How the Past Has Impacted Parenting

Family life looked much different before the Industrial Revolution. Here’s a brief survey of some cultural and social developments since the 18th century that have impacted current family discipleship (Some of this material is adapted from Ryan Steenburg with Timothy Paul Jones, “Growing Gaps from Generation to Generation,” in Trained in the Fear of Godedited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones).

Industrialization: Family Fragmentation

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, making a living was often a family matter: all members of the family participated and worked together. With increased industrialization, however, the population shifted to urban centers, and factory labor fragmented the family (Stinson & Jones 2011, 146). We still see this fragmentation today. A family’s livelihood is far less a family team effort, but rather the result of a main bread-winner, usually the father. The more a dad’s career separates him from his wife and children, the more difficult it is for him to engage in meaningful discipleship.

Interestingly, with the rise of technology, we are seeing somewhat a reversal of the industrialization impact on families. An increasing number of parents are able to work from home via the internet, fusing career and home life once again. We have yet to see where this phenomenon will take us, but it most likely will not take us to a setting in which families work together like they did prior to the Industrial Revolution. This is due to another factor that shapes current relationships between parents and children, namely, government-paid (and compulsory) formal education.

Public Education: Peer-Influenced Adolescents

As the father’s work removed him from his wife and children, home education became less practical, and the 18th and 17th centuries saw the development of government schools (147-149). Public education, as it became called, standardized curricula and made education compulsory. One important result of public education is that children and adolescents began to be influenced primarily by their own peer group rather than by their parents and other elders.

Religious Societies and Youth Groups—Parents Bypassed as Primary Disciplers

Motivated by efficiency, and leveraging the peer-influenced culture of adolescence, religious societies for youth sprang up in England and the United States in the early 20th century (149-40). They were “wildly successful” (152). Although these programs appeared to be an efficient way to challenge young people to live for Christ, they effectively bypassed the role of the parents as the primarily disciplers of their children. At a time when the culture was spiraling toward antiauthoritarianism and sexual licentiousness (especially in the 1950s-60s), parents were relieved to hand over the job of discipling their children to the professionals (153-54). Many were happy to know that their children were in church at all—even if their “church” was virtually an enclave of the rest of the church and essentially mirrored the trends of popular culture, but with a Christian twist. As a result of age-segregated ministries, the gap between parents and their children widened, and parents were less and less inclined or equipped to disciple their children themselves.

What Can Parents and Churches Do?

It is helpful for us to understand how history and culture have shaped families, but our task is not to turn back the clock or even long for the “good old days.” Rather, we must see the present scenario as offering unique challenges and opportunities for discipleship of both parents and their children.

First, churches must affirm parents as the primary disciplers of their children. Parents must be convinced that this is not a task they can delegate to a youth group or Christian school. Second, beyond affirming parents in their God-given role, a church family ministry must encourage parents to assess their priorities. Are they being intentional in spending time together, in directing conversation toward things of God, in worshiping together, and in reaching out to others who need Christ, or are they letting their values and priorities be shaped by the culture? Third, an effective church ministry can equip parents and children by structuring their programs to facilitate intergenerational interaction. The church itself must assess whether they are perpetuating parental non-involvement by giving the impression that discipling children and adolescents is something that is best left to the professionals. Finally, the church should provide resources and instruction for practical issues, such as discipline, family devotions, celebrating milestones, etc.

It is easy to peer back into time and assume that it was easy to disciple a family in the years before the Industrial Revolution, or even before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But we must recognize that each generation has its challenges, and that in every age, God can give parents and their children the grace to live godly lives, no matter their circumstances (2 Peter 1:3, 2:9).

Why Are People Taking Longer to Grow Up?

Extended adolescence. It’s something we’ve all heard about, seen, and maybe experienced: people are taking longer and longer to reach adulthood. What is adulthood? They say you’ve reached it when you finally leave home, finish school, become financially independent, get married (and possibly have a kid). In one of his lectures for the class Leadership and Family Ministry, Timothy Paul Jones identifies six reasons why adolescence is being pushed back into a person’s late 20s and even early 30s.

  1. Culture-wide loss of rite of passage. We don’t celebrate a young person’s coming of age, like many other cultures do.

  2. Affluence. To put it bluntly, we’re rich enough to feed people who are unwilling to work. Solomon wisely observed that “a worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (Proverbs 16:26). But in an affluent society such as ours, hunger is generally not a pressing motivation to seek financial independence, which is one of the marks of adulthood.

  3. Postponement of marriage and parenthood. Since marriage and parenthood are marks of adulthood, this point seems to simply repeat the statement rather than offer a reason for it.

  4. Insufficient generational interaction. Dr. Jones cites Barbara Hersch’s book A Tribe Apart, which claims that many adolescent issues are due to the lack of meaningful connections between teens and older adults. Dr. Jones observes that this trend is observable in evangelical churches that over-segregate the age groups.

  5. Insufficient training as a Christian to know what it means to be a follower of Christ to become mature. As a reason for the extension of adolescence, this point is less helpful since this can be said of nearly any culture and generation.

  6. Establishment of the teen and young adult years as a time to be wasteful. Our culture promotes the adolescent years as a time of maximum indulgence and minimum responsibility.

Dr. Jones suggests that churches should focus on moving young people toward mature Christian adulthood by re-envisioning the teenage years as a time of spiritual growth rather than as a time to indulge in trivial pursuits before burdened by the responsibilities of adult life. Churches can develop “rites of passage” to assess and celebrate movements toward maturity, and develop programs that integrate rather than segregate teens and older adults.

Is $241,080 Too Much to Raise One Kid?

Today’s breaking news line on the CNN homepage grabbed my attention: “A child born last year will cost a middle-income couple an estimated $241,080 to raise for 18 years.” There are three main reasons I couldn’t help but read the article: 1) my 3-year-old daughter, 2) my 1-year-old son, and 3) the baby Christa and I will have this October. Even if Christa and I end up having only three children, that comes out to $40,180 per year over the next eighteen years. In my book, that’s way more than an arm and a leg.

As a Christian, of course, I must evaluate that report and its implications through the lens of Scripture. First, the report may assume a standard of living that is not absolutely necessary. Many comforts and possessions that we Americans have assumed to be essential are actually in excess of what we need. In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul boiled down the essential possessions to food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). And the author of Hebrews tells us that the promise of God’s presence is sufficient cause for contentment–despite what we have or don’t have.

Second, a Christian perspective realizes the need to work hard in the face of the rising cost of living. True, this report may exaggerate the actual costs for raising a child to adulthood. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the information entirely (Proverbs 22:3). Wise Christian parents will apply a biblical work ethic and common-sense principles of stewardship and saving for the future (2 Corinthians 12:14, “Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children”). For the Christian, the concept of work should be a privilege and joy. Work was part of God’s original plan for humans, and, although it has been marred by the fall (Genesis 3:19), everyone knows the intrinsic satisfaction of a job well done. The prospect of children costing more money, and therefore requiring more work, is a cause for despair only for those who view work as part of the curse.

Finally, a Christian perspective perceives the question that underlies the article: “Is it really worth it to have kids, then?” Although the article ends with encouragement for people who want to raise children, that encouragement seems to wilt underneath the tenor of the whole thing. The article itself ends with a quotation from financial planner who teaches a money management class for new parents. He says, “I have to reassure everybody there are other people who successfully have children,” he said. “I personally have three. People figure out ways to make this work.” It should strike us as odd that raising children–which has happened for all of human history–is something that people scratch their heads at and wonder whether they can “make this work.” With the prolonging of adolescence and delay of marriage, parenting has fallen on hard times in America. But for the Christian couple who is able to have children, the question of whether to have children is more than just a matter of financial calculation. It is a matter of joyful obedience to God. A Christian family is a God-appointed setting for fulfilling the Great Commission–making and maturing followers of Jesus. For the Christian, that’s what makes raising children worth it, regardless of the price tag.

Are My Children Safe? A Christian Parent’s Response to the Boston Bombings

130416-martin-richard-jsw-654aWe saw blood where it should not be–on the sidewalk and in a convenience store. But perhaps the most heart-wrenching piece of news was what I heard last night: an eight-year-old boy waiting to hug his dad was among the casualties.

The horrific sidewalk scene sobered me in another way. Just two days prior, I had been at the finish line of the Charlotte Racefest Half Marathon, in a crowd similar to the one where the Boston blast took place. I had run the last part of the race with my wife, and was trying to find her amid the sea of people. With me, nestled in a double jogging stroller, were my two precious children, ages 3 and 1. What if the twisted minds behind the Boston marathon bombings had chosen Charlotte instead? Are my children safe?

In CNN’s Opinion section, LZ Granderson’s editorial “It Can Happen Anywhere” offers little comfort. He writes, “All of the laws, the creation of Homeland Security, the trillions spent, the political grandstanding and debates and yet the best we can do is make the country safer. We will never, ever be safe again. Not in the way many of us remember being safe growing up.”

Granderson is reflecting the sentiment that many feel right now. No one knows when or where terror will strike. Our sense of safety has been violated. For all our protective measures, we are still vulnerable to deadly evil–in our schools, in our churches, at work, and even at play. As recent events have shown us, no sphere of life is exempt from the ravages of murderous intent.

Yet as a Christian, I must contend that events like this don’t make us any less safe–they only highlight our vulnerability. In terms of where ultimate safety comes from, nothing has changed. In the Bible I read that “the horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31, KJV).

Rather than despairing of our loss of safety, the Christian must respond to the horrible Boston bombings in a way that is informed by Scripture. As my eyes brim with tears, I offer six Christian responses to our heightened sense of vulnerability and outrage at this evil:

  1. I will grieve with those who are grieving (Romans 12:15).

  2. I will pray and trust that justice will be done (Luke 18:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

  3. I will recognize that I am (as I always have been) totally dependent upon God for the well-being of my children and me (Psalm 4:8; 127:1; Matthew 6:31-33; Romans 8:31)

  4. I will exercise my God-given ability to use common sense and take precautions, but I will not let faithless fear bar me from doing God’s will (Matthew 4:5-7; Daniel 3:16-18).

  5. I will long for the consummation of that coming Kingdom in which God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

  6. I will more urgently tell others how God can deliver them from the domain of darkness, and transfer them to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).

How Can We Teach Children About Worship?

Fatherhood Religious Stock PhotosI’ve been reading Worship by the Book  (edited by D. A. Carson). This morning I came across a valuable insight for parents who wish to teach their children about true worship:

Kids of that age [10-12 years, and presumably younger] do not absorb abstract ideas very easily unless they are lived out and identified. The Christian home, or the Christian parent who obviously delights in corporate worship, in thoughtful evangelism, in self-effacing and self-sacrificing decisions within the home, in sacrificial giving for the poor and the needy and the lost–and who then explains to the child that these decisions and actions are part of gratitude and worship to the sovereign God who has loved us so much that he gave his own Son to pay the price of our sin–will have far more impact on the child’s notion of genuine worship than all the lecturing and classroom instruction in the world. Somewhere along the line it is important not only to explain that genuine worship is nothing more than loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but also to show what a statement like that means in the concrete decisions of life. How utterly different will that child’s thinking be than that of the child who is reared in a home where secularism rules all week but where people go to church on Sunday to “worship” for half an hour before the sermon.

I was struck by the fact that children learn what they see us do. What we do consistently and passionately they see as important. Conversely, what we do inconsistently or without passion, they see as unimportant. Not only that, but we must actively interpret our actions to them. We are going to church to worship with God’s people. We are giving this tithe because everything we have comes from God anyway.

Here are seven commitments with regard to teaching our children using concrete actions:

  1. If I will teach my children that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, then not only will I explain the Gospel to them, but also they will see me sharing the Gospel with others. When they are old enough, they and I will share the Gospel together.
  2. If I will teach my children that God can be trusted to provide for us, then we will be generous in giving to needy people together.
  3. If I will teach my children that corporate worship is essential, then we will consistently gather with God’s people together.
  4. If I will teach my children that the Bible is the Word of God, then we will read it, sing it, and memorize it together.
  5. If I will teach my children that marriage is a wonderful gift from God, then my children will see my wife and me treating each other with love and respect.
  6. If I will teach my children that sin dishonors God and always brings sorrow, I will abhor sin myself, shield my children from undue exposure to sin, correct them when they commit sin, and humbly admit it when I commit sin against them.
  7. If I will teach my children that God loves them, then I will do my best to show love to them–not only by providing for their physical needs, but also by listening carefully when they speak, playing with them, and treating them with tenderness.

Cultivating a Heart for God in Your Child

Who will your child be when he or she leaves your home?

In his message this past Sunday evening, Pastor Allen dealt with that question. I was so challenged by this message that I’ve adapted it as a blog post here for your encouragement as well. If you didn’t get to hear the message you can listen to it here.

When God gives us children, he also gives us the responsibility to nurture and train those children (Eph. 6:4). Training a child involves more than merely managing his or her behavior. Training a child means we have a goal for that child. So what should our goal for our children be? More specifically, when your son or daughter begins that transition out of your home (usually between ages 18 and 21), what qualities will you have nurtured in them?

The most important quality: a heart for God

There may be many qualities that you want your child to have when he or she leaves the home: strong work ethic, responsibility, creativity, ambition, and social skills. The list could go on. But as a Christian parent–one who believes that a right relationship with God is foundational to any skill or personal quality–you must yearn for something more basic. Whatever qualities you want for your child, here is the supreme quality: a heart for God.

Of course no one can have a heart for God who has not first trusted in Jesus. Faith in Christ is the starting point because prior to this, a human is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). We do not by nature seek after God (Romans 3:1). The message of the Gospel must inform Christian parenting in every respect. We teach our children that they cannot please God by their own efforts. While we encourage actions that are moral and kind, we remind them that these are not merits in their relationship with God. Thus, parents who seek to cultivate a heart for God in their children must begin with the Gospel. Having a heart for God describes the sort of change that only God can initiate through an individual’s response to the Gospel.

What does it mean to have “a heart for God?” You might have different names for it. You might say it is a “love for God” (Matt. 22:36-40). You might call it a “desire for God” (Psalm 63:1-4). However you express it, this quality means that your child willingly shapes his or her basic orientation by God’s existence and character (Prov. 1:7). Of course this does not mean that your child is perfect. He or she may have many rough edges and bad habits. But it does mean that your child’s heart has been drawn to God, and he or she wants to please Him.

What does “a heart for God” look like?

Here are three ways you can tell whether your child has this basic quality of having a heart for God.

1.     Owns his/her relationship with God. Your child has a desire to read the Bible and pray on his or her own. Your child begins to make personal devotions a regular habit. This discipline usually matures during the teen years.

2.     Loves to worship God. Your child begins to see corporate worship as a delight rather than mere duty. Your son loves being around spiritually-minded friends who will challenge him to love God more. Your daughter loves to hear the Word of God preached.

3.     Open to discussing spiritual things. When you bring up spiritual matters with your child, does he or she act evasive and uncomfortable, or do you sense uneasiness and discomfort? One sign that a child has a heart for God is that he or she is open to talking about God.

How can parents cultivate a heart for God in their children?

Of course parents cannot control their child’s heart. Ultimately, your child’s relationship with God is a matter of his or her choice. But there are certain things you can do to encourage your child to have a heart for God.

1.     Have family devotions (Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:9-16). Ideally, you will gather the family daily for a brief time of prayer, singing, and reading of Scripture. If you cannot do this daily, you should seek to set aside some time during the week when your family can focus on God together. Family devotions should be brief, age-appropriate, and engaging.

2.     See God in every day life (Deut. 6:4-9). Family devotions represents your structured time of family worship and instruction. But worship and instruction can and should happen spontaneously as you respond to ordinary events of life. Financial struggles provide an opportunity to pray and trust the Lord. Hurt feelings can lead to a lesson on kindness and the need to forgive. A breath-taking sunset gives you a chance to brag on God’s creativity. Your children should know that the most important thing about life is God.

3.     Be an example (1 Cor. 11:1). Of course your actions will speak more loudly than your words. You must model having a heart for God. Admit when you are wrong. Ask your child’s forgiveness if you have wronged him or her. Don’t wish for your child to see perfection in you. Wish for them to see a sinner who is becoming more like Christ. Even your failures can provide teaching moments for your children. The important thing is not whether they see you sin. They certainly will see that. The important thing is how they see you respond when you do sin. Do you excuse your failures? Are you blind to your faults? Or are you sensitive to your sin? Are you humble and repentant?

4.     Ask questions to draw out the heart (Prov. 20:5). You cannot effectively shepherd your child’s heart unless you know your child’s heart. Ask questions that are loving, non-accusatory, and respectful. Ask questions they can’t answer without looking into their heart.

5.     Listen to your children (James 1:19).You want your children to know that they always have your ear. When eating a meal together, put your phone away. When your daughter tells you about her tough math class, look at her, not the TV. Let your children know that their concerns are more important to you than the stock market or ESPN. The dad who ignores his son when he is young may very well find the favor returned when he becomes a teenager and young adult. Schedule a special date with your son or daughter just to listen to his or her struggles, disappointments, hopes and ambitions. Write down what they say. Pray over what you wrote. Ask them about it later. You cannot know your children unless you listen to them. And you cannot listen to them unless you take the time and put away other things that call for your attention.

6.     Remove hypocrisy (Matthew 7:5). Hypocrisy causes an allergic reaction in children, especially as they approach their teen years. If you smile in church and sneer at home, your children will resent you and your faith. Be certain that what you say is actually backed up by what you do. It’s possible to know the “right” things to say so well, that your talk and walk have parted ways long ago. If you want to cultivate a heart for God in your child, make sure you yourself are cultivating a heart for God. Otherwise, your efforts will be counterproductive.

Christian parents have a great responsibility to direct their children’s hearts toward God. This responsibility should overwhelm us with a sense of personal inadequacy. Ultimately, we are completely dependent on the Lord to work in our children’s hearts. With all our might, we do what we should to nurture and train our children in the Lord. And we pray desperately.

This blog post was originally posted at the blog of Bible Baptist Church.