Parenting books and articles are full of lists of things to do to be a great parent. The assumption is that if you can check everything off of the list, you will have children who grow into becoming wonderful, successful adults. Christian publications are not immune either, as you can see by all of the tips in this blog over the years.
People love lists – especially if those lists can help them be a better person or in this case parent. They come with the promise that if you can just complete the list, you will achieve your goal. In Christian parenting, the stakes are even higher. We feel an added burden to raise children who worship and serve God all the days of their lives. It would be wonderful if someone could guarantee us if we checked things off of some list our kids would be productive Christians.
Here’s the secret no list writer will tell you. They are successful not because of the list, but because the list represents who they are at their core. They can work the list and make it work because the list represents things they do because the goal of the list is so important to them it has become their identity.
And that my friends, is the secret to being a “successful” Christian parent. You have to be a Christian parent at your very core. It has to be your identity as much as your name is to you. If “Christian parent” is who you are, the tips and behaviors suggested in this blog and other Christian parenting sources will feel more natural to you and easier to adopt. Even if the suggestions don’t fit your family’s needs, you are probably naturally doing the things a parent needs to do to raise children who put God first in their own lives.
I can’t really tell you how to “be” a Christian parent instead of just “doing” Christian parenting. It’s almost like trying to explain to somehow how their name is part of their identity. What I can share though are the outside signs I see in Christian parents who have successfully raised children to adulthood and those children are not only faithful to God, but also productive in their faith.
- God is the top priority and filter. Don’t get me wrong. I am not at all a proponent of parents constantly leaving their kids with others because they are off doing “church work”. What I mean is that these parents filter everything through a God “filter” and consistently choose what God would want them to do in parenting and in their lives. When faced with choices and decisions, the kids know without a doubt their parents have prayed about and discussed what God would want them to do before making a choice. Their kids know the choices they make always put God first and don’t shift Him to the back burner in favor of money, power or selfish desires.
- Christian is who they are and not an activity. Church pews are filled with spectator Christians. Christianity is an activity “good” people do by attending church services. “Great” people even find time to volunteer some time and donate some money to God. A person who is a Christian as part of their core identity doesn’t see Christianity as a leisure activity for when they have spare time and money. There is a passion there because they understand who God is and the impact He has on their lives and eternity. (As much as any human can!) Their children know if you separated their parents from Christianity, their parents would almost cease to exist because it is so central to who they are as people.
- Scripture reading and prayer are like air and water. These parents read their Bible outside of worship and formal Bible studies. They talk about what they are reading and get excited when finding passages they have forgotten about, understand for the first time or that speak to something with which they are struggling. Prayer is constant and informal – like talking to a best friend. All of the Bible reading and praying are not because they “have” to do it, but because these parents realize those are their parenting and life “air and water” – they couldn’t survive without them.
- God pops up easily and naturally in their conversations and they serve and share their faith regularly. Kids can tell when something is forced and unnatural. They know if you are quoting scripture or talking about godly principles or serving only because you are supposed to do it as a Christian parent. If God is the most important relationship you have though, you will talk about Him and what He says just like you used to talk about the current boy you were crushing on back in your dating days. You will serve others and share your faith in ways that are big and small almost daily – if not multiple times each day. (Note: Your kids need to hear about God and what He says even if it isn’t natural to you yet. As you grow spiritually, your conversations about God will become more natural. In the meantime, God’s Words are becoming “tapes” that will always play in your child’s head.)
- Your top parenting priority is shaping your kids hearts towards God. They say you can tell a person’s priorities by how they spend their time, money and energy. Is your top priority raising kids whose hearts are molded towards God? Or does the way you spend your time, money and energy show your top parenting priority is actually raising a successful athlete or business tycoon? There are many great priorities to have for your kids and your parenting, but the top one always needs to be shaping your children’s hearts towards God.
If you check everything off this list will you “be” a successful Christian parent? I honestly can’t tell you. Your heart and soul are tied to your identity and their is no way to guarantee merely doing the things on this list will cause the shift needed to “be” a Christian rather than just “doing” it. What I do know for sure is doing the things on the list should also help your spiritual growth, which may just help you achieve that identity shift to “being” a Christian parent.