Christian culture, along with the spiritual leaders, churches, institutions, communities, and other entities it consists of, are supposed to make our faith stronger. But in many cases the opposite happens, and it actually causes our faith to die. In religious environments often surrounded by cynicism, hypocrisy, hurtfulness, and disappointment, it’s easy to give up on Christianity. Here’s how to prevent spiritual burnout:
1) Avoid Legalism
Historically, Christianity has always struggled with legalism, where churches often forced beliefs and practices on people with domineering power. Legalistic groups thrive on strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, and authoritarian judgment.
Various agendas — that are valued more than the loving gospel of Christ — are promoted and pushed onto people. And it wasn’t that long ago (in fact, it still exists) that American believers were expected to be anti-gay, conservative, pro-choice, anti-evolution fundamentalists.
If fear, condemnation, and shame are used as spiritual weapons to gain power, influence, and control — run!
2) Embrace Discovery
Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning. Are we really expected to know everything there is to know about God by the time we’re in high school, or college, or by the time we become adults (whenever that is), or grandparents? Your beliefs and theology should change, and when they do, that’s OK.
Life experiences, new information, and changing relationships (along with hundreds of other factors) are constantly shaping our faith and forcing us to ask new questions, look at old ideas differently, and inspiring us to mature in our spirituality.
God created us to discover. When religious leaders promote certainty, refuse to allow questioning, and shame those who experience doubt, they are being unbiblical.
So go meet new people, travel, learn from different cultures, listen to new worship, read the latest books, educate yourself, and stay relevant.
Jesus was constantly challenging the Pharisees (who confidently thought they knew everything) and rebuking those who were the most certain about their beliefs. He used parables and teachings to help people — including his disciples — to think in completely new and different ways.
Be open to the idea that Jesus might also cause you to rethink your presuppositions.
3) Expect Change
Discovery lends itself to change. New doesn’t automatically mean better, and it’s not always right to make changes, but don’t expect to remain safely entombed within a Christian “bubble” for the rest of your life.
The changes will be big and small, both good and bad — but they are inevitable.
Yes, there will come a day when your favorite pastor retires, your preferred worship band moves on, the service times get moved, the church building is remodeled, and the youth pastor starts promoting radical new ideas.
The Christian faith isn’t static. It’s a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress, so expect change — and don’t freak out when it happens.
4) Join a Community
People often abandon their faith because they feel alone, rejected, ignored, or simply out of place. Oftentimes, they find acceptance — and a more loving community — somewhere else, outside of Christianity.
Fostering community isn’t easy, and it doesn’t just happen. Community demands vulnerability, time, energy, relational commitment, emotional investment, and risk. Conflict will occur — but it’s worth it. If you aren’t experiencing spiritual community on an intimate level, find it (or work on it) as soon as possible!
5) Have Fun
There’s a season for everything, and while our faith is often full of serious and deep moments, it’s also meant to be freeing and uplifting.
If you associate Christianity with sadness, depression, guilt, boredom, and mundane routine — something’s wrong.
Obviously, Christianity isn’t all fun and games, and it shouldn’t be used as a source of superficial distractions meant to fill us with constant cheer and laughter — but you should occasionally have fun.
Christians often associate the term ‘holiness’ with liturgical communions, ornamental ceremonies, reverent sermons, and prayer meetings. We assume God doesn’t exist outside of certain religious venues. But God iseverywhere, and God’s glory can be experienced anywhere: while we’re hanging out with friends, playing with our kids, participating in sports, attending music concerts, and just enjoying life.
Sometimes these carefree moments are when we feel God’s presence the most — and they are holy moments.
Unfortunately, Christians can hurt each other, and eventually, you’ll be the victim. Maybe they will hate your theology, gossip about you, slander your family, lie, steal, cheat, or betray you — but it will happen. Prepare yourself.
Regrettably, many people reject Christianity not because of Christ, but because of those who representChrist: a pastor, a church member, or a Christian that did something horrible.
When you are sinned against by a fellow believer, God empathizes with you, feels your pain, and will ultimately bring about justice, but God also calls us to forgive, and your capacity to enjoy life — and your faith— is directly related with your ability to do so.
7) Be Positive
There are two types of Christians: those who are positive, and those who are negative — the optimists and the pessimists.
Some live out their faith motivated by fear, guilt and shame. They believe that almost everyone is going to Hell, God is constantly waiting to strike people with a bolt of lightning, the world is increasingly getting worse and worse (“Just look at today’s youth!”), and impending doom is just around the corner.
Then there are those whose faith is motivated by hope, inspiration, and love. They see God as redeeming humanity, bringing about goodness, healing, and restoration, and view the Gospel as good news! Imagine that!
Which type of Christian are you?
8) Love Jesus
Essentially, it all comes down to loving God.
But too often, we make the mistake of identifying Christianity as Christ, and we idolize the religion instead of focusing on the relationship.
When this happens, we either love or hate Christianity — not Christ. In the end, when we inevitably get let down by Christianity, we assume that God let us down, when all along we were following a false misrepresentation. This is our constant challenge as believers, to love and follow Christ — not “Christianity.”
Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.