Disoriented Faith: Some Advice from an Ancient Worship Leader

Ever felt disoriented in your faith? Ever felt the need to broadcast your raw doubts and emotions to the world via social media?

Marty Sampson

In early August, Hillsong worship leader and songwriter, Marty Sampson, posted a now widely-read Instagram post (now removed) announcing the apparent loss of his Christian faith. He identifies at least half a dozen reasons for his doubts, with a recurring theme seeming to be that the church (at least the church in which he finds himself) has not allowed space to ask the tough questions.

John Cooper

Since Sampson’s very public confession, John Cooper, lead singer for the Christian band, Skillet, published a Facebook post where he expressed his disappointment in Sampson and other Christian leaders venting publicly on social media, in particular about their abandonment (or almost abandonment) of the Christian faith. Sampson has since fired back with a rejoinder to Cooper.

Now, Gen Xers like myself might be tempted to simply roll our eyes at this public joust between celebrity Christians debating how influencers should use their influence. But if we resist this temptation, not only will we avoid possible eye strain, we’ll be able to focus and reflect on some important and very relevant issues here.

When it comes to the matter of spiritual disorientation. Many, if not most, Christians at some point experience some measure of doubt or confusion about their faith. So, while we might have some opinions about the appropriate use of social media for venting raw emotions (especially for Christian celebrities), it’s not the case that Christians should ignore our emotions or questions that might unsettle us.

Scripture Talk on Ps 73

The above is simply a preamble to give context to a teaching session in which I addressed the issue of spiritual disorientation, looking at Psalm 73. This Psalm was composed by Asaph, Israel’s worship leader when Solomon was king. It reveals Asaph’s own struggle with doubts about God’s goodness. He wonders whether remaining faithful to God is really worth it, or even realistic, considering the prevalence of injustice in the world. Asaph reminds us that sometimes we’ll feel that reality doesn’t match what we’d expect if a good God was really in charge.

This talk was given at King St. Community Church’s Young Adult group, where I’m currently serving as interim leader. I’d already planned to speak on Ps 73 prior to Marty Sampson’s Instagram post, but having a widely-known worship leader publicize (perhaps prematurely) his own Asaph moment, really helped highlight the relevance of this raw but encouraging Psalm. The focus is the way habitual corporate, God-centred worship can help serve as a point of reference in reorienting believers in their faith.

So, please give this a listen. I’d appreciate your feedback, and some reflection questions are below.

KSYA – Disoriented: Help When Faith Doesn’t Make Sense 2019-08-18

Questions for Reflection

  1. What questions or observations might cause you to become disoriented in your Christian faith?
  2. What’s your reaction to some Christian leaders announcing their faith struggles (feelings, response, etc.)?
  3. To what extent is corporate worship (gathering with other Christians to focus on God) important for your spiritual life? Why?
  4. What do you think of the idea that worship needs to be God-centred?

6 thoughts on “Disoriented Faith: Some Advice from an Ancient Worship Leader

  1. Just a thought….(a friendly conversation)
    Everyone loved these Christian leaders and what they taught or sang. They didn’t question them or their message.
    But ….once those Christian leaders disagreed with the “group”, now they are questioned and rejected instead of listening to why they lost their faith. To say we just need to get back to the “truth” in the bible (as per John Coopers) is not helpful. Who’s version of the truth is the right one? There are over 30,000 Christian denominations, what one has the truth? It’s arrogant and narcissistic to think that any of us have the exclusive knowledge of the truth and the right interpretation.
    These Christian leaders who left Christianity are pointing out a flaw in the message & system of the church…..instead of criticizing them, we should pay attention, listen and ask why they ended up where they did. Arguably they have seen a side to the church we don’t see….we haven’t seen behind the curtain of the system like they have and clearly saw it wasn’t working.
    A better question is ….what is it about the Christian message that is making so many Christian leaders leave the church?
    These Christian leaders left their jobs, the income source that provided for their families, paid the mortgage put their kids through school and provided health care for the family. They didn’t do that easily or without understanding the backlash they would face.

  2. Hi Dwayne, Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I think you’re making a good point here re listening to why some are leaving and/or questioning the faith they’ve been raised in. As you imply, often this is a narrower group within the Christian faith that presents (intentionally or unintentionally) their set of doctrines as the fullness of truth; i.e., the only way to understand things. As I say in my audio talk, I’m both cautious and yet sort of glad that Sampson posted what he did on IG, since it does at least get us talking about some of the important issues he raises.

    The other side of this, however, has to do with wisdom when it comes to the timing and influence of a post like Sampson’s. As Asaph states in Ps 73:15 (paraphrase), it would have been unwise of someone in his position to vocalize publicly his disoriented state of mind at that moment, and so he kept things to himself. The lesson here, I think, is not to suppress things (after all, he eventually composed an entire Psalm outlining his doubts and frustration with God and the world), but he waited for a more appropriate time. It may be that we also need to process things within safe settings, where we know we’re allowed to express ourselves without having come to a place of final processed thoughts.

    So, I think Sampson was probably partly right and partly wrong in posting (and apparently so does he, since he took it down). As for Coopers, I also can understand why he’s frustrated. I’m not sure he said that he has all the truth about everything, but he does admittedly assume that there is such a thing as truth, or perhaps better put, reality. Reality is what exists, whereas truth is a quality of propositional belief statements. The doubts you raise concerning whether one can be totally correct about having access to the truth in the midst of the reality of a plurality of beliefs is an important one, but I’m not convinced that the reality of pluralism means that one cannot assume any grasp concerning what’s true with regard to reality. I do believe that human knowledge is always provisional; it can always be potentially corrected because humans do not have the capacity to have full knowledge of anything (only God does). But this human limitation doesn’t mean that some views are not more truthful than others, since we can identify errors in belief statements and thus grow in truth. Even the fact that you posted your view here assumes (I assume) that you are seeing things more truthfully than some others.

    That said, I agree that we need to be charitable in the way we hear others, and especially pay attention to the fact that some are expressing their hurt and frustration with the church, and feeling unheard at times. I’ve experienced this in a number of ways as well. I’m trying to process how to wisely help bring awareness of and correction to the systems that have brought this type of injury.

    Thanks again for your important thoughts. Blessings!

    1. Thanks for your response Peter. I will listen to the audio teaching…sorry I haven’t yet. I’m sure I’ll get to hear more of your heart when I do.

      I don’t have much more to say other than we don’t know if Marty Sampson talked to his elders and church leaders before he posted what he did. For all we know he used his best judgment & wisdom with timing when he made his post. It’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt on that.
      I’m not reading into why he took down his post….I’m sure he has received a lot of flack for this. He’s probably looking after his own mental health and the well being of his family.

      Thanks for all you do Peter.
      Love & peace
      Dwayne

      1. Agreed. We don’t know the back story. My talk to our YAs was really just to help them when they feel disoriented. I’d already planned to speak on the topic before Marty’s post, but it was too good of an illustration to pass up. Ps 73 is about a worship leader who questions his faith. 😀

  3. Interesting topic and conversations here, Peter and Dwayne. Thanks for sharing your insights. Peter, your reference to Psalm 73 is very appropriate. I recently listened to a podcast with David Kinnaman from the Barna Group called Living in a Digital Babylon – https://churchleaders.com/podcast/357569-david-kinnaman-living-digital-babylon-need-know.html. It seeks to address (and provides some food for thought on) some of the tough questions of the Christian faith and the Church, especially as it relates to millennials.

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