In my 20 years as a kids’ pastor, I can’t tell you how many times a parent has walked up to me after church and said, “My son was asking me questions about __________ last night. Would you meet with him to explain what it’s all about?” I’ve received countless emails that say something like, “My daughter asked me what __________ means. I don’t want to confuse her, so can I set her up an appointment with you this week? I’m sure you can explain it better than I can.”
Parents have asked me to talk to their kids about every conceivable question about God, death, tragedy, sex, self-image, choices, divorce, friendships, money, bullying, forgiveness … and the list goes on.
Most parents have a dozen excuses why they don’t want to talk to their kids about difficult topics.
- “I’m worried I won’t say the right things.”
- “I’m afraid I’ll talk over her head.”
- “What if he asks a question I can’t answer? I don’t want to look stupid!”
- “I don’t even know what I think about these topics. How in the world can I give my child good information?”
- “My kids aren’t ready for this kind of conversation.”
One of the biggest reasons, though, is that we—children’s ministry leaders—get in their way. Our desire to be the “spiritual superhero” that swoops in and saves the day often causes us to deprive parents of the opportunity to lead their children through these tough topics. It’s certainly not our intent, but we end up short-circuiting God’s plan when we set ourselves up as the “all-knowing children’s leader.”
God instituted the family long before He created the church, and kids’ ministry leaders came along many centuries after that. Throughout Scripture, God clearly explains that He has given parents the privilege and responsibility of shaping their kids’ lives—spiritually and otherwise (Deut. 4:9–101, 11:18–20; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). It was not and is not God’s plan for parents to bring their kids to church a couple of times each month and assume the children’s ministry will take care of their development.
The numbers simply don’t work. Even if a child attends an hour-long program at church every week, that’s only 52 hours a year—and most families don’t attend every week. In fact, the definition of “regular church attendance” has changed so much in the past decades that the term currently applies to some of those who go to church fewer than half of the Sundays in a year.
Maybe a parent makes sure their child attends both church and small group to benefit from a dedicated children’s ministry team that works hard at developing resources, planning lessons, and creating an atmosphere where their child will learn, worship, and draw closer to God while developing strong relationships with other young Christians. I applaud their commitment! But this scenario has a problem: it still only covers two hours a week, or 104 hours a year.
Parents, by contrast, have an average of more than 70 waking hours each week with their children. That’s 3,640 hours a year—not including their time at school and sleeping. Of course, many kids are involved in extracurricular activities, but those are things we choose; they’re not required. And parents may not actually use the 70 hours each week to connect to their kids in a meaningful way, but the time is there. God wants them to use it wisely.
Our goal as children’s ministry leaders is to move parents from being REACTIVE parents to being PROACTIVE parents.
Reactive parents wait until a crisis hits before they have these tough conversations. By then, it’s often too late. By the time they end up having the conversation, their child has already been filled with all kinds of misinformation. Reactive parents end up having to try to undo what’s already been done by society and the other voices that are speaking into their child’s life.
A reactive parent avoids and puts off these tough topics. They wait and wait until suddenly one day either a crisis or an unexpected event or question forces the issue. Reactive parents are caught off guard when something happens and their kids need to talk. Their communication isn’t carefully planned before they speak, so it’s often unclear and emotional as they stumble all over the place. They’re trying to patch the hole in the boat as it’s sinking!
That’s the difference between a proactive parent and a reactive parent. A proactive parent makes conversations about these tough topics normal and comfortable. Proactive parents start at an early age, giving age-appropriate information, so that when the preteen and teen years come, they’re just building on the foundation that has already been laid, rather than having to start from scratch, or worse yet, undo the misinformation that’s been given to their kids by society. That’s a proactive parent.
That’s why I wrote my latest book, Talk Now And Later: How To Lead Kids Through Life’s Toughest Topics. In this book, I look at 10 common topics every child is dealing with—or almost certainly will deal with in the coming years—topics like sex, self-image, death and tragedy, divorce, and bullying. My goal with writing the book was to prepare parents (and in many cases, grandparents) to have everyday conversations with their kids about the biblical perspective of these topics.
I challenge you to encourage the parents in your church to not merely rush in and have one “fix it” conversation when their children ask difficult questions. Instead, train them to create a warm, open environment where these topics are part of the fabric of family communication. It’s not about trying to solve a problem; it’s about trying to open channels so that every person in the family feels valued, understood, and inspired.
Each conversation is an investment in the life of children. Parents should have a lot of them, and they’ll pay handsome dividends down the road. Like many investments, it takes a long time to see the account build and the return to be noticeable, but sooner or later, the payoff will come.