In this two-part series, Steve Beegoo, Christian Concern’s Head of Education, shares practical ways to help our children flourish through godly parenting. Here, he discusses what might serve as a hindrance to godly parenting.
“May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children”
Psalm 115:14 NIV
When you are planning a garden, you must imagine what you want it to become. You consider the soil, you plant, you water, then feed, tend the young plants, prune, protect, look at the prevailing environmental conditions, adjust accordingly, and wait, and watch. Those who have had the vision and then the wisdom to patiently engage with this process, are most likely to see their garden flourish.
Our churches, our family, and our children are no different.
There is human joy in seeing a flourishing flower or fruitful plant, and this mirrors God’s great joy and celebration of Eden. It is good! We are made in the image of God, and the joy of seeing a flourishing garden is a reflection of his joy, part of the imago dei being expressed in us. There can also be great sadness and disappointment in seeing potential unfulfilled.
What is true for a garden, is even more so for our children, isn’t it? God has made each one of us with a body and a spirit. Both must be healthy for us to flourish. And just as parents and community can help or hinder the physical development of our children (by giving them nourishing food, or encouraging exercise), the same is also true of their spiritual development. There is a God given authority handed to parents and churches to actively seek and invest in the flourishing of our children. There is a garden set before us. Do we see it? Do you see it?
It is sobering to recognise that there are also clear words from the Lord regarding choices which could cause children to ‘stumble’, which could be made by those responsible for them.
“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
Matthew 18:5-7a NIV
Children need our help to be guided towards the Lord. However, alongside the assumption of a fallen, rebellious nature in our children (who hasn’t found that they learn to say ‘no’ to you from a fairly early age?) there is fascinating research which has shown that children have an in-built propensity to believe in God. Apparently, you have to train them to be atheists! The Bible is clear that we have all we need, even from looking at creation itself, to be able to believe in the existence of God. Our children are the vulnerable little ones, who believe in him, and are referred to by Jesus himself above. For their spiritual flourishing, we can provide the food, the nurture, the environments, the protection they need, but it is also possible for us to abdicate, forget, or be ignorant of what can hinder their spiritual development. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.”
Is it possible to hinder them in ways that affect even their eternal destiny and flourishing? A salutary question to ask indeed, but it must be asked. In answering, we must have a full understanding of the grace of God, our understandable imperfections as parents, and the individual responsibility that our children have, as they mature, to make their own free choices. A perhaps more uplifting question to ask is, what can we do to help them flourish spiritually? With young people now spending 30 hours per week imbibing data and discipleship from devices, and 30 hours per week being trained by teachers, surely an hour a week of children’s or youth activities each Sunday will not be enough to ensure parents and church are diligently tending the development of those in their garden. What will the true master of the garden find when he returns?
Over these two articles, we will consider six hindrances, and six helps as we look at this essential question for the sake of our children’s flourishing.
“May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children.”
Psalm 115:14 NIV
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews 12:1 NIV
These columns provides a way to consider six key areas from both the positive and negative viewpoint.
||Churches for Children
Let’s begin by looking at the hindrances.
Hindrance 1: Pressed Parents
Note the ‘us’ in Hebrews 12:1 above. Together as church and community we can support each other, and especially our children, in ‘the race’. If you are a parent, God has planned your race to be run with your children – God’s children – joining you. You are supposed to spend time with your children. You. This is part of your race.
Too often, the 21st century culture of hurry has been embraced by Christian parents, and especially church leaders. This ‘hurry culture’ primarily shapes the rushed, and therefore surface level, relationships we have with God, with each other and with our children. The lack of depth in the relationship with God that we have as parents, easily becomes evident to our children, and leads to an inauthenticity of our eager encouragements to them to follow the Lord. In reality, any encouragement, when combined with such a lack of modelling, is more likely to lead to an inoculation to the gospel-founded life based in a daily life-giving relationship with God. The research on Generation Z demonstrates this authenticity is essential for our children to see Christianity as relevant and true.
Time appointed for motherhood and fatherhood has been overwhelmed by society’s value of identity through work and career development. ‘So, tell me, what do you do?’ Hours assigned for parenthood have been taken over by our culture’s undervaluing and despising of a mother’s and especially a father’s role. The father – the perpetual butt of the joke. The mother – the undervalued heartbeat of the home. Christian fathers and mothers, where are you? Don’t accept this! Your children need you.
As parents we can sometimes end up feeling we only have time to undo the negative results of influences around our children. Weeding, but never feeding. The time on devices, in social media groups, or in school, end up becoming the main influencers on their character formation.
But take heart: there are choices we can make to throw off this hinderance of being a ‘Pressed Parent’, if we can be decisive enough to take them. Peace-filled parenting is possible!
Hinderance 2: Toxic Teaching
Not all teachers are ‘toxic’ of course! In my experience most do everything they can to be fantastic role-models and teachers. However, the teachings in a school atmosphere and some teachers’ attitudes can have a significant and potentially detrimental effect on a child’s spiritual development. Something is being breathed into their spirit, day by day. If parents have less time to shape the lives and loves of their children, teachers become even more influential. All children automatically assume that those the parent hands them over to must be trustworthy, and especially when the parents of their friends seem to be doing so as well. ‘You have been given this authority by my parents so you must be okay!’ Parents must understand that children have an inbuilt and God-given nature to trust, and this means they are vulnerable. Especially at the younger ages.
The relationship of a child with their teacher has always been a powerful dynamic. Children assume the attitudes and beliefs of those around them. It is a law of nurture. As far as spiritual and character formation is concerned, cynicism of godly values can quickly be caught. Drip-fed doubt can become a significant hindrance to a growing faith in young minds. This doubt is then a strong influencer regarding moral development and religious questioning as they enter the teenage years. ‘Did God really say?’ Schools, and teachers, are shaped by needing to demonstrate how they are passing on the latest British value to be emphasised, or what the latest campaign group is advocating. The myth that it is possible for individual teachers and even education itself to be totally ‘neutral’ is owned by too many of us. Much of what may be explicitly taught in curriculum, as well as implicitly caught from attitudes, can be toxic to the wisdom, joy and faith in God which could be flourishing in our children. The controversial nature of some recommended Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) books or materials are an example of the subtle but potentially toxic teaching, which is sexualising our children.
Being surrounded in an educational setting by children, and teachers, who have a non-Christian worldview can at least undermine, and potentially destroy the foundations of faith, which could otherwise be laid. They can be undermined through the repetition of other worldview mantras and mindsets, and their subtle but toxic denial of God. The physical environment, the place of education is also hugely important. The signs and displays, that which is written upon ‘the doorposts’, makes a difference to what is taken into the heart of a child or young person, as Deuteronomy makes clear. But effective Christian education is possible!
Hindrance 3: Distracting Devices
Do you even need persuading that this is an issue? YouTube, Netflix, TikTok, films, media, gaming, Facebook, streaming, constantly demanding advertising, all incessantly being reached for by us and our children; a constant, instant servant, living in our pockets. Servant or Master? Entertain me! Titillate me! Communicate with me! ‘Like’ me! Respond to me!!! The content is always educational to some degree or other. Think about it; those conversations shape their understanding of relationships, and the content shapes their understanding of the world. And, for so many children, the parent’s present, potentially becomes the primary source of their pollution. For example, the damaging hindrance of widely distributed pornographic content cannot be underestimated. How sad that the playful, unconcerned, freedom of childhood relationships is being stolen. Invaluable innocence being swiped, as they swipe.
The pressure from social media can become totally distracting from real relationships. In February 2019, The Prince’s Trust eBay Youth Index found that 57% of 16-25 year olds believed social media creates an “overwhelming pressure” to succeed, while 46% said that comparing their lives to their friends on social media made them feel “inadequate”. Again in 2019, research showed that 1 in 6 eight-year olds had been involved in sexting. King’s College has published research that shows that up to 30% of young people use smartphones in a dysfunctional way and show signs of depression, anxiety, poor sleep and stress as a result. Let us all be completely clear on this matter, this is not an environment designed for the flourishing of our children.
Outdoor collaborative and creative play, understood to be so essential for the development of children and young mammals of all kinds, can be totally shelved, as our children are given access to so much immediate self-stimulation through screens. Research clearly shows this leads to unhealthy social, physical and spiritual development. But it is possible to monitor and manage this well.
Hinderance 4: Consumerist Culture
Globalising Western society is founded on consumerism and an identity found in self. ‘I shop therefore I am’. A selfhood based in what I can have to be happy, fuelled and encouraged by the needs of the economy to relentlessly grow, at all costs. The cost, even, of sanity. The cost, certainly, of the environment. Even at the cost of our children’s flourishing. Christmas has become a mammoth religious celebration – of all that Mammon has to offer our children.
Parents’ highest goal has become ‘I just want them to be happy’, without the understanding that a flourishing life is one that is joyfully given away to Christ and to others. The world preaches actualisation of self, with that self primarily being found in being an autonomous consumer. Autonomous and therefore ‘free’ from any authority figure’s assignment of identity. Free to consume and be happy? This cultural mindset points our children to the lie that life and identity is found in expressing your ‘true’ inner self, outside of any reference to God, and then gathering to yourself all that will please. No reference to anyone else is necessary in this worldview, and so they learn to please themselves without regard to any external source of wisdom. The main source of such pleasure is falsely prophesied by the culture to be found in consuming.
A consumerist mindset leads to a belief, which is taking root in our children, that people also are objects to satisfy me, and not to sacrificially love. The poisonous mix of consumerism with sex, showers our children through the many screens, sexualising and objectifying their view of personhood. Have you discerned how the latest dolls are dressed, and what the clothes are designed to do? What more insidious hindrances to sacrificial love, putting others first, patient faith or learning to wait, could there be?
But we can guide our children well, through understanding and commentating on this.
Hindrance 5: Casual Congregations
Between 2001 and 2011 the number of those who would state they are Christians in Britain fell by 5.3 million, about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, Christianity will come to an end in the UK in 2067. The average age at which Christian parents’ children leave the church is 14. Now combine this with the therefore disturbing fact that, at the most optimistic reading of the statistics, two thirds of all those who are ever going to become committed Christians do so before the age of 18.…
If someone in the UK has not made the choice for Christ before they reach university age, it is fair to say they are unlikely to do so. In many churches, around 25% are under the age 16. What an opportunity we have! Yet most churches spend less than 5% of their budget, and much less of their time, in reaching and supporting their children, when they are the ones in the congregation who are most likely to be responsive to the gospel. Casually missing the captive audience. This makes no sense. This is strategically and spiritually tragic. Churches who were once the main source of education provision, have handed this over to the state, and no longer find themselves able to provide anything resembling a regular Christian witness to children. Even the general state provision of any sort of Religious Education, especially in secondary schools, is now under threat.
The absence of the young is often fruit of a lack of conviction from parents that the church should even play a substantial role in the spiritual direction of their children. Some Christian parents on Sundays encourage the sports-field gathering above the spiritual-family gathering. We can demonstrate our undervaluing of our younger children in our, ‘Baby sitting on Sundays please, and please don’t ask me to join the rota!’ attitude. Church leaders can collaborate with the state in this lack of focus on the flourishing of our children. But not all churches do this. Some have not adopted the casual attitude and have demonstrated the love of their children in action and investment. Can more be done to stem the tide, by God’s chosen vehicle to disciple the children of world? That vehicle is, to be clear, your church and mine.
Hindrance 6: Enemy Enticements
Make no mistake, we are at war. At war with an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion. A prowling lion lurks and watches to pick off the young and the vulnerable; who hasn’t seen the wildlife programmes? There is a temptation not to protect, not to guard, and to go with the flow of the culture when it comes to our children. Like an ignorant and aimless herd of antelope. It could be expensive in time and money, to pay close attention to the spiritual development of our children. There is so much else to be getting on with after all…
The more attractive nature of the world’s more immediate and visible rewards and entertaining distractions can hinder our attention and take our eyes from our children. To some, having a smaller house, less of a career, fewer holidays, less time for self, fewer gadgets, and looking different from the neighbours, is a price too high to even consider. Have the enticements of the world succeeded in turning our attention away from the young and hindered our vision for seeing them flourishing in the kingdom of God. How can we then expect them to learn to resist these temptations, these enemy enticements, themselves? By God’s grace there are ways to resist the enemy of our children.
To discover the antidote to each of these hindrances read part 2!
 Genesis 1:31
 1 Thessalonians 5:23
 Romans 1:20
 Matthew 18:5-7
 Matthew 19:14
 Mark 12:9
 John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You- page 224 “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
 Ruth Perrin, Changing Shape: The Faith Life of Millennials; SCM Press
 Genesis 3:1
 See ‘The New Normal’ The Transgender Agenda; Wilberforce Publishing
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Tm0xFlO8s&feature=emb_title ; https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/all-about-me
 Deuteronomy 6:6-9
 Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It : Sue Palmer
 Mark 12:30-31
 http://www.comresglobal.com/polls/church-of-england-mapping-survey/; https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids/; https://humanism.org.uk/2017/09/18/new-poll-reveals-just-5-of-uk-christians-become-christians-after-leaving-school/
 Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 3:10
 1 Peter 5:8