How Do We Explain an Adult’s Moral Failure to Kids?

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
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Recently we’ve heard numerous reports about Christian leaders who have failed morally.

As adults, we shake our heads, we overanalyze what’s happened, and we hopefully pray for those involved. We are also concerned about non-believers or those new to the faith being influenced by the situation. Will the news story shatter a person’s already weak belief system?

Sometimes in the swirl of the chaos, we forget that children are also involved. Kids pick up on what is happening around them. They see the news, hear the adults talking, and figure out that things aren’t what they should be.

Unfortunately these kinds of incidents can affect them personally – when a beloved teacher disappears (caught embezzling money at work), a friend’s father deserts his family and takes off with another woman, a youth leader is caught in a sexually- compromising situation.

Sometimes with very young kids we can get away with, “he’s moved,” or a simple “she’s not teaching anymore,” but the older the children, the more of an explanation they’ll want.

Ignoring the situation won’t make it go away in your child’s/teen’s mind and indeed, could fester there a long time if not addressed.

Sit with your child in a quiet place where there won’t be interruptions and talk it out.

*** Be honest about what has happened. That doesn’t mean share all the details, but be             open with your child in an age-appropriate way.

*** Admit that you don’t understand why the person did what he/she did any more than your child does. No, you don’t understand why his friend’s father left his family, a great job, and leadership position at church to run off with another woman. You don’t understand why that youth leader, got involved in a sexually compromising situation. You don’t understand why that teacher embezzled money from work.

*** Remind them that we are all sinners and capable of doing horrific things against God. (Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9) With older kids, read 2 Samuel 12:1-15. Not only was David’s desire for Bathsheba morally wrong, but he had one of his most faithful servants murdered in the process. David was not an ordinary man – he was king! The people in his kingdom knew of his love for the Lord. His sin affected an entire nation! 2 Samuel 12:14 – Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord. Also read Psalm 51 as David comes before the Lord in repentance.

At the same time, remind them that we all disobey God. We aren’t immune to               affecting others by our decisions. (When your son broke the remote and let his sister take the blame. When your daughter joined in with friends to make fun of the socially-inept kid at school. When your kids snuck out of the house one night, met some friends, and seriously vandalized the homes of an opposing team.) We all are disobedient. We all are in need of God’s grace.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (James 2:10).

*** Pray together with your children about the situation. Pray for the person who sinned and also those he/she has hurt both directly and indirectly. Pray for the church or ministry affected. Pray for the people who have nothing to do with the situation, but will hear about it either by word of mouth or on the news.

*** Don’t you … or allow your kids to become cynical against all Christians. Thank the Lord for the many, many Christian leaders who take their dedication to Christ seriously. One leader’s moral failure does not mean all leaders will have a moral failure. One person’s crime, does not mean everyone is a criminal. One leader’s life-altering bad decision does not mean all leaders make bad life-altering decisions.

*** Remember to put your trust in God, not in a person. Read and memorize (with your kids) Psalm 118:8. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. We need to encourage our kids to keep their eyes on the Lord. We can count on Him to never let us down. As humans we sin, but if we know Christ as Savior, we should recognize that disobedience and admit to Him that we’ve failed. Then we should thank the Lord for the forgiveness that is ours through His death on the cross. Our weakness (and the weaknesses of others) should point us to our need for God and His strength.

 *** Encourage your kids to come to you with any questions. Kids, especially older kids, may be passing pieces of gossip about the situation back and forth between each other. Nothing good will come out of that and stories will get misconstrued. Assure your kids that you will listen to anything they have to say and will answer any questions the best that you can.

Having someone let us down is not easy. Reading about the failure of a Christian leader (even when we aren’t personally connected) is hard. Sometimes we’re put in an awkward decision when a non-believer questions us about why a believer made a bad choice (as if we have an inside track on the life events of EVERY Christian).

When one part of the body of Christ hurts, we all hurt.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

We need to teach our kids to put their trust in God, to not worship people, and to stand strong in their faith.

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