How Not to Spiritually Shepherd Your Children

bad_parenting_9As a youth pastor, I have seen a wide spectrum of parents and their unique parenting strategies. Some have been good. Some have been bad. Some have been down right ugly. Although I don’t have any kids of my own and, therefore, have no experience to speak as a parent myself (as I have confessed before), these observations taught me a lot about parenting. A lot about what I want to do as a parent and a lot about what I don’t want to do as a parent.

Here are three bad parenting strategies I have watched some parents buy into and reap the sorrowful consequences. These are three things I don’t want to do whenever I am a parent and hopefully you don’t do either.

Parenting by Osmosis. Google dictionary defines osmosis as, “the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.” I have seen many parents think that their children will unconsciously assimilate their love for Jesus. These parents overemphasize the modeling portion of their duty at the neglect of their duty to intentionally teach them. They assume that their Christianity will rub off on their kids naturally.

The problem is that a knowledge of Christ is not nurtured without intention. Kids don’t fall into discipleship. There are doctrines that need to be explained (1 Timothy 4:6). There are commandments that need to be taught (Matthew 28:20). There are costs that need to be counted (Luke 14:33). There are lots (lots and lots) of questions that need to be answered and re-answered over and over again. Parenting by osmosis makes the deadly mistake of believing people drift toward faithfulness when in fact it’s the other way around. Intentionality seems to be key in shepherding one’s child toward Christ. Without it our children are adrift in the world’s river floating whatever direction it takes them.

Parenting by Outsourcing. This is a favorite for many parents. These parents seem to know enough to understand their children need some kind of intentional, spiritual shepherding, but instead of taking on the brunt of that responsibility themselves, they send their kids to the youth pastor! In short, they outsource their shepherding responsibility to their church’s youth pastor. Now, youth pastors exist to serve parents and youth and they should be looked to for help, but they should never (read: NEVER) be thought of or used as the primary shepherd of the church’s children. The parents are the primary youth pastors of their kids, not the church’s youth pastor. When parents outsource the shepherding responsibility to the youth pastor, they are choosing to not do what God has commanded them to do.

Not only does outsourcing let parents abdicate their shepherding responsibility, it also causes numerous problems for the children. First, it teaches the child to go to their pastor for any eternal matters since mom and dad have never seen too interested to help. This is unfortunate because a child spends only a few hours a week (maximum) with their youth pastor, but the rest of their time is with or around their parents. Outsourcing teaches kids that those they are around the most won’t help them with matters that are most important. Second, outsourcing tends to transfer a child’s heart away from their parents and toward their youth pastor. For many kids, the youth pastor is the guy who has told them about Jesus, taught them the Scriptures, and answered their tender/sensitive questions. As far as they’ve known, the youth pastor is the one who is able and willing to help them know their Lord; their parents are not. This is especially sad when, after their child comes to know and grow in Christ, the parents start trying to shepherd them and the kid resists since the parents never helped them before. Their allegiance has been given over to the youth pastor. This is terribly sad and can be avoided. Don’t outsource your children because it may outsource their heart.

Parenting by Overwhelming. This last strategy does the exact opposite of the previous two. Parenting by osmosis and outsourcing abdicate the spiritual shepherding responsibility, but parenting by overwhelming takes it on in a crushing way. This is the parent who makes sure their family devotions never go under two hours. They make sure that the family goes to every single church event rain or shine. The rules are heavy and numerous and held with unbending strictness. Every shortcoming is mercilessly punished in the name of excellence and every question is answered with a verse and no explanation or discussion. With good intentions, these parents suffocate the life breath out of their children. The good news of the gospel quickly looses its sense of goodness and the joy of the Lord. Often times, these are the kids that, once they go to college and get a little but of freedom, dive headfirst into the world and its pleasures because their “obedience” up until that point was nothing more than forced, external restraint. Their behavior was restrained and disciplined, but their hearts were never shepherded. Once the restraints leave, the true heart is revealed.

These are three pitfalls I have seen over my years as a youth pastor. There are more, no doubt, but there are not less. However, be not in despair! I don’t intend to end here. Tomorrow, I hope to post the best parenting strategies I have witnessed from the numerous godly moms and dads who have gone through our youth ministry.

HT: Pastor Dave Keehn for giving me the wording of the first two strategies from his excellent sermon this past Sunday.

About Dana Dill

I'm a Christian, husband, daddy, pastor, professor, and hope to be a friend to pilgrims on their way home.
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