How can I convince my parents to find a new church?
How do I share truth lovingly with my parents without usurping their authority? I want them to flee from this church and find one that preaches the Gospel, but they don’t want to leave the community behind and have been duped into believing that what the church is teaching is good. My heart breaks over my family. I’m praying for them, which I know is paramount. Is there a good way to lovingly convince them they need to find a new church home?
Let me start by commending you for loving your parents and being concerned about their spiritual good. It’s also great that you are praying regularly for your family and that you recognize that is the most important thing you can do for them regarding your concerns. The conversation you’re thinking about having is potentially a really delicate and emotional one, and there’s no single “right” approach to it. That said, I can offer a few biblical principles and practical thoughts on how you might go about it.
First of all, to the central question you raised, it is possible to have this conversation with your parents without “usurping their authority.” I assume by that phrase you mean that you want to avoid, among other things, violating the fifth commandment (from Exodus 20:12), which directs us to “honor your father and your mother.” The question is whether as kids — especially as young adult/adult kids — we are automatically failing to “honor” our parents when we challenge them on an important issue in their lives or (as comes up more often) declining to obey or take the advice they give us on an important issue in our own lives. Not necessarily.
As adult children, biblically “honoring” our parents has a wider definition than when we were minors living under their roof. It is a perfectly good and natural progression as kids grow up for the parent/child aspect of the relationship to diminish (though it never fully goes away), and something more like friendship to develop. It’s also true that in a situation in which both parents and child are Christians, there comes a point when the status of being brother and sister in Christ rightly affects the relationship as profoundly as the biological status of parent and child. And while it is always wise for younger Christians (I am assuming for these purposes that your parents became Christians before you did) to be respectful and even deferential to more mature believers, it is perfectly appropriate for Christians of all ages and relationships to lovingly challenge, exhort and even admonish one another in Christ and to think about “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
You are also on solid ground biblically in lovingly admonishing another believer (depending on the relationship you have with that person) to move to a biblically solid church from one that is not. The New Testament makes clear that the individual members of churches — the congregation itself — is responsible for ensuring that the teaching they receive is biblically sound. The Apostle Paul directed the Galatians to reject any leader or authority who led them to embrace anything other than the true Gospel, even if that leader were Paul himself or “an angel from heaven” (Galatians 1:8), and in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul holds the congregation itself responsible for the immoral permissiveness of the church and its leaders. Paul even suggests to Timothy that people who “will not endure sound teaching” but instead “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” will “wander” away from the truth and are in spiritual peril.
So the conversation you’re contemplating is a worthy undertaking. Now how to go about it? The answer is humbly, lovingly, respectfully, gently and with understanding. No problem, right?
First, approach any conversation with biblical humility and respect. If you are thinking rightly, the purpose of engaging your parents about their church is for their spiritual good, not to win an argument or to show your parents you’ve arrived and are now much wiser than they are. In addition to being biblically appropriate, the humble, respectful approach is also good strategy. It’s just reality that many — OK, most — parents have real difficulty hearing any significant challenge or correction from their kids, especially on spiritual issues. And if your approach to the church conversation carries even a whiff of teenage know-it-all, your parents will smell it a mile away and probably be made much more dismissive and less open to the substance of what you have to say.
Show love, gentleness and understanding because (1) it’s biblical (see Galatians 6:1), and (2) leaving a church where one is happy is a tall order for anyone. You mentioned your parents’ hesitation to leave their community of friends, and that’s a big thing. Leaving their church will involve them making a principled and probably controversial stand on issues of theology, implying that all their friends at the old church are wrong about some of the most important and closely held beliefs in their lives, and, at least to some extent, starting over socially at a new church.
Finally, a few very practical suggestions:
Start with questions. Rather than beginning with a frontal assault of challenge, maybe spend some time asking your parents what they believe about major doctrines of the faith. Once you carefully listen to their answers (without attacking them), you’ll know better what you’re dealing with and may be in a position to ask whether their church believes or teaches the same things.
When you challenge, keep it basic and biblical. If it comes to a more direct challenge or admonishment, don’t waste energy and relational capital on secondary issues. From your question, it sounds like your parents’ church may be unclear on the Gospel itself and may not believe that the Bible is literally true. Focus there.
Make your case, then back off and pray. Don’t be shocked if your parents don’t immediately run screaming from their church after your first conversation. For most people, such a decision would be made over months or even years. Say what you have to say, offer to talk about it more any time they want to, then back off. And remember that your humble, respectful, loving approach is not for one conversation; it’s ongoing. Don’t undo good conversational work by rolling your eyes or criticizing their church whenever they mention it.
Read a book together. If your parents are readers or like to discuss ideas, ask them to engage around ideas of church with you by reading a book together. The best resource out there for this conversation is Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever.
I know it’s a lot to think about. I will pray for the Lord to give you humility and wisdom as you try to lovingly challenge your parents for their good and God’s glory.
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Scott Croft served for several years as chairman of the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where he wrote and taught the Friendship, Courtship & Marriage and Biblical Manhood & Womanhood CORE Seminars. Scott now lives in the Louisville, Ky., area with his wife, Rachel, and son, William, where he works as an attorney and serves as an elder of Third Avenue Baptist Church.