I have been in pastoral ministry now for a decade. As any leader in the church knows—whether they are a pastor, elder, deacon, chairman, director, or a regular lay volunteer—disappointment, frustration, controversy, disagreement, arguments, and a whole other litany of negative situations are part of what every leader has to deal with. We are sinners working with sinners. Negative things are bound to happen from time to time.
But, what happens when we as leaders drag this negativity home and air the details? To our spouses? To our children? What effect does this have? This question is not just pertinent to pastors and leaders. It’s applicable to every person in the pew.
That’s why Pastor Bill Houpt from Little River Baptist Church in Herndon, KY is here today at the blog. I had the privilege of working very closely with Bill from 2005 to 2008 in the Hopkinsville Youth Ministry Network in western Kentucky. I found him to be a generous friend, a faithful minister, and always willing to share the wisdom he has gleaned from decades of ministry. In fact, I was reminded recently of some great wisdom he shared with me that I thought would be helpful to pass on to you all but thought it would be best to get it straight from his mouth.
Ben: Bill, it’s great to be with you again! Thanks for taking the time to minister to us. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your family.
Bill: I am married to Marsha. We have been married 40 years. We have three children. Shannon, who is married to Matt. He is collegiate and small groups leader at Rolling Hills Church in Nashville, and Shann teaches 5th grade. Bill, my oldest son, has my two grand kids, Madisen age 10 and Kinsley age 7. They live in Huntsville. And the baby of the family, Jeff, lives in Virgina and works for Westar Aero Space.
Ben: How many years have you served the Lord as a pastor and where?
Bill: 2 years as Pastor at Little River Baptist in Herndon, KY and 20 years as Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor at Hillcrest Baptist in Hopkinsville, KY
Ben: Church ministry can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be very frustrating and disappointing. I’m sure you’ve felt at times like just giving up on the church and the ministry (I’m sure all Christians have, even if they are not vocational ministers!), but you haven’t. What has kept you going?
Bill: The love for people. I spent 20 years in the Army as a sniper and Special Forces guy. Killed more than my share and lost many friends. With great cost comes great responsibility. I owe it to the ones who died and the ones I killed to live my life for Christ.
Ben: How old were your children when you began to do vocational ministry?
Bill: Shannon was 18, Billy was 15, and Jeff was 13.
Ben: When something negative happens in the church, it’s very easy for us as leaders in the church to drag all of that negativity home and unload it on our family. Is that a healthy thing?
Bill: No. I still have my oldest son who resents the Lord because I brought too much home. I learned the hard way that just like Vegas, what happens at church stays at church.
Ben: When we unload all of our frustrations with church and church people on our children, what effects will that have on them?
Bill: As I mentioned, my oldest is finally, after years, getting on with his relationship with Christ. He was saved as a child but bitterness at the church tainted his love for God.
Ben: The wisdom that you shared with me that has stuck with me over these years had to do with one of your sons and his reaction to the church because of the negativity you were bringing home. Would you give us the details of what was going on with you and how he reacted?
Bill: It was one of those times when I was dry, and the church was dry. This always brings conflict, and I had a couple people who knew God was telling me it was time to leave. (This was 10 years before God told me!) Anyway, as people do, rumors were being spread, and my son was fed up. He said, “I can stay home and be closer to God than the ones at church.”
Ben: How did you handle that with him, and what adjustments did you make to safeguard your children’s hearts against bitterness toward your church and its people?
Bill: I learned to talk with him about what God was doing. To explain to him that rumors are rumors. We also agreed to let another adult working with the youth group to correct him at church during youth. I did not realize it, but I was harder on him than the others, and he felt he had no where to be himself. I also encouraged him to pick two men he trusted. We went to them and asked if they could be someone he could talk to with the agreement that they would not tell me what they talked about. This really helped. Finally, he could be just a youth at church instead of Bill Houpt’s son.
Ben: Of course, I believe that this wisdom is not just for pastors. It’s for all church members with children. Would you agree? Why?
Bill: Yes, if we are not careful we begin to encourage our kids to be fake at church.
Ben: What advice would you give church members who are parents concerning how to handle negative church situations with their children?
Bill: Be honest and don’t sugar coat. But remind them that it is not everyone. It becomes too easy to say “the church” instead of “so and so.” Keep it in perspective.
Ben: How about with our spouse? Our spouse is supposed to be our best friend and complete confidant, but should we take measures to safeguard their heart against bitterness toward our church? If so, how? If not, why not?
Bill: This is a hard one. Every minister I have talked with that went through a tough time, their wives are still bitter. When I left the youth ministry to be a pastor, I went to a conference for “ministers in transition.” I met a pastor who had been fired. He gave me a real piece of wisdom I still draw on. He said there is a little bit of truth in every gripe. What has helped us is to admit I make mistakes and that it is not always someone else.
Ben: If it’s not helpful to dump all of this stuff on our family, where should a person turn? What should he do?
Bill: It is impossible to survive in ministry without an accountability partner. I have two: one retired minister who helps me put stuff into perspective and one younger that I can help.
Ben: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?
Bill: A minister is an unthankful, unbelievably hard calling. You cannot survive unless you have been called. But, if you are called, it is an unbelievable life with Christ.
Ben: Bill, thank you so much for spending a few moments with us! May the Lord bless you, your family, and those to whom you minister!
Pastor Bill has certainly given us a lot to think about here. I have often thought about his advice to me to strive to protect my children’s heart from the negativity we encounter as leaders in the church. If I do not, it is likely that they will become bitter toward our local church and the church in general, just as happened with Pastor Bill’s teenage son.
Certainly, we don’t want our children to be naive, but we also must realize that as children, they are not able to rightly handle the complex adult situations we are so tempted to air before them. For the sake of their souls, we must not drag the trash home and empty it out in front of them. Instead, I believe that we should do everything in our power to keep church in a positive light in their eyes. Our goal should be to help the church stay in their minds a place where they want to go, a place where sinners being saved by grace go to serve Jesus and to become more like Him. And in the moments when our children cannot help but witness sinners in the church doing what sinners do, we must help them biblically and graciously process what they witnessed, keeping the cross of Christ in mind the entire time.
I took to heart Pastor Bill’s advice when he gave it to me years ago but have struggled at times to follow through. The temptation is often strong to air the negativity in front of my children, but I have recommitted once again to protecting their hearts because I love them and want them to love our church and its people.
May you commit to doing the same for the sake of your little one’s heart!
Hi Ben, Thanks for your interview with Bill Houpt. It is always good to hear someone else’s experiences. I think what the interview says is good in as far as it goes, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Here’s what I mean: Parents are the teachers of their children. When there is a problem in a local church, children often hear about it (word spreads). If parents take a cut and dried approach of “no negative church conversation in the home” then the child has to get his/her information elsewhere, usually from friends, and usually bad information. What if instead of “airing dirty church laundry in the home” as an either/or approach, parents were instead instructed to take a redemptive approach? A dinner time conversation might go like this:
Little Johnny: Dad, why are you and Mr. Bill not talking?
Dad: Son, sometimes grown-ups, even Christian ones, have disagreements and have to work through them.
Little Johnny: Did Mr. Bill hurt you?
Dad: Well something did happen between us, but honestly son, he probably feels that I was not fair to him, and in most disagreements there are two sides to every story.
Little Johnny: What are you going to do?
Dad: Son, God expects me to be at peace with Mr. Bill as far as it depends on me, and that is what I am trying to do. I trust he will be doing the same. In the mean time I do not want you to think bad of him, but to instead love him and pray that we can come to a good solution that will honor Jesus, be pleasing to us, and be good for the church.
Little Johnny: O.K. Dad
Dad: In fact Johnny, let’s you and I pray for your Daddy and Mr. Bill together. You pray first and then I will pray.
Little Johnny: O.K. Dad….
Todd, what you’ve written here is an excellent addition to what was said above! You expanded on what I was getting at when I said, “And in the moments when our children cannot help but witness sinners in the church doing what sinners do, we must help them biblically and graciously process what they witnessed, keeping the cross of Christ in mind the entire time.”
So, IF our children hear about something negative and ask us about it or we feel it is something that they’ll definitely hear about or know they witnessed, then we must address it with them in the manner in which you’ve laid out here. I love the word you used to describe your approach: “redemptive.”
One thing that I think is really important in your example is that the dad didn’t go into the details with Little Johnny. In other words, he didn’t really air out the negative scenario with his son. He just affirmed that there is a negative scenario and then helped the child process it biblically. Again, excellent example!
But there are times when our children did not see and will hear nothing of something negative that went on in the church context. Perhaps even this is the majority of the time. In these situations, I believe that it’s our duty as the spiritual leaders of our homes to not drag it home and air out the details with them. If I do air it out with them, it’ll probably be: 1) out of anger, frustration, or disappointment; 2) just my side of the story, which usually makes me out to be the saint and the other person the devil’s spawn; and 3) not “redemptive.”
So, you’re right. It’s not an either/or approach, such as, “Little Johnny, we’re just not going to discuss any of this in our home.” But, as best as we are able, I believe it behooves us for the sake of our children’s hearts to keep them as ignorant and innocent of the negativity as possible, lest bitterness take root in their young, impressionable hearts.
Thanks Ben, excellent. I think you have so clearly covered the details that onyone who finds themselves leading a family and at odds with a person or persons in their church would benefit from your instruction. You are a blessing to your congregation, and to your family.