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Apr29WedWhat to do if your child walks away from the church. April 29, 2015 by Major Kathie Chiu
My daughter doesn't want to come to church with us anymore. What can I do?
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
As parents, we try to live in a way that communicates the love of God. Admittedly, we often fall short—especially at home, in our comfort zone. When we do, no one is more disappointed than we are. I mourn my mistakes, particularly when my children have front-row seats. But no matter how hard we try, no one is perfect.
It's normal to think we're responsible for the paths our children choose, that it all depends on us. So when children walk away, not only from the church, but also from God, don't we all wonder how the parents failed? It's tempting to judge others and think there must be some dysfunction in the family. Of course, family dysfunction is the case for many Christians—just because we come to Christ doesn't mean our emotional baggage gets unpacked in one fell swoop.
When our children don't follow the path we hoped for, there are as many reasons as there are kids. We have to consider their individual personalities, temperaments and intellect. Their experiences with the church will often have a profound effect on their spiritual development, as will their educational experiences. This leads me to the conclusion that, as a parent, I should go a little easier on myself.
No two sets of circumstances are ever exactly the same, but there are some common denominators to consider.
They get angry with God: “How could God let all the evil in the world happen?” “Why didn't God heal my friend who died from cancer?” “My friend is gay, but the church says he's a sinner. How can I believe in a God like that?” These are hard questions, even for pastors, who often deal with them. There is so much pain and frustration behind these questions. They don't develop in a vacuum—something happens that triggers them.
They get disillusioned: “My parents are 'so-called' Christians and they got divorced. Why should I follow their faith?” “The Christians I know are all hypocrites.” “My parents never have time for me. They put their church before me all the time.” Here's the thing—we all know this to be true at times. Yes, Christians can be hypocritical. After all, we're just human and make mistakes. Yes, sometimes Christians get divorced and for all kinds of reasons. It hurts the family and it hurts the witness of the church when we fail to live Spirit-filled lives and walk in holiness. Life can be like a train wreck when families get caught in the middle.
Is there anything we can say or do when our teenager or young adult son or daughter tells us they've rejected our faith? In a Facebook group, a mom asked for advice and encouragement because her 18-year-old son had stopped attending church and was getting into some risky behaviour. She asked if they should pull the “house rules” and force him to attend church. The comments were interesting. It was almost 50/50, but a few more leaned toward not forcing the issue. However, every commenter felt her pain. As parents, we all know what it's like.
Here are a few things we can do to help our children see Jesus for who he is.
Demonstrate the love of Jesus. Let your children know you'll be there for them no matter what. Our unconditional love is the kind of love the Father has for us.
Respect them. Teenagers are developing their sense of self in relationship to the rest of the world. By 18, they are ready to head out on their own. We have to trust that we've given them the tools they need to make their own decisions—and not going to church might be one of them.
Remember, our children are not an extension of us. They are their own unique selves, made in God's image, with their own special gifts and talents.
Don't force the church on them. Their issue is likely with the church and other Christians. Forcing them to attend could have the opposite effect and we don't want them to cut themselves off from us as well as God.
I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Praying for them is the best thing we can do. And not just as parents—ask a group of trusted friends to pray with you and for you and your child as you journey together. I believe in what the Psalmist says:“The Lord is merciful and compassionate, very patient, and full of faithful love” (Psalm 145:8 CEB).
Major Kathie Chiu grew up in The Salvation Army and has been an officer for 22 years. She has five children, including two teenaged boys still living at home, and eight grandchildren. She is the corps officer at Richmond Community Church, B.C.