Parents in Colorado Springs were outraged when one church baptized their children without parental permission this spring. Parents thought their children were going to a carnival, but instead, the children heard a sermon that led some to think they’d be stung by killer bees if they weren’t baptized. According to Newsweek, Pastor Dan Irwin defended his church’s actions: “No one can show me one passage in the Bible where it says parental permission is required before a child is baptized.”
Is this a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water? Or more accurately, throwing the family out with the baptismal water? Who has more authority over the children in your ministry — you or parents? If our goal is to reach families for Jesus Christ, we need to tread carefully when parents disagree with us.
As a Christian educator, you’ll undoubtedly encounter children whose parents don’t agree with you. A child’s parents may simply have different behavioral expectations or may disagree with the most basic Christian doctrines. When parents disagree with you, here’s how you can most effectively deal with the child and the parents.
Don’t undermine parents’ authority. Teach Colossians 3:20 to children: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” While there may be exceptions, explain that this is what God expects.
If conflicts between home and church arise, don’t make the parent look bad. When the first-grade teacher broke up a scuffle, one of the kids said, “My dad says if someone hits me, I should hit him back.” The teacher didn’t say, “Your dad is wrong.” She simply replied, “Our rule here is that we don’t fight back.”
Don’t sneak around behind parents’ backs. This doesn’t mean you must sit down with each parent and explain your whole curriculum, but it does mean you should never intentionally deceive. If you’re inviting a neighborhood group over for Bible stories, don’t tell the parents it’s a party. Parents who don’t attend church themselves often still want Christian input for their children. There’s really no need to be secretive!
A changed child can be a testimony to his or her family if everyone has been upfront about what’s being taught. Angela’s unbelieving parents were impressed with the knowledge of Scripture she’d gained from attending a Bible club. They began quizzing each other on Scripture, went to some adult Bible studies, and are now both Christians.
Keep an open-door policy. Encourage parents to learn about what their kids are doing at church. Send papers and projects home with children. Don’t force this, however, if a child seems reluctant. Kyle always gave his work to a receptive adult in the congregation before leaving, and his teachers learned that this was more rewarding for him than seeing his treasures in the trash at home.
Build a relationship with both parents. If only one parent brings a child to Sunday school, don’t drive further wedges in marital relationships by dealing only with that parent. Address notes regarding programs and special events to both parents.
Evaluate parents’ input. While our natural tendency is to be defensive when criticized, there may be times when we’re in the wrong. Two teachers jokingly taught kids to say, “There’s a barge coming through” when they burped. A mother complained, and rightly so! If you’ve been wrong about something, admit it and work toward change. If, after evaluating, you feel you’re right, explain your reasoning to the parent. Often he or she will understand, or you can at least “agree to disagree.” See the “When a Parent Is Angry” box for more tips.
Back everything with Scripture. Make sure your students know that you’re not the final authority — God is. When a child tells you, “My mom says everyone who’s good goes to heaven,” don’t just tell her what you believe. Show her from the Bible what God requires. You won’t even have to say, “I’m afraid your mom’s wrong.”
Use of Scripture is especially important when parents don’t agree with each other. Teachers don’t have to “take sides” but can simply show what God’s Word says. However, at the same time of backing your teaching with Scripture, don’t preach at parents. Your actions-and those of children-speak louder than words to parents.
Demonstrate that some diversity in belief is okay. Encourage compromise or tolerance as long as it doesn’t go against truth. If Joey’s parents like joyful praise songs with a strong beat but Lori’s parents have requested quiet, “reverent” music, use some of both in your class. Be supportive of each child regardless of family differences. I didn’t allow my daughter to miss Sunday school in order to go to the circus with her grandparents, but I can’t condemn the two little boys in my class who are absent many Sundays because of athletic events. Keep in mind the principle of Romans 14: Concentrate on what’s really important and don’t judge disputable matters.
Pray. Whether you follow any of the other suggestions or not, this one is a must. Pray for wisdom in dealing with children and their parents. Pray for parents who need a change of heart. And pray especially for the children whose lives you’re affecting both for this life and for eternity.
Connie Holman has worked with children in the church for 15 years.