When Parents and Teachers Disagree

September 12th, 2012

John and his family had been part of the church for a few years. He and his wife were relatively content with their spiritual home, but their preteen son Austin was not. In fact, he hated going to Sunday school. When questioned he said that it was because he never had a lesson. Reluctant to believe that there was never a lesson, John encouraged Austin to have a better attitude and began asking him about his lessons after each class. Sure enough, Austin almost always replied, “We did nothing. We said a verse together; then we spent the rest of class just talking about whatever.” No Bible story? “No.” What about a moral discussion? “Nope.” When John’s older son heard his parents, he agreed. “Yeah, that’s the way it was when I was in that class too.”

Austin’s Sunday school teachers were good people who seemed to genuinely love their students, but Austin wanted Sunday school to be something more than a social gathering. Unfortunately, John and his wife did the very worst thing possible in a situation like this. They did nothing, and eventually little seeds of discontent and frustration grew until they left the church in search of one that could meet the needs of every family member.

What could they have done differently? Were they acting biblically or even fairly to their son, to the teachers, or to the church by saying nothing? Was the avoidance of conflict the best solution to a problem like this?

Conflicts are inevitable, even in the church. God did not create identical robots for Christian service and worship. He created individuals who have different interests, different personalities, different talents, and different desires. So, what happens when Christians don’t agree? How can they handle differences of opinion or difficult confrontations in a biblical matter?

Clarify the Facts

First of all, make sure to clarify the facts, especially when a child or a third person is involved. One teacher once told a parent, “I will only believe half of what your child says about you, if you will only believe half of what your child says about me.” It’s not that anyone necessarily means to lie. It’s just that our version of the truth is often skewed to represent our feelings about a situation. In the case of John’s family, perhaps it would have helped if John had visited his son’s classroom to observe how the lessons were being taught. Whatever the story, make sure to clarify the facts.

Pray About It

Before you do anything else, pray about the situation. Ask God for wisdom and direction. Ask God to provide a resolution. Ask God to make your heart and the hearts of others involved tender and open to truth.

Address the Problem Personally and Privately

Arrange to meet with the person or persons involved in a private setting. John and his wife could have taken Austin and met with the teachers, discussing their concerns, offering to help if needed. When meeting like this, make sure to come with a pure heart, and in a non-confrontational manner. Address the problem honestly, but don’t attack the individual. There is a big difference between saying, “My son Austin says that you never have a lesson in Sunday School!” and “Austin has expressed a desire to grow in God’s Word and is really wanting to learn more in Sunday School. We were wondering if we could discuss some of the lessons you have been teaching and some of the future lessons that are being planned. Maybe we could help brainstorm lessons or activities that would challenge him and the other students to grow deeper in their faith.”

Volunteer to Help

Try to empathize with the other involved party in any dispute. There may be issues of which no one is aware. Perhaps Austin’s Sunday School teachers were having a difficult time in their marriage, or maybe a child was giving them trouble at home. Don’t presume to know what you don’t, and volunteer to help whenever you can. An offer to help can go a long way towards motivating someone to improve a negative situation.

Be Ready to Forgive

Be empathic. Be understanding. Be ready to forgive. Understand that everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Sometimes a person won’t have an excuse. Sometimes a person will only have an apology. Remember Jesus loves you and forgives you when you mess up. Be ready to do the same for others.

Take Two

If there is an issue which you have tried to resolve privately, and the person or persons involved is clearly and biblically in the wrong and refused to listen or discuss the matter with you, then Matthew 18:15-16 indicates that you should then take one or two other people with you to address the situation. “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses.” These could be deacons or elders in the church, a Sunday school director, or the pastor. If at that point the issue cannot be resolved, the issue will need to be addressed by the pastor, deacons or elders. The hope is that, if handled, correctly, most situations would never become this serious.

Most of us would have to admit that many grievances, complaints, and frustrations we encounter are actually minor offences that have grown like weeds untended. As important as it is to take action, it is also important to know what actions not to take.

Don’t Attack

Don’t talk negatively or personally attack another church member or person of authority, especially in front of your children. Remember that regardless of the situation, God still calls us to love each other, and it is important that we model love, patience, and good conflict resolution for our children.

Don’t Gossip

Don’t talk to everyone else about the problem. While John and his family should have addressed the issue with the teachers involved, at least they didn’t go around addressing it with everyone else. They had the good sense to keep their mouths shut. Gossiping will only hurt the body of Christ. It never builds it up.

Don’t Let it Brew

Don’t let a small infraction fester into a cancerous ulcer in your heart. Take the necessary steps to resolve the issue because if you don’t, it will not go away. Even if the circumstances resolve themselves, your feelings about the circumstance won’t disappear.

Handling conflict is never easy, and just because we are Christians doesn’t mean it’s going to get any easier. Our emotions often get in the way, but Christ created the church to be a body. Romans 12:5, 10 reminds us that “In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other . . . Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.” When we address conflicts with prayer and love and a heart like this, we are sure to have a resolution that will bring peace to the church and glory to the Lord.

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