There's One Skill Every Parent Needs

by Mar 24, 2015

Fifteen years ago, when I was a youth pastor, I believed that youth ministry would be great if it weren’t for all the parents.

Half of the parents were way too overprotective. Helicopter parents who hovered over their kids all the time. They had endless expectations and restrictions that just made their kids more rebellious. The other half of the parents were totally out to lunch. Submarine parents who only raised their periscopes every once in a while to make sure their kids were still alive. They had no idea what was really going on with their kids, and they were pretty much depending on me to raise their teenagers for them.

Fortunately, I was an expert in raising kids. I knew exactly how to use just the right blend of love and authority. In every situation I could find just the right balance between laying down biblical boundaries and letting kids express their individualism.

Then something really strange happened. I got some kids of my own. Suddenly I wasn’t just spending a few hours a week with them, playing games, listening to their problems, and sharing a verse that perfectly applied to whatever situation they were dealing with. I was spending every spare minute with these kids. Everything changed.

James Dobson once said, “I used to have four theories and no children. Now I have four children and no theories.” That’s exactly what I discovered. I thought raising kids was like following a recipe in a cookbook. If you just follow the instructions well, you’ll end up with something close to the nice pretty picture next to the recipe.

But when someone writes a recipe, they’re assuming you’re going to use the same ingredients as they did. That’s impossible with kids — every one of them is different. The recipe that worked for your first kid might not work for your second kid. One kid is arugula, and the other kid is kale. They’re different from person to person and even from year to year!

What we need isn’t a bunch of recipes. What we need is wisdom.

The book of Proverbs is a wealth of wisdom on parenting, with encouragement like this: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Here’s a verse in Proverbs that almost every Christian parent knows, and many of us are hanging on to this verse as a promise: “If I just give them the right instructions, then they’ll always do the right things.”

But the word translated “train” doesn’t just mean teaching people how to do things. It’s a Hebrew word that’s closely related to an ancient Arabic word that described when parents would rub something sweet on the roof of a baby’s mouth to get the baby to start learning how to suck. “Training” could be described as getting your kids to taste something good and then modify their behavior because of the good thing they taste.

The best thing we’ll ever do for our kids is to get them to taste Christ. The most foundational thing we can ever give them is to help our kids “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34). Because when our kids truly taste the love, truth, power, and grace of Jesus, they’ll soon understand “the way they should go” and they’ll never want to depart from it.

The best way for our kids to taste Jesus is to see him in us. So in order to train our kids how to be like Jesus, we need show them what it means to be in love with Jesus. Rather than teaching them to be nice, polite, well-behaved kids who are smart and successful, we need to show them how to be passionate about Jesus. Then, when they come to love Jesus for who he is and what he’s done, they’ll want to imitate who he is and what he’s done.

The most important skill a parent can have is the ability to demonstrate passionate love for and radical dependence on Jesus.