Nothing can bring us more pride or more embarrassment than the behavior of our children. In those struggling moments, when we are desperate, we often search blogs, podcasts, and books that promise help.
But have you considered how your church leaders might be instruments of God’s grace? Healthy shepherds in a healthy church are a gift from Christ to you and your family (Eph. 4:11–12). When a family conflict seems too much to handle in the moment, your leaders are a resource you may have overlooked.
Healthy shepherds in a healthy church are a gift from Christ to you and your family.
As an elder on a small team for the past 30 years and as a parent of four young adults, I’ve had occasion to meet with families in need—and also to be that family in need.
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One instance of such shepherding involved a single mom whose teenage son’s deceitfulness was escalating. She felt she was losing her son’s heart. She asked if the elders would pray with the two of them and speak into their lives. As we met together, the men asked caring but probing questions of the young man. In the moment, we supported the mom 100 percent. Later, we made some suggestions to her and had numerous individual conversations in the ensuing months.
Another instance involved a young boy whose angry outbursts were beyond normal. His parents were distraught to the point of tears hearing his tirades against them and others. After determining there was nothing medically wrong with him, these parents made an appointment with two of the elders.
As the five of us met, the tone was caring but sober. We were there because the boy’s parents wanted us to know and pray about these outbursts of sudden anger. Our conversation involved reassurance of our love for him, reassurance of how much Jesus loves him, gentle correction about how these outbursts were sins against God and others, and help in how to express the natural frustrations of life. We ended by all praying and asking him to confess his sin to God. Before he left, I asked him to keep me updated on how things were going. Would he come find me on Sunday and tell me how his week had been? “Yes, I will,” he said.
A year later his mother told us that despite occasional flare-ups, his anger was much more within the typical range. In addition, a few of our words helped her and her husband change some of their own interactions with him.
The good news for me? By God’s grace, I had a new young friend who would come up and talk to me on Sundays and report on the victories he was having over his anger. It was his first “man-to-man” relationship outside his family.
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In God’s gracious providence, I have also been the one in need of such help. There were several times I had to reach out, asking another elder to meet with some of my family members. As a fellow elder, I was initially embarrassed and humbled. But my family, too, needs this grace.
Although a formal meeting only happened a few times, it wasn’t too different from the numerous times my wife and I encouraged our children to seek out the counsel of other wise men and women in the church. We need others in the church to travel the parenting journey together.
What have I learned from these situations?
1. Parents need to be humble.
A meeting like this is not a catch-all for poor parenting, but rather a safety net for crisis moments. In God’s providence we all will have events when we need to pull the fire alarm and seek outside help. It requires humility to involve others in our lives. God promises to bless us as we humble ourselves and invite wise counsel.
A meeting like this is not a catch-all for poor parenting, but rather a safety net for crisis moments.
Every single one of these meetings was difficult to ask for, but each has born sweet gospel fruit.
2. Parents should welcome the chance to gain outside perspective.
Though the focus each of these times has been for the elders to speak to the young person, there were also later conversations with the parents. We all need outside perspectives on the blind spots we bring to our parenting.
3. Elders need to model both God’s authority and also his care.
Sin in little ones is still sin. How much better to start shepherding when they’re young? As Charles Spurgeon said, “Begin early to teach, for children begin early to sin.” And yet, young people will likely be nervous to meet with you and will need the reassurance of your love. As shepherds, we carry both responsibilities: to admonish and to encourage. My little friend commented later to his mom, “I thought they were going to be mean, but they were kind.”
4. Several elders send a different message than one counselor.
Unfortunately, healthy spiritual authority is recognized by few people. And leaders can and have erred in horrific ways. Still, the Holy Spirit has given godly leaders real authority to build up his people. Sitting down with several elders raises everyone’s awareness of the seriousness of the issue.
5. Churches should make sure that single moms especially know they have this resource.
A single mom with teen boys is a scenario fraught with struggle. Young teen men feeling their strength need to be reminded that there are caring men ready to watch over them for their good and their mom’s protection.
Moms and dads, God has given you fallible but godly elders to be a means of grace to your family. But they can’t help if they aren’t asked! And shepherds, when God gives us care of the flock, that includes each little one as well.