Why Setting a Good Example for Your Kids is Overrated

Why Setting a Good Example for Your Kids is Overrated

I recently asked on my blog’s Facebook page what parents thought the hardest part of Christian parenting is. A lot of people responded, and there was a clear theme: setting a good example.

Over and over again, parents were concerned about their ability to really live out their faith. While no one said too much more about what that meant, I’m going to read between the lines to guess that it means things like:

  • Being more patient and loving—more Christ-like in general
  • Serving others
  • Going to church regularly
  • Reading the Bible and praying consistently

All of these things are absolutely important. If our lives contradict our faith, we are hypocrites and give our kids little reason to think that we really believe what we say we believe.

And, yes, that’s often hard to do (I’m particularly guilty of yelling. I even have a name for it with my kids: my “mommy monster” moments).

But there’s a significant problem with focusing so much on our actions:

Our actions can never fully speak to our beliefs.

And, for Christians, those beliefs are of primary importance. If we focus predominantly on the role of our actions in our kids’ faith development, we can inadvertently leave them with two major faith disconnects.


1. The disconnect between what you do and what you believe.

Picture two parents.

Parent one is incredibly kind and gentle, often going out of their way to help others and make the world a better place. This parent is the one all other parents envy because of their patient demeanor and easy-going attitude. The family goes to church weekly and says prayers at bedtime, but rarely talks about faith at home.

Parent two often feels overwhelmed and admittedly loses their temper far too often. This parent feels guilty for not regularly reflecting more fruits of the Spirit. However, this family sets aside time every week for Bible study and faith discussion with their kids, uses driving-to-school time to let their kids ask any questions they have, and regularly brings tough questions about faith to their kids’ attention.

In which of these two households will the kids grow up with a better understanding of what they believe? Obviously, the second one.

Again, I’m not saying that our behavior is unimportant. But no matter how exemplary it is, it will never be sufficient for explaining what beliefs underlie it. It only gives your kids the tip of the iceberg.


2. The disconnect between what we believe and why we believe it.

If you aren’t making the connection for your kids between what you do and what you believe, you almost certainly aren’t making the connection between what you believe and why you believe it. Once again, your actions alone have little to say about that.

Here’s a “case study” to consider.

I encourage you to read this person’s deconversion story. He grew up in what most would consider a very “strong” Christian home. His dad was (and still is) a pastor. He went to a Christian school, studied the Bible, prayed “earnestly,” sincerely felt the Holy Spirit was leading him, had lots of family conversations about faith, and debated theology with his father.

It seems he knew what he believed. That first connection was made. So why did he ultimately turn away, despite an apparently strong desire to remain a Christian?

He says, “I began to study the Historical Jesus. What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?”

In all his parents had taught him about what they believed, they had apparently never gotten to why there was good reason to believe it’s true (apologetics). In fact, his father told him he was arrogant to think he could find truth by studying.

That missed connection in large part led to the eventual loss of his faith.

No amount of behavior-oriented example setting would have changed that.


The Takeaway

Setting a good example for your kids is essential, but it’s often overrated by parents relative to other vital areas of their kids’ faith development. These two connections—to what you believe and why you believe it—need your attention just as much, and even more so. If you need to learn more in order to teach your kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true, here are suggestions for getting started and here are my book recommendations.


What do YOU think is the hardest part of Christian parenting?

8 thoughts on “Why Setting a Good Example for Your Kids is Overrated”

  1. I never speed. Let me start there. Hubs was home with a sick baby all day and I picked up the older child after working 11 hours, and so I was speeding home. And I got pulled over. Thankfully. No ticket, but boy did we have conversation on the way home about why mommy got pulled over, what she as doing wrong, and why police officers are good. We talked through it all. Except I never related it back to the Bible. And I’m now thinking of 10 ways the conversation could have gone differently…

    The second guessing myself is hard…

    But the hardest part right now? It’s going to church. The baby doesn’t want to be still for the sermon, which is entirely too long for the adults. The big kid is good in spurts, but breaks into loud, distracting behavior every few minutes. In our very small congregation, our Wednesday night Bible studies are now set up to have the women teach each other while they teach the young kids (all about the same age, from one to five years). So I’m going to watch my two kids and teach class after working 11-12 hours? I’m having hard time containing my joy.

    I don’t want the girls to pick up on my irritation towards worship, especially when there are so many good reasons to gather together. It’s a weekly balancing act of draggggggging myself to assembly while trying to put on a good, encouraging, happy front for the kiddos.

  2. I see what you are saying and I agree with you. But the other side of the coin is that if your behavior is not changed for the better because of what you believe, your kids will not care about your beliefs. I think both things – your behavior/the example you set and your beliefs (along with why you believe it) are equally important, synergistic. They will either strengthen and support each other or they won’t. If your kids do not see the difference your beliefs make in your life, no amount of Bible Study will inspire them. And yet, if they do not have a good, clear understanding of God’s truth and Word, they may misinterpret your example or not understand how your behavior and lifestlye is shaped by God’s truth. They are two sides of the same coin. And I think you are basically saying the same thing. I am just saying it another way. I guess it comes from having a parent who taught God’s Word, yet who failed to live it in such a way as to inspire faith in the children.

    1. Well said, Heather. And to all of this, as parents, we must be models of humility to our children. When we are wrong, we have to be willing to admit it. This is how our children learn that the disconnect between our behavior and our beliefs can be the tool God uses for the process of our sanctification.

  3. I’m just starting to talk to my seven year old about God. She knows that He should be the most important thing in her life and that He takes care of her and our family, However, I don’t enforce prayer or attending church and the latter is because I have a hard time with church folk.The last time I attended my daughter was a newborn. I received all kinds of stares and people that I thought were my church family totally ignored when they saw the unwed teenage mother. I was so hurt and huniliated that I have yet to return. My faith was rocky for a long time and at this stage in my life I am only just attempting to reconnect with God. I feel that it would be hypocritical of me to teach my daughter about God and what is expected of her as a Christian wheni don’t ‘practice what I preach”.

  4. Jennice, I am sorry for what you went through. I really wish church people were more empathetic. They should have reached out in love to you. The thing is, we are all sinners and are on even ground at the foot of the cross. It is too bad that some people forget that. I really recommend that you keep looking for a good church, a godly one that clearly teaches God’s Word and does not compromise, yet one that is loving. We really do need to be in a church family. Till then, though, find some theology books from Christian authors (like those published by Zondervan). Keep learning about God, draw near to Him through His Word, and remember that church people are human, too, and they all make mistakes, even treating each other in wrong ways. It is sad, but true. But I really do hope your faith keeps growing. It will greatly affect your life and future – growing closer to the Lord or falling away

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Slowly but surely I’m making my way back to God and I’m taking my daughter with me. I read my bible every night and morning (well, most nights and mornings) and now that my baby girl is asking more questions, I’m seeking God for the right answers. This blog is such a help and God bless you for coming up with it.

  5. Oops, hit send before I finished. I meant to say keep reconnecting with the Lord, even if you do not have a church home yet. The closer you grow to Him, the more you will live your faith for your child. And do not worry, my mom did not get us into church until my preteen years, but she grew quickly in the Lord and passed a strong faith on to me (and she had me in her teens, too, and had two divorces by the time I was in grade school). Just keep meeting with God in His Word and in prayer, and He will help you on this journey of faith. God bless you!

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