Principles to Teach Kids When Things Get “Ugly”

Principles to Teach Kids When Things Get Ugly - Parenting Like HannahIn “Letting Kids See the Ugly Side of Church“, I encouraged you to allow your older children and teens to witness ugliness when it happens in church. Whether it is a person who behaves in an overtly sinful way, a minister who trades the pulpit for his sins or a congregation involved in turmoil, ugliness in Christianity can upset even the strongest Christian. On the other hand, you can use what is happening to teach your children some crucial spiritual lessons.

The lessons which apply to the ugliness your child is seeing at church will vary somewhat depending upon what is happening. As you reflect with your children about the things they have seen and heard, it is important to let them share their thoughts and feelings with you first. Listen carefully to what they say. Encourage them to share how that makes them feel and what questions they have. Don’t panic at what they share. Knowing their doubts and concerns makes them easier to address. Just because your child doesn’t say his doubts and fears, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just means you will be less likely to address them.

So what basic principles should you share with a child who has seen Christians behave in ungodly ways? There are probably many, but here are some of my favorites:

  • No human will ever be perfect. This is the basis of why we become Christians. We acknowledge we are not perfect and never will be. Our only access to God and Heaven is through the perfect sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
  • Baptism does not mean you are perfect nor does it mean you will not sin in the future. That is why there are so many New Testament scriptures about grace. If we waited until we were sinless to become a Christian, we would never be baptized. If we were suddenly incapable of sinning after baptism, we wouldn’t need God anymore. Christians sin. Period.
  • Grace does not mean we do not have to attempt to avoid sin. The Apostle Paul says it best in Romans. Grace is not your free pass in life to do whatever you want because you know God will forgive you. God expects us to put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to obey Him and keep His commands. Will Christians fail at their attempts? Absolutely, but hopefully many of those attempts result in us managing to avoid sin rather than runing towards it.
  • When we sin and repent, we should be able to expect God and our fellow Christians to forgive us. This one is tough. For many it is tough to believe God can actually forgive the most horrible of sins. For others, it is a struggle to forgive those who have sinned against them. Especially, if there are repeat offenses. Trust will take time to restore and boundaries may need to be drawn, but those who fail miserably should still be able to expect our forgiveness.
  • Sins often have earthly consequences even after God has forgiven us. This is a huge concept for your child to understand. As I once told a group of teens, “If you leave God and live a life filled with sin, there will be consequences. When you repent and want to return to God, I can teach you how to restore your relationship with God. I cannot however undo the broken relationships, diseases, addictions and jail time you may face. There are earthly consequences you may suffer for your poor, ungodly choices for the rest of your life.”  Your children may become confused about why someone came forward for forgiveness but still has to go to jail or suffer other consequences. Forgiveness and consequences are two separate issues. This also provides you an opportunity to point out the specific earthly consequences of the sins involved.
  • Christians need accountability. I read a study recently that found only something like a third of ministers “finish well”. This means two-thirds of ministers will commit some major sins, destroying lives and even congregations in the process. The authors went on to find one of the root causes was the lack of accountability to others most ministers have. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean we should have other Christians controlling our every move. I do think when someone is struggling with doing what is godly, it helps to have another Christian who checks in and holds him accountable for working towards godly behavior and making godly decisions. This is the person who isn’t afraid to say “You know that’s sinful” or “Is that really the best choice for you if you want to avoid sin?”. If we are struggling with sin, it helps to have someone to encourage us along the way.
  • Ugly takes time and God to heal. When people and churches become involved in “ugly”, feelings get hurt. Trust can be shattered. Lives can be uprooted. Faith can be shaken. None of those things can be healed overnight and most will never totally heal without God’s help. Teach your children to ask God for healing. Encourage them to pray for those who have wronged them to help not only that person, but to begin their own healing process. It requires patience, perseverance and a few other fruits of the Spirit, but healing can happen.
  • Separate the message from the messenger. A friend and I were having this discussion the other day. We were talking about a Christian author. We loved his books until we got to know what type of person he was through exposure to him. What we eventually learned is that God can use any of us to teach His message and the words we need to hear. We need to filter everything through the Bible, but it’s not necessary to throw out books or refuse to listen to sermons which might actually still contain some godly wisdom. Train your children to be careful, but not to hamper their own opportunities for possible spiritual growth because the messenger has been involved in some “ugly”.

“Ugly” is never fun, but it can actually help strengthen your child’s faith instead of destroying it. Take the time to listen to your child. Share your thoughts on the topics above. Look at scriptures. Pray as a family about the situation. When your child encounters his first bout of “ugly” in the church as an adult, he will be much better prepared to handle it. He may even find his faith deepening instead of weakening because of the tools you have given him to withstand the “uglies” in Christianity.

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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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