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The Goal of Christian Parenting
External behavior modification vs internal heart transformation
Tantrums. Smart-aleck talk. Slammed doors.
There is a reason so much parenting material focuses on behavior modification.
Life is so much easier when children do what we say. And do it the first time.
However, if my ultimate parenting goal is to raise outwardly obedient, well-behaved children, I will not be serving them well in the end. Because, as a parent who claims to follow Jesus, my goal in the child-rearing process is not merely to see my kids reformed morally, but to see them transformed spiritually.
There is an oceanic gulf between those two goals.
The former focuses on actions. The latter focuses on motives.
The former wants to create a rule-keeper. The latter desires to shape a Jesus-lover.
The former demands immediate results. The latter recognizes reaching the heart of a child is a process—the long game.
When parents consciously shift their parenting philosophy toward reaching their child’s heart, everything changes.
Not only do the goals change, but also methods.
For example, if my primary goal is outward obedience, then I must serve as the moral standard. The consequences of this are devastating. One tragedy is I’m no longer free to confess my sins before my children. In justifying myself, I’ll discipline them as if I’m no longer a sinner.
If I begin to believe that press, I’ll parent with pride and discipline out of anger.
In this scenario, my aim is to rear no more than a Pharisee—the kind of person in Jesus’ day who was outwardly moral, but according to Jesus was a son of the Devil and a whitewashed tomb. They looked good on the outside (when people were looking) but were filled with evil motives of self-glory. All their “goodness” was a ruse to be praised by others.
Alternatively, if I want to reach the heart of my child, I must be honest and vulnerable about my sin.
Not just theirs, but mine.
Yes, I still serve as their standard. But the standard is now what it means to be a sinner who needs a Savior.
It helps to remember that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Our children are the way they are because we are the way we are.
From that perspective, I can parent out of humility and discipline with patience, because the ultimate goal for my children is not merely to raise a morally reformed rule-keeper, but a spiritually transformed Jesus-lover.
This happens when we lead our children to the cross, where the immeasurable love and devotion of Christ for us was dramatically revealed. It is the overwhelming, personal affection of God, wrapped in mercy and with grace, which compels us and our children not only to profess Jesus as Savior but to follow him as Lord and savor him as our priceless Treasure.
Coming alive to the wonder of God’s love and grace in Jesus is what changes us, because, as we abide in that reality, the Spirit fills us and produces his fruit through us.
All to the praise and glory of Jesus!
Why is aiming for the heart easier said than done?
What might it look for parents to encourage each other to keep the long view in mind?
Why is it so hard to be honest about our own sin (vs denying, excuse making, and minimizing) before our children?