The Sad Effect Leaving Had on My Kids

This is a follow-up post to my “Why I Left My Last Church” post in this “Neil on the Lam” topic.

I offer it in the spirit of “don’t let this happen to you, -or to families in your church.” At the end of this post I also offer suggestions for dealing with families/kids in your church who are dealing with old wounds.

I’ve also addressed in another post how “negative priming” affects our children and youth. You can read it at http://sundayresources.net/neil/2011/01/20/priming-the-science-behind-sunday-school/

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When we left our last church, it was emotionally wrenching for my wife and I.  But what we didn’t know at the time was how damaging it would be to two of our three children.

My wife and I recovered from that bad experience, and landed in a nice church. But for my oldest daughter, it happened at the wrong time in her life and when she shoved away from that church, she shoved away from all churches. This was a kid who grew up in a fantastic church experience… until we moved to another church which wasn’t so hot.

By the time the “not so hot” church experience was coming to a head and we were in the process of leaving it, my oldest was finishing college, –which isn’t the best time to feel connected to a church anywa.  As we were in that process, both she and her parents (us) starting seeing how several POOR EXPERIENCES she had had in that church as a teenager had become part of why we were deciding to leave.  My point here is that her parents decision to leave cemented in HER mind an opinion about “the Church” that has kept her at an arm’s length ever since.

Here's a great Bible game for kids.

This is one of the points here… that leaving a church can affect kids differently than adults. We processed it as “a failed church experience” whereas, she tended to process it as “churches are failed”.

Another of my daughters… my youngest, was the most connected in that former failed church prior to our leaving. And she was the most upset when we left. But she wasn’t mad or upset with her parents, rather, she was mad at the church. We involved her in the decision to leave. She knew everything and all the reasons.  And she had had some of her own negative experiences with the church & leaders.  But like our oldest, the trauma of leaving a church where she had previously felt connected and had friends SPILLED OVER into her feelings about faith and church.  Upon moving to our new church, she found it difficult to get involved.

Point: Teenagers smell hypocrisy a mile away, and don’t have the history or maturity to want to stick it out -or process it like their parents.

Point:  It’s hard enough to get a teen involved, but even harder when you still have a bad taste in your mouth from the last experience.

Our middle daughter had the typical middle child reaction to our leaving. She had a good experience at that church, and while she agreed with our reasons for leaving, and had some negative experiences of her own there. she didn’t have as much separation anxiety because she was leaving for college anyway and had already begun to separate herself. Plus, she was the middle child… trying to triangulate.

So this is what I want to say:

When a church loses a family, the consequences can be detrimental to the kids in that family in ways that can have a lasting effect. –And that’s the real tragedy.

Yes, perhaps the parents can land on their feet in another church (though sadly, many do not after they leave a church), but the kids may not have the “faith faculties” to deal with the fall-out left by leaving under bad circumstances. I hope my oldest and youngest do and we’ve talked to them about it.

It’s been 4 years since we left. Occasionally “that church” comes up, and we’re trying to let the disappointment and anger soften with age (and it has). It really helped to have landed in a better church.  But for kids, it’s not so easy.

We hope more time will heal their wounds, and that another church in their future will someday be exactly what the Great Physician ordered.

So here’s what I’m thinking about YOUR church…

If we came to your church. would YOUR church be the one that can heal what’s happened to two of my three kids?  Or will they find similar dysfunctions, sense irrelevancy, and stay away?

How many of your members have had “bad church” experiences that they are still hurting from?  A LOT.  A smart church would create a “Recovery Ministry” to those who have had a bad church experience, …because in talking about this subject over the years, I’ve realize just how many people have had these bad experiences and need to talk about them.

A smart pastor would open up this discussion with its potential new members and existing members (be prepared from the lingering pain). One reason for doing this is to close the “arm’s length” that many new members will hold the church and the pastor when they first start coming. It’s a natural reaction. (And I wonder if it’s the reason many members are “inactive” …because they got hurt, don’t want to open themselves up to caring too much again.)

A smart preacher would address the subject of “how to get over what happened in the past” in sermons, prayers, and study.  (…and “getting over your upbringing”, “getting over a bad parent” ,  “a broken marriage”, etc. It’s a ministry and subject many avoid but is quite needed.)

A smart youth leader will talk to their kids about “healing” from old wounds. Kids tend not to have the experience to realize things can heal, or the tools to help them heal.

And what I would tell parents is this:  They would be wise to shield their kids from some of the reasons why their parents need to leave a church.  As in divorce, the kids can’t handle all the information. I don’t like that thought, but I think it’s true.

We didn’t shield our youngest as much as we should have from our anger and disappointment, particularly as it related to some of the actions and words of the pastor.  Slowly but surely she’s making her way back to the church. But at her advanced age (now 18) we’ve made church her choice.

In the end, I think it has been a great learning experience for her, but her arm is still stuck out a bit. She still talks about her faith in God. It’s her faith in the church that needs more healing. And unfortunately, teens tend to naturally have one arm already stuck out when it comes to faith and the church.

I hope this story and these suggestions help you and your ministry.

Neil

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