What To Do When You're a Pastor of Little Faith

Young girl praying
Young girl praying

It happens without warning. Some days I wake up under a thick wet blanket of heavy doubt. It's a kind of spiritual anemia, a sort of faith fatigue.

Maybe it's all the troubling news in our world. Maybe it's dormant grief poking through. Maybe it's a loved one's devastating diagnosis. Maybe it's one too many senseless acts of violence. Maybe it's a crusty cynicism that's hardened my heart. Maybe it's just the weather, hormones, or lack of sleep.

But some days, I just can't seem to believe.

This is a particular liability in my line of work. A pastor who doubts? A pastor who questions? A pastor who lacks faith? Isn't it my job to believe?

But it's true, some days I'm a pastor of little faith.

It's one of those dirty little secrets some of us in "professional ministry" try to keep on the down low. Heaven forbid we frighten our flock with the news that we, too, struggle with faith.

But maybe being a pastor of little faith isn't all bad. Maybe it keeps us grounded, honest, empathetic, and more deeply connected with others. Maybe it makes us better friends, parents, and neighbors. Maybe it actually makes us better pastors.

I know at least this much: faith isn't something we can supernaturally summon, even through things like bible study or earnest prayer. Faith isn't something we can earn with outstanding acts of piety and virtuous living. Faith isn't something we can simply will to happen with gritty determination and spiritual stubbornness. Faith isn't something we can magically muster when we're feeling particularly "right with God."

We can't do faith. We can't make faith. We can't create faith. We can't conjure faith. We can't earn faith. Faith isn't some kind of spiritual DIY project.

We can only receive faith. Because faith is a gift from God.

Faith isn't a gift we can mail order from self-appointed prophets or shiny televangelists. Faith isn't something we can acquire with things like "anointed hankies" or "special vials" of holy water. Faith doesn't automatically happen after we pray the "sinner's prayer" or any other kind of christianized incantation.

Faith isn't a formula. Faith is a free gift from God.

So how can I be faithful on days I feel faithless?

I can PRACTICE my faith, even though I can't FEEL my faith.

Even when I'm stewing in a kind of spiritual angst, I can still come and gather with God's people. Even when I struggle with a kind of faithless malaise, I can still come and worship, trusting that the Great Cloud of Witnesses will, by God's grace, eclipse my own clouds of doubt and despondency.

What do I do on days I can't believe? I practice believing.

When I doubt, I still pray and praise. And I trust that in the midst of my doubt-filled prayers and praises, I'm being formed. Even while in a faithless funk, I read scripture, trusting it will remind me of who I am and who God is. Even when I don't feel personally faith-full, I recite ancient creeds and confessions. As I do, I stand in a tradition that insists even when we lack faith, God is faithful still.

Are you a person of little faith? Do you have days when it's difficult to believe?

If so, take a leap of faith, and just practice. Join me in doing what Christians have done for centuries, and practice your faith, even if you can't always feel it.

In doing so, we may discover that the same One who came to us "while we were yet sinners" comes to us still today, and is always faithful, even we are faithless.