go camping with his family.

7 Comments

  1. Avatar Christopher Hooper on June 25, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Great thoughts John. You’ve encouraged me to discuss a bit in my sermon this Sunday.

  2. Avatar Espen Øvergaard on June 18, 2021 at 1:21 am

    Thank you for sharing important reflections John. Well written on an important topic.

    I agree with you that it is important to make room for doubt. To be able to talk and reflect. To not be afraid of differences of opinion.

  3. Avatar Linda Clyde on June 17, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    In the 80’s I had the privilege of hearing M Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled. He outlined four stages of faith. The first was no faith, the second was following your parents tradition of faith, third was the need to question your faith, fourth was to define your faith based on what you believe and find another believer or groups of believers that encourage your spiritual growth. Many call this spiritual formation.
    I am a 70 yr old woman of faith, and have worn many hats from pastor’s wife, mother, nurse, school counselor to adjunct professor and grandmother. I am no stranger to the pain “Christian’s” can inflict on one another in the name of Christ. My faith was strengthen during these experiences but realistically speaking I would have rather not have had to experience the pain other believers inflicted.
    The most pain and discouragement I have experienced has been the result of my own distorted belief system. After experiencing severe depression and spiritual alienation I had to question the spiritual beliefs that were a cornerstone of my being. It was not until I asked these questions that I was able to deal with the lies that kept me frozen in my faith and depression.
    I read your text on deconstruction and feel the need to present the other side. These are the things I believe that Holy Spirit enabled me to learn.
    1. Every believer should deconstruct their faith, that is asking questions about what you believe and is it what the Bible teaches or what you want it to say.
    2. Spiritual transformation occurs only when you are able to work through these issues the things you want to believe are true) and put them aside as they become less important than your relationship with God. This is hard work and a process that is based on faith and belief in God above the need to protect your self. This is time intensive and probably doesn’t occur during an alter call.
    3. Discipleship is so essential to spiritual growth. As a young pastor’s wife, I was expected to be a perfect example and authority on scripture, but little discipleship. I was told by older more mature pastor’s wives that “God’s Grace is sufficient “. I am not sure I even understood what God’s Grace really was at that time in my spiritual journey, but I wanted to!
    4. On the other hand, Grace is one of the things lacking in some evangelical churches today. During this present time I have consciously distanced myself from conservative evangelicals because of the message they are sending to the world about what they see as true. If you are concerned with those who question (deconstruct) what they believe, I think, as believers, we need to also be concerned with what our message to others. Our actions speak loudly .
    5. I believe that many of us live in a spiritual bubble and try hard not to be soiled by the world that we don’t rub shoulders with people different from ourselves and what we hold to be true. One of the gifts in my life was to discover and accept my son who is gay. It was one of the first true tests of what I actually believed. What was true and not true , what does the Bible actually say not what someone else thinks it says. I asked God many questions. The answer was always the same “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love others as you love yourself.” That keeps me busy on a daily basis.
    6. There are no second generation Christians. Each one of us needs to experience a personal transformation (deconstruction) and be renewed in our faith. Many are finding that experience outside the formal church structure like Renovare because people are looking for answers as well as support that they may not be receiving from their church family.
    7. As hard as it is to say, I may have never asked they right questions if it had not been for my depressive episode (years long). Initially I viewed my depression as a discipline from God and if I had enough faith I wouldn’t be depressed. That is a belief held by many including myself that is so totally wrong and kept me from a vital relationship with God.
    There are two sides of deconstruction. We, as believers, need to be aware of our own barriers that keep us from being transformed spiritually on a daily basis. We also need, as you said, have a place for people to ask questions.
    Thank you.

    • John Welborn John Welborn on June 18, 2021 at 8:37 am

      Thank you for sharing your own experience, Linda. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” So, in that sense, I think Christians “deconstructing” can be a very good thing, provided that we are doing so within a community of believers who can speak into that process. I love what you said about God having no second generation children because every person must repent and believe in Jesus themselves. Again, thank you for commenting and sharing your story!

      Blessings to you!

  4. Avatar Tony Balsamo on June 16, 2021 at 6:29 am

    Excellent and timely! Thanks, John!

    • John Welborn John Welborn on June 16, 2021 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for the opportunity to contribute, Tony. Love you bro!

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.