Good evening! And welcome to our parenting class! I’m so glad that all of you signed up, and I pray that our time together is very profitable. I have had an interest in teaching a class like this for a while now, but I’ll confess that I’m a bit nervous about teaching it. Elise and I are young parents ourselves, and the topic is very broad… but I stand on this verse. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture isgiven by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Everything I need to teach this class is found right here in the Bible. And everything you need to be a good parent is also found right here in the Bible.
Parenting is a broad topic because it involves every area of your life–your own personal walk with God, your understanding of the Scriptures, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship to the church, etc. So we won’t exhaust this subject in the next seven weeks. However, we will try to hit the most important topics. That said, if there’s something that it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to, let me know that you’re interested in that topic, and I’ll try to either say something about it the next week or we can talk about it in person.
There are a lot of places we could begin in a class like this. However, I think it’s best to start with the big picture. So, let’s begin with this question: What is the goal of parenting? I mean, what are you really trying to accomplish with your children?
Now let me ask you this question: What are some unbiblical goals that some, let’s say unsaved parents might have for their kids?
Do Christian parents ever have the wrong kinds of goals for their kids? Yes, they do! In fact, some of those goals have probably driven YOUR parenting at times! It’s very easy for us as parents to slip, whether consciously or unconsciously, into pursuing the wrong goals in our parenting. So what I want to do with our time together this evening is to push you to think seriously about what it is you are trying to accomplish. That way, next week, we can begin talking about how to pursue those goals.
Let’s start by talking about unbiblical goals in parenting.
Unbiblical Parenting Goal #1: Children Who Stay out of Trouble
Have you ever talked to someone who seems to think of himself as a parenting success simply because none of his kids are in prison? His attitude is, “As long as my kids are basically good, law-abiding citizens, I have done my duty as a parent.” It’s somewhat of a defensive style of parenting, because the parent isn’t necessarily trying to shape the child or teen, he’s just trying to keep him or her within the bounds of what is societally acceptable.
What’s wrong with this style of parenting? Why is it unbiblical? For one, who determines what is societally acceptable? Society! And society is notoriously fickle about its moral judgments. For instance, it is now at least acceptable (if not preferred) within our society to be homosexual. But is that acceptable to God? No! You see, I can break God’s rules without ever breaking a law. God’s law and the law of the land are two separate things. So we must be after more than just children who meet society’s standards.
Unbiblical Parenting Goal #2: “Successful” Children
This is a parenting model based on wrongly-placed ambition. So the first kinds of parents we talked about were lazy. These ones aren’t lazy; they’re just working in the wrong direction. This is very common and even praised in our society. The question is, how do we define success? What are some of the ways that parents define success?
Money (“My children will be successful if they make lots of money.”)
What’s wrong with making money the definition of success? It’s blatant materialism! 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil! If your primary parenting goal is to raise children who get good jobs and make lots of money, you may very well accomplish your goal, but end up with evil kids!
Education (“My children will be successful if they get good grades.”)
Have you ever asked a parent how their child was doing and he or she responded by telling you about the child’s grades? As if good grades were the measure of success! Now good grades are certainly important; and the fact that Johnny’s grades are up may be an indication that he is doing well spiritually–but then again, it may not! It may just be that Johnny has figured out that he doesn’t like being grounded! Or, maybe he’s becoming a proud perfectionist. Or maybe he just really likes math–but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he loves God! Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no god.’” The world is full of very smart, highly educated people who are fools in God’s eyes! So we have to carefully distinguish between educational success and spiritual maturity.
Social Skills (“My children will be successful if they are popular.”)
I don’t think this one is quite so prevalent, but it is out there. Parents are pleased when their kids communicate well, treat people nicely, and have lots of friends. Is it beneficial for a person to have good social skills? Can you see any problems with making this one’s primary parenting objective? Children with good social skills but no love for God and people will simply learn to manipulate people in order to get what they want.
Special Skills (“My children will be successful if they participate in lots of activities.”)
I don’t know why we think this way, but some of us seem to get it into our heads that we have failed as a parent if we don’t put our kids into lots of extra-curricular activities. And so we become the chauffer, driving Sally to karate, then ballet, then cello, then underwater basket weaving! And this all starts when our kids are in preschool! Meanwhile, we get so busy that we can’t make it to church because the t-ball banquet is on Sunday at 10 AM, and we don’t have time for family devotions (in fact, we never really get much quality time as a family), and our three-year-olds aren’t any happier because they know how to perform a perfect roundhouse kick!
Is it good idea for us to involve our kids in these sorts of activities? Sure! Kids can use these skills to serve God, and He can certainly use these experiences to shape them! However, participation in lots of activities does not make my child a success in God’s eyes.
Unbiblical Parenting Goal #3: Well-behaved Children
What are some of the signs of a well-behaved child? (obeys right away with a good attitude, kind to others, good manners, respectful, etc.) Now, you might look at this one and say, “What’s wrong with that?” There’s really nothing wrong with it! Just like there’s not necessarily anything wrong with children who grow up to make a lot of money! It’s just that in-and-of-itself, this is an insufficient parenting goal. Why is that? Can you think of a group of people in Scripture who obeyed lots of rules but were very displeasing to God? (the Pharisees) If your end goal in parenting is well-behaved children, you may very well produce little Pharisees!
It’s easy for us to fall into this trap when we become focused on what others think of us. All of us want others to notice our kids’ good behavior. None of us wants to have a kid who is known as the terror of the Sunday school class! But what is so much more important than outward behavior is the condition of our children’s hearts! Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” If you focus on shepherding your child’s heart, then right behavior will naturally follow.
So we’ve seen the minimalist parent, the parent with wrongly-placed ambition, and the legalist parent. Now let’s look at the selfish parent.
Unbiblical Parenting Goal #4: Personal Comfort
Now this one may surprise you, but I want you to think about it. As much as we’d hate to admit it, sometimes the choices we make as parents are based on our own desire for comfort or convenience. For instance, take the parent who ignores everything his child does wrong until the child finally gets on his nerves, then snaps and yells him. What is shaping that parents’ decisions? His own desire for comfort. He didn’t disciple the child in the first place because that takes work. Then he blew up at the child because the child was annoying him. He wasn’t looking out for his child’s interests; he was looking out for his own interests.
That is totally the opposite of the Bible’s definition of leadership. The Bible says that leadership is about self-sacrifice. At Ironwood we would say, “Leadership is service; no exceptions.” Leadership is about serving God and others. Who is our ultimate example in this area? (Jesus) Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” The good shepherd does what? (“lays down His life for the sheep”) In John 13, on His last night with His disciples, Jesus performs an important object lesson. He gets out a towel and washes their feet. Then He asks them a question in v. 12. He says, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We spend a lot of our time as parents washing feet, don’t we? Elise went out for the day a couple of weeks ago, and I started counting how many times that day I had wiped bottoms. (It was a lot.) We clean up spills. We brush teeth. We discipline and teach. Our children do not exist to make our lives easier; rather, it is our job to serve them.
So let’s make a transition now. If I’m not after kids who get along or worldly successful children or well-behaved children or my own personal comfort, then what is my primary parenting goal?
The Goal of Biblical Parenting
Turn to Colossians 1:9-12. There are a lot of ways I could say this or passages I could go to, but I think this passage works well because Pastor Kit has been preaching through Colossians (Col 1:9-12). My primary goal as a parent is to produce children who are fully pleasing to God. So then I have to ask myself the question, “What does it look like for a child to be pleasing to God?” Based on this passage, it means being fruitful in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened for joyful endurance, and giving thanks for the gospel. Can you think of any other verses that describe what it means to be pleasing to God? John might call it “abiding in Christ.” In Galatians, Paul calls it “walking in the Spirit.” In the OT, it’s referred to as the fear of the LORD. But it’s basically the same thing. We want our children to walk with God.
That’s the process goal. But there’s also an end result goal. Notice that in Colossians 1:10-12, many of the action words have “ing” on the end of them. Paul says, “I pray that you would be being fruitful in every good work, that you would be increasing in the knowledge of God, that you would be being strengthened for joyful endurance, and that you would be being thankful for the gospel.” These are all things that Christians can and should be doing every day. But there’s also an end result goal (Col 1:28). The end goal of disciple-making (and thus the end goal of parenting) is spiritual maturity. As I walk with God day after day, I gradually become more like Him. We call this progressive sanctification. Ephesians says that I “grow up into Him in all things.” Psalm 1 says that I become like a tree. So the goal of parenting is to evangelize my kids and disciple them to walk with God on the path to spiritual maturity.
Now let me ask you a question: can we do that? Can we by ourselves make our children into those kinds of people? No, we can’t. Our children are born dead in sins. We cannot save them. We cannot sanctify them. We cannot keep them. Only God can do those things. That’s a humbling thought, isn’t it? We parents are called to an impossible task. You say, “Why would God give me an impossible task?” He does it all the time. Turn to Matthew 28:18-20. We don’t often think of this passage in regards to parenting, but it actually has everything to do with parenting because it’s about disciple-making, and that’s exactly what parenting is. Parenting is disciple-making (Mat 28:18-20). So Jesus commands His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Can they do that in their own power? (No) Then why even try? Because of the last thing Jesus says. He doesn’t send them out in their own strength, does He? No, He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” When we go to make disciples, the risen Christ goes with us. And the same goes for parenting. When you have to discipline your two-year-old for the tenth time in one day, Jesus is with you in that task. When you’re having that difficult conversation with your teen, Jesus is with you. His power and His grace stand behind your efforts. You are serving on His behalf. Now, does that mean that your kids are guaranteed to turn out right? There are no guarantees. God is sovereign and your children have to make their own choices. But God is with you in the task.
So, your children may never excel at a sport or an instrument. They might not be very popular. And they certainly might not be rich. But if God is pleased with them, what more could we ask? If God is pleased with them, what right have we to be displeased?
- Which parenting goal that we discussed best describes the way you were raised as a child?
- Out of the four unbiblical parenting goals that were mentioned (children who stay out of trouble, successful children, well-behaved children, and personal comfort), which one is the most tempting for you to pursue? Can you give an example of how you are tempted to pursue that goal rather than children who are pleasing to God?
- If I were to ask your children to complete the following sentence: “What Mommy and Daddy want most for me is __________,” how do you think they would respond? How would you want them to respond?
- How should the fact that we cannot save or sanctify our children affect our prayer lives?
- What is your primary take-away from lesson 1?