Our eldest child turns 14 this year. This has been playing on my mind lately, because this was the age I decided church was no longer for me.
This is my concern as a parent, mainly because I look back at that 14 year old girl I once was, and I don’t really blame her for leaving.
Back then, church had become irrelevant to me. I had been to the same liturgical service for years. I knew the service order back to front. I had been an altar girl for a time and knew exactly were the candles and chalices had to be placed on the communion table. There were no surprises. I knew the routine, but I didn’t know God the way I needed to.
I had head knowledge but I had never personally experienced him in church.
I know now that God can be experienced through litergy in a very powerful way and can just as easily be absent in a modern expression of church, but this is how it was for me as a young person.
My experience with him had become ritual, rather than a relationship with a loving God who wanted to know me. So when my little 14 year old self began to struggle with life, I decided that perhaps going on Sunday wasn’t helpful anymore.
In the western church it seems to be accepted that many kids will leave their church community in order to find faith for themselves. They need to own it by finding it out in the world. But I don’t think we should buy into that anymore. I think we have to ask ourselves why haven’t they been able to find it in the one place they should be able to?
If our kids need to leave church in order to find God then we must ask if there is something wrong with our current expression of church and the way we disciple them through it.
If they haven’t had a spiritual encounter with God, if they don’t understand what it is truly like to have a relationship with him, then they are not going to want what we have. A couple of hours sitting in church on a Sunday morning isn’t going to cut it as they navigate this unpredictable world before them.
As a community we are responsible for showing them what it means to live for God and what an amazing thing a relationship with him really is.
As parents I think it’s important to try and model faith at home, by spending time every day being church right where we are. Through prayer, worship and learning to hear his voice. This is a challenge but we need to keep growing and experiencing God in real and meaningful ways so they can see us up close, living out our faith.
It should be the most exciting relationship we ever have. God is not boring. And if you believe that he is, then there could be something missing in your experience of him. There is far more to this than you may have been led to believe.
I’m not saying I have it all figured out. I don’t know what it’s like to try and keep a child on the right path. I know there can be different circumstances involved, you can do everything in your power to encourage someone on their journey and in the end it still comes down to a personal decision whether or not they follow Jesus. I know that I made the choice to go my own way. I am so thankful for my parents persistent prayer that led me back.
When it comes down to it, I guess I have more questions than answers, but I have to believe that if we continue to try for real, vulnerable, messy, authentic faith in our church family, then that has to be a good place to start.
Photo by Annie Spratt