Deconstruction & Social Media in the Age of Covid

NOTE: This blog post is a slight deviation from my normal content and is based on an article written for a journal; as such, it doesn’t carry the same tone and length as most of my blog posts in this space. However, I felt the subject area was directly connected to the realities of ministering across generations and specifically to the youngest generations and a needed foundation for ongoing conversations on generational discipleship. I invite you to take some time, read this revised article, and consider how the information contained here might impact your own life and ministry.


“I don’t believe in God anymore.”

“I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.”

“I don’t know what I believe about God anymore.”

Over the past two years, I’ve heard these phrases more times than I can remember. I am hearing them all over social media, in magazine articles, blog posts, radio programs, podcasts, and sermons. While these statements are all nuanced with very different things being said, most of the time, every one of these labeled under one broad, sweeping term: Deconstruction.

Deconstruction appears to have taken mainstage as a “buzz word” or movement within the Christian and ex-Christian community. A significant uptick in attention to deconstruction coincided with the beginning of a global pandemic that moved many people from in-person community and into a much wider virtual community found in online communities such as TikTok, Instagram, and Twitch. Younger people (Millennial and Gen Z generations) quickly adapted to this form of communication, finding solace in a global community that “gets” them. Those who are deconstructing from their faith have used the platform to process, protest, and project their experiences into a wide audience, gaining traction among those who already felt frustrated and disenfranchised by the evangelical church.

The History of Deconstruction

While deconstruction has become a rather familiar term in evangelical circles of late, the concept of deconstruction has been around for centuries. Modern evangelical deconstruction centers around one’s faith in God and in the beliefs one holds about God. However, the term “deconstruction” did not initially refer to a theological context but rather a philosophical one. Coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the concept of deconstruction referred primarily to questioning the conceptional frameworks of Western philosophy including social sciences, humanities and literature.1

By the late 1980s and into the nineties, we see the term applied to “the philosophy of religion” in academic circles and by the early to mid-2000s, the term becomes more common place in descriptions of experiences related to questions of faith and relevance.2  In 2016, Richard Rohr, a well-known leader in spiritual formation, published a work called “An Invitation to Grace” where he reflects on Walter Brueggeman’s work describing the Christian walk as a journey through the Torah (rules/law) to the Prophets (criticism for those rules) to Wisdom literature (resolution leading to wisdom).3 In his reflection, Rohr offers the following sequence for this journey: Order, Disorder, and Reorder and states that “Much of the chaos and instability of our time stems from many young and sophisticated people now beginning life in the second stage of Disorder and criticism, without first learning deeply from Order. It appears to be a disaster. The three stages must be in proper sequence for life to unfold somewhat naturally.”4 This sequencing has been seen by some as the catalyst towards the deconstruction journey with the second stage of disorder taking the focus as the modern evangelical version of deconstruction.5  And true to Rohr’s prediction, the location of young people in this second stage has become a major characteristic of the current deconstruction movement.

It is important to note that this movement or journey, however one might describe it, from initial understandings of one’s faith through a time of questioning or deconstructing into a time of reaffirmation or reconstruction is neither new nor is it unusual. Far from that, we see examples of this journey all the way back to the beginning of the Christian faith.

As an example from Scripture, we can look to the story of Peter found in Acts 10 where Peter has gone to the roof to pray and subsequently has a vision. In his vision, a cloth is being lowered from heaven and on it are a number of “unclean” animals and he is told by a voice to “Kill and eat” these animals. Peter immediately responds with “No” stating that these animals are prohibited by the law (order). The voice replies that Peter should no longer call things impure that God has made pure (disorder). Paul is left wondering about what all this could mean when low and behold, a group of Gentile believers shows up at his house and the Spirit of God tells Peter to go with them. Peter makes the following statement upon arriving at the host’s home: “You are well aware it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile (order). But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (disorder).  So when I was sent for, I came without raising an objection (reorder)” Acts 10:28,29.

In this Scripture passage, Peter questions something he has been taught as right and good and true his whole life and deconstructs it in order to arrive a new understanding (wisdom) through the Spirit of God. This pattern directly follows the prediction of Brueggemann, Rohr, and the deconstructionist path.

So the question becomes, why has deconstruction taken on such a life of its own as both a movement and a buzz word in recent times? And why, if is a natural journey of faith, has it become something of an affront to the evangelical church?

For this conversation, we must begin to look at the circumstances surrounding the deconstructionist movement over the last two years as well as the environment where this movement has found a growing community.

Deconstruction and Social Media in the Age of Covid

In March 2020, the normal gathering and communal practices of life in America were fundamentally altered. While this a global experience of all communities, those who found identity and continuity in times of gathering such as the church on Sunday mornings, this change was especially challenging. Moving community online proved challenging to those institutions that typically met in person. But for communities that were already formed online, the challenge was actually a boon to their burgeoning population.

Since March 2020, Americans have spent, on average, an additional 1-2 hours on social media per day as compared to pre-pandemic numbers.6 Social media platforms gained users at unprecedented rates with Instagram increasing by 16%, Facebook by 19%, and Reddit by 30%.7 But by far the greatest growth was on the social media application, TikTok, which grew its monthly usage by 38% (ibid). In the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic began to shut down communities across the globe, TikTok had been downloaded 315 million times and in June 2020 it gained another 87 million users in just one month, effectively making it the app of choice for the pandemic.8

As a minister that works directly with younger generations, I have made it a practice to be where those generations can be found. As such, I was part of the great TikTok boon of 2020 and it was not long before I stumbled across Deconstruction TikTok. As of my writing this article, the hashtag #deconstruction had 208.5 million views and #deconstructiontiktok had 8.1 million followers.9 If you click on the hashtag, you quickly discover that the type of deconstruction being discussed is not Jacque Derrida version (philosophical) but the evangelical version of religious deconstruction.

With the vast majority of TikTok users being from the Millennial and Gen Z populations, we can safely assume that the majority of the followers to this movement fall within those parameters. The creators of the content, as with all areas of life, fall between the extremes of outright rejection of God and religion to simply questioning the morals and beliefs that one has been raised to embrace. In any case, the popularity of the movement and the online community that it has created is formidable.

And therein lies the reason for the current focus on deconstruction in evangelical Christian circles, both by those who are in the stage of deconstruction and those who are calling attention to it from the pulpit. However, the reality of the situation is that those who are growing in maturity of faith and in their relationship with God have always moved through this journey, albeit without the vocal and visual support of a community who are processing with them. Which begs the question; how should we respond when we are met with someone who tells us that they are deconstructing?

Responding to Deconstruction

In my current ministry role, I have interactions weekly with people who identify as deconstructing. However, the differences exhibited in their individual journeys are as unique as can be. While some have decidedly come to a place of rejecting God and Christianity, most find themselves in a place of questioning and discernment. The majority affirm their belief in Jesus but are working through the nuances of their faith and how they should live it out in the world today.10

Here are a few experiences from my own pastoral interactions that might be helpful in journeying with self-identified deconstructionists.

  1. Assess what is being deconstructed – Because the label of deconstruction is being used to describe everything from deconversion and rejection to discerning and questioning, it’s important to actually listen to the individual and hear where they are on their journey. Don’t assume you know what the label means.
  2. Offer new language – Often those who are deconstructing label themselves that way because they don’t have other verbiage to use and are just adopting the terminology of the culture. I often speak to people about the concept of “decluttering” or getting rid of beliefs or teachings that have clouded their view of Jesus. Other terminology includes those offered by Brueggemann and Rohr as noted above. Helping the individual identify their unique journey helps them to truly discern for themselves where they are at rather than getting swept up in a cultural movement.
  3. Normalize the journey – It can be scary, especially for those who have grown up in a strict religious setting, to view the journey of order, disorder, and reorder as anything other than sacrilegious and heretical. To ask questions, to express doubt, or to reject certain teachings can feel wrong or sinful when, in fact, it can be a marker of spiritual growth and maturity. Assuring them that what they are experiencing is an important part of growing in one’s faith can offer the freedom needed to grow and discern.
  4. Offer to journey alongside– Nothing is more isolating than feeling on the outside of a group you’ve always been inside. By offering to journey with them, at their pace and in their way, without judgment or forcing them to move more quickly or slowly, we can become an important part of their spiritual community and offer the support and guidance needed for healthy growth. It’s not about making them agree with us but rather being a presence that consistently points to Jesus.
  5. Recognize God’s work – Ultimately, the relationship that a person cultivates with God of either acceptance or rejection is not something we can control. God alone can speak to hearts and bring answers to life’s deepest questions. Christ tells us that if He is lifted high, he will draw all humanity to Himself. Our job is to lift Jesus high; to love God and to love others. It’s His job to speak to their hearts.

As ministers and fellow journeyers, it behooves us to reject the posture of defensiveness or criticism that can sometimes accompany reactions to those who find themselves in the deconstruction movement. Instead, it is important that we recognize that none of us have arrived at a place of fully knowing as we are fully known and remain humble as we too allow God to challenge us, teach us, and shape us to become more and more the image of His Son. Deconstruction can merely be a step on our journey and one that, if done surrounded by the grace of God and love of community, can lead us to love God and love others even more; to do the work of the Father which is to believe in the one He has sent – Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sources

  1. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. “deconstruction.” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 20, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/deconstruction.
  2. Dicenso, J.J. Deconstruction and the philosophy of religion: World affirmation and critique. Int J Philos Relig 31, 29–43 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01539179
  3. Brueggemann, W.  The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012.
  4. Rohr, R. (2016). The Invitation of Grace. Accessed online 1/4/22: https://cac.org/the-invitation-of-grace-2016-03-21/
  5. Vanderpool, K. The Age of Deconstruction and the Future of the Church. Relevant Magazine. 4/7/21. Accessed online: https://www.relevantmagazine.com/faith/the-age-of-deconstruction-and-future-of-the-church/
  6. Additional daily time spent on social media platforms by users in the United States due to coronavirus pandemic as of March 2020. Published 1/28/21. Accessed on 1/4/22 from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1116148/more-time-spent-social-media-platforms-users-usa-coronavirus/
  7. Growth of monthly active users of selected social media platforms worldwide from 2019 to 2021. Published 3/8/2021. Accessed on 1/4/22 from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1219318/social-media-platforms-growth-of-mau-worldwide/
  8. TikTok Statistics. Published 9/27/21. Accessed 1/5/22 from https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/
  9. TikTok application, Accessed 1/12/21.
  10. Hardman, R. Deconstruction, Deconversion, and Ex-vangelicalism. Publishd and accessed 1/10/22 from https://www.randyhardman.com/post/deconstruction-deconversion-and-ex-vangelicalism

A version of this article was first published here by this author in the Shalom! Journal Brethren in Christ U.S, Winter 2022, Vol. 42, Issue 1.


If you have ever felt alone in your heart for intergenerational ministry, if you have ever wondered what the next right step is or been curious about how you can best serve your church’s discipleship or mentorship ministry, then a ReFocus Ministry Coaching Cohort might the place for you.

ReFocus Coaching Cohorts provide ministry leaders with the opportunity to expand their leadership skills in a twelve-week shared learning experience. Facilitated by an experienced coach, a cohort group of 7-10 individuals from multiple faith organizations meet weekly to explore and apply the principles of leadership in generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and church culture transition. Through extensive exploration, inquiry and dialogue, the coach and fellow cohort members help participants identify their role in generational discipleship within their faith community and deepen their leadership capability.

NEW COHORT FORMING FALL 2022

Benefits

  • Accountability and growth within a community of like-minded ministers
  • Access to resources available only to cohort members, including up to one year of monthly personal coaching
  • Real-life moments and collective learning within the group that can be addressed by both the coach and the other members.
  • Ability to participate in ReFocus presenter platform as a local ReFocus representative.

ReFocus cohorts provide a confidential, open environment for ministers to strengthen their effectiveness in ‘real-time’ situations. It is intended for people who have experience in ministry and are ready to build the skills needed to be leaders in generational discipleship and intergenerational ministry.

Included in Coaching Cohort Package

  • Twelve weekly trainings/Zoom calls with coach.
  • Choice of 1 webinar with resources for church/congregation (for use within one year of cohort start).
  • Family Faith Formation TALK TOOLS curriculum (Digital download available after first 12 weeks).
  • One year of monthly, 30-minute, one-on-one coaching conversations.
  • Access to private Facebook group for cohort members only.
  • Lifetime 10% discount on all ReFocus seminars, workshops, webinars, and/or coaching packages


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

Refocus Ministry was founded by Christina Embree in 2014 as a blog and now a nonprofit coaching and consulting ministry. Christina serves with her husband Luke and three children as church planters and pastors at Plowshares BIC. She speaks conferences and churches around the globe and also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

Tired of Outrage? Let’s DO Something

“Top 5 reasons people are leaving the church”

“Church, why the younger generations are leaving you”

“An Open Letter to the Church:  Why I am Done with You”

While these may not be exactly the titles of the articles I’ve been reading lately, they are quite similar.  Reasons for the decreasing population of twenty- and thirty-somethings has been repeatedly linked to everything from the “showiness” of church to the lack of outward focus and the commercialization of church organization.  And lest you think that this blog post is just going to offer yet another reason (and yes, I have my thoughts on the whys as well), be at ease because that is not my intent.

Not because I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening to the church today.  Not because I disagree with the other bloggers and articles that choose to address the topic head on.  Not because I think the situation doesn’t deserve attention or has legitimate evidence behind it.

In fact, I actually agree with most of them. I think it’s very telling that in a recent survey of 5,000 people, over 72% of White Evangelicals indicated that being an American held the same importance to them as being a Christian. If that’s the message we are giving our kids and youth, guess what happens when they get disillusioned with something in America? Their faith is attached to it. It’s not Jesus. It’s something else. And it’s not okay.

But it’s not the end of the story.

You see, when we simply blame the institution, we negate all the good that comes with it too. When we blame big churches, we miss the big things those churches are doing for the Lord.  When we blame denominations, we disregard entire segments of the church who are serving Jesus.

The reality is that many people are leaving the church.  But there is another generation quickly coming into adulthood (Generation Alpha) and if we spend all of our time, energy, and study on figuring out what reforms we need to get those who have lost back, we could very easily neglect the generation following closely behind.

As my website name indicates, I firmly believe we need to refocus.  I’m less concerned with the size of church building and their multiple worship formats as I am about how they are discipling the next generation.

What is church to our kids, the ones inside the walls of the church right now?  Is it a place you go or is it a life you live as a member of Christ’s body?

What is Christianity to our kids? Is it being a good American or being a follower of Christ?

What is faith to our kids?  Is it a denominational label you wear with pride or hope realized in serving as the hands and feet of Jesus?

Who is God to our kids? Is He a Santa Claus type being in the sky who loves you and wants to give you things or is He the Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator and Lord of All?


Are we so busy discovering what’s wrong with the church that we neglect to instill in our children what is right with Jesus and the Body of Christ?

The other day I told a friend that I am tired of being outraged. I’m tired of laying blame. I’m tired of dissecting and analyzing and judging and criticizing. Not because there aren’t serious issues that need to be addressed. Not because there aren’t legitimate concerns that need to be heard. But because I think we need to be more than outraged. We need to actually be living out what it means to be the church in our own neighborhood, our own communities and our own homes.

Because I have three children who are almost grown and they don’t need to hear what is wrong with the institution of the church; they need to hear what is right about Jesus.  They need me to live Jesus in front of them, share Jesus everyday with them, and be Jesus to the world around them.  Whether I am walking into a multi-million dollar facility on Sunday morning or into a living room in someone’s home, they need to see, hear, touch, and know Jesus, not what is wrong with the church next door.

We can either spend the next few years being outraged or we can choose today, that “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  Let’s choose to invest in parents/caregivers so they can pour Jesus into their kids.  Let’s invest in our church, no matter what it looks like, so our children grow up in a community of fellow believers.

It’s time to stop the blame game and start living church like it’s for real and not a game.

Because no matter what, a new generation is growing quickly, and they have not left us yet.  Start fighting for them now so we don’t have to blame the church later when they leave.  Our God is big enough, strong enough, and amazing enough to show each one His Love as long as we consistently point our children to Him.


It’s Time To ReFocus

Are you interested in moving your church from a traditional, age-segregated into a more family-focused, intergenerational focus, connecting the home and the church?  

Refocus Ministry would be happy to begin a conversation with your team and church about the how your church can grow in serving the families of your church and community and connecting your faith community in relationship with each other.  

Ongoing coaching through various means is also available as your church continues the transition including weekly emails, monthly on-line trainings, and continued conversations. In addition to one-on-one coaching calls and follow-up resources, the following large-group presentations can be made available to your team, pastoral staff, or congregation.

Options to choose from for these presentations include:

  1. Presenting on a Sunday morning to your worship service(s)
  2. A parent webinar on Everyday Discipleship and partnering with the church community
  3. A presentation on Connecting Generations (importance, need, Biblical foundation) for your leadership team
  4. A training on a specific area of ministry such as Family VBS, Partnering with Parents, Equipping Volunteers, Creating an Intergenerational Culture for your ministry or leadership team.
  5. OTHER We will work to create a presentation that best suits your community’s needs

Use the contact form below to receive a customized quote for your congregations needs. We look forward to journeying with you to make Psalm 145, one generation to another, part of our church’s DNA.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About ReFocus

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree who serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ. She is also wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and pastor at Plowshares BIC.

With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry and is completing a Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Formation at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

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