Sunday night we hosted our second of 4 nights of prayer and worship aimed at setting our affections and hopes upon God in 2024. My wife and I were blessed to meet a gentleman named Kevin and his 4th grade daughter. I was so blessed by the the fact that Kevin brought such a young daughter to our time of prayer AND with how gentle and purposeful he was as he explained what we were going to pray about and why. It brought great joy to my heart to see this young dad being purposeful with his little girl. She didn’t pray out loud, she was often distracted, and I could tell that she was ready to go. But dad was doing important work. He was prioritizing his obedience to God and her long-term discipleship over her short-term happiness.
Parenting is scary business. I have a friend who is getting ready to be a dad of a son for the first time, and he’s overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising a godly son. Most of us wish that we had control over the eternity of our children, but we’re not their savior – only Christ can save. But we are given clear instruction to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We should all approach that responsibility with great humility. It should increase our reliance on our sovereign God, the finished work of Christ, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
One of our greatest passions at CVC (my church) is to equip and encourage our parents to disciple their children. We do this while recognizing that every family has its unique challenges, that every child demands a specific approach in our guidance, and that we are not our children’s saviors.
So, you might feel my pain when a concerned member of our church called this week wondering if I think parents are to blame when their kids don’t follow Jesus.
One of our teaching pastors referenced a conversation from our service planning meeting this week, and several on our team felt that the comment might warrant some follow-up.
During the meeting, one of our pastors mentioned that one of the greatest tragedies in the modern church is the fact that we continue to give ground to activities on Sunday’s. In fact, many churches are beginning to start full scope Thursday night services because its already a given that families have forfeited priority to practices and games and rehearsals on Sunday. This is a very slippery slope.
As a part of this conversation, I quoted a sermon from Matt Chandler – a pastor in the Dallas/Forth Worth area from 2008. I went back and dug it up to get it exactly correct. This is what he says:
“If you have made your children God. If you have elevated them to a place they don’t belong. If you have forsaken the command of God on your life to raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and instead let their happiness be what dictates your families existence, you’re off the rails, man! And things get goofy. I did college ministry for ten years. Let me tell you a very, very consistent conversation. I would get a call from a churchman absolutely devastated that his 21-22 year old son wanted nothing to do with church and nothing to do with God despite the fact that he grew up in church. So, I would start to ask just a few questions and by the time I was finishing up college ministry I could ask two questions and know what was going on. Nine times out of ten, God wasn’t God – soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, that’s what god was. So, basically what happened is that for fifteen years a father taught his son, “that’s secondary, that’s secondary, your athletic gift is primary – it’s ultimate – and then when the gift ran out as the competition got bigger, his kid had no background, no understanding, no passion, no zeal, no knowledge, no instruction, no discipline, and now daddy’s panicking despite the fact that for fifteen years you just trained him that he didn’t need God.
And if it’s not that it’s school. I’m telling you, in the suburbs, raising a kid is a competitive sport. It just is. You let your kindergartener make an 82 – I mean, people freak out about that stuff around here. If I made an 82 growing up, my parents took us to Red Lobster. What happens then is – listen to me parents – because you don’t have God as ultimate, because He is not the pursuit, because you do not love your family less (than God), now you live vicariously through your children, put an unbelievable amount of pressure on them to perform so that you look good, and in the end this is silliness upon silliness upon silliness.
This is what happens. Now, please listen to me. Sports are a really cool thing. I think they are a gift from the Lord. Sports are awesome. If your kid can kick the mess out of a ball, let him kick the ball! If he’s got a fastball, let him throw it. If he can see a fastball and smack that thing, let him do it. But make sure that what you’re not creating is an idol for them to worship.”
That was the context and the quote and I’m not sure it was communicated clearly – causing some to wonder if I think parents are to blame when their kids don’t follow Jesus. So, I want to explore this topic more deeply.
I would encourage you to go and listen to the entire sermon. I’ve listened to it over and over and over as a parent – which is why I can reference a sermon from 2008 – because it has impacted the way that I parent so significantly.
Sometimes we do our absolute best before God and our children still walk away from Jesus. This is heart-breaking. As a youth pastor I have seen far too many move into college and young adulthood and neglect everything that they have been taught in church and in their homes. We continue to pray for them – trusting that the Holy Spirit will continue to impress those truths upon their hearts and grant repentance. To these parents, I grieve and pray with you.
But some parents do need to consider the challenge from the sermon I just quoted. What do your words and actions communicate as being most important in the life of your family? This is a sobering question to ask ourselves. Where is your time most spent? What causes the most fear and anxiety?
After 15 years as a youth pastor – talking about this stuff in theory – I ran headlong into it last year with my first high school marching band member. The rubber meets the road! In my son’s freshman year of high school, he joined the marching band. At the very beginning of the season, I scheduled a meeting with the director. And, I’m paraphrasing here, but I very kindly but clearly said,
“My wife and I are thrilled that Logan is in the band. He loves music and he’s pretty good at it. He’ll be well prepared, he will work hard, and he’ll stick by his commitments. We will help, we’ll support, and we’ll volunteer in the various ways we can. But, our values place God and family above marching band. So, as I’ve looked at the schedule, there will be several rehearsals and events that he simply cannot attend because they conflict with church, our small groups, or special events. There are only a few, but I need to know now if this is a deal-breaker.”
The band director was understanding and I’d encourage you to be willing to have these types of conversations on behalf of your family.
Now, before we get too far down the road and you think too highly of me as a father, one of the first prayers of confession that I prayed on Sunday night was that the Lord would forgive me for my selfishness and the ways I consistently fail my wife and children as a husband and as a dad. My friend Rick has taught me a prayer, “Lord, repair the damage that I’ve done in my children today.” I’m not crushing it folks. But Linda and I do take, very seriously, the command to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And that’s a God-honoring approach that I want to sow into the culture of our church of young families.
The instruction in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is one of our best roadmaps for Christian parenting:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This is a call for parents to teach their children – by word and deed, in every single situation in which you find yourself – that love and worship of God is ultimate. Everything else is a distant second. Are some of these things (band, dance, swimming, school, etc.) good gifts from our good God – yes! But let us remember one of the key causes of sin which Paul details in Romans chapter 1 – exchanging the glory of God for other things that are not God.
Only God is God. And His commands are good for us – He knows what is best. And so, even when it is hard, we trust that His way is the best way and live in obedience.
Father, I bring before you the parents and grandparents – aunts, uncles, foster parents, and guardians – all of us who bear some responsibility for the hearts of children. Develop in us the courage to do what is right even when it is difficult. Help us to weather the storms of ever-increasing demands on the lives of our children. Give us eyes to see as you see. Give us the wisdom that we need to navigate one of the most sacred responsibilities in the world. Help us to love one-another well, to bear one another’s burdens, and to hold up one another’s arms when we are weary. Drive us to our knees in prayer and reliance on you. And, above all, we ask that you would save our children by giving them the gifts of repentance and new life by your Holy Spirit.
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4