If you want to accomplish anything in life, getting clarity on what is your end goal is critical to successfully achieving that thing. It doesn’t matter what area of life you’re talking about—work, health, marriage, finances, etc. If you want to accomplish something significant, you have to get clear on what you actually want to achieve—and parenting is no different.
However, there are two major problems for most parents on this issue. The first is that they often don’t have a clear goal at all. Go ahead. Just ask ten parents, “What’s your goal for raising up your kids?” and see what answers you get. Most of them will say something like, “That’s an interesting question. I guess my goal is to be a good parent.” When you follow up and say, “Okay, but what’s your goal? How will you know if you’re successful?” Most will then say, “I guess I’m not sure I really have a goal.” Or they’ll try to make up something on the spot which you can quickly sniff out.
The second problem you’ll encounter is that those parents who do have an answer often confuse their vision for their kids with the goal of parenting (and in our case, the goal of Christian parenting). You might hear them say things like …
- My goal is to raise up a smart (meaning, straight A) student so they can go to a good college and get a good job someday
- My goal is to raise up an entrepreneur who will someday create jobs for other people
- My goal is to raise up a star athlete who will play football someday at my alma mater
- My goal is to raise up a musician who will be famous someday and tour the world
- My goal is to raise up a … (you get the idea)
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having visions for what you want your children to do. If you hope they’ll be a star athlete or mathlete. If you hope they’ll be a programmer or an engineer. If you hope they’ll be a renaissance person or a straight A student. If you hope they’ll be a musician or an artist. If you hope they’ll love a specific course of study or a specific sport. If you hope they’ll be a missionary or go on missions trips. Those are all good visions. But none of them should be your goal.
In fact, one of the most important lessons you can ever learn about parenting is learning to let your children be who God created them to be. And that means that they often (okay, frequently :-) won’t want to do or be what you want them to do or be … and that’s okay.
So, what should be the goal of Christian parenting? Well, there’s not one perfect answer to the question but this is how I frame it. The goal of Christian parenting is to raise up …
The number one ingredient to success in any endeavor is attitude. The old adage that success is 15% skill and 85% attitude is pretty accurate. You can see this play out every week in athletic contests. You take two individuals or two teams with the same relative skill and put them on a field or court and the one who loses will almost always say something like, “I just didn’t believe as much as they did. I was nervous. I doubted myself. On the big plays I choked. Etc.” Attitude makes the biggest difference.
So, if the number one thing that allows anyone to succeed at anything is their attitude, if you want to give your kids the best leg up in life, then you’ll want to make it one of your goals to help them become positive.
This doesn’t mean you can’t discipline or correct them (that’s point three below) but you want to make the overarching experience for your kids one that encourages them. Be liberal with your praise. Never shame them. Treat them with respect. Give them great experiences. Keep them away from negative people and negative environments (yes, you can limit their exposure to negative people including family members—there is no rule you have to spend X amount of time with negative relatives Y number of times per year).
At the same time, confidence and that sense of being positive is cultivated by winning a lot. So, help them win. Help them find activities that they enjoy and are good at and then provide them with the resources they need to successfully complete those activities. Help them break tasks down and celebrate each win vs. waiting until the end before they feel good. And help them keep reminders of all their wins. Create a success journal or success wall. You can even make up medals and trophies. Surround them with the sense that they have what it takes to win and you’ll do a great job of raising up a child who has a positive outlook on life.
As a Christian parent, few things are more important than this. First, you want to pray that your children come to faith early in life and secondly, that they live their life by faith. The Christian life is “by faith from first to last.”
So, what can you do to enhance the probability that your children will choose faith and then walk by faith? Well, here are a few ideas.
- Model it – Children reproduce what they see. If they see that your faith matters to you. If they see that you read your Bible. If they see that you pray. If they see that when something goes wrong or you want something, you ask God first. If they see that you go to church and serve, etc. You’ll have the best chance of them “catching” your faith.
- Pray for them – Start praying before your kids are born and then never stop—and one of those early prayers should be for your kids to come to faith early in life. Pray for it daily until they make a decision to follow Jesus. Then keep praying for them to live each day by faith. Your praying for them will be critical to who they become.
- Walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit – As you probably know, the Christian life is impossible to live on your own. You need God to help you live in a way that honors Him. So, make a decision every day to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to trust that God will live His life through you.
- Take faith risks – Share with your kids some of the things you’re trusting God for and that you don’t just live your life based on what you can do.
If you do those four things (along with praying for them to come to faith early in life) you’ll have a high probability of raising up a faith-walking child.
Note: faith-walking also means that your faith and theirs isn’t just a Sunday kind of faith but a seven day a week kind of faith.
III. Morally-Responsible Children
As parents, there are so many important things that you will model and choose to do. For example, how you parent will teach your kids about God. How you parent will teach your kids about how to obey God. How you parent will teach your children about how to choose between right and wrong. How you parent will teach your children about personal responsibility, etc. And I’m collating all of these ideas under this phrase of raising up “morally-responsible” children.
It is not the government’s job or the school’s job or even the church’s job to teach your children to be morally-responsible—it’s your job. All of the others can help, but ultimately, God puts the responsibility on your shoulders to raise up a child who will walk in obedience to His commands. So, own it.
This is where discipline and correction come in. I’ll write a Johnson Letter someday about the difference between punishment and discipline but the simple difference is that punishment is about the past and discipline is about the future. Discipline is about training your child to make good choices—to know that there’s a right and a wrong and if you do wrong, there are negative consequences (and if you do right there are positive consequences).
While it’s often easier to just let your kids get away with something, that should not be your motivation (nor should making them pay for something they did that was wrong). If your goal is to raise up a morally-responsible child then consistency is key. If you say, “If you lie to us then X will happen,” and they lie, then X must happen. It doesn’t matter if you understand why. It doesn’t matter if their lie was cute or ingenious, you have to be consistent. Why? Because your goal is to raise up a morally-responsible child. Consistency will increase that probability. Inconsistency will decrease it.
Note: and this is critical. Consistency in discipline needs to start as soon as your child begins to assert their will (“I want to do what I want to do my way not your way”), which usually starts at about nine months of age. If you start discipline at this point (not punishment), you’ll avoid the terrible twos. If you wait until your children are two, well good luck :-).
IV. Who Love God
When Jesus was asked the question, “What’s the most important commandment?” how did he respond? Exactly. He said, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” If that’s the great commandment and your goal as a Christian parent is to raise up a child who will obey God, doesn’t it seem like this would be a good place to start? Absolutely!
I hope you’ve noticed above that I keep saying that the goal of Christian parenting is NOT to raise up a smart kid or a doctor or an athlete or an artist or a millionaire, etc. None of those things are bad but not every child will have an IQ of 143. Not every child will have the interest or genetics to be a great athlete. Not every child will be an entrepreneur. But every child can grow up to love God. And if you help your children do that, you can feel good that you did your job as a Christian parent.
Now, when we’re talking about loving God, we’re not just talking about an emotional connection (i.e. “I love God.”). Loving God is first and foremost about obedience. The way you know someone loves God, is by how obedient they are. You can also know if someone loves God by how they use their money (we always give to what or whom we love. So if a child doesn’t want to give financially to God but wants to spend every penny they have on themselves then there’s a problem). You can also see if your child loves God by their desire to spend time reading and studying His Word. If you love someone, you want to spend time with them. And finally, you can easily see if your child loves God by whether they want to serve Him in some capacity.
So, if you want to be a great parent, make part of your responsibility creating environments and opportunities for your children to learn how to love God. Take them to church with you. Talk about God in your daily life. Pray with them. Read your Bible with them. Talk about your giving with them. Teach them about tithing with their first dollar, etc. Help them fall in love with God and you’ll be a great parent.
V. Love People
As you know, the second half of the great commandment says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, how can you help your children love people? Well, here are a few ideas.
- Model It – Since children reproduce what they see, make sure you model loving people.
- Put the needs of others above your own – in other words, demonstrate that love isn’t about selfishness but sacrifice (note: this doesn’t mean you don’t ever take care of you. Remember, the commandment says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But there ought to be regular examples of you putting other people’s needs above your own).
- Give generously to others – give your best to others, not your leftovers. Even simple things like paying for other people or buying something special that you cook for dinner for your guests can make a difference. When they ask why you can tell them, “It’s all about love.”
- Make time for other people – time is one of our most precious resources. When you give someone your time, you’re giving them a gift. Help your children understand this principle that making time for others is a tangible way of saying, “I love you.”
- Serve together with them – look for opportunities where you can serve together, not separately. For example, get them to help make a Thanksgiving dinner basket with you and then deliver it to a needy family. Or get them to serve with you at a church function, etc. And when you talk with them, remind them that you’re doing this as a tangible way to say, “We love you.”
If you had to choose between having a child who loved people but wasn’t super successful vs. one who was super successful but didn’t care for people, I hope you’d choose the former, not the later. Though, just to be clear, these are not mutually exclusive. Having an incredibly successful child who loves people would be a great option as well.
However, the point is that while the world might think that having a child who’s super successful is the sign that you’ve done a great job as a parent, I disagree. Raising up a child who loves God and loves people is the best sign that someone has done a great job as a parent (though, as you probably know, every child has their own will and sometimes, even if you do all the right things, a child will choose to follow a different path).
Like proverbs, the Johnson Letters are about what’s most probably true. In other words, if you do the above, you will, in general, have the greatest probability of raising up a child who will love God and love people (realizing that there are no guarantees in life). However, in general, if you raise your kids to love other people, they’ll usually follow in those footsteps.
VI. And Who Want to Make a Difference With Their Lives for The King of Kings
If you were to answer the question, “Why are we on planet earth?” what would your answer be? Apart from “To glorify/honor/love God” what would you say?
The simplest answer I know of is, “To serve others.”
The right answer is not “To make a lot of money,” or “To be famous,” or “To become a world leader,” or “To use up scare world resources and die.”
You and I exist to serve one another and to make a difference in one another’s lives. How we serve and where we serve, those are all different for each of us—but the idea of serving others for the purpose of making a difference is why we’re here on planet earth. And, as Christ-followers, that purpose should go one step further to include making a difference for the King of Kings.
So, as a parent, as you’re guiding your children through toddlerhood into childhood and then adolescence one of the top agenda items that ought to be at the forefront of your brain should be, “I want to train my children to value serving other people and to wanting to make a difference with their lives for the King of Kings.”
Help them to get past just living for today and help them see their part in what God’s doing in the world. Help them to see that God wants to use their eyes, ears, hands, feet, words, etc. to make a difference in other people’s lives. Help them see that they’re a part of something bigger than just them. And help them to catch a vision for doing something great for God and for other people. If you do that, you’ll be a great parent.
So, to sum everything up, if you want to be a great parent, I’d encourage you to use the following rubric as your guide.
Your job as a Christian parent is “to raise up positive, faith-walking, morally-responsible children who love God, love people and who want to make a difference with their lives for the King of Kings.”
Write that phrase down someplace. Memorize it. Practice it. And pray through it often (both for you and for them).
Personally, I started praying through that statement before Chelsea and Brooke were born. I prayed it over and over again as they were growing up. And now I’m praying it for our grandkids and for the generations yet to come.
If you want to be a great parent, I’d encourage you to do the same. By definition, not every child can become the best in the world at something. But every child can be a positive, faith-walking morally-responsible child who loves God, loves people and who wants to make a difference with their lives for the King of Kings.
And if you do that as a parent, you can feel very good about the job you’ve done.
To your accelerated success!