Stuff PK's go through - Part 2
a.k.a. Two little words might keep your kids from going spiritually bonkers!
She testified that the problem began when he was a teenager in the youth group. The youth pastor had been there a couple of years and had really bonded with their son and been very instrumental in his life. Then the youth pastor had a moral failure. Although he lost his ministerial credentials and had to resign the church, the pastor allowed him to save face and did not bring him before the church or announce it to the congregation. Only the staff member, the district leadership, and the pastor knew. Out of concern for the staff member's family (especially the wife and kids) he simply asked for their resignation, contacted the district, and allowed them to leave quietly. (No minors were involved in the indiscretion so it wasn't like the pastor needed to alert parents or anything.)
The people of the church just assumed the pastor had a good reason for all this and things went on smoothly. Sometimes staffers have to be let go for various reasons and adults realize this. The pastor's son did not understand, however. One of the most important people in his life was taken away. And his Dad had asked for the resignation! Why? The pastor and his wife had always been taught, "never share anything negative about the church with your children. Keep everything from them." (This is old school mentality) His Dad, also felt it was right out of "confidentiality" to keep it from his kids. He just said something about leading the church as God would have him do, or that "it was best for all concerned." The boy was angry and thought, "what a joke! My youth pastor is fired and I'm supposed to just go on like nothing ever happened...and keep coming to youth group, and actually give the next person a chance? Why bother? I don't even want to get to know the new youth pastor!"
The boy was angry and ran away from home. He was gone for weeks before the police found him. By that time he had already gotten in with some really dangerous people and tried all kinds of worldly things. Over the next two to three years he put his parents through utter hell. All the while they were trying to pastor a church while dealing with a runaway rebellious son on a constant basis. Finally years later as a young adult he was radically re-dedicated to the Lord and I understand that now he is actually in the ministry full time, ministering to youth! (Praise God for that...) But as I sat there in that pastor's wives retreat, I said to myself:
Note to self: don't keep everything about church life from the kids. Never, never sacrifice your kids on behalf of the church, it's members, it's staff, it's ministries, or anybody!
By the way, I ran this by a mentor of mine who is in her 70's, and has been an AG ordained minister herself for 50 years and she said, "absolutely, I agree", and she said she wondered why in the world the pastor's wife who spoke at the retreat didn't tell her child more about the situation with the youth pastor, especially after he ran away the first time.
Years later, I was faced with this situation. We had a staff member who was dealing with moral issues and needed to leave. They were very close to one of my children. My husband asked for their resignation and told the board, but not the congregation. Larry is a very gracious person and He gave them opportunity to leave quietly and go through restoration. Our son was devastated. He asked "why" constantly. For a few weeks I could see he was starting to get a "blaming" attitude toward his father and I, and he and started to get a little sour attitude toward church. I didn't allow this to go on long. I had learned too much from the PW's story at the retreat! A week or two into this, I just looked at him and said, "Son, I know you are hurting and it doesn't make sense. I can't get into all the issues for confidential reasons, but I will just say, moral issues are involved. Your father had no choice. His heart is hurting too." Immediately my son's countenance changed. He was different from that moment on. All it took were two little words, "moral issues" and he heard all he needed to hear. It was like an understanding suddenly came upon him and he was fine. He still misses the staff member, however he doesn't blame his father and I about it or have an attitude.
We had had several situations like this in our ministry where I couldn't tell the kids everything, but needed to tell them something. And within reason, I think you need to tell your kids something. Insecurity is one of the things we as adults face in the ministry. We "signed up for it" when we went into full time ministry so we know it's coming and we just hold on tight to God. With His help, we are committed to face what's coming next with the courage that only He can give. But kids aren't at the place of maturity we're at. They are fragile, and I think we as parents need to do all we can to provide some sense of security for them. In our household it includes plenty of time and affection, but also sharing with them what things we can possibly share to help them understand. The older they get the less I have to tell them because they are more perceptive and can see it themselves. Kids seem to have a built in "radar" for hypocrisy. One of our staff pastors had to let one of their adult leaders go because of moral issues and I thought for sure my kids would question it and be upset. But kids pick up even more than we think they do, especially as they grow up. I wondered, "okay, how am I going to word this delicately?" Lo and behold my son came to me first and said, "You know Mom, anyone can see that woman is totally out of control...I'm surprised Pastor so and so didn't let her go sooner!" (Out of the mouth of babes...)
I also find that with my oldest son, more and more he has an adult perspective (he's 18 now) and he more readily sees the viewpoint his father and I are coming from. Recently I had to make a decision that I announced at church that wasn't necessarily a fun one to make and (privately amonst our family) Jordan said, "Mom, I don't think that's fair!" to which his brother retorted, "Are you kidding Jordan? It's completely fair! Mom is so right about this and she definitely made the right decision." A few years ago Dustin probably would have thought it unfair but the older he gets the more he sees things from a leadership mindset and he trusts our judgment even without having all the information. These kind of changes come with maturity.
Keep in mind I'm talking about "problems areas" today - there are plenty of good aspects of the ministry and I believe it's doubly important to share those all we can and make our kids an integral part of that. Ours have been neck deep in participating in ministry and serving from the moment they arrived. I want them to see that yeah, we have to deal with hurt and betrayal and junk like that sometimes but we also have AWESOME things that we're a part of such as being a part of people coming to Jesus, spending time in fellowship with them, feeding and clothing people (such as in our homeless ministry), worshipping through our music ministry together, taking missions trips, etc. We've got to keep the "rewards" in front of them as much as possible and stay positive despite the setbacks.
One thing I believe strongly is that church members and even staffers will come and go but your children are yours forever. For their sake, there are times we must, albeit discreetly, step up to the plate and tell them as much as appropriate. They also must be trained to keep confidence.
I really believe the old school mentality of trying to "keep PK's totally in the dark" on church stuff doesn't work especially in these days and times. They are going to hear stuff. The question is, who is going to tell them first? I do not let my children find out through other people if someone has left the church. They get sucker punched enough with church junk. Why have them caught off guard yet another time in front of everyone? If someone significant within the congregation has decided to leave, usually before the first service or day that they will be missing, Larry tells the kids the day or night before and gives them opportunity to talk to us about it. We want them to know we are there for them, and they can always come and talk to us first. I want my children to know, they do not have to suffer in silence, wondering what in the world is going on.
Larry expects their absolute confidentiality about it and tells them that whether or not we make them aware of things first in the future will depend on their present trustworthiness. They ask any questions they want to ask and we answer as much is appropriate. Sometimes we have answers. Sometimes we don't. Especially if it's a sin issue, we don't always have answers because sin never makes sense. And in those cases, we tell them that. And we remind them - ministry to and with that person is NOT in vain - because God rewards us no matter what the other person does. We remind them of one of our key ministry scriptures: Hebrews 6:10 "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them."