Teaching our children to follow us as we follow Jesus is not a small challenge. Believing parents do take it seriously, but for most, when the kids are all grown, we can look back on some serious mistakes and mixed results. The current generation of young adults in their teens and 20’s are not responsive to church as usual. There is a reason and a solution.
I grew up in my own Christian faith and largely raised my own children in a gospel of obedience based upon my understanding of the Bible:
Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Prov 22:6 NASU
When kids are young, we are training them in character qualities and good behavior as a basis for practical things… so they don’t get hurt, so they get to bed on time, so they get an education and so they can get along with other friends and family. All four of our children threw full-fledged temper tantrums at about 18 months – they only did it once. They would all respond to fair and simple requests without arguing or a bad attitude. They were all fun to be around and we got lots of compliments on their behavior in public places. As they grew older, they were all involved in sports, church, camping, and having friends over. I really enjoyed being a dad – even if I wasn’t perfect. And to this day, I am very proud our children; they are still a pleasure to be with. Here’s some of the “evidence” in my resume.
Me, Heather and Porsche
What Sue and I did well was to teach them obedience in a loving way. The point of this newsletter is that this approach is hopelessly inadequate for a teenager. I had the revelation of the “gospel of obedience” as a servant (vs 14) and totally missed conveying the real heart of God as a friend who gives us permission to work with Him instead of just for Him.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. John 15:14-17 NIV
Night and Day – the difference between the gospel of the Kingdom and the gospel of obedience is dramatic. I thought that teaching our children to live by Biblical principles and to experience the presence of God in church was enough – it’s not.
The essence of teaching children to “obey” leaves their hearts with a very clear message, “Nothing I want to do pleases you, so I may as well give up.” Obedience is a starting place for young children, but it doesn’t define Christian maturity and it totally misrepresents God as an uncaring law-giver.
The truth is that God writes His desires on our hearts and invites us to graduate from obedient servants to friends operating out of the desires of our own hearts. My emphasis on religious obedience was a path was OK at first, but ultimately led my whole family further from the desires that God placed in each of our hearts. The invitation that we make to teens to become something other than themselves is nearly always met with rebellion or some kind of passive resistance. God designed us all to operate out of the desires of our own hearts as one of the primary ways of hearing his voice. Mature Christian obedience is connecting with our hearts and walking out the desires that God gave us in way that expresses who we really are and what we are really called and desirous of doing.
Initiative – Another primary difference in the gospel of the Kingdom is that servants wait for instruction while friends or Kings feel permission to pursue the desires of their hearts. That’s a primary Kingdom value that we, as fathers, need to impart to our children. It takes courage and acceptance to learn to discern and pursue our hearts because we all make mistakes and we all need mid-course corrections. Many servants try one new thing, fail, and vow never to step out again. Fathers teach kids how to try and fail and get back up again and start over… as often as necessary. We never retreat from initiative in the direction of our hearts and God’s heart.
for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again Prov 24:16 NIV
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Ps 34:19-20 NIV
Listening – When we train young children in the way they should go, the decisions are easy and the choices are obvious. But by the time they are 10 or 12 years old, their life direction and calling starts to show up in the desires of their heart. It’s at that point that we as parents assume that we know the direction – but we don’t. The only way to discern the direction that God had put in those young hearts is to listen… something that I didn’t do well as a parent. Here are a few suggestions on how you can listen and can teach your child to listen to the desires and directions that God has scripted into their hearts:
- Pay attention to the people whom they admire, and try to understand why. Offer them good role models in different mountains and see which draws them.
- Invite them to read biographies, watch movies and meet people who are heroes whom they are drawn to emulate. The desire to be like someone else isn’t usually envy; it’s God showing us something about our future.
- Encourage them to try their own initiatives… and to back away from ones that don’t fit. Help them to taste and see if a vocation or a direction is right. Help them continue to dream “big.” Encourage them that it’s normal for God to greatly exceed our expectations – He’s that much in love with His friends.
- Help them to connect the dots between practice and success in small things. Sports, FFA, music, drama, etc. are great starting places. Help them to stand out, and let them taste having their name made great, Gen 12:2-3.
- Teaching kids to connect with their hearts should be a fun process, an exciting adventure. Make sure their hearts don’t adopt a message of guilt. Help them to connect with good reasons to pursue their own destiny.
- Teach them to create wealth by creating value. Help them to think through the cash flow of how to make a dream come true. Teach them how successful people get the help they need by teaming with others in a way that makes everyone’s dream come true.
- Help them to value the dreams that God has put in other people. Teach them to recognize and cultivate dreams and release the hearts of other people… simply by asking:
o What’s your dream?
o How can I help you to take the next step?
- Most importantly, pray with them to personally experience the presence and favor of God to answer prayer and open doors that make dreams come true. Help them walk in divine appointments with people God sends their way. Help them maintain their dream through seasons of testing and to remain faithful until God’s timing shows itself.
- Help them connect the dots between their personal dream and God’s greater Kingdom strategy in their particular mountain. Help them find a sense of identity, importance and urgency in putting the Kingdom first.
God is releasing hearts around the world in every generation. The Kingdom is expanding in nations at a macro level, and this understanding of our hearts is a major component of seeing God’s power work in us at a personal level. Fathers are being invited to release the hearts of their natural and spiritual sons and daughters.