I have discovered that parenting is one of the great Christian taboos. We are willing to be challenged on all sorts of personal issues, but we become particularly defensive when someone questions how we parent.
It’s an important topic and when volunteers are called for, and everyone steps back, who should be left standing to teach and admonish and encourage godly parenting? We have children’s ministers for children, we have youth ministers for youth, we have ministers for adults, but who teaches and encourages parents?
No one wants to be offensive but at the same time, we know the stakes are high. We had a fantastic young Christian girl in our youth group. She was committed and genuinely seeking to understand Jesus and follow him. She was also exceptionally talented: a gifted student, a gifted musician and had a whole buffet of opportunities before her. It was all so good that to leave a single morsel would have been a tragic waste.
Inevitably something had to give and like the parable of the sower in Luke 8, Jesus was slowly choked out of her life by the pleasures and worries of the world. As things started to unravel her mum desperately wanted someone to help but, unfortunately, the choices that were made years earlier were now bearing their own fruit.
If you have been in ministry for a while you could probably tell a similar story. There is no guarantee that different choices would have led to a different outcome and the end of the story isn’t written. But the choices that were made didn’t help.
There is no simple, one size fits all answer to the issue but here are a few thoughts.
We need to encourage parents to consider what they really want for their children. Do they want Jesus to be a healthy part of a well-balanced life or do they want their child to say “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)? I heard a great story once of a woman who prayed for her children every day, she didn’t pray for them to be Christians, she prayed that they would be missionaries overseas. It was a prayer motivated by a desire to see her children put Christ first, even at the risk of enormous personal cost.
It’s a lot easier to create good cultures and habits during the formative time of childhood than the testing time of their teens. Having worked with youth for a long time and now having three small children I can see the opportunity to make good choices now — before we get too far down the road and before it becomes too hard to turn back. We can choose to teach our children that commitment to God’s people is more important than commitment to soccer. We can choose to read and pray together and talk about Jesus as a natural part of our family. We can build a culture in our family that says the most important thing is Jesus and there is nothing better than that.
So, who is going to volunteer to challenge the status quo? It needs to come from senior ministers challenging parents to consider their choices and priorities. It needs to come from children’s and youth ministers as they teach the young people in cooperation with the parents. It needs to come from parents talking about it together, not judgementally but humbly as one struggling parent to another, risking offence to spur one another on to be godly parents who make godly choices for their children.
This term I am going to run a series in my men’s Bible study on being fathers and husbands. It’s going to be awkward at times, we are going to disagree and I am reasonably sure someone is going to say, “You don’t understand because you don’t have teens”.
Parenting is one of the great taboos but our children are precious and they need to know their Lord and Saviour and Creator. We need to be willing to take a risk and perhaps even offend others and be offended because, in the end, we will be better, more godly parents for it. And like most potential problems, leaving it until later just makes it harder.
This article was written by Jon Thorpe, former Head of Youthworks' Ministry Support Team and first published in 2010. Jon is now Senior Minister of Shellharbour City Centre Anglican Church.