By Vicki Hulsey
TBC Childhood Ministry Specialist
Kids are full of questions. If you are a parent or children’s leader at church, you might often hear questions like:
• Are we there yet?
• Who else is going?
• When are we going to eat?
• What are we going to do next?
• Are you sure?
• Why can’t I?
• Do we have to?
Those types of questions can make you laugh or they may even make you tired as you try to talk in between the continual firing of questions. Other questions are not so funny. Kids sometimes ask tough questions, prompted by life issues they are facing. In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, you might hear questions like:
• Why does my friend have two mommies?
• At practice today, a boy on the other team said the boys on our team are gay. What does “gay” mean?
• Why were those two men kissing?
After picking themselves up off the floor, the immediate response of some parents is to get rid of all electronic media devices and never let their kids out of the house until they reach adulthood. It’s an attempt to protect children from seeing, hearing, or experiencing anything contrary to biblical teaching concerning God’s design for marriage. Christian parents who attempt to totally shield their children from the influences of the world may actually hinder them from being what God calls all Christians to be – salt and light in this dark world.
The burning question is not if kids are going to hear about same-sex marriage, but from whom they will hear it? Early conversations and much prayer are much easier than reactionary conversations spent trying to undo skewed ideas a child has been exposed to through media or personal interactions with adults or other children. Deuteronomy 4:6-7 reminds us that parents are the primary teachers of children: “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
While Scripture is very clear concerning the role of parents in helping their children hear and understand the truths of God’s Word, some parents try to abdicate that responsibility to the church — often because they can feel overwhelmed and need help. Topics like sex, homosexuality, and even using the word “pregnant” were often taboo for many parents and grandparents during their adolescent years, making today’s parents feel unqualified to discuss those same topics with their children.
How can the church help and what is the church’s responsibility when approaching sensitive topics with children? Some parents consider church leaders to be the experts at talking with children. Other parents feel just as strongly about their parental responsibility and may become upset if their child is subjected to conversations about sensitive subjects without first making parents aware. While some children’s leaders will make the case that many parents will never discuss these issues with their kids, parents should not be bypassed when talking about delicate issues.
Some church leaders choose to move forward in addressing sensitive topics after getting the consent of parents. Leaders need to exercise caution in group settings, realizing that a group of children may represent many different stages of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity, making it very difficult to share information that is appropriate for each child. Pastors, church staff, and nominating committees should take great care when enlisting and training leaders, making sure that each leader fully understands and is in agreement with the beliefs and practices of the church.
Church leaders also need to be aware that choosing not to address same-sex marriage in a group setting does not exempt children from asking sensitive questions. Sometimes, the most appropriate response is to acknowledge the question by encouraging the child to talk with their parents during the week.
Church leaders can equip parents to fulfill their God-given responsibility as teachers by helping them know how to have faith conversations with their children. Encourage parents to make it a priority to not only use God’s Word to initiate conversations with their children about difficult issues, but to take advantage of opportunities to revisit those conversations by looking for ways to apply God’s Word as they sit in their house (meals, family devotions), when they walk by the way (in their vehicle traveling to and from school and activities), when they lie down (bed time), and when they rise up (in the morning). As children mature, parents may want to consider having a mother/daughter or father/son weekend devoted to discussing sexual purity.
Lastly, learn from Jesus’ example. When Jesus was asked a question, He often responded with a question of His own. Hearing a child’s answer to a question can help you in discerning how well the child is making the connection between the Bible and life. Practice forming questions that require more than a one or two word response. You might start questions with:
• How can you …?
• What would happen if …?
• What do you think …?
• What would you do …?
• Where are some places you can …?
• Why do you …?
Responding to a child’s question with another question helps the child discover an answer for himself rather than an adult telling the answer. For many kids, that’s when they begin to own the answer.
Kids need assurance that even in the most unsettling times, they can be certain that God has not changed. During times of uncertainty, children are watching parents and other role models in their lives to see if their walk matches their talk. A parent observed lashing out in anger or ridicule toward neighbors or family members who have chosen to live a lifestyle contrary to God’s design for marriage can contradict any previous teaching about God as Creator and His love for all people. If a parent overreacts when questioned about difficult issues, children learn to search for answers elsewhere. Parents must continually work at keeping the lines of communication open between the parent and child. Parents can help children know that God is trustworthy by creating an atmosphere where children feel they can trust mom and dad … that they can talk to them about anything.
Remind parents often that helping a child to grow in his spiritual journey and to own his faith can be the most rewarding opportunity a parent will ever encounter. When teaching about God’s plan for relationships, parents must be careful to avoid spending so much attention discussing those relationships that go against God’s design that they lose sight of helping children understand God’s plan for their family.
Encourage parents to daily focus on their own relationship with Christ, their relationship with their children, and leading each child to know and grow in his or her relationship with Christ. Experiencing life change through a relationship with Jesus Christ is by far the best teacher in learning to experience God honoring relationships with others.