Full disclosure: I don’t have any kids.
Given this, I know I really do not have any place in telling parents how to do their parent thing outside of bringing them the authoritative word of God about their parenting. I have no kids and therefore no parenting experience and therefore nothing to say about parenting outside of what the Bible says. I know this. I accept this.
Not What I’ve Done, But What I Have Observed
But (you knew that was coming didn’t you?), I do have something to offer you. Before you take this guy’s advice, hear me out. As a youth pastor, I have been given a special seat to observe and study the many students and parents that have come through my ministry. I have rejoiced in some of the best parents this world has to offer and I have mourned grievously over of the worst. In my (short) time as a youth pastor shepherding hundreds of students and meeting lots of parents, I have picked up a couple things I know I will take into my parenting when (Lord willing) we are gifted with children. These are not things I have come up with and intend to share with parents, but these are the things I myself have learned from watching very good parents at work.
So, hear ye! Lend me thine ears ye children shepherds. Heed the parenting advice of a fellow who has no offspring of his own (at least not yet!)…
Six Things That Will Bless Your Child
Here are six of the best things I have watched parents do in pastoring their children toward a vibrant love for Jesus.
Go to corporate worship with your children. Worship with your children! Let them hear dad sing to Jesus. Let them see mom bow her head in prayer. Let them observe you listen to God’s Word be preached and catch you underlining your Bible and writing down notes. Do not push your child off to youth group while you are in corporate worship with the adults. If you have to choose one or the other, always, always choose the option that has your children with you in Sunday gathering. Worshiping together provides opportunities for discussion throughout the week and lets your child witness your participation with other Christians. This prepares them well for when they are adults. Also, this will help them to not see themselves as a part of the youth group only, but the whole church at large.
Pursue personal holiness. The best way to shepherd your child toward Jesus is by making sure you are being shepherded by Him first. Yes, they will listen to what you say. Of course, they are going to learn what you teach. But most importantly, your children will be most affected by what affects you most. They will look to who you are looking to. They will pay attention to what captures your attention. Parents who are actively pursing their own growth in Christ demonstrate to their children Christ’s worth by the way they live their life. If you want godly children, make sure you are working out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Your growth in knowledge, character, obedience, and faithfulness to Jesus is the greatest gift you can give them.
Submit to a local church. I use this language carefully. Don’t just attend a church, as if it is optional like joining a tennis club, but submit to a local church like it’s your duty (Hebrews 13:17) and view the church as your authority (Matthew 18:18). What good does this do for the kiddos?
First, it models healthy Christianity as Christ intends. Jesus has saved His people into a body where they have blessings to both receive and give. Churchless Christianity is in direct opposition to Jesus and the instruction of His Word. Churchless parents model deficient Christianity to their children.
Second, submitting to the local church puts your parenting under the loving eye of your pastors (1 Peter 5:1-4) and the accountability of other Christians. Having others point out our blind spots or blunders can save our children from much harm.
Third, a local church will supply you with constant encouragement to parent your children well from pastors and other Christian brothers and sisters (Hebrews 10:25). One of my favorite things to do is encourage weary parents, who is encouraging you?
Fourth, becoming a member of a local church will surround you with other parents you may be able to learn from. And maybe they can learn from you!
Fifth, commitment to a local church will provide your children with numerous other people who are pursuing Jesus faithfully and will love and instruct them too alongside you (see Titus 2:1-10). This way mom and dad aren’t the only Jesus freaks they know.
So, unless you are the one person who doesn’t need anyone’s encouragement or help, submit yourself to a local church. Hear this clearly, your kids need you to be members of a local church. If you need more persuasion about joining a local church, read this.
Let your children see you repent. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to save face before your children and that they need to think you are perfect if they are to respect you. They don’t need to think you’re perfect. In fact, they know you’re not and pretending you are will only frustrate them. But they do need to know Jesus is perfect and you’re a sinner in need of His grace and theirs. When you fail them or sin against them, apologize and repent. Let them see that daddy and mommy aren’t perfect and let them hear from mommy and daddy about how Jesus came to save sinners like them. Let your failures become moments to point them to Jesus and revel in the gospel together.
Talk about, pray to, and cherish Jesus at home. Never, never, never let Jesus be an unspoken assumption at your home. Don’t turn on the Christianity only when you are at church. Kids learn to dislike that greatly and will begin to suspect your faith in Jesus only exists at church. Do whatever you can to make sure Jesus is spoken about with ease in your home. Share with your kids what you are reading in the Bible or your reflections of the pastor’s sermon from Sunday. Buy this cd and listen/talk about with your kids. Give thanks to God for feeding your family and making food delicious. Sing to Jesus together. Pray together. Do family worship. Work hard to make your child very comfortable in talking about Jesus with you. Let your home be a little church.
Give consistent, individual attention to each of your kids. This is especially important if God has given you multiple kids. Don’t let any of your children get lost in the crowd. Each one of your kids needs to know they are loved and known by you specifically. I have watched my pastor/mentor/friend/co-laborer-in-the-gospel, Dave Keehn, do this well with his children. Ever since I have known him, he has worked hard to give specific, consistent, and intentional face time to each of his kids. He takes his son to special soccer games to watch their favorite team. He takes his daughter to Starbucks. He takes his youngest son to the park to play. Each child gets their time with dad doing something they love.
In doing this, make sure this isn’t done reactively. That is, you only spend individual time with them when they are doing really well or screwing up badly. Make this a consistent thing you give to them no matter “how well” they are doing. Don’t punish them by taking away their time with you. Your love and attention is their right to be honored, not a privilege to be taken away. Work to spend some kind of individual time with each of your kids. Take them out for donuts or fun coffee drinks. Play catch or go fishing. Go for a walk around the block. Find out what your child likes to do and do it with them. If you’d like some more thought on this, read this short piece on daddy dates.
So, there you have it, parenting advice from a fella with no kids of his own. As I end this post, let me make my heart in this as clear as I can: I offer this as encouragement for parents who want to shepherd their children well.
Over the years of youth pastoring I have seen these six things as common factors in the lives of the healthiest kids. They are in no way the answer to anything. This list is indeed not comprehensive, but they are simple enough. I do hope these are helpful to you as you work to shepherd your children, or prepare to shepherd them, toward Jesus Christ.
Now here is a treat for enduring that…
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