Scott Slayton lays out two reasons you need to give time and attention to you children, along with four tips to help you make the time.
Corrective discipline—which leads to a child’s self-discipline—opens the door to more freedom and accomplishment for our children.
You can’t make your children Christians, but you can make it easy to love Jesus in your home. You can seek to make your home ring with gospel joy. You can endeavor to make your family not only a family of Christians but a Christian family—sold out for Christ and his cause. God has more for us than the hum-drum life of work, rest, and entertainment. He has more for your children than extra-curricular activities, college scholarships, and good jobs. He has the storehouses of grace and glory for your family.
Our problem is, as C.S. Lewis famously said, “we are far too easily pleased.” We settle for mud pies when a holiday at sea is ours for the taking.
As Christians and as parents, we should not settle for the goal of simply raising obedient Church-goers. Rather we should strive to meet a higher standard of parenting – one that invites our children to lives of sacrificial obedience to Christ.
DO NOT PROVOKE
In Ephesians 6:4, God calls parents to disciple their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Though Paul uses the word “fathers” here, this command applies to both fathers and mothers.
In Paul’s day, the children were under the father’s complete control. He could have them killed or sold into slavery. No law stood in his way. It’s easy to see in that kind of culture how a child would be provoked to anger. Who wouldn’t be provoked living in an unjust home?
But Christ came to bring justice. He came to set things right.
That’s why Paul begins with a negative command, “Do not provoke your children to anger.”
Though we may not live as first-century Christians did, this is still a frightening statement because it is saying that there is a possibility for a parent to create in their children a settled anger and resentment that could last for a very long time.
Of course there will be times when a child gets angry. Who doesn’t get angry? But there’s a difference between intermittent anger and deep, abiding anger as a result of your upbringing.
How does that happen?
On the one hand, parents can be too hard. They can give unnecessary commands, be too heavy-handed, or just down-right mean. They can be easily frustrated and lash out at small wrongdoings. They don’t care about discipling and training the child. They just want the child to fall in line.
King Saul was like that. In 1 Samuel 20, Saul noticed David wasn’t at dinner as he should have been. He asked his son Jonathan where David was. Now, Jonathan knew Saul was mad at David, wanting to kill him, so he helped David avoid the dinner. Jonathan was doing the right thing, but Saul didn’t care. He wanted him to fall in line. Saul said to his son, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman.” Saul went on to command David be brought before him so he could be killed. When Jonathan asked what David had done, Saul thrust his spear at him. So Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger. And rightly so.
That’s a parent who is too hard and too mean. But it’s also possible for a parent to be too soft. For example, in Genesis 37, we see the failures of Jacob as a father. What was Jacob’s failure? He was too soft on his son Joseph. He favored him above the others, and it led to the anger of his other sons. Eventually, they sold Joseph into slavery.
The point is, it’s easy to provoke our children to anger. We don’t have to be evil like King Saul. We can be a kind father like Jacob and do just as much damage.
When we fail to treat our children as a stewardship from the Lord and instead view them as servants for our agenda or necessities for our emotional state, we provoke either them or our other children to anger.
A STEWARDSHIP FROM GOD
A Christian parent doesn’t see their children as either an annoyance or an emotional crutch. Rather they understand their children to be a stewardship from the Lord, for his sake, and seek to bring up their kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
That last phrase is so important. Most parents will raise their children with discipline and instruction. But a Christian parent notices those last three words, “of the Lord.”
It’s not our discipline and instruction that matters. It’s Christ’s. It’s our duty to help our children to follow Jesus—not to follow us.
This means parents must be aware of the rhythms of their family life. How is your week structured? How much of a priority is Jesus in your family life? Is church a checklist item on Sunday morning or is it an anticipation on Saturday night? Is youth group dependent on the children’s sports practice or it is the reason you have to call the coach to explain their absence?
Your rhythms of family life will either prove or disprove the reality of God.
If you never pray or read the Bible in front of or with your kids, if you never talk about Jesus in any regular, open way, if you never invite others into your home for the sake of the gospel, if you never serve Jesus together as a family, if you never ask your kids about who they think Jesus is, if you’re just thankful you’re a Christian and going to heaven but your Christianity hasn’t made an impact on the way you raise your kids, then you haven’t yet realized the glory your family is missing with Christ.
It’s all too easy to just let life come at us, but a Christian parent loves God by helping their children follow Jesus. A Christian parent is active, treating their children as a stewardship from the Lord. Like Jesus, a Christian parent pursues.
You can’t save your children, but you can point them to the Savior. You can make the Savior real in your home.
JESUS REDEEMS OUR PARENTING
Some parents need to consider the command of Ephesians 6:4 with a new openness. Some haven’t parented according to their calling. So what’s the path forward?
Here’s a question that redefines everything in the Christian life, including parenting. It’s a question I’ve brought to bear in my own life in several areas recently.
Do I believe that Jesus is a Redeemer?
I respect him as King—one who watches over me. I listen to him as Prophet—one who speaks with power. But do I trust him as Redeemer—one who makes all things new?
When we trust him that way, we stop quenching the Spirit, and he starts working in our lives. Jesus can change the story of your family and my family, starting today. And he’s asking us, “Will you let me?”
That Jesus is a Redeemer means no parent, no matter their failures, is too far from his grace when it comes to discipling their children. You may think, “But our family is a mess.”
But aren’t we all?
By God’s grace, our path forward is as simple as turning to God. All you must do is say to Christ, “I’m your mess.” And he’ll come in and clean it up. That’s what a redeemer does: turns messes into miracles. And as your children see you turn to the Redeemer, they’ll learn what it means to follow Jesus. They’ll see that he’s a real Savior, and they’ll taste the grace he gives as your family begins to draw life from his mercy.
No one is the perfect parent, but if we’re waiting for perfection or nothing, we’ll get nothing every time.
Let’s trust Christ and say yes to the next right thing.
The triune God is at work in our lives to bring redemption. And in the Trinity, we have the Son who loves and honors the Father perfectly, the Father who never provokes to anger and knows how to discipline and instruct, and the Spirit who sustains it all.
The whole God is invested in the whole you. Our part is simply to trust him and not limit what he can do in us and in our families.
David McLemore is the Director of Teaching Ministries at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.
My three-year-old sat in her kid-sized chair, feverishly swiping and tapping on the phone while her siblings ran laps around the house and shouted their favorite tunes. Only it wasn’t a phone she was playing with—it was a Hot Wheels car. We had long since decided against handing phones over to toddlers. In the absence of the real thing, our daughter did what all kids do and used her imagination. She flipped the car over and was pretending the flat bottom was a screen.
After realizing what was going on, I asked her why she would rather sit on the chair pretending to scroll through a phone than run and play with her siblings. Without looking up, she answered, “It’s what all the big girls do.”
My heart broke in that moment. It broke because she was right.
WHAT THE BIG GIRLS DO
My little girl had noticed a pattern, the same one you see when you look around the mall. What are all the big girls doing? When you go to the park, what are all the parents doing?
The average U.S. adult spends five hours per day on their mobile devices. As parents, our hands and schedules are probably full enough that we’re not spending five hours on our phones, but how much time do we spend double-tapping and scrolling? Not long ago, the answer for me was far too much.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were convicted of our use of technology. We took a hard look at how we used our devices and read about what happens when we’re always connected. We started making changes. It wasn’t easy. We struggled to put our convictions into words and explain to family members why we didn’t want them showing our kids how to play games on their phones.
Then Andy Crouch wrote The Tech-Wise Family, which helped us articulate our thoughts and hearts. Crouch’s book features ten tech-wise commitments, many of which we’ve adopted and made our own. In our home today (with four children six and under), we’re committed to:
- Leaving our phones out of sight and out of reach so we can focus on who God has in front of us
- Minimizing the number of toys with buttons available throughout the house so our children develop the capacity of imaginative play
- Reading aloud and talking during car rides (even hours-long road trips), so we can learn how to be around each other and engage more of our senses
- Allowing kids to watch TV only rarely (about once a month), and only with the whole family so the screen becomes a novel, shared experience
I still use Instagram to stay in touch with my friends (and see pics of their kiddos!). I’m grateful for podcasts to listen to while I’m cleaning or exercising. But I can say that, by the grace of God, I’m not dependent on my devices. That’s less because of behavioral modifications, though, and more because of what the Lord has shown us through our tech woes.
OUR REFUGE IN THIS DIGITAL WORLD
My daughter’s comment—"It’s what all the big girls do”—revealed that while we can seek to create a tech-wise home, we can’t fully shield our children from a tech-saturated world; a world with screens on our wrists, in our pockets, and in our living rooms and bedrooms.
Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to stay faithful regardless of what the world worships. Jesus did just that when he came to Earth. He was in the world, but not of it. He dined with sinners, yet remained free of sin. And he calls us to do the same.
But it’s so easy to get lost in questions like What boundaries do we set? How much screen time should my kids have? How old should kids be before they play video games?
When I get lost in these questions, I forget that sin and distraction entered the world thousands of years ago in a garden—not with the invention of the iPhone. Sin separated us from our Creator and sin will condemn us when we stand before him on the day of judgment.
But God loves us too much to let that be the end of the story. God longs to see our relationship with him redeemed. Psalm 34:22 tells us, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants, none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (emphasis mine).
When we take refuge in God, he promises redemption, not condemnation. But taking refuge in the Lord requires trust. And from day one, that’s just what God has been after.
Christian parents can do many really good things without ever trusting God. In the early years, we can make kids eat their carrots before their chocolate. We can put boundaries around technology (as my family has).
But if we fail to daily submit our children, and our role as parents, to the Lord, then we miss the point. Our parental efforts at behavior modification are good, but they aren’t primarily what God’s after.
He’s after our heart. And our hearts reveal what our motives truly are, and those determine our actions. If we want to address technology in our homes, we have to start with our hearts.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The next time you’re evaluating tech use in your home, ask why you’re really checking your phone or turning the TV on. Get to the heart of the matter. Are you justifying handing your phone to your child because you simply long for a break? Or the next time you go to check Instagram, ask what you’re hoping to find—affirmation, satisfaction, relief?
Then consider getting your kids involved in the heart check too! Or at least begin the conversation. You may find what we did, that our child was mimicking what she saw around her because she longs to be “big.” Or you may ask a thirteen-year-old and realize his or her worth and identity is wrongly wrapped up in their online presence.
Together your family can reflect on if the heart of your tech use is in line with the world or the Lord.
And if you’re like me and my family, you’ll probably be overwhelmed with the need to repent—of placing hope in getting something accomplished and using technology to “babysit” because it's easy (and free.) Or repent of placing trust in what others think of me and Instagram likes give me instant “love”. When God reveals the true desires of my heart, and how out of line they are with his heart, my sin feels overwhelming.
But that’s why the gospel is such good news! Because in Christ, I am redeemed by his work, not my family's tech habits. He doesn’t love me more when I stand strong in our tech-wise commitments, and he doesn’t love me less when I hand a screaming child a phone because I don’t know what else to do.
Regardless of what “all the big girls are doing,” I will continue to pray for my heart and my children’s hearts. I will continue to beg God for the grace to trust him more. That might mean our family is more up-to-date with board book stories than Instagram stories, but we’re learning to be okay with that.
Maggie Pope is the CEO of a small nonprofit that invests heavily in the lives of a handful of young children. Since the staff is small, she also serves part-time as the janitor, teacher, bread-baker, and driver. Okay, she’s a mom. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four children.
Many pastors fail at being the pastor of their family. We may be ashamed to admit it, but often when we pontificate from the pulpit about how parents shouldn’t outsource the discipleship of their children to the church, we aren’t even discipling our own children. Before you feel a heavy hand of condemnation, let me remind you that no man wakes up one day and instantly becomes the pastor of his home. It takes years of experience—and many awkward face-plants—to grow into that role. From my limited experience as a father and husband, here are a few simple habits that will get you on the trajectory to being a healthy “pastor-dad.”
PRAY FOR AND WITH YOUR FAMILY
It should be the most natural thing for a man to pray for his family, but it isn’t. It takes intentionality. My wife is a praying woman, and her prayer life pushes me to have a healthier prayer life of my own. It is now part of my daily routine to pray for Rebekah and my boys. If you develop the habit of privately praying for your family, then publicly praying for them will come naturally. Your family needs to hear you pray for them. Your children need to hear their father praying for their salvation.
TURN OFF THE TV, PUT DOWN THE PHONE, AND ENGAGE
I’ve gone through periods when I struggled to come home from the office and simply be pastor-dad, not Pastor Dayton. Our culture calls us to take pride in maintaining a slammed schedule, but our culture also celebrates and encourages a million other things that starve our spiritual vitality and destroy our families. Don’t come home from a long day and shut down. When you are with your family, turn off the TV unless you are watching it together. You also don’t need to be checking sports scores or your email on your phone. I know it’s hard, since many of us have rewired our brains to “need” to check our phones every few minutes. But it can wait.
TALK ABOUT JESUS WITH YOUR FAMILY
What you talk about most often is what your kids think is most important to Dad. If you can’t remember the last time you had a meaningful exchange with your family about the person and work of Jesus, then your kids have no idea that Jesus matters to you. You don’t have to drop theology bombs on their little minds. Just talk to them about Jesus.
READ SCRIPTURE WITH YOUR KIDS EVERY NIGHT
There is no easier way to make sure you talk about Jesus than to read the book that’s by Jesus and about Jesus. There are a number of great resources for families, and most of them can be used in increments of ten or fifteen minutes. For instance, if you have small children you can use resources such as The Gospel Project Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. Reading a chapter or two takes no time at all.
The next day, come home from the office and ask your kids what they remember about the previous night’s family devotion. Ask them how they applied the gospel truth from last night during their day. Tell them how you applied that truth to your heart and life. It’s simple; it just takes intentionality.
PRACTICE DISCIPLINE THAT REVEALS THE GOSPEL
The vast majority of parenting advice from our culture is horrible. Why? Our nation has become post-Christian and is quickly moving toward being anti-Christian. Even for many who believe in God, the default worldview has become something akin to what sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called “moralistic therapeutic deism.” “Moralistic” means someone thinks God just wants them to be a good person; “therapeutic” means they think God wants them to be happy (according to their own definition of happiness); and “deism” is a way of saying God isn’t personally involved in their life.
You do not want to tell your kids that Jesus matters and then parent them through a filter that encourages moralism. That duality is how you create little religious hearts that try to earn God’s favor by being good. This may be the most difficult aspect of being a father and a pastor. We face all kinds of real and perceived pressure to have children who behave properly, who obey, who do not become the stereotype of the wild and crazy pastor’s kids. Our default wiring, with its natural inclination toward religion, will cause us to apply this pressure when disciplining our children, and in doing so will turn them into legalists.
If you believe the gospel, you will not be shocked by your child’s sinfulness. You do not need to lament that your eighteen-month-old is a viper in a diaper the first time he disobeys, but you should remember that Scripture says we are sinners by nature. When we respond to our children’s sin with shock, we communicate to them: “Do better, try harder, make yourself righteous.” Our goal as fathers must not be mere behavior modification. Our aim is to see our children repent and believe the gospel. Therefore, do not respond to their sin in a way that simply calls for a change in behavior; respond in a way that calls for heartfelt repentance.
The moments when we discipline our children are of incredible value for pointing them to Jesus. I’ve found that asking my oldest son a few pointed questions keeps me calm and helps draw his attention to the Perfect Father in Heaven. I ask my son, “Who am I?” He says, “Daddy.” That’s right! “Do I love you, son?” He replies, “Yes!” I then tell him, “Because I love you, just as you are, please obey me.” Sometimes it makes a huge difference. Many times, he doesn’t get it. However, I’m trying to lay gospel groundwork, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
PASTOR YOUR HOME ON PURPOSE
None of this is hard. It just requires intentionality, yet we are often far too passive. This passivity is hurting your family. Begin implementing these basics habits now!
As you pursue being the pastor of your home, you will fail. It’s OK! We all fail, but we cannot allow failure to become defeat. The stakes are too high and your family is far too valuable.
 This term is from their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Content taken from Lies Pastors Believe: Seven Ways to Elevate Yourself, Subvert the Gospel, and Undermine the Church by Dayton Hartman, ©2017. Used by permission of Lexham Press, Bellingham, Washington, LexhamPress.com.
Dayton Hartman holds a Ph.D. in Church and Dogma History from North-West University (Potchefstroom) and an MA from Liberty University. He serves as Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Additionally, he is an Adjunct Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC) and Columbia International University (Columbia, SC). Learn more at his website.
Forty-eight hours ago I was plagued by the thought, “I am a bad mom.” That complete sentence ran through my mind—uninvited and multiple times throughout the evening. I tried to push the thought out of my mind, but the truth is, it was gaining significant ground. Deep down, in those moments, I believed those words to be true. Twenty-four hours ago I overheard a podcast that my husband was playing on his computer. One speaker encouraged listeners to remember that parenting is much longer than a day. She reminded me that when I lift my eyes up and see five, ten, fifteen years down the road, I gain a completely new perspective of my job as a mother. When I’m focused just on this day—when I wasn’t patient or kind during bath time, and the kids seemed to be sustained on sugar and “screen time”—I have a much harsher ruling for myself. Bad Mom.
Parenting to See Jesus
When I remember, however, that I am called to parent them to see Jesus exalted, for all of eternity, today’s bath holds much less sway. Yes, a lifetime is made up of seemingly little moments, and their weight should not be dismissed. My purpose as a mom is refocused when I consider worshipping before God’s throne forever. I am not a significant player in that picture at all!
My ability to control a situation or procure the attention and obedience I think I deserve is revealed to be utterly insignificant, and an erroneous pursuit in the light of God’s overwhelming glory!
The second speaker on that much-needed podcast discussed our complete dependence on Jesus. She reminded me that as a regenerate believer in Christ, I have died to myself and have been raised to life with him (Romans 6:4)! It is when I remember and rest in my identity in Jesus that I can live on mission and be full of joy, more accurately displaying God’s love and glorifying him as he deserves.
Rather than respond to my discouragement with self-esteem boosters and affirmations of, “No! You’re a great mom!” the Holy Spirit lovingly took my eyes off of myself and put them where they need to be—on Jesus.
Meeting Our Culture’s Standards
My primary goal as a mom is not to ensure that my children meet our culture’s standards—whether that is in regards to diet, entertainment, education, dress, activities, or any other myriad of topics. I am commissioned to teach my kids about Jesus. I am given the extreme honor and privilege of telling them about the God, who creates, redeems, and restores. As part of teaching them about who God is and what his kingdom is like, I am also called to teach them about sin.
Mine is clearly on display, so I must respond biblically, demonstrating repentance and refusing to become complacent. It is vitally important that my kids not only hear me say, “I’m sorry,” but that they also see me battling to slay my sin by grace alone. Sin threatens our relationships and darkens that already dim mirror through which our children see the Lord reflected (1 Cor 13:12). Reading the Word and praying, therefore, become far greater than duties which I must check off my daily chore chart! In addition to addressing my sin, I also must lovingly teach them about theirs.
Remembering that our children are born sinful and are dead apart from Christ’s life-giving work prevents me from focusing on behavior modification more than spiritual discipleship. As difficult as that is and as foreign as it feels in our culture today, teaching my kids about their sin will set them up to fully revel in God’s mind-boggling grace!
Still Wanting More
Twelve hours ago I walked through the Columbus Zoo, hand-in-hand with my six-year-old son. He’d been wanting to go on their Pirate Island boat ride for quite a while! He had been hoping it would still be there since our passes expired last season, and, when it was closed on our first visit of this season, the forbidden fruit became even more desirable! He finally got to ride it with his dad today. Afterward, I asked him how it was, and he said, “It was so fun! I wish I could’ve gone twice.” I immediately recognized my tendency to feel this way. By God’s grace alone, I was able to tell him that we all experience the feeling of good things not being enough, of being sure that something will make us happy, only to find that we still want more.
I told him the reason we feel this way is that only Jesus fully satisfies us. Only Jesus meets our true needs and meets them completely!
I don’t know if he’ll remember that exchange. It only lasted about thirty seconds. But I am encouraged that the Spirit guides my thoughts and words in those moments, despite my many shortcomings, to teach Eli the gospel once again.
Therein lies my joy!
As Christians, our calling, no matter what life-roles we fulfill, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Eternity is our timeframe, and the perfectly righteous Son of God is our advocate. So take heart, return to the source of your fulfillment and identity and keep walking forward.
Myra lives in Newark, Ohio with her husband and 3 children. She blogs at dependentongrace.com