by Charlie Self
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Editor: this post originally appeared at the Acton Institute Power Blog.
The spate of Planned Parenthood videos raises many issues, one of which is the importance of nurturing the lives that we have had a hand in conceiving, adopting, and welcoming into our homes.
As we participate in the Economy of Love, nurturing discipleship will include biblically and theologically informed insights for parents as they express faith, hope, and love in welcoming children into God’s world. Thus, the following insights come from 35 years of parenting and pastoring in churches large and small, including plenty of financial and geographic upheaval and more divine grace than my wife and I deserve.
Our aim with our own children has been partnering with the Holy Trinity to make disciples that are neither anarchists nor automatons, but passionate and principled volitional followers of Christ. We are parents of adult children (ages 31, 28 and 25) and enjoy good relationships with each of them. They are each in different time zones and unique places in their journey, and they bring us no end of delight and concern. Recognizing the diversity of family circumstances and structures, these reflections are not culled from a one-size-fits-all-prescription-laden text.
Here are some thoughts for discipling parents in our communities.
Welcoming a child (or children) into our home is an act of faith that changes everything. I often tell parents, “Marriage changes your world; children change your universe.” Parents are divine subcontractors and stewards of life and must cry out for divine strength and wisdom hour by hour.
There are timeless biblical principles for nurture, but no one method of child rearing. Context and culture, personalities and particularities create opportunity for listening to God and learning from community members. Do not compete with other parents for how early your children walk, read, play an instrument, or enjoy fishing. Within very wide boundaries (do listen to a good pediatrician), you can chill a bit and raise more secure children.
If you are married, let children see (with discretion) your mutual love and respect and welcome them into family decisions as they mature. If you are a single parent, work with healthy opposite-gender congregants so your kids have a healthy view of themselves and both genders.
Create an environment of aesthetic, intellectual, social, and spiritual growth, modeling lifelong learning and childlike wonder.
Teach the integration of faith, work and economics early, communicating that adding value through good work is more important than mere material wealth. Help them see work as worship to God and service to others, from the simplest of chores to the most complex occupations.
Nurture potential with hopeful realism. Do not offer untrue platitudes such as, “you can be or do anything you want!” Better to say, “Let’s discover how God has made you and what unique gifts you bring to the world.” The power of Ephesians 3:20 includes the wisdom of Ephesians 2:10: The Lord can do more than we imagine…and God has designed good (general and specific) works for us. By the way, when I was 12, my father wrote in Harvard Alumni Journal, “Charles is a fiery humanist and repressed basketball star (too short).” By 15 I knew the NBA was not my future!
Help your children eat healthy, exercise often, turn off the computers and television, and enjoy being alone with a book and comfortable with people. Respect their temperamental differences. Do not force extended solitude for extraverts or constant socializing for introverts. The aim is Christ-formed character and the blossoming of their person, not vicarious fulfillment of the parents.
Above, below, and around all other precepts: pray and praise God together, joyfully singing and dancing. Lament together and explain that our God sheds tears as well. Without being oppressive, let your life with Christ be “Spirit-natural” and your children will never be religiously inoculated.
At least once a week, my wife and I say to the Lord, “Thank you for the gift of freewill. We just wish our kids would use it better sometimes! Every good decision makes our hearts swell with joy. Every poor one brings pangs of agitation and guilt. What an amazing window into the heart of Abba Father, the Almighty. We worship a Lord of great pathos, beaming and singing over his children (Zeph. 3:17) and longing for a desert place to weep when they rebel (Jer. 8-9).
For leaders, these insights for parents apply to our nurture of the spiritual children God entrusts to our care. May we see the Bible inform and the Spirit empower our nurture of maturing, responsible and loving children of God.
Charlie Self is the Professor of Church History at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO., a Senior Advisor for The Acton Institute for Religion and Liberty and has been teaching in colleges since 1981. He has also served as a pastor in various capacities since 1980 and participates in debates with skeptics and those of other faiths. He is the author of three books, a frequent contributor to scholarly journals, and often appears as “Dr. History” on the KSFO 560 AM Talk Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has three adult children with his wife of over 30 years, Kathleen.