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Family blocks

The word “family” conjures up feelings of warmth, sentimentality, peace, and tranquility—the kinds of things we put on Christmas cards, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Often, though, our families aren’t really like that. We’re not lying, Moore said, but there are so many things we leave unsaid. Those things—the challenges of parenting, the hard conversations, the fears that children won’t turn out like we want them to—were at the heart of the ERLC’s conference on “Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World.”

The podium at the Aug. 24-26 meeting was filled by family experts, church leaders, storytellers, and even a U.S. Senator (Ben Sasse of Nebraska). But the audience looked a lot like real parents. Strollers lined the walls of the auditorium as parents and children listened together. One speaker in a breakout for moms tweeted that it was highly appropriate to hear several crying babies in the session.

Over three days at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, conference speakers drew on their experiences ministering and equipping families—and raising their own—to guide parents toward a gospel-centered view of the family. Along the way, they touched on some specific issues of our day—gender identity, racial division, sexuality, pornography, and the overwhelming influence of technology.

They also called Christian parents to an ideal that grows more and more radical as the culture around them changes. “Those who grow to know and serve God with everything they have do not blend in,” said author and speaker Jen Wilkin. “The goal of a Christian parent is to prepare their child to live in a world that is not their home.”

In his opening address, Moore said the unspoken challenges of parenting are part of the reason it can be so difficult. “…In our culture, parenting so often is about winning and displaying.” If something goes wrong in our family, he continued, we worry people are going to think something’s wrong with us. He quoted a friend who said he knew parenting would be humbling, but had no idea it would also be humiliating.

“Parenting matters. The stakes are high. That’s why it’s hard.”

– Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The antidote to drowning in all the potential failures? A Christ-centered perspective, one that acknowledges parents are called to follow Christ’s example and take up a cross, Moore said.

“Parenting is a unique mixture of joy and terror, beauty and brokenness, happiness and disaster. Nothing is easier than loving your children, and nothing is harder than loving your children. We as Christians ought to be people who understand that dynamic.”

Alien children
It’s easy to blame kids for peer pressure—for exerting it on one another and for feeling it themselves. But it’s generally not children who fall victim to it, said Jen Wilkin. It’s parents who feel a strong pull to soothe their own memories of not fitting in by helping their kids fit in.

But Christian parents need to be looking instead for opportunities to help their children get comfortable with being different—even “alien” in our culture, Wilkin said. She gave five areas where Christian families and kids will look different, beginning with their activities.

“We have to be running these things through a different filter than other people,” she said. A filter that places a higher priority on the dynamic at home than allowing children to run themselves—and their parents—into the ground with an ever-increasing list of activities.

She read Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.”

“The author of Deuteronomy seems to think that there will actually be times when we sit in our house­—together,” Wilkin said. “Seems to think there will be times where we walk by the way­—together. When we lie down­—together, and when we rise up­—together.
“This passage assumes a natural rhythm of the home that is bringing the family together, versus spreading the family out.”

Jim Kerr is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairview Heights. Wilkin’s talk on family activities resonated with him because he sees families in his church struggling to balance all the things they think they have to do. Churches can fall victim to the same kind of thinking, he said.

“The guilt of doing ministry sometimes overrides the benefit of the right amount of ministry and the right amount of time,” Kerr said. “Because we just wear ourselves out.” That’s why his church plans intentional seasons of break in certain activities and ministries, he said, “realizing that there’s so much going with our families and our children, we’re going to wear ourselves out from doing, while not really gaining the purposes we need.”

Wilkin talked about four other areas in which Christian families should be alien and strange: speech, possessions, entertainment, and friends. Look for more on counter-cultural families and how parents in Illinois are raising “alien” children in upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist.

The role of the church
At least two speakers in Nashville quoted a study that found children are more likely to stick to their faith after high school if they’ve been invested in by adults other than their parents. Christ-centered parenting can’t be done in a vacuum. It calls parents to rely on others in their faith community, Russell Moore said. Christians are to bear one another’s burdens, including in parenting, he said.

“That is what is so dangerous about the church turning, in many cases, into silos filled with individual minivans full of families, coming to receive instruction and then to return home to their self-contained units.” Even more so in our rootless, hyper-mobile culture, Moore said, where children don’t see their extended families often and mothers and fathers fight feelings of isolation, parenting can be a lonely endeavor.

“We need each other, and we cannot be godly parents to our children if we are not brothers and sisters to each other.”

Moore recalled a woman who approached him after he preached at her church and leaned close to whisper a prayer request for her daughter, who was away at college and had decided she was an atheist. When Moore asked why she was whispering, she said, “I don’t want anybody to think, ‘There’s that lady with the atheist daughter.’”

Something’s terribly wrong with that picture, Moore said. “Here we are when every family in Scripture has prodigals, including God the Father. And we are scared to cry out to one another and say, ‘I feel like in my parenting I am drowning and I need help.’ That is what the church is for.”

If parenting in community means bearing one another’s burdens, it also involves having the courage to turn children loose to engage in God’s mission. In fact, that should be the goal of parenting, said North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Children are designed by God to be arrows, Greear said, referencing Psalm 127, not accessories.

Quoting family ministry expert Reggie Joiner, Greear said in our safety-obsessed culture, we forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to let go.

“The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect your children from all harm, but to mobilize them for the mission of God,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

And as they go, they’re sure to look different, having been shaped in a community in which the goal of the family is to glorify God and, through their example, to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

“As Christian parents, the most hopeful thing we can do is lift up our own eyes and train the eyes of our children to behold our Savior, alien and strange,” Wilkin said. “He is coming on the clouds, and when he comes, may he find the family of God, and your family and my family, desperately hoping and yearning to look like him.”

For more from the ERLC’s National Conference on Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World, see upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist, or go to ERLC.com to view conference sessions.

-Meredith Flynn, managing editor, Illinois Baptist

 

Close-up of father and son fixing bike

There is a tape that plays in my head. I don’t turn it on, it just plays. I found it playing deep in the recesses of my mind when I disciplined my children or taught them to play ball or how to hammer a nail. It plays involuntarily still when I show my grandchildren how to cast a fishing line or how to play well with their siblings.

It goes like this: “How did my Dad do it?”

This intimidates me a bit because I know my children—and yours—have a tape playing in their own minds. This intimidation only deepens when I consider the common description of God as a father. When our children go to church they learn the lesson that God is their heavenly Father, and they can’t help but see that through the lens of their own earthly dad.

At our best, we will be imperfect fathers. We will always be imperfect models because we are imperfect people. But God uses fatherhood as a description of himself. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn about God. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn how to do life.

Here are some suggestions about how dads can get this right—imperfect, but right:

1. Show your children how to love their families. Dads, make sure your children know you love them. Let them know you love them when they succeed and let them know you love them when they fail. Be certain they know that your love is unconditional. That you love them whether they do right or wrong. That you love them even when you discipline them. That you discipline them because you love them.

Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.” Unconditional love is a powerful force in the life of a child.

And, make sure they know you love their mother. Teach them by your actions how a man is to treat his wife. Live out Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Show by your love and sacrifice that you treasure your wife so they can see a healthy model.

2. Show your children how to love the church and the things of God. I am very blessed that my father took me to church. He cared so much about my spiritual development that he took me to church Sunday by Sunday. Note that he didn’t just send me to learn from others. He took me and thereby taught me to value this institution formed by the Lord. By the way, he didn’t give me a choice about attending church any more than he let me choose whether to skip school or to stay up all night long or to eat only ice cream.

Show your kids that the things of God are important. Help them see that church is God’s idea, the Bible is God’s Word, and prayer is talking to God. Let them see this by how you spend your time and your money. Let them see this by what you talk about and what you do.

3. Show your children how to love Jesus and to follow him closely. Faith is about more than going to church or being moral. Ultimately, it is about a personal relationship with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let your children know by your words and your actions that Jesus is your Savior, your Lord, and the center of your life. Tell them about when you trusted Christ. Talk to them about what God is doing in your life currently. Let them know the primacy of your devotional life—that Dad reads his Bible and spends time with the Lord in prayer.

You are going to get some things wrong in parenting. But don’t get this one wrong. Let your children know that you love Jesus more than them and that this love makes you love them more than you ever could otherwise. Let them know that your commitment to Jesus not only gives you a home in heaven one day, but it makes your home better in this day.

Dads, there is one more gift to give to your children. Help them hear an even better tape that needs to play in their minds than “What would Dad do?” This tape has to be played consciously and intentionally. It goes like this: “What does my Heavenly Father want?”

Dads, you can let them see some of the answer to that question in your life.

Doug Munton is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill. His latest book is titled “30 Days to Acts.”

THE BRIEFING | Five men were shot yesterday outside Uptown Baptist Church on Chicago’s north side. The shooting, thought to have resulted from a dispute between two gangs, occurred while the church held a prayer service inside the building. Uptown hosts the service and a weekly meal on Monday evenings for their neighborhood’s homeless population.

“A few of us went outside to see what happened,” Pastor Michael Allen told DNAinfo.com. “We found several people on the ground bleeding profusely, and they were screaming.”

The church plans to hold a prayer vigil Wednesday evening at 6:30.

Read the Chicago Tribune’s story here.

Other news:

Pastors to pray in Dallas
Senior pastors from Southern Baptist churches of all sizes are invited to gather in Texas this fall to pray together 24 hours. The event, scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at the Hilton Dallas/Southlake Town Square, “is not a ‘come and go’ event or a place to ‘come and be seen,’ nor is it a denominational or political meeting,” said Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd (left) in a written statement. “It is a serious spiritual experience of prayer with pastors nationally.” Read more at BPNews.net.

Group advocates pulpit freedom
A 14-member commission recently recommended relaxing restrictions on political speech in church services, Baptist Press reports. The group, created at the request of Sen. Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa), found “a member of the clergy should be permitted to say whatever he or she believes is appropriate in the context of a religious worship service without fear of government reprisal, even when such communications include content related to political candidates.” Read the full story here.

Abortion is moral issue for most
Most Americans still view abortion as either morally acceptable or morally wrong, but they’re less likely to view other birth issues in those terms, according to a survey by Pew Research. The study found 49% of people believe having an abortion is morally wrong, but far fewer respondents were morally opposed to embryonic stem cell research (22%) and in vitro fertilization (12%). According to Pew, only 23% of people believe abortion is not a moral issue, compared to 36% for embryonic stem cell research and 46% for in vitro fertilization. Read more at PewForum.org.

Parenting advice that’s truly inspired
Mother of 19 Michelle Duggar learned how to settle sibling disputes from the Bible. “I thought I’m going to go nuts if all I’m doing all day long is refereeing these little ones,” the matriarch of TV’s “19 Kids and Counting” says in a video on The Learning Channel’s website. But she looked to Matthew 18 for help. “If you have a problem you talk sweet to your brother or sister,” Duggar says, paraphrasing the passage for her little ones. “If they came up and took your dump truck away from you, you talk sweet to them and try and turn their heart to God saying, ‘Brother don’t take that truck away.’” Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.

Parenting_chart_LifeWayCOMMENTARY | By Russ Rankin, LifeWay Christian Resources

Most Americans believe good mothers and fathers must be loving, supportive and protecting, but fewer see the necessity of parents having a commitment to Christianity or religion, according to a LifeWay Research survey released May 7.

According to the survey, “Loving” is the No. 1 characteristic deemed mandatory for mothers (85 percent) and fathers (79 percent). After “loving,” four of the next five characteristics are shared, including “supporting,” “protecting,” “encouraging” and “involved.”

What Americans don’t necessarily see as mandatory traits of good mothers and fathers are religious convictions, including being a committed Christian.

Parenting_chart_2_LifeWayFor mothers (35 percent) and fathers (31 percent), being “Religious” garnered a slightly higher return than being a “Committed Christian” (26 percent for both mothers and fathers) on the survey of desired traits.

“Clearly Americans who are not Christians themselves would not be expected to value a Christian commitment among parents today,” noted Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “However, 3 out of 4 Americans indicate their religious preference is Christian, Catholic or Protestant. This means only a third of these people appear to value parents modeling a commitment to Jesus Christ to their children.

“For many who indicate a Christian type religion, this preference simply reflects something they were born with rather than something they feel they must nurture in the next generation,” McConnell explained.

Read more about the survey at LifeWayResearch.com.