As a mother of four I am always looking for tips and tricks on parenting. I have read many books that claim to have helpful advice. Some even claim to change your kids by Friday! (I take issue with this level of optimism.) I am thankful for each nugget of wisdom gained from these books. But there is one sentence in a parenting book that has recently impacted my parenting more than any other. It is found in the book ScreamFree Parenting, and it goes like this: “You are responsible to your children, not for them.” The premise behind ScreamFree parenting is that you, as a parent, cannot control your child. There is one person in the world whom you can control, and that person is yourself. In learning to tame our own reactions and learning how to remain calm ourselves we will radically change the behavior of our children over time. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It is a life changing approach to parenting. But today I want to take that notion of being responsible to others instead of for others, and apply it to the church.
What does it look like in the church when we think we are responsible for others? Well, it looks like judgement and sideways glances. It looks like shaking your head at the choices the person in the pew next to you has made instead of loving them enough to figure out the pain beneath those choices. When we are responsible for others we say things like, “Was it scriptural?” instead of things like, “How can I help?” When we are responsible for our brothers and sisters we have a pious stance that says we get to decide what level of sin is acceptable and who is allowed at the table based on our own interpretations and opinions. When we are responsible for each other, those who have self-inflicted pain seek solace anywhere but the church. When they walk in the doors of the church the weight of shame is palpable and the freedom of grace is hard to find. And the worst part of this debacle may be this: when we are responsible for others, we rarely (if ever) take adequate responsibility for ourselves.
So, what does it look like to be responsible to others in the church? When we are responsible to others we make sure we treat them with love and dignity. When we are responsible to others we go out of our way to bless and help them. When we are responsible to others we are constantly looking in the mirror and asking how we can be more like Christ. We are looking for ways to reach out and encourage. When we are responsible to others we see needs and we fill them. We don’t look away from pain. We walk toward it and sit with it. Being responsible to each other in the church is a beautiful picture of each person taking responsibility for his or her own behavior and doing everything they can to serve the body of Christ.
It takes healthy people who are confident in their identity in Christ to be able to walk out this lifestyle of being responsible for no one and to everyone. But if everyone could do this, the gospel would spread like wildfire. People would want to know what fuels this kind of behavior—this radical love that doesn’t seek to control but to care. Those Christians who are so confident in their identity that they don’t have to be afraid of groups that look and think differently than they do—those Christians would turn heads and win hearts to Christ. When people saw that “those Christians” act like they are responsible to those children detained at the border and to those women ravaged by sex-trafficking and to those men addicted to heroin, they would take notice. Pointing fingers and explaining to people that you are responsible for what they say and do and believe is a far cry from reaching your hand out to people and telling them that you are responsible to them for how you speak and behave and live out your claimed beliefs.
Think about a time when someone acted responsible for you and a time when someone acted responsible to you. Which person do you want to be?
Tara Petty is a children’s minister at Pegram Church of Christ near Nashville, TN. She is currently pursuing her M.Div. at Lipscomb University. She is a mother to four young children and enjoys reading, writing, loving and laughing. She is passionate about discipling a generation of youth who love Jesus and live fully in the freedom of knowing him.