Letting Kids See the Ugly Side of Christianity

Letting Kids See the Ugly Side of Christianity - Parenting Like Hannah
Sometimes adults could use a timeout, too!

Once when I was little, I complained about a disagreement my parents were having. My parents looked at me and said, “Take notes. You will fight with your spouse one day and you need to know your marriage will survive it.”  It’s funny how we as parents want to protect our children from any ugliness in their lives. I have known parents who absolutely refuse to ever let their children hear them arguing. It may be fine in childhood, but then you have raised a child who thinks spouses should never fight. After all, his didn’t!

It may sound far fetched, but I have encountered many adults who thought an argument meant they had a bad marriage because their parents had “never fought”.  Unfortunately, we are even more likely as parents to hide the ugly side of Christianity from our children. We then raise children who question the concept of church and even God when they encounter their first ugliness in a Christian or a congregation.

Parents fight. If they don’t, there are other serious problems involved. Two people cannot live together for that many years and never disagree about anything or want to get their own way. Churches too are filled with people. Yes, they are Christians trying to follow God’s Word (granted perhaps some more than others!), but they are still sinful people in need of a Savior. Baptism doesn’t suddenly make you perfect. It makes you forgiven and saved.

Having a room of several hundred Christians and non-Christians attempting to worship and serve together guarantees problems. Let’s face it. If two people sometimes disagree, getting several hundred on the same page is basically impossible. Throw in the inevitable sin, various personality types and backgrounds and you have a cauldron brewing “ugly” at any point in time.

Sometimes the ugly is minor. If two Christians have a disagreement over a passage and one of them gets upset at the other, your children probably won’t even see it. At other times, the ugly is huge. Almost earth shattering to a young or impressionable child. I have seen parents rush kids out of the room and refuse to discuss what happened – even change congregations immediately to remove their children from seeing ugly and Christians in the same place at the same time.

If your children are very young – preschool and younger, I think the exposure and discussions need to be kept to a minimum. If your children ask questions, a simple “Christians still sin even after they are baptized. We need to pray they do what God would want them to do and then forgive them for what they have already done.” works well. Not only does this explain things with only the information a young child needs, but it plants the seed of some important concepts, not the least of which is forgiveness.

Older children, will probably have lots of questions. They may even complain about or be shocked at the behaviors they see or the things they hear. Don’t underestimate the impact these experiences have on your children. I still remember an incident when I was about twelve. I think it’s kinda funny now (not from a Christian perspective –  just the visual of the scene!), but at the time it made me ask a lot of questions. As scary as it may be to you, this is a wonderful opportunity to teach your children about key godly principles and how to handle problems in the church in a godly fashion.

In certain situations, you may decide as parents the trauma is impacting your child’s faith or the ugly has gone on too long and is causing your children to want to avoid church. It may be time to change membership to another congregation. When you do though, it is important for your children to understand why you made that decision. They need to understand you still believe in forgiveness and working together as a congregation to solve problems, but that ultimately their spiritual health came first.

“Ugly” at church or in the lives of Christians is never fun. In my next post, I will share some key concepts to teach older children when they encounter “ugly” in Christianity. It’s sad we have to teach our children about it at all, but doing so will ultimately strengthen their faith. Then when they encounter “ugly” in Christianity as an adult, they won’t crumble because they believe Christians and congregations should never have “ugly” in them.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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