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When Church Offends

I'm not a perfect person, and goodness knows I'm the first to admit that I'm impatient and stubborn and just a wee bit aggressive a lot of the time.

That said, when it comes to Little L, I work hard to try to be "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." (Ps. 145:8, ESV).  The NASB phrases it as, "... gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness" and the NIV uses the terms "...gracious and compassionate / slow to anger and rich in love." Basically, I try to model an extravagant love to Little L so that she can see Jesus in me, and will one day embrace this life-changing faith of mine as her own.

When Little L was conceived, I had already prayed that the Lord would set her apart to do His work. Every day since, I've lived knowing and believing that Little L, though my responsibility, is ultimately not mine; she belongs to Him. Her days are numbered in His divine wisdom. She belongs to God, but she is not God; she is not my idol nor can she be my #1, even if I do spend a lot of my hours in this season of life caring for her and raising her.

My parenting choices are based in part on my convictions and faith, and also partly determined by who Little L is and how I wish to model Jesus to her. Some parents choose to emphasize the magnitude of sin and the wrath of God in their child-rearing and disciplinary decisions. My heart's desire is to model the love that is depicted in the Prodigal Son story; the extravagant, unconditional love that my pastor Darrell Johnson so eloquently preached in his Parables: Scandalous Love sermons. This is how I understand my Father in heaven, and this is what I want her to know most of all: that no matter who she is, what she does, and what she doesn't do - I love her, because no matter what I've done, what I continue to do, and what I sometimes fall short of doing, God still loves me and pursues me like a father searching for and reconciling with his wayward child.

In wanting to model this kind of love, I also want to be a responsive parent who considers her little heart and her fears and reservations. This may mean not going to the park at peak hours so that she doesn't have to encounter other kids who may bulldoze her. This also means staying with her in the nursery at Sunday School when she's afraid to be left on her own.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I was absolutely gutted to read a condemning blog post written by a leader in a church I used to attend. In this post, as he explained his own sleep training journey with his kid, he also ventured into discussing the choices of parents who don't leave their kids in the nursery to cry. His point is that when parents do this, they are placating their child and robbing themselves of hearing God's Word (as though there is only one way to hear it, which we all know is a lie). He further implied that this was an issue with the parents (not the child), and that children who are not left in the nursery will fail to grow in godly character; he references Romans 5:3-5 and has somehow linked (in his own mind) the "glory" or benefits of suffering (the verse was written to adults and not 2-year-olds) with leaving your child feeling anxious in a nursery full of strangers.

Now, I don't agree at all with his parenting positions and choices, but I recognize that we are all experts on our kids alone, and free to parent however we want. However, in a position of authority, when he makes such a claim, he alienates a population of the congregation who disagrees with him, and creates a barrier to worship that will only further drive out those who might bring diversity of opinion into the church (which is a healthy thing). His claim that the issue is with us, for example, because we don't let Little L cry it out in the nursery, is insulting and ignorant, since he doesn't know our context (or those of the other parents he sees in the lobby with their kids). The supposition that suffering is the only (or the best) way to bring about godly character is not only misinformed, but incredibly dangerous if you take it to its extreme - why not let your child suffer all the time, then, so that he/she might become a beacon of godliness? See the flaw in that logic? I'm not sure how many children are "won over" into the kingdom through suffering, but I'm pretty certain that a message of unconditional love would be much more effective.

Reading his blog post once again affirms our decision to have left the toxic environment of that place of worship, which used to be an amazing ministry but has somehow begun going down a slippery slope leading to legalism and Jesus + theology. When dogma that isn't Scripture is allowed to enter in, and non-Biblical matters are made into spiritual ones, and when leadership is simply not open to honest feedback or change but would rather shut you out and silence your dissenting opinion, that is when you need to take a critical, hard look at where you are and whether this is where you want your children to be raised and nurtured in the faith.

We are blessed. Our current church has been around for years and years, and the pastor is the most humble man I've ever met. Their church nursery for 1.5-3 year-olds is packed full of parents and kids, and they allow you to take as much time as you need to transition your children into independence. There is no judgment, no need to explain why you are still staying with your kid - only acceptance and love, both from the leadership and the other parents there. The pastor's wife leads the children in songs of praise, greeting you with a smile upon your entry and a warm farewell when you exit.
And if you need to nurse your tot? There is a room with a curtain and a live-feed TV to allow you to hear the message as you breastfeed; even the communion elements are in there, so that you can participate as part of the body during this season of your life.

I am so blessed that I have found great challenge in my faith, but no offense to it, as we have worshiped there.

Please don't let the sins of man create barriers to your worship of God. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for you, and He no longer condemns you or judges you, because Jesus has paid that price on your behalf. If you have been hurt or offended by your church, and are seeking a place where you can experience the extravagant, scandalous love that the Father has to offer, please consider visiting First Baptist in Vancouver. You and your children are always welcome, be it in the lobby or the nursery or the sanctuary. Come.


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