As I watch my children grow up in the life of the church, I often find myself having conversations with them in order to prepare them for “real life” (as if they’re not already experiencing it). That’s the role of parents in this life. We teach, instruct, and prepare our children to live life for the glory of God. This time of preparation involves having awkward conversations with our children, honest conversations, and at times—serious conversations that will help them navigate the journey before them.
Why do we prepare our children for adversity on the basketball court, intense opponents on the soccer field, and difficult battles on the football field, but we fail to teach our children to deal with conflict and disappointment in the church? Maybe that’s why so many young children are growing up to be really good ball players—but not very good church members.
It’s essential to prepare your children for disappointments in the church. Your children need to know that people will disappoint them in the life of the church. It happens. It will happen. It’s just a matter of time before it happens again. The cycle of life involves both encouragement and disappointment, but all of life in the church is not “vanity of vanities.” I don’t want my children to learn about life at the ball field, in the school lunchroom, or on social media. I want my children to learn about life and experience life through the church. This involves both encouragement and disappointment, but they must be prepared for both the highs and lows.
Disappointments and conflict in the church can produce:
- Opportunities for learning.
- Opportunities to learn how to handle conflict.
- Opportunities to see the fruit of real repentance.
- Opportunities to see good examples of faithfulness to God.
- Opportunities, perhaps, to see bad examples of unfaithfulness, compromise, and sin.
- Opportunities to see the true value of church membership.
- Opportunities to see the functionality and value of biblical church discipline.
As a father and pastor, I wear both hats for my children. I always want my children to love the church and to grow up and have their lives rooted and grounded in the local church. This Sunday evening, as we were riding home from church, I had an honest conversation with my children. I told them that I wanted them to always love the local church. I also warned them of the disappointments that will come their way at times. They need to know that people will fail them. People will disappoint them.
Why was I having this conversation? We had just shared a meal with our church family and held a member’s meeting to discuss the state of the church and goals for 2017. There was no public church discipline discussed in the member’s meeting. It was a good night, but as I reflected and thought about my children growing up so quickly, I wanted to encourage them and warn them at the same time. In short, I was seeking to prepare my children for real church life.
Hiding the disappointments from your children in the life of the church is like changing the story line of Bambi to avoid dealing with death. Your children shouldn’t grow up thinking that the church is perfect. Children need to be taught that all churches are made up of sinners—imperfect people who must learn daily to cling to Christ. Paul Daivd Tripp writes:
The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job. The goal of parenting is to send young adults out into the world who are prepared to live as God’s children and as salt and light in a corrupt and broken world. 
When you hear of disagreements or experience them head-on in the life of the church, take such opportunities to shepherd your child’s heart. Depending on the ages of your children, you may want to withhold such information. You certainly don’t want to demonize a fellow church member in the life of the church. However, if your children are able to think clearly and with maturity, you would do well to point out the disagreement or situation of controversy in order to use it as an opportunity to disciple them in righteousness. Alexander Strauch writes:
There is nothing wrong with Christian disagreeing with one another or trying to persuade another of the rightness of a particular position. What is wrong, however, is loveless conflict that ends in hate and bitterness. 
Each week in the life of the church, the children are watching us. They’re listening to our conversations. They’re watching us interact in person, in private, and in the pixelated world of social media. It’s vital that we deal with conflict in a biblical manner. Sadly, many 8 year olds watch their parents behave like 8 year olds when dealing with conflict in the church. Children need more than lessons from Jesus’ preaching in the Sermon on the Mount. They need to see their mother and father living out that doctrine that was taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
- Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 192-193.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 166.