Every occupation has its good, bad, and ugly. But for those of us who are ministry leaders and moms or dads, the ugly side of church life can feel really ugly when our kids become aware of it...
Our PKs are now young adults in high school and college (well actually half still here, half in/out of the nest). We've always tried to be transparent with them about our faith and life, without giving them TMI. They grew up coming to church with us, usually sitting on Dad's lap while I worked on Sundays. They've heard my 25 cent church membership speech enough times that I'm sure they could do a pretty good parody... ("we're a church of real people who try to love and serve God together, while we also try to love and forgive each other...")
I do believe in confidentiality and I don't bring home stories of what so-and-so said in a private meeting. But public meetings, especially church leadership meetings are another matter. My spouse and I try not to discuss it at dinner, but they will hear snippets of conversation in the course of our daily lives. More often than not, they've had to wait while I am in a meeting after church. The problem is that we just finished public commentary on the budget and church mission statement. Some people are, well, ugly, and they heard a lot of the ugliest. And I have come home from meetings more than a little put out from time to time.
I don't want to make them PK crazy about people in the church, but they are, unfortunately, hearing the ugly side of church life. I don't want to give them more information than they should really have to bear. After all, I'm the pastor. They are, however, young adults, forming their own way of relating to The Holy and searching for their own church home when they are away from us. Is there a balance between letting them see the reality of Christian fellowship? (geez, nothing like trying to love each other and we're dumb sheep.) Our youngest is 16 and at times she gets really upset at some of the stuff she hears people say.
Any suggestions for coaching them through this transition from "Mom's Church" to "my first, real, on-my-own church"? Or pointers for having the difficult conversations about why people disagree (or act hateful) in the church?
Mama and Pastor
From Ruth, who blogs at Sunday’s Coming!
Not a solution, sorry – but a wave of empathy. My daughter (now 17) is in the ‘making her own mind up about all this faith business’ phase of life. She has lived with me trying (and sometimes failing!) to keep her shielded from the more negative side of church relationships and has grown to be very sensitive to others’ feelings and very astute about human nature. I try to be honest with her that at times people can be hurtful to each other – but also to model that as Christians we offer each other love, forgiveness and a fresh start. She also knows that my secret weapon is that I pray for her to find her own living faith just as I pray for the church to be more true to its calling as the body of Christ.
Sounds like you are honest and open and loving with your kids – what more do they need?
I look forward to other people’s thoughts!
And from Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy
What a thoughtful question, full of care for your kids as you attempt to fulfill your role in shaping their faith.
A hopeful word: "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). My experience is that it's the whole truth that leads to freedom.
It is true that church life is messy, and sometimes ugly, painful, and ________ (fill in the blank with the crap-tastic adjective du jour). Any youth or young adult who has spent much time in church already knows this, PK or not. I asked a young child just last Sunday why s/he wasn't with all the other kids in kid choir and s/he said, "I don't want to sing with (choir director's first name)" so s/he already was acting on some painful experience, or s/he had heard and was acting on someone else's!
It may be time to be a little more open with your kids about the underbelly of church life. At the same time, be extravagantly honest and open in telling the truth about the rewards of faith and church life that supersede the frustrations and shortcomings. Tell them stories of redemption and hope and reconciliation that you have seen and been part of in the church. Help them to see the miracle of church as a mixed bag: a God-ordained, yet flawed, institution consisting of beloved children of God who are, at the same time, sin-prone human beings. It's also a great, yet challenging, laboratory for working out salvation, growing the fruits of the spirit, and practicing spiritual disciplines because (ha!) there are so many opportunities to practice things like forgiveness, kindness, self-control, patience, etc. . . . etc. . . .
So, ask them what they know about "turn off things" that have happened to them or to you, acknowledge those, and then share with them some specific things about church life and your own faith that have been big "turn ons" along the way, including things may have touched them. Tell them the whole truth -- the difficult and the wonderful -- about faith and church, and then trust that God will lead them in life-giving paths.
How have you navigated the good, bad, and ugly of church life with your children? Let's talk about it.
May you live in God's amazing grace+