If you’re like me, your greatest desire for your children is that they will love Jesus, love people, and be on mission for His kingdom. There are all sorts of other hopes and dreams that cluster around those three things, but in my prayers for my kids, I find that I keep coming back to those.
Almost anyone will tell you that parenting is tough, but trying to be the kind of parent God wants you to be is even tougher. We recognize there are high spiritual stakes in how we raise our children, which is why we’ve got to take this responsibility seriously and lean heavily on the Lord for His wisdom and grace in the midst of our failures.
J.D. and Veronica Greear have an 7-session study called Ready to Launch: Jesus-Centered Parenting in a Child-Centered World. Over the last couple weeks, Corina and I have watched the session videos and reviewed the group materials. We found their counsel to be on target, and we believe their emphasis on training for mission is long overdue in parenting studies.
Today, I’ve asked J.D. and Veronica to join me for a conversation about their approach to parenting:
Trevin: The world tells parents they should be centered on kids; as a pastor, you tell parents they should be centered on Jesus. The primary responsibility of both the church and the home is to teach the next generation the gospel.
Some people may hear a statement like that and think “teaching” in the classroom sense of getting your kids to sit down in rows and hear you tell Bible stories. That’s not what you’re talking about here. What does a broader vision of teaching your kids the gospel look like?
J.D.: God gave us two gospel “laboratories,” or “gardens,” in which to grow our kids: the family and the church. “Teaching our kids the gospel” means immersing them deeply in gospel-saturated relationships in both of those environments. That certainly includes the teaching of gospel doctrine—our kids should “bleed” Bible—but it is so much more than that. We must foster deep relationships within the family and church so that
- the gospel can be spoken into their lives in strategic ways and
- they can see the gospel lived out in day to day life.
Good gospel teaching is explaining to kids what they see lived out on a daily basis.
Furthermore, gospel-training must always be given in the context of mission. Gospel instruction divorced from mission leads to boredom and stagnation. After all, how can we really believe the gospel and not be on mission? We have to show kids that believing the gospel launches them into the greatest adventure in the universe.
Trevin: It’s easy for people to get into parenting studies like this or watch pastors lead their families and think, Oh, of course, they’ve got it all together. My family is so dysfunctional. We’re hopeless. Veronica, you and J.D. are honest about some of the struggles you have in leading your family. What gives you hope that God is making something even in the “mess” of family life?
Veronica: Parenting probably taught me more about my desperate need for grace than any other thing in my life. Up to that point, I always thought (in the back of my mind) that given enough time and will power, I was sufficient for the task. But in parenting, though I was more motivated than I’d ever been before, I was still failing miserably. Daily. And J.D. felt that way, too.
Fortunately, the Bible God inspired reads like a Who’s Who of dysfunctional families. Really messed up stuff.
Yet, in the midst of these ugly stories of family dysfunction, God called out a people for his purposes and changed their stories into stunning examples of his powerful unexplainable grace. God didn’t love them because they were beautiful—far from it. They became beautiful because God loved them.
So if we, in the midst of our “dysfunction”, hope in his ability to work through difficult situations, whether they be mild or intense, we are in excellent company. Think about it: Why else would God fill his word with so many stories of messed up people whose lives he rescued, if not to reassure us that he loves us, in our family struggles, and can transform our families into trophies of his power and grace?
Trevin: In this study, you two talk a lot about the gospel and the need to reach the heart of your children. But you also talk a lot about mission and how we should see our kids as belonging (first) to God and His purposes.
What’s the difference between sheltering your children towards safety and shepherding your children towards mission?
J.D.: The ultimate purpose of parenting is not to hang on, but to let go; not protection but empowerment.
We certainly hope parents don’t interpret that approach as advocating a sloppy, carefree approach to parenting where you put your kids in unnecessary danger. But many Christian parents fail to grasp that God entrusted their children to them to train them up for his purposes, not theirs.
Psalm 127 says that children are like arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior. Arrows are given to the warrior to launch into battle, not as accoutrements to your lifestyle. And here’s the key: When you take what God intended to be a weapon and you turn it into a piece of furniture for your house, not only do you thwart the plan of God for their life, you discourage them from faith altogether!
The gospel, you see, only makes sense when it is taught in the context of mission. Many kids in evangelical churches are bored because parents look at kids like furniture for the completion of their houses and churches like classrooms to fashion them as “Christian” pieces of furniture.
Children are arrows, and arrows are designed to be launched out.
Trevin: When you talk about the D word (discipline), you mention that it’s not just Christians who are trying to discipline our children; the Enemy is focused on disciplining our children as well. What do you mean by this?
Veronica: I’ve heard it said that when Satan convicts you of sin, he starts with what you did and tears down who you are; the Holy Spirit, by contrast, starts with who you are and helps you rebuild what you did.
As parents, we want to be used by the Holy Spirit in discipline, which means disciplining within the context of affirmed gospel identity. While we correct the wrong, we declare even louder the new identity in Christ.
For example, when our kids turn ten, we make a printable with all of the characteristics and graces that we (together with close friends and family) have seen the Lord developing in them, and then we hang that poster it in their rooms. We want them to feel their new identity in Christ, and so we call out the manifestations of grace—things like taking care of a younger sibling, offering to help when not asked—things to which we could just say, “Oh, hey, good job thanks,” we try to say “Wow, that is really the evidence of God working in your heart.”
J.D. often quotes Martin Luther’ s statement to this end:
The voice of condemnation speaks accurately about the sins we have committed; God speaks a louder word over us in the gospel.
As parents, we want to speak that louder word of the gospel in all we say in discipline to our kids.
Trevin: How does the gospel impact not just the way we parent, but our identity as parents? Especially considering that we are not going to do this perfectly?
J.D.: In 1 Peter 5 the Apostle encourages his church to hope in God’s grace to “lift them up” in the day of adversity. At the end of the day, it is not their strength of character, the quality of Peter’s teaching, their missional strategies, or their charismatic leadership that will obtain the victory. It is God’s grace.
The same is true for parenting. God’s grace at work in our kids’ lives is our greatest, if not only, hope as parents.
A tragedy of many otherwise good, biblically-based modern parenting approaches is that they can communicate (however subtly), “Do this, and your kids will live.” Ironically, this approach keeps us from clinging to the one thing we most need desperately need as parents: hope in the grace of God!
Just as the gospel is not about getting ourselves to a place where we have no need for the grace of God, but realizing it is our only hope, so gospel-saturated parenting means placing our ultimate hope as parents not in our abilities to parent but in God’s willingness to save.