Flourishing or failing? Helps and hindrances in Christian parenting

18 November 2020

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 reveals how to flourish in Christian parenting.
You can read part one on hindrances to Christian parenting here.

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children
Psalm 115:14 NIV

Flourishing?

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.

What is true for a garden, is even more so for our children 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?

Children need our help to be guided towards the Lord. 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.”

In my first article, I looked at possible ways to hinder children that affect even their eternal destiny and flourishing. But what is the antidote?

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. What can we do to help our children 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?

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children.
Psalm 115:14 NIV

Helps

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”
Matthew 19:14 NIV

These columns provides a way to consider six key areas from both the positive and negative viewpoint.

Hindrances Helps
Pressed Parents Peaceful Parents
Toxic Teaching Effective Education
Distracting Devices Monitored Mobiles
Consumerist Culture Cultural Commentary
Casual Congregations Churches for Children
Enemy Enticements God’s Grace

 

So how do we help them come to Jesus?

Help 1: peaceful parents

To counteract the hindrance of ‘Pressed Parents’, what do our children need us to become? When our children ask us a question[1] or attempt to show us something they have made or done, are they more likely to get a welcoming response, or a ‘not now’. The truth is, if they come to expect a rebuff, or distracted disinterest, they will stop asking. Your opportunity for influence in their lives diminishes over time. But you can learn to say ‘yes’ more often, and make decisions that bring less hurry and more peace to your home.[2] Plan for unplanned time, not just when you have your scheduled appointment with your child, as though they were some task to complete; real time, where you are present with them in the moment, their moment. In these occasions of peaceful communication, and even silly playfulness, then their questions will come, you can offer to pray with them, demonstrate your sacrificial love for them and point them to Jesus, letting them into your relationship with Christ. One small change which can make a big difference… can you ask them about their school day, where your question shows you knew something about what their day held? We won’t always get this right, but we can make it our aim, while we have the chance. The song Cinderella by Stephen Curtis Chapman,[3] expresses this so well if you have a daughter. The song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin, and then covered by Ugly Kid Jo in the 90s, is worth a listen if you have a son![4] Why not google them now, or follow the link, and let God speak to you through some of modern poets?

Help 2: effective education

I want to emphasise, not all teachers or teachings are toxic. And where there are attitudes and actions being encouraged which are against the Christian spiritual formation we would want, we have the ability to counteract this as parents and church communities. We can regularly help our children and young people detox, in the evenings and holidays, through prayer and discussion. We can also seek to provide the best schooling, given the circumstances we are in. Making a choice for the best school, and the best teachers is clearly crucial. It is also important for our churches to encourage Christians into the teaching profession, to be salt and light in this highly influential position. I believe I was able to have a profoundly positive effect through my teaching in state primary and special schools over 17 years.

The joy of the research conclusions from studies on present and past pupils in Christian School’s Trust Schools, like The King’s School, has been to see the difference Christian teachers make in the encouragement of faith in children.[5] The positive results in the mental health of past pupils is also a powerful testimony of this kind of education. Parents who are able to home school can also have a high level of involvement in the ongoing development of their children as they help them to follow Christ. What value there is in an education where the Bible and prayer are a creatively integrated part of the daily experience for a child! For many this is not an option. However, regular effort from parents in intentionally connecting with their children and young people, deliberately discipling, can result in good foundations being laid. If parents take account of the relevant hinderances and helps, and avail themselves of the power of prayer, relying on the grace of God, then children can be helped to flourish in their faith. This was my experience as a child. Hopefully, parents will also be able to enjoy the active support of the wider church they are called to join. Those stewarding and parenting our children can, and should, regularly assess the trends in culture, and in addition discern what attitudes and beliefs are developing in our children. This is only possible if we spend time with them. This consideration by those with responsibility for children and young people, can result in the time and wisdom that is needed to shape their beliefs, mitigating well against any negative discipleship from society.

Help 3: monitored mobiles

It is possible to train our children to use the technological tools of the 21st century for the Lord. But as with any sharp tool, wise and age-appropriate exposure from parents is essential. Regular monitoring, sharing of passwords and ‘friends’, time limits, and encouraging a balance of other activities must all be put in place for flourishing in this area. But this requires attention and resolve. It also requires good modelling from the grown-ups!

Parents must recognise they are the gatekeepers to their home, and should be those who guard the doors and windows (pun intended), so children are not left to their own devices.[6] The unfettered modern-day global circus and playground available on the internet is just too dangerous to give them their own free ticket to explore. As our children grow and mature, teaching them to discern what they watch and who they communicate with, becomes essential to prepare them for life. We must point them towards discernment, not experiment.

Help 4: cultural commentary

As adults we are influenced by the culture that we are immersed in. The conscience of a child is something which is even more strongly affected by the ‘voices’ of those around them. Parents who can discern the cultures presented, when watching or experiencing things together, can helpfully commentate on the messages, so that norms of society do not become the norms for the inner conversation of the child. For example, when seeing persistent advertising, noting ‘can you see how we are constantly being told we need to buy things to be happy, that’s not true is it…’. Additionally, when hearing children speaking in disrespectful ways to each other or to adults on TV, just commenting, ‘They are not talking very nicely are they? What do you think would have been a better response?’, can make a big difference. This helps to prevent the development of assumptions in a child’s mind that all the cultural attitudes being expressed are ‘fine’, from the songs, adverts, films, and games they connect with. Of course, if headphones are always on, will you even know what they are seeing and hearing?

As the young person becomes more mature, deeper issues should be addressed, such as the ubiquitously negative view towards authority figures in contemporary media, the new sexual ethics and gender ideology, or the prevailing ‘dissing’ of prominent Christians and Christianity’s core beliefs in comedy or satire. Really thinking through what messages culture is conveying and then discussing these well with our children, can bring into focus where these ideas agree or disagree with the beauty of the gospel and the security and desirability of a growing relationship with God. And if all this seems too hard on our own, and it probably is, we should ask God to provide Christian community or even a Christian school to support us and helpfully commentate with us.

Help 5: churches for children

We should carefully think through the practices in our churches, our events and messages, and all play our part in encouraging a faithful witness to our children. The ‘belong before you believe’, paradigm is certainly true for our children. We can help children believe we want them as part of our corporate times of worship and testimony if we really do want them to stay into their teens. They will quickly see through any inauthenticity. We can pray for them as they go to their groups, remember their birthdays, and value those who do lead and support their activities. We can even pay for the best resources and staffing, so that they are a focus of our community’s service and blessing as a strategic part of our churches’ vision. Our children, who are all in the valley of decision about faith, can have many valuable – and at least weekly – opportunities to be welcomed into the life of the extended family of church under our wonderful heavenly Dad.

Parents can also commentate on what goes on in church meetings, to help their children understand what is happening. It is important to show them, that worship activities are important enough to explain. To a child it can all be quite mysteriously ritualistic, and the words and practices are really quite strange at times! Parents can remind busy church leaders of their responsibility to those most responsive to the gospel. Yes, the children. Church leaders should be at the forefront of encouraging the attitude of welcome, and genuine participation which causes our children and young people to feel they fit with the family of faith. Mentors and role models for our young people should be sought and encouraged. Such confidants are so important as the natural detachment processes occur through adolescence that will lead to maturity and the inevitable dislocation from the close nurturing of parents.[7] Our children will all need safe places to be given Biblically based answers to the increasingly challenging questions they will have. Churches that have schools, can make the most of this fantastic resource of Christian witnesses who are able to point children and young people towards Christ. This then occurs not only in the few hours of organised church activity each week, but in strengthening the foundation of faith day by day in support of parents and churches. It truly takes the village to raise the child.[8]

Help 6: God’s grace

Whatever the limitations, whatever the trauma of our own education, whatever the imperfections of our parenting, whatever the attitude in church leaders, whatever the provision of education available to us, God is able to bring about his purposes. Whether we need grace for our children to be in our local school, grace to find provision to respond to his call to home educate, or grace to make a decision to send to an independent Christian school, his grace is sufficient. Whatever the mistakes we will make as parents and churches (and we will make them!), the presence of God is able to work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purposes.[9] This does not negate our responsibility to respond to the wisdom which God gives to us through his grace. Decisions do have consequences now and into eternity. As seen above it is possible to hinder or help. However, we must remember, salvation and flourishing are God’s sovereign blessing over us and there will never be the perfect conditions[10] or the perfect people getting it right this side of judgement day! We cannot secure this flourishing in our own strength. The Lord is our Shepherd and however he leads us, we can be assured we will lack nothing, as we follow Him. May we have the enabling grace of God to make wise choices so that the garden he has set before us flourishes with life and is fruitful for his kingdom purposes. May our children receive the grace of God through us His church, as His extended family, and especially through those of us as parents who have been given this most unique and holy responsibility for His children.

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children.
Psalm 115:14

A comment on mental and spiritual health

Christians rightly tend to believe that there is a strong link between spiritual wellbeing and mental health. In schools, the current adoption of ‘mindfulness’ language, also acknowledges this connection.

The Princes Trust completed extremely thorough research on 18-25-year-olds across the UK in 2018. At the same time, detailed research findings on past pupils from what are called ‘The New Independent Christian Schools’, from the similar age range, was coming through. The statistics from the latter were extremely encouraging on whether these adults had what most Christians would describe as healthy Christian beliefs and behaviours. On the key beliefs that affect mental health the conclusions could not have been clearer. The main example of this was that of the UK wide survey of thousands of 18-25-year-olds, 27% disagreed with the statement ‘Life has a sense of purpose’.[11] Of the past pupils of independent Christian Schools like The King’s School in Witney, 98% stated they felt life did have a purpose.[12] Even more starkly, 18% in the Princes Trust survey disagreed with the statement ‘Life is worth living’, whereas 99% of the past pupils felt life was worth living. The past pupils were 18 times more likely to think life was worth living. Despair, self-harm and suicide are natural end points to the negative beliefs, whereas flourishing is the result of a sense of purpose under God, through a saving faith in Christ Jesus.

The Christian worldview, proclaimed by churches, encouraged by parents, embodied by congregations, and then supported by Christian teachers through the 30 hours per week in school, seems to make a huge difference to the beliefs developed, and their mental health. Why would we not want this for our children? At a time when we are facing a mental health crisis in adults as well as the young,[13] it is hugely encouraging to understand through clear research findings what can make a significant and long-term difference. The spiritual and mental health of our children results in them being able to ‘enjoy long life’.[14]

Prayer and reflection

We have been thinking through what most hinders or helps the spiritual development of our children. We have considered the image of a garden which needs thoughtful tending. Why not take time to pray and consider if any of these hinderances or helps are something which you need to recognise in this season and to do something about. “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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” Hebrews 12:1-2a. Our children deserve that we reflect and prayerfully think this through.

 


[1] Deuteronomy 6:20

[2] Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers; Marcy Axness

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrWMBC6yoME (read the lyrics: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/stevencurtischapman/cinderella.html)

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B32yjbCSVpU (read the lyrics: https://genius.com/Harry-chapin-cats-in-the-cradle-lyrics)

[5] Swimming Against the Tide: The New Independent Christian Schools and their Teenage Pupils (Religion, Education and Values); Sylvia Baker 2013

[6] Left to Their Own Devices?: Confident Parenting in a World of Screens Paperback – 19 May 2017; Katharine Hill: Care for the Family Publications

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292654750_Attachment_and_spiritual_development_in_childhood_and_adolescence

[8] An African proverb that means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.

[9] Romans 8:28

[10] Ecclesiastes 11:4

[11] https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about-the-trust/research-policies-reports/youth-index-2019

[12] Sylvia Baker, David Freeman & Richard Brittan; Warwick University- Research unpublished. Presented in 2019; due 2020

[13] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhealth/642/64204.htm#_idTextAnchor004

[14] Deuteronomy 6:2

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.