“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” (Ephesians 6:4; NASB).
Many of us grew up in dysfunctional homes so, when we see a verse like Ephesians 6:4, our initial reaction is to think of what transpires between the four walls of the home. While the nuclear family is the central focus of this text, there is a broader family unit that many have yet to consider in relation to Paul’s instruction: the church family. Have you stopped to ask yourself what your words and actions teach your kids about how to relate to the church? Do they learn from you humility, patience, trust, forgiveness, and mercy toward Christ’s Bride? Sadly, it seems that most people teach the opposite to their kids by the examples they set.
As parents, we must stop and ask ourselves, ‘What kind of church members do we want our kids to be when they reach adulthood?’ Many parents don’t even realize just how they may be potentially setting their kids up to be bad church members. How does your relationship to the church affect your children? When they look at your church, do they see a mask of unattainable perfection in which no one struggles with sin, and they certainly do not confront any sin in others? On the flipside, when the ugly side of human nature rears its ugly head within the church, do you respond with judgment, ridicule, self-righteous indignation, petty bickering, mockery, or simply by departing at the first sign of difficulty? How do you model for your kids loyalty to the local church, a heart of service, support of the pastor, prayer for the saints, hospitality to strangers and saints alike, and above all other factors a prioritization of the preached Word and God-honoring worship?
As we join fallen churches, we certainly want to avoid both abusive churches and churches that pretend they have no sin and no struggles alike. However, we would be foolish to assume that we will ever find a church in which we have no discomfort. Every church has its share of people who are not as doctrinally sound, prayerful, grateful, kind, well-mannered, thoughtful, or generally sanctified as we might hope. When assessing the saints, however, it is always wise—and loving—to remember that God did not bring us to our present point of sanctification from the moment of conversion.
How then should we set the example for our kids and ensure that they are not exasperated with the church? First, as we have already state, we should avoid what I call “pretty, plastic churches.” That is, we should not subject our families to churches where sin is never confronted and everyone does their best to never let on that they struggle with sin. Second, we should avoid abusive churches where tyrants rule from the shadows or from the pulpit, and civil crimes are not reported to the civil authorities.
In the middle are churches were sins are obvious, worked through, forgiven, admonished, and rebuked. Pastors in these churches will disappoint, women aren’t always able to control their tongues, men aren’t always quick to step up and serve, but everyone knows what Scripture requires because it is preached week-in-and-week-out, and they are striving prayerfully to live according to their high calling in Christ. Godly parents will not shield their kids from the difficulties and pain of living in covenant with such people. They will nonetheless seek to exhibit joy as they bring their children along in seeking to refresh the saints until they attain perfection in glory.
If our kids are presented with a perfect church that presents itself as though it never sins, they will think they have to be perfect or pretend to be perfect in order to fit in or, worse yet, in order to be right with God. If they are presented with a tyrannical, abusive church, they will likely grow to resent the church all together and perhaps even God. They must have the true church presented to them with all of her flaws and all of her beauty, and have us set the example for them in bearing with the church and refreshing the saints (even the difficult ones) with all patience, humility, gratitude, and joy.