I recently read a short article about some parents who were being investigated for child neglect after allowing their 10 and 6 year-old children to walk home from the park alone; a distance of 1 mile through a nice, well-to-do residential area. The comments ranged from those applauding the parents for their common-sense approach in giving their children freedom and teaching them personal responsponsibilty to those berating them for their laziness and lack of care.
I didn’t share my opinion. Having so little background information about the parents, the children and the area through which they were walking, I felt I had no right to comment. However, it stayed in my thoughts. In my time as a Parenting consultant, I came across families that fell into two distinct camps: those that expected too much of their children and those that expected too little. The latter group were those parents who did everything for their little ones, believing that they were showing love. The outcome was that the children were stunted in their development, unable to perform simple tasks such as tying shoe laces and were unprepared for life ouside of the home. I met some of these children when I was a student; they lived on takeaways because they had never learned to cook (no need to: mum always cooked) and didn’t know how to use a washing machine (mum always did that too!).
The former group believed their children were capable and mature beyond their years. So often they would tell me that their child was very bright, top of the class, an early reader etc. Children are like sponges, they soak up intellectual stimulus, but they are emotional beings too. These parents came to me becasue their child was having behavioural difficulties; crying and tantrums when told ‘no’ or when they lost at a game. Although the child had progressed intellectually beyond their years, their emotional development was lagging.
It struck me that so often, church leaders fall into these same traps.
The over-indulgent minister who cares for his people by doing everything for them; taking on the full responsibility for their spiritual discipline and growth. The problems arise when the minister tries to encourage the congregation to take on some roles or tasks within the church and finds that their people lack the confidence and the initiative to do so. The congregation in turn look unrealistically to the minister to provide for all their spiritual needs and often end up leaving the church stating that they were ‘unsupported’.
The other type are those who are so enthusiastic to develop their people that they push them into roles that they don’t have the spirtual maturity to sustain. Without a well developed prayer life or deep understanding of their standing in Christ, the baby Christian can become overwhelmed and end up stressed, burnt out and disillusioned leading to them leave the church and be unwilling to get involved in any form of ministry in future. They might even cause problems for others along the way as they struggle to cope with responsibility beyond their means.
Church leaders - much like parents - have to perfect a delicate balancing act. A good parent will aim for their own redundancy: a time when the children have learned the life skills they need to fend for themselves. A good minister will likewise strive to teach and enable church members to stand on their own feet spiritually, having been trained and equipped ‘for works of service’ (cf Ephesians 4:11). This is the route to a healthy family and a healthy church.bog