Do Your Kids Feel Needed at Church?

Having godly self esteem is a challenge. Adults have shifted back and forth from being super critical of children to making them believe they are practically perfect in every way. Most congregations would say they value the children and teens that attend, but they don’t always act that way. Young people are often siloed away from the adults in special areas for classes and some, if not all, of worship. They rarely see adults, much less develop meaningful familial and mentoring relationships with them.

Perhaps even more harmful, they are made to feel superfluous. The adults take all of the active roles in worship and service. Often children especially are barred from participating in service and other ministry efforts, while teens are given a marginal role at best.

Contrast this to the real world, where schools often encourage students to take leadership roles in every area of school life. Charities often have special roles for children and teens to develop the next generation of volunteers. Young people are encouraged to share ideas and develop their own service and leadership projects.

Children and teens may not be able to express it well, but they are made to feel useless and even unwanted in many churches. They are aware adults put little effort into their classes and they aren’t learning much of importance. No wonder many leave at the first opportunity for something that makes them feel they add value to being there.

Is your church guilty of marginalizing children and teens? Speak up. Volunteer to develop a system for involving them in more meaningful ways. If your church pushes back, encourage your children to develop their own ministry opportunities in their lives. Support them in their efforts to serve others and share their faith. Reassure them God wants them to be involved in their local congregation. Encourage them to keep trying to participate or develop opportunities to serve and share their faith and invite other Christians to join them. Whatever you do, don’t let your kids believe their congregation doesn’t need them to be involved. Because whether church leaders realize it or not, they do need your kids.

Is Your Family’s Negativity Hurting the Kingdom?

Our group today had to manage a rather intricate trip into another country. After a minor glitch, we stopped to ask someone for a little help. While she did help, she spent most of her time telling us about all of the mistakes we were making in our travel plans. Mind you, at this point we had no other options. We even shared that with her, yet she continued telling us how horrible the rest of our journey was going to be. I’m not sure her goal in critiquing everything, but had she then invited us to church (or anything else for that matter), I am not sure any of us would have accepted the invitation.

The ironic thing was that she couldn’t have been more incorrect. Turns out our choice was better than we could ever have imagined. We also were mature enough just to laugh off her critiques and not take them too seriously – after all we were stuck by that point anyway. Her negativity served no practical purpose. It just made us not want to be around her any longer than absolutely necessary.

Sadly, many Christians have gotten into the habit of critiquing anything and everything about Christians, Christianity and the church. Some of them probably think they are helping make things better – especially by highlighting these supposed issues for everyone on social media to see. Instead, I believe they are repelling the very people that they think they are helping. After all, who wants to be a part of something with so many horrible problems? Doesn’t the world have enough already?

Wonder if your family has a negativity problem? Give everyone permission to point out negativity from anyone for a certain period of time. How often is negativity part of the conversation? Talk about how you can reduce the negative talk. Discuss ways to help make needed changes in a congregation without making everyone want to run away from such a “problem” church as quickly as possible. Brainstorm ways to draw people to Christianity by being salt and light instead of vinegar. It’s okay to want to correct problems that actually need correcting. Just don’t destroy the church and Christianity in the process.

Are You Isolating Yourself From the Parenting Help You Need?

One of the most consistent frustrations of parents is the feeling that they are parenting in a vacuum. It wasn’t that way years ago. Extended families often lived close together and parents could depend upon relatives to help with raising their children. (Watch old episodes of The Waltons if you are unfamiliar with the concept.) Even the community would pitch in and help. Children knew if they did something wrong any adult had the freedom to correct them (the expectation of obedience to every adult was common) and parents would be informed if the infraction were serious enough. Even in my own childhood we would often spend the day or sometimes a couple of days and a night at the home of not only our friends, but relatives or very close family friends.

A highly mobile society has created an environment where extended family members are often hours away. We don’t necessarily know our neighbors or even the people at our church well enough to trust them with our children. Sleepovers are a potential landmine of allowing your children to spend an extended amount of time with a family whose values may encourage your children to break your rules or a family member could be a predator of some sort (at least in our minds).

Parents have often reduced their parenting support network to paid childcare workers and online communities. While there is nothing wrong with an amazing babysitter, she may not provide the same love and support a relative or close family friend (Aunties in our house) might. Chances are he or she is a teen and may not even be available very often.

This can leave you feeling exhausted, stressed and desperately searching for the expert parenting advice you need. I believe one of the many reasons God created the Church was to give Christians a supportive, like minded family who have similar godly ideals of character and attitude, as well as beliefs. That community was designed to support, encourage and hold accountable when necessary. It sounds like Christians were regularly in and out of each other’s homes, sharing meals and my guess would be, parenting support as well.

Unfortunately, COVID has robbed many Christians of the Church family as God designed it. Watching church online has become a habit for many. Others became disconnected emotionally during this time and haven’t done the work to reconnect. The news cycle is consistently negative, making the world seem even more dangerous than before. We have pulled our children into our homes as some sort of protective cocoon.

This cocoon is not good for you or your children in the long run. They need other loving supportive adults in their daily lives to encourage, nurture and hold them accountable. You need other adults your children love and respect reinforcing the things you are teaching them about God and what He wants for them and from them. They need opportunities to spread their wings a bit in another home that will still guide and protect them. You need experienced, godly moms to give you the parenting advice and encouragement God wants you to have.

It’s time to get the parenting help you need from your church family. Go back to in person worship every week. Volunteer to serve in some way. Enroll your children in Bible classes. Join Mom groups at your church, take Christian parenting classes or find a great experienced mom or two to mentor you. Practice hospitality with people who can become extended family members for you and your children. Take full advantage of the blessings your church family can provide. You were never meant to parent in isolation.

Top Tips for Evaluating Christian Parenting Books

Let’s be honest. There is no “Panel of Experts” that evaluates those claiming to be experts in parenting or their books. Anyone who can write well and has an interesting twist on parenting can proclaim themselves a parenting expert and make a ton of money peddling their “wisdom” to parents looking for guidance. As a parent, you may not know for years whether the advice had short term benefits, but caused long term problems for your children. By then it may be too late to undo the damage caused by faulty parenting advice.

So when you are choosing what parenting books to buy or read, you can’t always go by reader reviews. They may be based on how well the author writes or whether or not the points reflect what the reader wanted to hear. Or they may reflect short term benefits with no knowledge of the long term impact. It’s difficult enough for secular parents, but for Christians you are perhaps gambling your kids’ faith foundation on advice that may sound like wisdom, but is really foolishness.

So how can you tell whether or not a Christian parenting book is worth reading or following? Here are some factors to consider.

  1. How old are the author’s children? Someone with small children has no idea whether or not the advice they are giving helps their children long term. They may be absolutely right or they may be terribly wrong. I read a parenting book recently where the author was extolling the “wisdom” of allowing children to decide when they went to bed, when they woke up and how many hours of sleep they got each night. Of course it worked okay for her. She had only a preschooler who had no real demands of her during the day and could sleep whenever she wanted. If you’ve raised older children and teens you know not having guidelines for sleeping is setting your children (and you) up for disaster.
  2. If the author’s children are adults, how have they turned out? Are they living active, productive Christian lives or does the author make excuses for his/her children’s rejection of God? No parent is perfect, but parents with strong Christian children probably have learned and practiced healthy parenting techniques.
  3. Are the author’s children perfect? Okay, I will admit this is a trick question. As a parenting author, I have to admit that the children of parenting experts don’t necessarily want their entire childhood experiences used as examples for other parents – especially when they are certain ages. Often we will use the examples of other children or a composite of children to protect our own children’s privacy.
  4. What are the author’s credentials? This can be tricky, but helps at times. Those with a background in education, for example, have usually worked with lots of children over a long period of time and have a solid idea of how to manage a classroom full of them so they can learn large amounts of academic content. Education or career, however, doesn’t guarantee the advice is good. Someone who is a phenomenal Christian parent, but who only has a high school education can give better advice than someone with a PhD.
  5. Does the author’s advice line up with scripture? There aren’t a ton of specific parenting verses in scripture, but there are some and certainly lots of examples of parenting – both bad and good. There are also a lot of commands and principles that should be reflected in any good Christian parenting book. So, for example, if a book suggests allowing children to miss worship services for sports or allowing kids to tell “little white lies”, it’s not giving you godly advice.
  6. What informs the author’s conclusions? Did the author look at academic research studies? Interview other parents? Base it on anecdotal observations or personal experience? All can provide accurate conclusions, but the best books often use a combination of sources to make conclusions. If an author is basing conclusions only on personal experience or from observing a handful of families, there may be weak conclusions that are made.
  7. Are the author’s conclusions based on the concept that “ancient” practice or “popularity in other countries/cultures” is always the best advice? There is a subset of parenting “experts” that assumes if something was done in ancient parenting, it is automatically better than current parenting. They often base this on their personal understanding (or lack thereof) about how these children turned out as adults. Just because a time period did not appear to have the same issues as today doesn’t mean they weren’t there or that equally bad, but different problems existed. The same holds true for the concept of promoting ideas based on their popularity in other cultures – often based on the same misunderstandings as those of a historical time period.
  8. Does the author have a bias against certain groups? I recently read a book that rejected any advice immediately if it were given by doctors or people running orphanages. The advice may indeed have been poor, but she was rejecting it merely based on their occupation not on the advice itself. This can also hold true for authors automatically rejecting parenting advice given by anyone the age of their parents or grandparents.
  9. Is the advice promoting authoritarian, permissive or authoritative parenting styles? Multiple studies have shown that the authoritative parenting style produces the best results. The other styles can be appealing to people based on their personal experiences and may appear to have short term positive results, but they are problematic long term.
  10. Does the author promise easy solutions to major problems? The truth is that children don’t develop serious problems overnight (in most cases). They’ve developed poor habits that will need to be broken and replaced with better habits. This is not easy or fun for the parent or the child. It’s entirely possible, and one method may yield better results more quickly than another, but major change will still require consistent hard work over a period of time.
  11. Do the methods suggested reflect how God parents us? If God is our father as the Bible says, He is the perfect parent. So for example, a parenting method that recommends not having boundaries or enforcing them consistently with consequences for rebellion, does not reflect how God parents us.
  12. Is the book honest about how much time and effort parents need to put into the spiritual teaching and coaching they need to do to raise strong, productive Christians? Studies have shown that children need an average of 14 hours a week of exposure and interaction with God through Church, Bible classes, home and independent Bible study, prayer, character training, conversations about God, scripture, etc. Christian schools can add a handful of hours a week, but math is still math and can’t be counted as religious content. Any author that makes it seem like a couple of hours at Church a week or attendance at a Christian school will give your kids everything they need spiritually is sadly mistaken.
  13. Does the author seem more focused on selling you other things than imparting as much information as possible in one volume? Authors have to pay bills like anyone else. Too often though, those wanting to make a lot of money often repackage the same material in multiple ways to sell additional products. It doesn’t necessarily mean the original content was poor, but you won’t necessarily get a lot of added value from buying additional products.
  14. What is the author’s definition of parenting success? Is it the child’s happiness? Easier parenting in the moment? If the top priority is not helping your kids get to Heaven by building a strong faith foundation and helping them reach their full God given potential, the advice given may not help you reach that critical goal.

Just like there are no perfect parents, there are no perfect parenting books. Separating the useless ones from the helpful ones can save you and your kids time and heartache.

Teaching Your Kids About Balance In the Christian Life

Have you ever noticed the human tendency to go to extremes? If I’m not exercising at all, and decide that’s not a great choice, instead of exercising a few minutes a day….. I will have a multi-hour mega workout session. Or if I believe my parents were way too strict…. I raise my kids with no rules at all. Instead of finding the perfect – usually happy medium – our pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Which means that while we may correct some of the problems at one end, we just exchange them for equally serious problems at the other end.

It’s important to help your kids avoid the pendulum swings and this constant exchange of serious negative consequences. God is stable and steady. He’s even referred to in scripture as a rock. God’s commands and principles keep us in that healthy, balanced area of life, attitudes and behaviors. The Christian life only seems extreme because the rest of the world is swinging between the extremes in life. In reality, the Christian life is lived in that stable, healthy, calm, balanced area of God’s wisdom informed obedience and decision making.

There’s a fun family devotional you can do to begin having conversations about balance and the Christian life. Take your kids outside. Create a balance beam out of a line made of chalk or a wooden board on the ground. Take turns walking, jumping and doing other things while staying balanced on the “beam” you have created. See who can stay balanced on one foot the longest as you take turns calling out things you all have to do while staying balanced on that one foot.

After you’ve had some fun, find a place to sit and talk. Ask your children to name some activities where it is important to have good balance – like riding a bike or walking a tightrope. Explain that there is a different kind of balance in life that is important to understand when we make choices. Read or tell them some of the stories of the life of Peter. You may want to start with John 13:1-10 and Peter’s rather extreme reaction to Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. If your children know a lot of Bible stories, ask them to think of other times when Peter or other people in the Bible had an extreme over reaction to something. Discuss together what might have been a better, more balanced and more godly response to what happened.

The difficult part of this type of topic in a devotional is helping your children make the mental leap from the principle you are teaching to what it might look like in their own lives now and in the future. Remember, that these balanced, godly choices in life are not always about sinning versus not sinning (although they can be). Often, they are about making wise, godly choices that don’t start them down a road that might eventually tempt them to sin. For example, in our earlier example about exercising, under or over exercising is not necessarily a sin. Either extreme can become sinful, however, if it eventually tempts them to take illegal drugs to build muscle or lose weight or if they are not being good stewards of their health and the body God gave them.

Work with them to think of other examples in life when people tend to go to one extreme or the other when God’s wisdom would put them in the middle. Don’t forget with older children and teens to talk about extremes like Christians can’t have any fun (think Puritans) on one end and living a life centered on having fun on the other. Discuss how God’s wise center is not having fun doing sinful things in moderation, but finding lots of fun things to do that aren’t sinful. Point out that when they are confused about where that godly center is that they can find the commands and principles to help in scripture. Help them find some verses in Proverbs and other scriptures that give some great guidance in finding that perfect balance.

Afterwards, you may want to go outside and try some more balancing fun, like walking with a book balanced on your heads, playing Twister or having an old fashioned egg race or “floor is lava” game. Don’t forget, this is a topic you will need to re-visit multiple times as a topic of discussion and in the moment as you watch your children struggle with pendulum swing type decisions. Finding their balance in God’s wisdom can make it much easier for them to live the Christian life.