The meeting regarding baptism seemed perfectly normal to me, but as I looked at this sweet young lady, I couldn't help but wonder why she had met with the pastor three times before. She did not seem at all like someone who was difficult to deal with. She was thoughtful and respectful to me and had a bubbly personality. It didn't make sense. And it also puzzled me that she volunteered this little bit of information on our first Sunday.
I had to ponder this thought: would my kids ever do something to that level to necessitate a meeting with the pastor? Probably not. Our kids weren't perfect, but had never caused any sort of trouble that would need to be dealt with by a pastor. To be honest, it made me wonder if this church was a good environment in which to raise our children if so many teens were having discipline issues requiring meetings with a pastor.
That little meeting on our first Sunday faded into my memory for quite some time until I heard about other incidents in which teens were brought in to meet with the pastor.
Unfortunately, it turned out our family was not exempt from these meetings. I recall my nearly 21-yr old daughter having a meeting with the pastor after she had been associating with an "unsavory" male whom she met at college. We had told him about their relationship. The meeting lasted for hours. Scripture was read over and over showing how she had sinned. There were tears, there was anger, it was not a pleasant experience. I left the meeting emotionally beaten down and can only imagine how my daughter felt. But because the pastor was involved and we trusted him, we convinced ourselves that we were doing the right thing.
There was also the other meeting that I previously blogged about (a technical problem erased the blog post, but you can read my daughter's Google review here). This same adult daughter was forced into a meeting with the pastor, church leader, close friend, and parents. She didn't want to be there. We all sat in a circle and I imagine she felt physically trapped. We were advised to remove her cell phone, have her quit college, quit work, not allow internet use, so that she could use the "free" time to turn her life around. This was not grace. This was a berating. Scriptures were read repeatedly to show how she was in sin. And once again, it was a long meeting.
In talking with others, the meetings our daughter endured were normal. Typically a parent was present and meetings lasted for literally hours. Scriptures were always used. Strong emotion was present, sometimes with the pastor pounding his hands on the table for emphasis. Voices were loud and intimidating.
Just as the young lady warned me about this on our first Sunday, I've been told that other congregants actually warned new attenders about this practice. It was an accepted practice and parents went along with it because it seemed the right thing to do. If a pastor, man of God, is encouraging this, how can it be wrong?
Looking back, it is my opinion that allowing the pastor to speak with our children in those meetings with that kind of emotional and spiritual intensity for that length of time was not the best thing to do. In fact, in our family's situation, I believe it was the wrong thing to do. I feel guilty that two of my adult children endured those meetings.
God has given parents the responsibility to raise our children, not pastors. Pastors are to be shepherds, not authoritarians. It is completely appropriate for pastors to give guidance and suggestions to parents on how to deal with discipline issues, but not to berate, spend literally hours, raising voices, pound hands on table, read scripture after scripture showing our kids they are in sin. That feels abusive. It does not take hours to tell someone that their behavior was wrong.
I found it very helpful to discuss this situation with my daughter even years later. I apologized to her and she was so gracious to say that she understood that we were only doing what we thought was best.
Our children are a blessing from the Lord. We don't need this kind of thing from the past to pull us apart and unfortunately, because we felt sucked into this environment, we may have made wrong parenting choices. Some of us may have unfinished business (and I may not be done yet). Let's deal with that. Let's love on our adult kids - even ones who may not be going down a path that we would have chosen for them. Some may have chosen the paths they are taking because of the unhealthy church environment. I can't think of a better time to extend love and grace to them, certainly not shun them or exclude them from our lives.