One opportunity your ministry leaders (elders, deacons, small-group leaders, etc.) probably will have at some time is the opportunity to advise distressed parents. Unfortunately, the advice they give might not be appropriate. People tend to give advice based on their own experiences. Thus, experienced parents tend to share what worked in their households and assume these suggestions will be equally helpful in other households. Sometimes they are right. Other times they are not, and when their suggestions fail, this can lead to discouragement—and maybe even distrust—on the part of the parents seeking help.
Wisdom requires more than life experience
Experience certainly is part of growing in wisdom; this is why wisdom is associated with elders in the Bible. However, wisdom cannot be equated with mere experience; wisdom grows out of the experience of using God’s Word in one’s life. In this article, we will consider how your ministry leaders can offer good parenting advice that grows out of the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting.
Unlocking the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting
I once heard a seminary professor make the observation, “The Bible has very little to say about parenting.” The implication he drew from this observation is that we must be cautious about Christian books that offer “God’s way to parent.” I agree there are few passages that directly address parents and give the type of advice found in modern Christian parenting books. However, this professor’s perspective on the usefulness of the Bible for parenting is limited by a sort of tunnel vision. He has too narrowly limited the scope of the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting, because he has failed to understand how parenting relates to the larger theme of discipleship in the Bible.
When Moses sought to prepare God’s people for life in the Promised Land (as recorded in Deuteronomy), he addressed the parents. He wanted them to realize they had two fundamental responsibilities. Once in the Promised Land, they were to obey God’s law: it was to be “on their hearts,” shaping their lifestyle so it reflected God’s values and purposes for them (Deut. 6:1–6). Moreover, they were to “impress” God’s law on their children, and Moses was explicit about how they were to do this: “You … 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7–9 ESV). Every day, throughout the day, they were supposed to train their children to think about the implications of God’s law for all areas of life. Their parenting, then, was essentially discipleship—training their children to be followers of the Lord just as they were.
Once we understand that parenting is a form of discipleship, then we can appreciate the breadth of the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting.
Using the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting to give wise counsel
Below is a possible framework for organizing the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting. It takes the form of questions that your ministry leaders can use as they help bewildered parents think through the challenges they face. Each of the questions reflects on one or more biblical themes. Thinking through all of the questions each time a parent asks for help will enable the ministry leaders to use the Scriptures to shape the advice they give rather than merely rely on a hit-or-miss “this worked for us” approach. Here are the questions:
Determining how to respond to parenting problems
- What is the problem? (From the parents’ perspective—be sure to get examples from them.)
- Are the parents providing an example of what they are expecting of their child in this case?
- Are the parents actively showing meaningful love in their relationship with their child?
- Do the parents know what really motivates their child (the “treasure of the heart”) in this case?
- Do the parents know how to effectively instruct their child on this matter? (Have they discussed it with their child? Have they demonstrated it for the child?)
- Do they know what incentives might help their child learn something new in this case?
- Do they know what consequences for disobedience will get their child’s attention in this case?
- In what ways do the parents need to improve in order to disciple their child on this issue?
At the end of this article is a parenting worksheet that your ministry leaders can use with Christian parents who are seeking advice in dealing with their children. Here are some notes on how these questions keep your leaders anchored to the Scriptures’ perspective on parenting:
What is the problem? (From the parents’ perspective—be sure to get examples from them.)
Ministry leaders should ask the parents to give specific examples that will help ensure that their counsel will be relevant and specific rather than vague and abstract. (See Proverbs 18:2, 13, 15, 17 on the importance of attentive listening.)
Are the parents providing an example of what they are expecting of their child in this case?
Ministry leaders should ask the parents to reflect on whether they are modeling the values, attitudes, speech, and behavior that God expects of everyone in the family. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 6:5–6; Psalm 128:1–4; Titus 2:2–8, 11–14.)
Are the parents actively showing meaningful love in their relationship with their child?
Ministry leaders should ask the parents to consider if they are clearly communicating the love of the Lord to their children. Parents are not always aware that love can take a wide variety of forms, depending on the needs, experiences, and personality of people. Scriptures give us the broad parameters for what Christian love looks like, but how it is demonstrated to specific people will vary. (“Love of God and neighbor” summarizes God’s expectations of his people, according to Matthew 22:36–40. Godly love is sensitive to what others are going through and responds to their needs, according to Romans 12:9–13; 1 John 3:16–17.)
Do the parents know what really motivates their child (the “treasure of the heart”) in this case?
Ministry leaders should ask the parents to look for the underlying reasons, desires, and values that motivate their children’s behavior. Of course, this may not always be straightforward, especially with younger children, but it is still critical in discipleship. With a younger child, this information will come from close observation of the child in different situations and from asking the child as opportunities arise, “What did you want to happen when you ___?” (This question reflects the Bible’s emphasis on what’s in a person’s “heart,” as we see in Proverbs 4:20–23; Matthew 6:19–21; Luke 6:43–45.)
Do the parents know how to effectively instruct their child on this matter? (Have they discussed it with their child? Have they demonstrated it for the child?)
Ministry leaders should ask the parents to think through how they will instruct their children in various behaviors, skills, attitudes, etc. Mere lecture often falls on deaf ears. Therefore, parents should think about how to dialogue (have a two-way conversation) with their children during “teachable moments.” They also should be careful not to neglect showing their children how to do what they expect. This might involve doing role plays, citing examples from books, TV, or movies, etc. (This emphasis on “how to” is seen, for example, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matt. 5–7], where He describes facets of a loyal disciple’s life.)
Do they know what incentives might help their child learn something new in this case?
Do they know what consequences for disobedience will get their child’s attention in this case?
Ministry leaders should ask parents to consider what practical incentives or consequences might be used to help get the required focus from their children to learn new lessons. (The use of tangible [felt] consequences in child-rearing is found throughout the book of Proverbs, often represented by the “rod.” However, incentives and consequences continue to be used for similar purposes with adult believers throughout the Bible.)
In what ways do the parents need to improve in order to disciple their child on this issue?
Having thought through these questions, ministry leaders should be in a good position to offer parents realistic, practical advice on discipling their children. Sometimes the advice will be a radical departure from the ways in which they were previously thinking about this sacred task. In these cases, it would be important for ministry leaders not to overwhelm the parents and to follow up with the parents frequently for support, encouragement, and continued help as the family readjusts its relationships. Even if the advice offered is merely a creative application of the parents’ own discipling efforts, follow-up will be valuable. It will reassure the parents that they have someone interested in shepherding them through this stage of their lives.
The Scriptures have much to say about parenting, because parenting is a type of discipleship. Christian parenting immerses children in a way of thinking and living that reveals the grace, love, and purposes of God for their lives. It prepares them to realize the ultimate reason we all exist: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Moses was concerned that the Israelite children continue in the faithful lifestyle he expected of their parents. Paul repeated this same concern in Ephesians 6:1–3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” When parenting is pursued as discipleship, it is a pathway to God’s blessings. Use the tips in this article to equip your leaders to give good parenting advice.