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.
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?