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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


A Belated Happy Father’s/Mother’s Day

June 22, 2010

Given recent Father's and Mother's Day celebrations, this seemed to be an appropriate time to share my heart about Christian parenting. In and of themselves these holidays are fine. It is good to express thanks to parents for their care and sacrifice. Yet, we all are familiar with how these holidays tend to be romanticized, surely as much for profit as familial ease. With that in mind, it is easy for Christians to lose sight of the big picture of parenting, mainly that Christian mothers and fathers are to be distinctly different, albeit no better than their unbelieving contemporaries.

This fundamental uniqueness, in lifestyle and thought, which ostensibly we understate at times, ought to begin and end with Jesus Christ. For Christian parents this must mean a great deal more than devotedly delivering one's offspring to youth group each week, as if you have done God a favor. And, because of this, of course, like spiritual osmosis, one day your child will spontaneously combust into a radical, mature Christian.

There is a cliché which states that, "A father is a man who expects his children to be as good as he meant to be." Rolled into this serene reflection is the popular principle that good fathers are those who seek to be better than their own fathers; a concept which is as easily applicable to mothers. It is viewed as a noble attempt to replace bad with good, seemingly to prove yourself proficient in areas that your parent(s) left much to be desired.

You reason that if your father was a loveless disciplinarian, then you will not be. Perhaps, having felt the social stings of an absentee mother, you become determined to embody dependability for your children. Or, maybe your mother was a "rolling stone," and although financially responsible was emotionally unavailable, but you, you say, will be different. Or, maybe surviving life in a household devoid of consequences or boundaries, you vow to be better than your happy-go-lucky, slothful father.

Hence, you develop a resolute desire for a parental legacy that is incongruent with the negative, parental memories of your childhood. To be sure, this desire for healing makes sense. It is normal to want to right the wrongs of those who have gone before you, to spare your children from what you lacked as a child. However, still, there are huge problems with this common mindset for Christian parents as related to its method and ultimate aim.

First, to promote this way of thinking is to haphazardly hug the world while shunning Christ. It is, at least in part, to deny the God of your salvation (Matthew 10:33) in exchange for temporal affirmation. You run in-step with dysfunction and look for restoration outside of the Savior, yet Christians ought to counter normative values where they contradict a biblical sense of the imago Dei, for God sees us as a chosen generation, a royal, holy, and peculiar people.[1]

Secondly, it is an impulsive reaction to the sinful frailties of one's parent(s). It isn't that we ought to excuse or minimize the unfair hardships of our childhoods, and how those realities influenced, and continue to influence us as adults. To be clear, however, to seek merely to be better than another human being, frankly, is simple-minded. It doesn't even come close to God's expectations regarding our calling and equipping to Christlikeness.[2]

And, thirdly, parents who live wholly determined to overcome their parents' ills, while perhaps successful in that quest, often fall victim to passing along other harmful characteristics and values. In working so hard to be the antithesis of your father or mother, in the end you are rendered nothing more than an updated, remixed version of them; passive aggressive, manic, disengaged, overbearing, depressed, hypocritical, fundamental/liberalistic, or a combination of extremes that, as a result of focusing on one-upping another human being, displeases God.

And, this failure no doubt infects the lives of your children, thus doing the very thing, at its core, that you vowed you would never do.

The very real indictment of some Christian parents today is not, in total, their inability to or disinterest in parenting, but rather in being decidedly Christian in their parenting. Anyone can teach children to succeed according to the world's standards, but it takes Christians--those who believe that God is the ruler of heaven and earth--to teach children to, as the legendary Texas preacher George W. Truett once put it, 'recognize the will of God and try to do it [God's will] to the best of your ability.'

Christian parents ought to teach their children by direct instruction and modeling--word and deed--the blessings of following God's will as well as the associated consequences of a life filled with the temporal concessions and comforts of doggedly pursuing one's own will.

On Father's Day I was fortunate to be present for a superb sermon about Christian parenting entitled "God's Dance Instructions"[3] by Rockwell Dillaman, senior pastor of Allegheny Center Alliance Church[4] in Pittsburgh, PA. It was based on Proverbs 4:25-26, but we would do well to reflect long and hard on other related texts like Proverbs 22 and Psalm 1, for example.

Ultimately, parenting isn't about perfection since no one will be the "perfect parent." With love and obedience, parenting is about one's dedication to emulating our heavenly Parent, God. It is about humbly, fervently, and courageously preparing children to walk by faith, and not by sight[5], which is utter foolishness to the world.

It is about Jesus, the son of God. As the seasoned saints would sing: "He walks with me, and He talks with me, And he tells me I am his own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None has ever known." It is about that Jesus, who affirms, redeems, overcomes, and supplies us with all that we need.[6]

Parenting is about prayerfully and carefully raising children to find their identity in Christ, and Christ alone. Nothing more and nothing less.[7] 


[1] 1 Peter 2:9-10.
[2] 1 Corinthians 11:1.
[3] http://www.acac.net/index.cfm/PageID/859/index.html
[4] http://www.acac.net
[5] 2 Corinthians 5:7.
[6] Philippians 4:19.
[7] For more insight into Christian parenting, see David E. Garland, Diana R. Garland, Flawed Families of the Bible: How God's Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships (Ada, MI: Brazos, 2007), Elisabeth Elliot, The Shaping of a Christian Family: How My Parents Nurtured My Faith (Ada, MI: Revell, 2005), 801 Questions Kids Ask about God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2000), Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), and R. Kent Hughes, Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Family (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007).


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