Parenting is a journey. It’s not a journey of raising kids - it’s a journey of making disciples. I am on this journey with you. My wife April and I have been married 24 years and we’re raising five future men.
The full keynote and abridged transcript that follow were presented on Thursday, July 25th at the Trail Life USA Summer Adventure and Family Convention.
As parents, we want the best possible future for our children. We want them to follow Christ and live God-honoring lives. We want them to make the most of their gifts. We want them to avoid unnecessary pain and become all God intends for them to become.
Yet this world is distracting and dangerous. What’s more, we’re not perfect parents! We have a culture opposed to us, limited skills, and our own sinful hearts standing in our way. It can make you discouraged! However, I hope to encourage you today.
In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses told Joshua and the Israelites – and by extension all of us who have been grafted in – that we must “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God sent His Holy Spirit to live in us and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). In Ephesians 1:3, we learn that God has given us “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.”
So parents - take heart! I’m here today to encourage you and help you navigate this disciple-making journey with joy and peace in your hearts – regardless of your current situation or eventual outcome.
I’d like to talk about three things that stand in our way as we attempt to disciple our children. Along the way, I’ll offer a couple of ideas for how we can overcome these disciple-making obstacles.
#1: Our destination is unclear.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.”
Do your kids know where you’re going? You personally? Your family? Them individually? Have you shown them a biblical picture of where you want them to go?
Here’s what I mean by this – sometimes, we take biblical commands, mix them in with our own personal preferences, and call that “success” as a man.
- So, you can be generous…as long as you give this way, or this much, or have a solid 401k match rolling first.
- Or, you can be friendly… as long as your friends don’t come over and interrupt the game on Saturday.
- Or, you can love God… just please don’t go into the ministry; it’s so hard, and the pay isn’t great.
- Or, you can value attending church…just as long as it’s the “right” church.
We end up showing our kids this muddied picture of where we want to go – it’s part Bible, partly our past, partly our fear, and partly our preferences. Then we wonder why our kids leave our homes confused and directionless.
When we use our preferences or comparison and pass that off as God’s will, we are giving our children a very confusing roadmap to follow. We must anchor our directives to something bigger than ourselves. We don’t just ask them to do this or that because we “said so” – or even because that’s how “the Evans boys do it.”
We can inadvertently make our own families an idol and create a confusing attachment to the “family name” that supersedes showing the glory of God. So, if this is you – you’ve created a confusing destination or none at all.
Let’s look at how we can overcome this obstacle:
1) Have a CLEAR and BIBLICAL definition of our future state.
Don’t just want your kids to be “responsible” or “compassionate” without tying those character traits to the Bible and God’s character. God’s word is eternal, flawless, and never changing. We must tie down these character traits and goals to biblical anchors for our children.
2) Don’t be consumed with anything other than guiding your kids to become Christ followers .
They don’t have to attend a particular college, root for a specific sports team, or even become a member at the same church as you. They just need to love Jesus Christ and serve Him.
I live in Louisville, Kentucky – college basketball country. I went to the University of Kentucky, and it’s where I met my wife, so I’m a big blue fan. My son once asked me, “Daddy, can I be a Louisville fan and still go to heaven?” I told him, “Hmm. There’s no precedent for that, but with God, all things are possible.”
The point – if we want to set a clear direction for our families, we need to make sure that we’re not accidentally elevating some man-made rule or family tradition above the Bible. In our homes, mom or dad’s word should not be the final word – God’s word should be the final word.
#2: Our progress is uncertain.
Now that we have a destination in mind, it gives context to our current location. Just knowing our position isn’t super helpful. So next, we want to know our position relative to the intended destination. If we know where we’re going and we know where we are, then we can start tracking our progress.
Maybe you heard about the man who was lost in a downtown area…he wasn’t too bright. He called his wife to come pick him up. She asked him where he was, and he couldn’t tell her. She was frustrated and said surely there had to be some landmark around. He said he’d found something – “I’m at the corner of WALK & DON’T WALK.”
Ever felt that way as a parent?! I have! We aren’t sure if we’re on track spiritually, and we’re searching for some marker that can tell us if we’re making progress or walking in circles. We may be making great time on a road that leads to the wrong place.
What things can we use to help us know if we’re making progress? What are those gauges that show us our trajectory and our speed?
- If we praise our sons for high grades but forget to commend them on helping that new kid get acclimated, we’re sending a message that grades are more important than people.
- If we tell our daughters repeatedly how beautiful they are on the outside but never compliment their godly character, are we surprised when they have self-image issues?
- When was the last time your children got a “spiritual win” under their belt? Did we notice it? Did we point it out?
Here’s how we overcome this obstacle:
1) Anecdotally - in the moment, learn to spot the positive gains and call them out
2) Structurally - With regular introspection, goal setting, and annual or quarterly “checkups” on how we’re doing. The Evans family has an annual family retreat.
So, we now have some destination in mind. And, we can see we’re making progress.
#3 The winds are unfavorable.
I was flying back from Europe – the jet stream headwinds were over 150mph – and that’s how it feels sometimes as a parent! We’re flying as fast as we can, but the winds are against us!
Those winds are, to name a few: radicalized culture, mobile devices, peers, and social media. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble…” Total proof that Jesus saw the internet coming!
Yet that’s the situation we have – we can’t parent in a vacuum. And we all know that we can shield our kids for a season, but eventually, they’ll be in this cultural hurricane with those winds blowing straight at them.
May I make a special mention to fathers listening in? Satan wants you to fail!
- Does he want our marriages? Yes, he does.
- Does he want our children? Yep, those too.
- Yet he has always had his eyes on an even bigger prize: if he can distort the picture of fathers, he distorts God’s image and confuses everyone!
Here’s how we overcome this obstacle:
1) Learn to listen well
- Proverbs 20:5: “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.”
- James 1:19: “…quick to listen…”
- We guide our young children by telling.
- We guide our older children by asking.
- Your voice can be the loudest voice in their ears, but not if you’re shouting at them.
2) Be plugged in and aware of what “kids these days” are doing.
- Pray hard about when to “let in” various inputs (tech devices, friends, etc.)
- Get engaged with their friends – lead their teams, volunteer in youth ministries, run a Trail Life Troop
Resources from Manhood Journey to Equip You As You Make Disciples:
You are on a journey. Yes, there are obstacles. But God is there and will help you overcome them. Two of the greatest obstacles men face are growing deeper and gaining community.
Grow deeper: The Connected Father digital course will help you lead your family without regret.
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