by Nic Allen
This weekend, you and your staff may receive questions from kids and teenagers about the shooting that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, this past Wednesday. Family Pastor Nic Allen wrote a helpful article about how parents may respond to questions from their children. It’s our hope that passing it along to the Orange Leaders audience will help leaders in churches across America speak to kids and families about this terrible tragedy.
The parents in your ministry have a difficult job. That is why I am so passionate about partnering with them. There are some things that just weren’t in the parenting “job description.” Especially when the news is filled with events like what we have witnessed in Charleston. Here we are again with yet another senseless tragedy. What a blessing and honor that God has entrusted us with the lives of those who desperately need us to make sense out of the senseless. Here are four responses to the event in Charleston this week that might help parents as they lead their families in talking, praying, dealing with this most recent tragic event in our nations history.
- Radio silence. If your children are young enough, you just might make it through this moment without any mention of Charleston. Simon, my son, is two. We have no plans to talk to him about the tragedy. He doesn’t yet have the framework to understand crime, death, or even mourning. He can recognize sadness and should be allowed and encouraged to express it. We want to teach him how to respond to sadness in others with kindness and sensitivity. This tragic event in Charleston is not the moment for us to practice those skills. Know that going radio silent with young children is a proactive parental response to protect them from information that they are not prepared to process. In certain stages and seasons, that is the right thing for a parent to do. However, assuming that you can keep this method indefinitely is naive. Begin talking with your spouse and other families about ways you intend to lead your child through tragedy. We all know our world is fallen. The very sad, but very true, nature of the Charleston tragedy is that another one will eventually come. When it does, you might need an alternative to radio silence. Perhaps one of the other ideas below.
- Censored Sensitivity. Children are bombarded with images and ideas all day every day. As parents, one of the hats we wear is that of filter. You set the rules in your family about film ratings. You set the pace in your home about world history and current events. Let’s take a skyrocket view. Our girls are seven and eight. They know the name Adolf Hitler. They know he was responsible for arresting and killing Jews during WWII. What they don’t know [yet] are the gory details of life in a concentration camp. They don’t yet know about the gas chambers. Those details will come later. For older children who hear about Charleston, it’s important to know how to answer questions like, “why did he kill those people?” and “why would someone of one race not like someone of another race?” and perhaps more importantly, “could someone come and kill people at our church?” The answers to those questions aren’t pretty or easy. It’s important to be honest and clear, but to only provide the level of detail that our children are prepared to handle. Fortunately, you know your children best and you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in you to help you discern when is the right time to divulge details about any horrific event like the Charleston tragedy this week.
- Full Disclosure. Tweens and teens are ready whether we like it or not. If we don’t frame events like these in the context of Jesus and His Word, the world is all to happy to provide the framework. We must be careful to take a proactive posture in these moments so that we as moms and dads set the tone for how our growing kids process events like these. The unbelieving world will be happy to polarize and politicize this event. What we get to do is spiritualize it. Bottom line: Jesus told his followers that they would have trouble in life [John 16:33]. Our kids need to know that it will not always be easy to follow Jesus. Jesus taught that hard times will come [Luke 6:22] but that when it does, we are blessed. We still live in a sin-sick world full of hate and violence because ALL have fallen short of God’s glorious standard [Romans 3:23] but also that anyone who calls on the name of Christ can be saved [Romans 10:13]. That means we can explain the existence of a hate crime by the presence of sin. We can also teach about forgiveness referencing what seems totally unforgivable. This option means open dialogue, hard conversations, and lots of prayer. Designating specific moments of family time to talk and pray together is an appropriate way to model for your child just what do when tragedy strikes. Remember, tragedy will strike again. How you lead your child now will be the example for how they lead themselves later.
- Call to Action. A fourth response is action oriented. What if you allowed God to work this tragedy in your family to sew seeds of racial reconciliation? What if you asked the Spirit to direct you toward helping someone in need in honor of the fallen believers in Charleston? What if your teachable moment turned into a season of both prayer and fasting for healing in our country? This generation of kids that we have the privilege of raising are an active force in the world. They respond to action and need to be called to mobilize and move. Ask yourself how the tragedy in Charleston can be a catalyst in your family to serve the community around you.
In seasons like this a church with a Lead Small Culture can be invaluable. I pray that the kids in your life have other adults that care about them, love them, want to reinforce what the parents are saying in the midst of tragedy. Your kids may need someone else to process this with. I am praying it is someone within the walls of your church.
Praying for Charleston. . . .
Nic Allen is the family pastor at Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, where he has served for eight years. He and his wife Susan are busy raising three kids [ages 2-8]. His passion is to see parents fully embrace God’s design for them to be the primary spiritual voice in their kids’ lives while creating church environments to connect, equip, and support whole family growth. This post originally appeared here, and is used with permission.