It has been said that the work of orthodox teaching is not only to present the same old truths without compromise but to present them more beautifully and believably than they were considered before the teaching began. There is really nothing new to say about Jesus (or parenting for that matter), but there are worthy things to say, and they should be said well.
In chapter 4 of Raising Children To Adore God (Chosen, 2003), Patrick Kavanaugh explored the idea of making both church and home into environments that will instill in our children a life-long passion to worship the one true God. Kavanaugh unpacked five principles that should characterize the “home environment”: unconditional love, impartial justice, wisdom, stability, and the centrality of Jesus. That chapter is one that I’ve returned to again and again when reflecting on parenting, and I was reminded of its simplicity again and again while reading Michelle Anthony’s book, Spiritual Parenting.
Anthony serves as Pastor of Family Ministry at ROCKHarbor Church in California and as Fam- ily Ministry Architect for David C. Cook Publishing Company. Anthony never quotes Kavanaugh, but they see the same themes in the scriptures, and she does a good job of re-telling the same old truths, and telling them well. Like Kavanaugh, Anthony recognizes that it is not the job of the parent to “merely control my child’s behavior and by doing so somehow create a spiritual life for him or her” (15). Rather, the goal is to pass on a “vibrant and transforming faith,” the kind of faith in which children “know and hear God’s voice,” “desire to obey Him,” and will to obey him “not in their own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit” (16). Such faith begins with firm conviction and personal surrender. The corresponding conduct then comes not merely as behavior modification or “sin management” but as a by-product of genuine faith (24).
Anthony then encourages parents with the following words, “The joy of parenting can be spent on cul- tivating environments for our children’s faith to grow, teaching them to cultivate a love relationship with Jesus as we cultivate our own, living our lives authentically in front of them so that they become eyewitnesses to our own transformation” (25). Her ten environments include three identity-forming environments, three missional environments, the environment of correction, and three environments for spiritual formation.
3 Identity-forming Environments (Storytelling, Identity, Faith Community). Understanding life in light of God’s redemption story is an essential skill for all Christians. It helps kids (and parents alike) see that God, the main character of the grand story, has already won the victory over Satan, sin, and death. Parenting in light of the story helps us to see that each of our children is more than our kid. They are all actual or potential brothers and sisters in Christ. We must help kids gravitate toward who they are called to be in Christ—chosen, adopted, redeemed, sealed, and given an inheritance—rather than who they are accused of being by the world, their sinful nature, and the Devil. The church community also plays a vital part in the identity-forming process. It strengthens kids’ identities through the richness of worship and rhythms of celebration and remembering (cf. pages 92-95 for ideas). Christian kids find a reprieve in the faith community from their mission as “aliens” amongst lost friends–time to be with others who are “not of this world” so that they can continue to live with faith and conviction in it.
Practically speaking, Anthony recommends praying blessings over your kids as a practical means of forming identity (77-78). This is a great suggestion because it phrases “identity promises” in the form of a prayer. One potential danger of identity language (that Anthony doesn’t mention) is giving children who are not yet Christians false assurances—potentially encouraging children to trust their parent’s promises rather than Jesus’ promises. As parents, we should recognize that there is a need for “come to Jesus” moments where we call our children to embrace an identity that they have not only merely forgotten but have not yet ever embraced (cf. the section “Messengers of Good News” on pages 195–96).
3 Missional Environments (Service, Out of the Comfort Zone, Responsibility). A servant heart is always ready to ask the question, “What needs to be done?” and say, “This is my responsibility.” The Holy Spirit often uses service, responsibility, and movement away from per- sonal comforts to cultivate a view of our lives as living and radical sacrifices generously given away for Christ’s cause. At my local church, we don’t use the term “volunteers” but instead have adopted the term “servants” for all of our children’s ministry workers. However, I hadn’t thought of applying this same principle to the home until reading Anthony’s suggestion of replacing “chores” with “acts of service.”
The Environment of Course Correction. Anthony gives an excellent and redemptive treatment of disci- pline based on Hebrews 12:11-13 as well as insights from Dallas Willard. Biblical discipline for a child encompasses (a) a season of pain, (b) an opportunity to build up in love, and (c) a vision of a corrected path with the purpose of healing at its core–making certain to communicate that we need God’s help to change (158–64).
One of the greatest dangers in any parenting book is the temptation to think that the methods presented are full proof: “If I do this, then my kids will turn out right.” This temptation could be particularly strong for the reader on page 164: “The final piece of this discipline journey is that, later on, this corrective path produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. This is part of the beautiful outcome.” It is important to point out that the words, “to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” in Hebrews 12:11 are a general principle for discipline. They do not guarantee that every child will be receptive to training. As Leslie Leyland-Fields has written (“The Myth of the Perfect Parent: Why the Best Parenting Techniques Don’t Produce Christian Children,” Christianity Today, Jan. 8, 2010), perfect parenting does not make perfect children. God is the perfect Father, but He has many prodigal children, and many of them will never return home. We can, however, have confidence that the gospel will bear fruit (Col 1:6) and should remember that another important step in discipline is prayer. Parents must pray that God will be gracious to allow their discipline to be truly corrective by changing their kids’ hearts.
3 Environments for Spiritual Formation (Love and Respect, Knowing, Modeling). Children need an envi- ronment of love and respect in order to be free to both receive God’s grace and to be gracious toward others. An environment of unconditional love (where love is not withheld because of behavior) helps children to see God’s love “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). In this environment, children will learn that they can be fully known by God and yet also fully loved by him. Parents who are personally loving and learning to know God more create an environment that upholds and displays God’s truth in the “natural daily flow of life” (Deut 6:4-9; 192-–95). The goal is to “give children a foundation that is based on knowing God, believing his word, and having a relationship with him through Christ. These are essentials for faith, and they all begin with knowing God” (197).
I recommend Anthony’s book, and I am thankful for it. Like Kavanaugh before her, Anthony’s book con- tains grace-filled encouragements for creating and nurturing environments for spiritual growth in our homes. She has good things to say, and she says them well.