In October 2018 The Gospel Coalition hosted a West Coast conference in Fullerton, California. One of the breakout sessions was led by Erik Thoennes and his wife, Donna. They shared the challenges of parenting in the 21st century. Their discussion focused on our culture that a. places too much emphasis on peers b. centers on blaming others instead of taking responsibility c. promotes rampant promiscuity and sexual confusion d. fosters relational shallowness due to the influence of technology and social media e. creates stress, anxiety and depression f. promotes an extended adolescence g. idolizes instead of prioritizes parenting.
By way of counsel the Thoennes’s offer the following for parents to consider:
Over the years I have taught many parenting classes and although I love teaching parents “what to do” I often say the best counsel I may have for you is to offer perspective on mistakes I’ve made so that you don’t have to make them too. Below is a quote from a dad who is looking back at his parenting years. He notes many things he would have done differently. I think this is valuable counsel and wanted to share it with you. It’s important to learn from those who have gone before us. To so learn is a sign of wisdom.
Quoted from Brave Dad by John MacArthur
One father, looking at the parenting process in retrospect, said this: “If I were starting my family again, I would love my wife more in front of my children. I would laugh with my children more at our mistakes and our joys. I would listen to my children more, even to the littlest one. I would be more honest about my weaknesses and not pretend perfection. I would pray differently for my family. Rather than focusing on them, I’d focus on me. I would do more things with my children. I would do more encouraging. I would bestow more praise. I would pay more attention to little things. I would speak about God more intimately. Out of every ordinary thing of every ordinary day I would point them to Christ.”
May God help us all to reflect about our parenting and seek His grace to live for the important rather than the urgent.
Always by His grace,
From the above quote you can see that Tripp’s book isn’t about the latest strategies and methodologies to use with your children (though some instruction on this can be helpful). His focus is more fundamental. He wants to draw our attention once again to the heart of parenting. To do this he lays out 14 gospel-saturated principles that will revolutionize first how you think about this highest of callings, and once convinced will dramatically affect how you work it out in practice.
We live in a day and age where most of us live harried lives. We run from activity to activity. We are pressed on many levels. We are also confronted with expectations (false they may be) of what good parenting is. We’re left to feel a failure is we don’t have our children in all the sporting leagues, while at the same time learning two instruments, singing in the church choir, and working on that resume of service projects that needs to look impressive by the time our child applies for college. All of these “good” things can be the enemy of the best. They can keep us from our true calling as parents.
And so Tripp takes us on a journey reminding us of what our calling is. He reminds us of where we must seek our true identity (in the Lord, not our children). He reminds us that our hearts and our children’s hearts need rescue, and that the law or more parental control or misused authority will never be able to affect the transformation that only grace can bring about. He leads us on to the rest that can come to our hearts when we’ve been unshackled from the lies in which we are so easily entangled and begin to embrace the truths of the gospel which can set us free.
I highly recommend this book to help all parents who might need a “reset” in their parenting mind frame. Take up and read!
As parents we want the best for our children. We want to see them flourish and experience life at its best. But sometimes we approach the attaining of this fine goal in the wrong way. We excessively correct or critique our child(ren) doing this in the name of helping them be their God-given best. We push them to achieve raising the bar higher and higher wanting them to reach their full potential. And these are not bad things in and of themselves, but many times a steady diet of only these things can lead to discouragement in our child(ren), even wanting to give up and not try because they never seem to meet the standard.
An important antidote or balance to the above measures is to practice biblical affirmation with our child(ren). Biblical affirmation is like praise, but with one very important difference. It ties the praise to the originator of the gift. It looks at what is commendable in the child, and offers commendation, but does so in a way that honors the source of the commendable trait, namely the Lord Jesus.
So, as you consider how the Lord has blessed your child, you see that He has endowed him with a great mind. You recognize that that great mind is a mere reflection of the Lord who has complete understanding of all things. You recognize that it is a gift of the Lord’s grace. So, when your child brings home a paper with an “A” grade, or a report card full of good grades, it is important to commend this, but in doing so to acknowledge the source of this wonderful gift. “It is so neat to see you using the wonderful mind God has given to you. It must bring you great joy to know how He has blessed you in this way. Well done!” Such affirmations should be coming from you, the parent, far more times than your corrections.
In his book, Practicing Affirmations, Sam Crabtree, shares a personal story within his family. He noted that his 11 year old daughter was growing increasingly distant, becoming less and less communicative. He recognized that he was loosing the battle for his daughter’s heart and this grieved him because he knew little girls need input from their dad. So what could he do? He states, “I determined that this eleven-year-old daughter whom I loved would receive more praise from me than from anyone else on the face of the globe. I became a student of her. I thought, if I have to stay up nights thinking of ways to commend her, then I will, because she is going to need to hear from her father.” The story ends well as Crabtree saw a transformation in his daughter that the Lord brought about by the means of his intentional and biblical affirmations.
Now lest you think this is only a psychological technique, take a look at 1 Thessalonians 1. There you will see Paul giving biblical affirmation. He commends their labor of love, work of faith, and perseverance of hope. He affirms their becoming imitators of Paul to such an extent that their witness is known all around. And does he just leave it there? No, he unites this wonderful commendation to the work of God in their hearts: How they turned from idols to serve the living God. How this amazing transformation is due to the Lord having loved them and chosen them.
Parents, as you seek your child’s best interest, sprinkle in large doses of biblical affirmation. It may be the ingredient the Lord uses to bring your child to flourish in His life.]]>
Observation: Many parents operate from a protective mindset. Fearful of how the world might influence their child they seek to control everything the child does. They try to keep them from bad companions, bad movies, evil music, liberal families,…
Problem: Now seeking to protect your child is not an evil thing – in fact, it is part of the parental mandate – but the fact is this kind of parenting has several downsides.
First, by itself it is incomplete. Psalm 127:1 is instructive here. It says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
From this verse we can see a dual role – both protection, guarding, watching over, and also building up. What’s true of a house and city is true of the parenting task. Protection from harmful influences is important but so is building into the life of the child. If parents spend all their energies protecting their children and not building into their lives, children will be ill equipped to face their world.
I remember when my oldest daughter was in 8th grade it dawned on me that I had four more years and that after that she’d be on her own. If I only kept protecting and didn’t build into her life, helping her make wise choices, she would not be ready. So I began to be more intentional about my instruction, asking lots of questions and allowing her to make a lot more choices whether I liked all of them or not.
This kind of parenting is also problematic because it is fear based, and you cannot parent well when driven by fear. When we parent out of fear we are likely to be high control as well.
Author Gary Thomas notes: “At that crossroads – whether high school or college – control becomes a myth. In fact, the more we try to control, the more likely we will push our children away from us. …If they witness a fear-driven religion based on control, they will likely run as fast and as far as they can in the other direction. Sadly I have seen this in too many families.”
The verses we read above remind us, “Unless the Lord builds…unless the Lord watches….they labor in vain.” That is to say we must trust the Lord. It is not we who change the human heart; only the Lord can do that, so we must walk by faith, not in fear. Children instinctively know that this is not right and will rebel from it.
This kind of parenting is also problematic because it sees the problem as external and not as internal. We can try to isolate our children from everything in the world, but the fact is we cannot isolate them from their own hearts. The core problem is not external, it is in the human heart that is drawn to those things contrary to God. When we focus on externals we because self-righteous and we pass that on to our children.
Finally, protectionist parenting is problematic because it typically leads to an isolationist mentality – we want to shelter our children from every one and every thing that might be harmful. This way of managing culture is not consistent with the lofty cultural mandate God has given his people. We are not to hide from culture or to create our own subculture – we are to seek to redeem culture – to bring to bear God’s kingdom wherever we see the effects of the fall. We have to give our children a grand vision – something beyond themselves – something great to live for. The mission to proclaim God’s kingdom in all we do and say, and to work for the extension of Christ’s reign in our world, is a vision grand enough to fuel the human heart for a lifetime…even for eternity.]]>
Myth #6: The church is providing my child’s spiritual education so I can focus on other things at home.
Observation: Some parents put all their “eggs” in the proverbial “church basket”. They reason that it is the church’s job to provide a spiritual education for their children.
Problem: The problem with this reasoning is manifold. First, the Scriptures are clear that “parents are to bring up their children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord”. It is the calling of parents to pass on the faith to their children. It is their primary role. Now that is not to say that the church has no role in educating children. I firmly believe that God has given gifts to the church, and that we need to expose our children to all of those gifts including the teaching gifts of others.
A second problem is the usual result of this approach. I have found that the children least equipped to handle the pressures of our ungodly world system are the children whose only input comes from the church, who do not hear or see the faith evidenced at home. The next step up are those who are educated at home. Those most equipped are those who have parents who are diligent about both teaching at home and the church.
A third problem is that the church may not be teaching your children well. Now there are many variables that go into an excellent children or youth ministry, but one that is essential is the curriculum. Every church needs a curriculum that is God-exalting and Christ-centered. Jesus said in His high priestly prayer that “this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” If children are going to grow up and know life they are going to have to be nurtured on a substantive curriculum, but this is not easy to come by.
Early in my ministry I examined a fairly popular curriculum. One lesson in particular focused on that event when John introduced Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” to two of his disciples. When these two disciples followed Jesus and Jesus invited them to come with him, the curriculum focused on this friendly overture and developed the lesson theme: Jesus is friendly so we should be friendly, too. They turned a marvelous lesson on the redemption of Christ into a moralistic lesson. Children who grow up on a diet of this kind of teaching never do hear the “good news”.
Even today there is a very popular curriculum that focuses on character traits. In one lesson they take the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 to teach their character trait of “initiative”. The curriculum states that the focus of the lesson is on the initiative the disciples showed by gathering the two fish and five loaves. Again children growing up on a diet of this kind of moralistic teaching never really learn that the gospel is a call to repent from being your own Lord, to enshrine Christ as Lord, and then to live the rest of your days for His mission not yours.
Parents, it is not an either / or proposition. When the church and home work together children thrive most. I believe that is the way God intended it!]]>
Observation: Both home school parents and parents who send their children to Christian schools often elect to keep their children out of church sponsored ministries. They reason that their children are getting enough input from the home and/or the school. Some say that the children aren’t challenged from what they learn at church. Some say their child is already learning memory verses and to add more is a strain for them. Some say spiritual training is the role of parents and not of the church.
Problem: The problem with this kind of an approach is that many of these children are growing up disconnected from their church family to whom they are to be intimately connected. When these children are entering Jr. & Sr. High parents are coming with great concern stating that their child doesn’t want to come to church. They aren’t connecting with anybody. What’s worse is when they go off to college, they are leaving the church altogether.
At the root of the problem is a misunderstanding of the church. The church isn’t a place we go to, it is fundamentally who we are. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For we were all baptized by One Spirit into one body …and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” I gave a message one time at CBC entitled: Don’t go to church…Be the church! How you view the church (as a place I attend or as my identity) makes a huge difference in how you will parent your child in these matters. When you see your identity and your child’s identity as the church you will do everything possible to integrate your family’s life with the life of the church. You will work hard to build bonds of love with other families. You will prayerfully labor to encourage your child to build a peer group among the church family. Most teens find this very encouraging as they navigate their way through those sometimes turbulent teen years. And if by chance your child isn’t being challenged by the church group…challenge your child to make a difference. Encourage him/her to go and love the other students and urge them on to greater fullness in Christ. The truth is we can’t make “the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16) when we and our children aren’t vitally engaged in the lives of others.]]>
Myth #3: The goal of good parents is to make their children happy.
Observation: Many parents today work very hard to make their children happy. The principle way they attempt to do this is often by giving in to their children’s desires. They shower their children with possessions and experiences all designed to put a smile on their faces. They order their lives around the child’s whims and wishes.
Problem: Now it is not a bad thing to seek your child’s happiness, but an approach that focuses solely on the child’s desires is sure to backfire. Children who have been reared by such well-intentioned parents often grow up to be demanding, always wanting more, having a sense of entitlement, ungrateful, often unwilling to give of themselves for the good of others. Ultimately, the happiness such parents desired for their children ends up being extremely illusive.
Instead parents should pursue for their children what God wants for them. He intends that they be holy. Romans 8:28-29 states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Hebrews 12:10-11 confirm God’s good intentions for our children when it states, “For they (parents) disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He (God) disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
God’s passion for our children (and parents, as well) is that they be holy, conformed to the image of God’s Son, yielding the peaceful fruit of righteousness. That means that they be given to God’s will and His mission, and that they learn in the manner of Jesus to lay down their life for the good of others. This is the path to happiness – it is counterintuitive, but when our children learn to walk its trail they are sure to experience its blessedness. The path of indulgence never leads to life.
One caution is in line here. By this I am not suggesting that we try to make life miserable for our children. Too many adult Christians in pursuit of holiness portray a Christianity that is so joyless they couldn’t sell it to anybody. True Christianity is compelling; it is joyful; it is full of life. Jesus said He came to bring us life and that abundantly (John 10:10). Children need to see that they are trading their indulgence for something far more satisfying – a relationship with Jesus, who contains in Himself the fullness of deity (Col 2:9). In fact, He is the only thing / person that will satisfy them in this life and provide for them an abundant entrance into the life to come.]]>
Myth #2: I am too busy to serve in my church
Observation: A lot of parents who get sucked up in myth #1 (believing they have to have their children in every imaginable activity to be a good parent) often get sucked into myth #2. Because they are running around from activity to activity they feel the one area that they can cut back on is their involvement in their local church. And I have observed many parents make this choice.
Problem: The problem with this is that it contradicts the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. Ephesians 4, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4 all make it clear that to be a Christian is to be a member of the Body. Christianity is not an individualistic enterprise – it is very much about community. That is why our God has described Himself as a Tri-unity – as God in community – 3 persons in one. To make a decision to forego service in the body is to make a decision to live contrary to what God has made us to be. Problem: Beyond this there is the problem of what we are teaching our children – or what we aren’t teaching our children. When our children see us running around from activity to activity, we are sending them a message that these things are really what matters. When we are doing these things and at the same time choosing not to go to church or participate in church, we are sending even a stronger message. Oh blessed is the child that sees his/her parents zealous for the Lord’s work. I have seen children who have been blessed with such parents who themselves have grown up to love ministry.
Back in the 80’s when I worked at a camp in Wisconsin I had a HS student who was zealous for motorcycles. He loved to talk about them, race them, fix them. I wondered how he could be so turned on to them. Then I met his dad – a motorcycle enthusiast. His dad was so turned on to the sport that his enthusiasm was catchy. His son picked up on it in a big way. As I observed that, I remember asking myself, “How can we inculcate a similar zeal in our children for the Lord and His work?” I think the answer is being joyfully zealous for the Lord’s work ourselves. When our children see that ministry matters – that it is not optional – take it or leave it – they are more likely to pursue it themselves. That’s why I think it is tragic when parents believe myth #2. Not only do they miss out on this vital role in preparing their children for service in Christ’s kingdom, but they miss out in the blessing of living out the full calling of Christ for their lives.]]>
Myth #1: To be a good parent I have to get my child involved in many outside activities.
Observation: We live in a consumer economy. That means there are always a lot of options for our children’s time. There is the plethora of sporting activities: baseball (spring, winter, fall), basketball (spring, winter, fall), football, gymnastics,… vying for their participation. There are dance lessons, music lessons. There are summer camps of great variety. There are even advanced academic classes (often in the summer) that are designed to give their children a jump start.
Observation: Today’s parents feel pressure to have their children in many of these activities. They think, “What good parent wouldn’t give their children every opportunity to better themselves and perhaps give them a jump start in life.
Problem: Now it must be said that the activities in themselves are not bad, nor is a parent’s desire to encourage their child’s development an evil. But the problem comes with what price we have to pay. Many of the activities today ask for a lot. The coach of the little league says you have to be present at every practice and every game or you’re out. He wants commitment and so parents who want to be good parents make that happen. But consider the costs. I’ve watched families run from activity to activity not even having time to eat a meal together. Is that really what God calls us to?
But even more germane is the fact that we may be trying to “fill” our children’s lives with things that are second best. I have watched many parents as they run from activity to activity satisfying the demands of each, decide they don’t have time for church – or for midweek club or for summer camp.
This is tragic since it is in Christ that we find our fullness, not in the other, albeit good things. Paul said that “in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells and in Him you have been made complete.” True fullness comes in knowing Christ – in being united to Christ, in finding our completeness in Him. These other things can’t make that claim, and yet I see parents pursuing them to the peril of their children.
Parents, please consider what all your activity suggests to your children your priorities are for them. Ask the Lord to reveal to you if the good things you are pursuing are keeping your and your children from the best. Then meditate on the words of author J.C. Philpot below. Ask the Lord how He might use you to encourage your child to know the blessedness of fullness in Christ.
How do we possess all things? In possessing Christ who is heir of all things. If we possess Christ, what have we not in Him? We have wisdom to teach us, righteousness to justify us, sanctification to make us holy, and redemption to deliver us from sin, death, and hell. If we have Him, we have the favour and love of God; we have the pardon of our sins, the reconciliation of our persons, the casting behind God’s back of all our backslidings, and a title to a heavenly crown. If we have Him, we have everything in Him, for Christ is ours, and Christ is God’s. Therefore in Him we possess all things. We shall have in providence things sufficient to carry us to the grave. He will give us everything that is for our good, and keep back nothing that is for our benefit. If we possess Him, what have we not in Him?