Beneath the vaulted ceilings of the famous Oude Kerk (“Old Church”) in Amsterdam, my family and I walked around to see the contemporary art exhibit that filled its massive sanctuary. One artwork in particular attracted our attention: a large sculpture of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Approaching it from behind, we were impressed by the statement of faith it seemed to make about Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive people’s sins. But when we reached the front, we were dismayed to see different images of various visitors’ faces flashing across the blank space where Jesus’ own face had been left uncarved in the stone. A sign nearby explained that this project was called “I am Christ” and invited people to submit photos of their faces through social media so they, too, could be portrayed in the church as Jesus himself.

My teenaged daughter Honor and elementary-aged son Justin looked at me with confused expressions flashing across their faces. “Wait – how can people actually be Jesus?” Justin finally asked.

“Um,” I stammered, “well, uh, people can’t ever be Jesus, but Jesus can live inside of us, so I guess this may be showing that somehow.”

“No, that’s not what it says,” Justin replied, pointing to the sign. Then a smiling woman, who told us she was a church member and had overheard our conversation, came up to us and explained that the artwork depicts human potential. “You see, we can all be divine,” she declared. “Once we realize that we’re capable of anything, we can grow to have the same power as God. I affirm that to myself every day.” After she walked away, I discreetly explained to our kids that her theology was misguided and blasphemous.

Visiting the church was far from the inspirational experience we’d hoped it would be.

I let the stress get the best of me and fell into sin that made me seem like quite the hypocritical Christian. Russ and I disagreed about which tram to take back to where we were staying. When he walked off in a direction I didn’t think was right, I refused to follow, and instead yelled for him to come back and start walking my way. Honor and Justin stood between us, listening to us argue loudly. After I heard myself shout profanity, I cringed in embarrassment and followed Russ to the tram he thought we should take.

We boarded the crowded tram, and I realized that our kids’ tickets had expired. But before I could buy new tickets, the driver started moving the tram, and our family got pushed along with the crowd toward the back. Rather than trying to reach the front again, I took a seat and rationalized dishonesty, telling myself that it wouldn’t hurt for the kids to ride without valid tickets just this once. Then Honor spoke up. “Mom, you didn’t give us tickets this time and the driver gave us a funny look. Where are our tickets?”

Busted! Me – the Christian mother who had carefully tried to protect my kids from the dangers of hypocrisy – was caught sinning in a messy variety of ways that made me look like a hypocrite myself.

True hypocrisy is a deliberate and consistent pattern of behavior that contradicts the beliefs someone proclaims. Hypocrites declare faith in Jesus, yet consistently pursue sin, showing that their faith isn’t really genuine. So I wasn’t being a real hypocrite in front of my kids, but through my struggle with sin that stressful afternoon, I certainly wasn’t helping them process the hypocrisy they encountered at the church.

All of us parents sometimes fail to model faith in action well to our kids, despite our best intentions. Only Jesus is perfect; we humans – even the most faithful of us – still struggle with sin in this fallen world and make mistakes as a result. But when children and teens experience Christians saying or doing something that doesn’t line up with what they profess to believe, that can confuse and anger them. Over time, encountering sin and hypocrisy in the church can damage young people’s faith so much that it leads them to leave church as a result.