One of the things I hate most about parenting is the truism that children learn more from what they see us do than what we say. I wish it weren’t this way, but “Do as I say and not as I do” is not really a viable strategy for parenting. Instead we are constantly non-verbally communicating to our families and others about our true priorities and values. We shape our family’s and others’ view of the church (1) by what we criticize, (2) by what we glamorize, and (3) by what we prioritize.
We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Criticize.
Allow me to let you in on a secret: Not everyone is perfect in your church. Your pastor isn’t perfect. Your staff isn’t perfect. Your deacons aren’t perfect. Your Sunday School teachers aren’t perfect. The people who share a pew with you aren’t perfect either. However, no matter how imperfect our church may be, it is still the blood-bought church that belongs to Jesus Christ which He loved enough to leave heaven to give His life for her.
When we criticize our pastor, staff, deacons, Sunday School teachers, other church members in front of our families we are shaping their view of the church. When we dwell on the faults of others, it should be no wonder they are not long interested in attending our church.
There is a long-standing joke about having the preacher for dinner. The only problem is that isn’t funny when we consider the impact that this has on our families as the preacher’s sermon is nitpicked and criticized Sunday after Sunday. It is not helpful to your family’s spiritual health to criticize the Sunday School teachers, deacons, or other members of the church. It is especially damaging as our children see the hypocrisy as we greet people with a smile and friendly handshake at church on Sunday, but talk about them with disdain in our voice as soon as we are in the car and out of earshot. What if that person that we have criticized is the one who will one day have the opportunity to lead our loved one to put their trust in Christ?
We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Glamorize.
We live in a world and a society that glamorizes the rich, famous, powerful, the great athletes, the millionaires, the movie stars. The kingdom of God has an exact opposite ethic. Jesus said that the greatest among us are those who serve. Jesus Himself exemplified this. He testified of Himself that “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; cf. Philippians 2:5-8). Yet, sadly, we in the church often follow the example of the world rather than the example of Jesus!
If those that we celebrate are the rich and famous, no matter how much we say that we are followers of the Jesus who had no place to lay His head, our children will see what we truly value and will pursue that. Instead of constantly rejoicing in the same skills and attributes that the world celebrates, may we as God’s people celebrate the humble servants who serve behind the scenes in our churches and communities. There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts and appreciating the honing of natural ability through hard work and dedication, but there is something wrong with our values when we are more excited about a millionaire’s ability to hit a baseball farther than anyone else than we are about the quiet service of a deacon to the widows in our church. We must remember that we are not only revealing what we truly value, we are also shaping what our family and others under our influence will value.
We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Prioritize.
Is church somewhere you go when nothing else is going on? Are the spiritual disciplines something you work in only when it does not conflict with your other activities?
If we prioritize entertainment, sports, family, work, or whatever, above serving others, personal spiritual disciplines, public worship with God’s people, we are communicating what we truly value.
How do you find out what you prioritize in your life? Check your check book register and your calendar. Studying where we’ve spent our time and money can be a very eye-opening experience. We often don’t realize what our priorities are until we do this exercise. But our children are more perceptive than we realize and we are training them to have the same priorities that we have.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that if we as individuals don’t set our own priorities, others will set our priorities for us. If you don’t have a plan for your week next week, then you will be at the mercy of everyone else’s plan for you. I think this applies to our spiritual lives also. If we don’t have a purposeful plan to prioritize serving others, practicing the personal spiritual disciplines, and participating in public worship, then our three main enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–will have a plan for us. This unholy Trinity hates us and has a horrible plan for our lives. The world, the flesh, and the devil want our lives to not have the right priorities and they want our families and others to follow us in our bad priorities.
Going forward, let’s purpose to think about how we are influencing our family and others by what we criticize, what we glamorize, and what we prioritize. Let’s be intentional to avoid criticism and glamorizing the wrong values. Instead, let’s purpose to prioritize in our practice what we claim to value. Those who observe our lives (both our families and others) should be able to see that we are prioritizing those practices that promote spiritual health.
(This post is adapted from a sermon that I recently preached at Farmdale Baptist Church. Audio available here.)