Leaving Church, Finding Faith: Why We Didn’t Stay for the Kids

Today’s post on faith and parenting comes from Kim Van Brunt. Kim is a freelance writer living in Rochester, Minn. She and her husband have three children. She blogs about adoption, faith and family atHonestly: Adoption. Enjoy!

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We left the church a year later than we wanted to. Like a bad marriage, we stayed for the kids.

Transient

I grew up in a small, involved church community that really cared about kids. I was part of the youth group, I followed the charismatic youth pastor, I went to camps and conferences, I got caught up in the emotionalism of altar calls and rededications. I was safe there; it was another home.

But years later, my husband and I couldn’t find our place in traditional church anymore. It didn’t feel like home. We couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe we weren’t supposed to Go To Church anymore, like we were meant to forge ahead on a broader quest, redefining church and community and finding our faith again outside the confines of church tradition. We weren’t angry or bored or fed up. We just had this feeling, this uncomfortable nudge from the Holy Spirit that we’d ignored for too long, like wearing a pair of pants we’d long outgrown.

There was just one problem: We had kids.

They were just getting old enough to go to the Wednesday night programs. On Sunday mornings, they got to run wild with their friends in children’s church and eat donuts and color pictures. They had a family there. They were loved. They were safe, protected.

So when the thought of leaving Church first surfaced, my first thought was: But what about the kids?

Didn’t they need this structure, this core of belief early in their childhoods, a rudder to pull them back to Jesus when they struggle later? I wondered if my own childhood church experience was the thread that held onto me when I was ready to reject God in my twenties. I was afraid that we would be robbing our kids of foundational belief, of the basics of a life in love with God.

And so, we stayed. We went to church every Sunday and felt like the fakers we were. We didn’t give anything; we didn’t get anything. And our kids got to go to the nursery and pick their favorite donut.

But then I started seeing a child’s experience of church differently. I started wondering if it wasn’t so safe after all.

The performance-reward system in the children’s program started getting under my skin, and I realized that my struggles accepting God’s love, of believing in my worth despite my failures, might have started there. 

I’d always considered the children’s activity bags for the church service a gift to parents, but began hearing their subtle message to children that they are best seen and not heard, when really, God loves them loud and wild, like they really are. 

I’m not blaming our church, which was gracious and full of wonderful people. They’re doing good work within the framework of church traditions, like services, fellowship, programs and sermons. I simply began to notice the lifelong damage an evangelical upbringing can do along with the safe, the good. 

Ultimately, Jesus called us to leave, and so we left. And we’re bringing our children along on the new journey. They’re learning about what a smaller, deeper community looks like. They’re seeing how we love our friends through their struggles, and how they do the same for us. 

We have to be more purposeful about the values we’re instilling, so we try to teach them how to love and care for the world with a broader consciousness. We teach them from The Jesus Storybook Bible and our own eyes are opened to the love of Jesus again. We use creativity to teach them God’s crazy love for them and the world, and we realize that we need to learn those things again too.

Away from the safety of The Church and her built-in programs and values, we’re parenting and defining faith with more purpose.

And because we left, because we now have to give our kids their faith foundation instead of relying on The Church to provide it, we are finding our faith again, too.

Not blind faith. Not immature; but open. Accepting. Creative and free and listening and ready. 

Like a child.

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Have you had a similar experience with your family? Please share! And don’t forget to check out Kim’s blog(You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.)

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