Having children is one of life’s most wonderful privileges, and it carries with it an amazing responsibility to shape the hearts and lives of our children. In fact, I can’t think of any greater responsibility than being entrusted with a human life. We have been made stewards of the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our children.
Grace is Key to Parenting
Real family discipleship is always grace-centered. There is an important connection between grace and parenting because what we believe about God’s love has a direct effect on how we parent our children. In many ways, our parenting is the fruit of our theology. What we believe about God, His love, His discipline, and His forgiveness will affect how we love, forgive, and discipline our children. If we see God as a dictator, we will become a dictator to our children. If we see God as a loving and gracious heavenly Father who has given His Son for us, then we can be loving, gracious parents who are willing to sacrificially love our children.
Children and parents both need to be reminded of God’s grace. Children are never too young and parents are never too old to learn the simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need it! The hearts and minds of both parents and children are transformed as we grow together in our faith through the great truths of the gospel of grace.
Perhaps more that anything, the gospel of grace reminds us of our own personal need for God’s grace in our lives, our hearts, and our homes. God’s grace is the foundation of Christian parenting because it begins and ends with His love for us and for our children. Grace means that our relationship with God is free and not based upon good deeds or anything that we can do. It means we can never be good enough to earn God’s love. We can do nothing to make God love us more than He already does.
Grace is good news for parents. We are not perfect, and we sin every single day. Christian parenting is not about our perfection, but it is about His grace and His forgiveness. When we sin and fall short, God’s grace is sufficient to keep us from falling. Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). As a father, there have been many days when I have felt like a failure, and I just wanted to give up. There have been times when I have lost my temper or said something to my family that was not out of love and I have had to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness and for my family’s forgiveness as well. In moments like these, we need to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient for our lives and our homes. Grace is good news for imperfect parents!
Don’t Go at It Alone
Parenting can be lonely business. Sometimes we can feel like we are all alone and like nobody knows what we are going through. It is easy to sink into condemnation and compare ourselves to the parents down the street who look like they have it all together. The truth is, they probably don’t. Once you begin to talk with other parents you will realize that you are not alone and that most parents feel the same way you do.
All parents face similar problems and issues such as trying to teach our children discipline, respect, and self-control. It is a good idea to fellowship with other parents, and to feel supported in your role as a parent. See if your church offers a parenting group. If not, you can help start one. Invite unchurched parents from your neighborhood to see what a Christian family looks like. We learn together and from one another, so reach out and find a community of parents who are wrestling with the same issues you are.
As parents, we also need mentors in our lives. Like The Hobbit, everyone needs a Gandalf, and every parent needs a mentor in their life. Our churches are full of seasoned parents who have faithfully raised their children. These men and women would love to share their parenting experiences with young parents who are just beginning their family journey. The key is being humble and willing to learn from an experienced couple who have already raised their children.
You’d be surprised how many older parents would love to mentor a young family. After we had our first child, my wife and I began to seek wisdom from older couples in our church. As a result, I can think of many men and women who have taken the time to disciple my wife and me in the art of parenting. Not to mention that these older parents are usually the best babysitters!
Last, parents, be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Some people think they need to act, dress, or talk a certain way in order to be a good parent. This is a false perception which leads many parents down the wrong road. Nobody likes it when a person is trying to be someone they are not, especially God.
I’m reminded of the movie, “Fun with Dick and Jane,” starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as Dick and Jane Harper, an upper-middle-class couple who resort to robbery after the company that employed Dick goes bankrupt. It’s a funny parody of the downside of what can happen when we try to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t end up like Dick and Jane Harper; just be yourself and God will help you take care of the rest!
The Lord wants to use your unique gifts, talents, and personality to disciple your children. No two people are the same; therefore, no two parents are the same. There is a unique home that God has created just for you. Only when we are who God has created us to be can we truly disciple our children. So be yourself, relax, and enjoy the journey of family discipleship.
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.