Speaking With Your Children About Difficult Sermon Texts
Often the Bible discusses the reality of sin in the world, and it can be quite explicit in doing so. The Bible isn’t limited to speaking about sin using generalities, but many of the biblical stories and themes illustrate and expound explicitly and directly the rebellious nature of sin and the misery and brokenness it brings. Moreover, the kind of preaching that honors God and builds up the church unpacks the meaning of biblical texts, and thus does not shy away from such explicit and direct biblical texts. As a result, difficult topics can arise in sermons, such as sexual sins (e.g., adultery, homosexuality) or those involving remarkable violence.
When such difficult topics arise in sermons, parents can be caught off guard and unsure of how to handle it with their children, whether in the moment or in conversations after the service ends. Christians know they are to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV), but how should parents handle such difficult topics and biblical texts? Are parents better off ignoring these topics until a more opportune time? How should they talk with their children about these things in a helpful and age-appropriate way?
Why to Talk with Your Children about Difficult Sermon Texts
First, it is important that parents talk with their children about difficult topics and biblical texts. Often our default is to shrink back from and resist talking about difficult things, so in parenting we can be tempted to not talk about those topics with our children. It is easy to justify this decision by telling ourselves that we will talk with them about it at another time when our children are older.
However, it is important not to wait for at least two reasons. First, in our current context our kids are inundated with topics and messages that already introduce them to the kinds of sins found in Scripture. The ubiquity of social media, grocery store tabloids, explicit billboards, kids with iPhones, etc., make it inevitable that our children, one way or another, will be confronted with the realities that the Bible illustrates and expounds. From this practical standpoint, it is important for parents to be proactive (not only reactive) in addressing these issues.
Second, difficult topics and biblical texts provide an opportunity to speak truthfully and directly to our kids about the reality of sin in the world and the hope of the gospel. The Bible speaks accurately about the horrific nature of sin in the world, and this is what we need to hear. The world is broken because we are broken. Through original sin, the world is now dominated by sin and death. When difficult topics arise in the sermon, we should see these as God-given opportunities to speak with more specificity to our kids about these realities of sin, misery, and brokenness in the world.
In turn, this will afford an opportunity to talk about the hope we have in the gospel. Christ died for our sins, “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV). Our children need to know that they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that Jesus is the only one who can save. Now is the time to teach our children about the terrible realities of sin and the glorious realities of the gospel. To refrain from talking about these things will effectively sweep the topic of sin under the proverbial rug, allow the world to take the lead in discipling our children, and keep us from more specifically pointing our children to their need for a Savior.
How to Talk with Your Children about Difficult Sermon Texts
So how can we talk with our children about difficult sermon texts and topics in a helpful and age-appropriate way? What follows is not an exhaustive list but is meant to help you as a parent on your way to faithful and God-honoring parenting.
First, it is helpful for you as a parent to know the sermon text ahead of time so you can anticipate any issues that may arise beforehand. The sermon cards in the pews can help with this.
Second, read the sermon text with your kids beforehand. (We typically read it Saturday evening since Sunday mornings can feel so rushed!) Talk about the main point of the text. Ask questions to check for comprehension, and then use their answers to dive further into what the text is saying. Not only will this help your kids understand the sermon better, but it will also provide the basic categories and principles that will be important for discussing the text with them later.
Third, have a consistent time to talk about the sermon. It could be on the drive home or sometime later in the day. For us, lunch is always a great time for this since we are going to be sitting all together as a family anyway. Choose what works best for you, but probably it’s best not to wait until later in the week lest you and your kids forget some of the main points of the sermon text.
Fourth, when you talk with your kids, ask questions about what they heard from the sermon. This helps you know what your kids heard and what they thought the sermon was about.
Fifth, when difficult topics arise, speak with clarity, truth, discernment, and compassion. Speaking with clarity means saying exactly what you mean so that you don’t cloud the issue. Speaking the truth means not speaking in a way that misleads your kids. We need to speak in a way that fits reality. Speaking with discernment means not necessarily telling them everything you know about an issue. While we want to speak truthfully, we need not tell them everything we know. Focus on the basic principles of the issue, not necessarily the graphic details of how a sin happens.
To use an example, our kids know that abortion is a sin. They know babies are humans God created, that abortion kills them and thereby dishonors God, and that might doesn’t make right. But not all of our kids know the graphic details of how abortions are conducted.
Finally, speaking with compassion means talking about the sin as something that brings remarkable sadness and misery. The focus is on the fact that people sin—not just other people but ourselves too. Sin isn’t just “out there” but in our own hearts. We are tempted too and should humble ourselves and cast ourselves on the mercy of God, and we should pray for ourselves and others unto this purpose.
Sixth, remind your kids of the gospel. This is a great opportunity to point them to the hope of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life we have in the gospel.
Finally, pray with your kids. Pray for those tempted to sin in these ways, specifically that they would repent of their sins and trust in Christ. Pray that God would help our children and ourselves fight against such sin and temptation in our own lives. And pray with gratitude for God’s gift of himself in the gospel that frees us from sin’s penalty and power.
May the Lord use these reflections to help you as a parent raise up your children in a faithful and God-honoring way.
This article comes to us from our ministry partner, Bethlehem College and Seminary, who are graciously sponsoring the 2021 Rooted Conference this week in Birmingham, AL. This article first appeared on the website of Trinity Bible Church in Phoenix, AZ.