When a child walks away from faith in Jesus Christ, it is hard to know how to act toward them. As you look at the prodigal, you may shake your head in confusion as you try to understand why they took that first step away. When you see their parents in church, especially during the holidays, often pity and feelings of helplessness may fill your heart, and the awkwardness of the situation may cause you to keep quiet and often turn the other way. The big white elephant is now in the room but no one knows what to do.
So why is the subject of our kids leaving the church such a hard thing to speak about? Here are a few responses from some parents:
“We tend to feel ashamed to admit that our children have left the church and we in some way have failed to ground them in the faith. When we confront these realities and confess our failures, our Lord forgives us, motivates us to pray for them and ourselves, and enables us to stay in touch with them, to love them and possibly restore them to God’s people.”
“Because the reality is such that actions can lead to separation from God and eternal death. Our physical bodies need nourishment. So with our soul, if it is not nourished, it will die. The church is where Word and Sacrament keep faith strong. When our children or a loved one leaves that place where Christ is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation (the church), the devil gets his foot in the door and faith waivers and can eventually die. That is a very scary reality and one that is hard to talk about…”
I am sure you have experienced parents that do not want to talk about their children or quickly brush comments about them aside as they say that things are great. But these may be signs that there is something wrong. The reality is that, deep down inside, they are crying out for mercy and are often filled with guilt, shame, and despair.
How Do We Start to Talk About It?
So let’s start talking about it. As simple as it sounds, it does not come that easy. However, when we stay attuned to the signs, we can reach out to these parents, engage them, and remind them of how much they are loved. When we keep the doors of communication open, we can help them remember that they are a part of the church family—the very body of Christ. What are the steps? Here are a few:
– Open up conversation;
– Create a safe environment;
– Build a community for intentional interaction.
By speaking about the situation, we bring it out in the open and together we are all able to “look that white elephant in the eye” as a church body. When parents share with others, they are often encouraged to find out that they are not alone. They may come to the realization that other parents are also going through the same feelings of heartache over their children; that “we are in this together and don’t have to go through this solo.”
How can Faith Family Reunion be of help to parents, who are hurting, and to congregations, which may not be aware of the struggle? Faith Family Reunion is a ministry outreach that was created with parents of prodigals in mind: to address their emotional health and to help create restored relationships between parents and prodigals. The hope is for parents to begin an internal healing process so that they can move from the pain of a strained relationship with their prodigal to living life with a healthy mindset.
So what does Faith Family Reunion stand for?
Faith | Provide resources to congregations, pastors, and church leadership to engage hurting parents in order to:
– Restore faith by reminding them of their identity in Jesus Christ;
– Renew faith in Jesus Christ by welcoming them in love—which can help them to experience forgiveness and come to a place of forgiveness for themselves and the prodigal;
– Remind them that faith in Jesus Christ ultimately brings hope to their situation.
Family | Create community and outreach, within the church family, for hurting parents by:
– Demonstrating the love and care of the church by reaching out to them as a church family;
– Creating a place where trust (within the church family) is built, and offering a safe haven where the walls of pride, shame, and secrecy can come down;
– Cultivating support and mentoring opportunities with the church family as members of the congregation, pastors, and church leaders intentionally interact with them.
Reunion | Help parents to come to an emotional place of peace to:
– Reunite them with their prodigals in order to open the door for reconciliation with their family so they can share their faith in Jesus Christ authentically;
– Reunite individual families with their church family and create an opportunity for open and honest communication to create a strong familial bond within the congregation;
– Reunite pastors and church leaders with parents and the members of their congregation so that they can work together to engage the prodigal and members that have left the church.
Christmas time and the New Year is a difficult time for parents whose children have left the faith. This year, why not ask these parents into your lives? Instead of turning away because you are not sure what to say, we invite you to take the first step, share a smile, and encourage them in conversation. Next, beckon them to join you as you greet them with welcome arms. Before you know it, “the big white elephant” might just disappear.
For more resources, visit www.faithfamilyreunion.com.
The Michigan District is partnering with Faith Family Reunion to offer two retreats on “Being a Parent of a Prodigal.” The first retreat will take place on October 21, 2017 at St. Matthew, Grand Rapids, and the other will be at Good Shepherd, Lansing on November 18, 2017. For more information and to register, click here. For more information on Faith Family Reunion and what they can do for church leaders, click here.
Who Is Behind Faith Family Reunion?
We are a family much like yours: A prodigal daughter who returned to faith in Jesus Christ; her father, a retired LCMS pastor; and her dear loving mom, all of us with hearts for the hurting parents and their prodigal.
Our passion is to inspire and transform parents with prodigals by helping break down the walls of shame and secrecy.
When we place emphasis not only on our youth but on their parents as well, we are enabled to encompass the entire family unit. The church body, enabled to help unify the immediate family, ultimately helps to reunite the church family.
You can find us at www.faithfamilyreunion.com.
Luke 15:5-7 (ESV)
“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Co-authored by Rev. Dr. Jakob Heckert
Photo © Juanmonino/iStock