What does it mean to keep Christ at the center of your parenting? For me personally, it’s a desire to do everything possible to reflect Christ-like character and love in how I parent. As a starting point, I believe it means submitting to the idea that I’m not raising “my kids”, but instead, I’m raising children of God. I believe that as parents, our kids are actually God’s children entrusted to us to raise in such a way that they are prepared to love God, love others, and submit to God’s plan for their lives. There’s a healthy amount of stress and a significant amount of relief that comes with the thought of raising children of God. I think it helps to remind ourselves that no matter what, God loves our children even more than we do. So, what does it mean to keep Christ at the center of your parenting? Well, here are a few ideas to consider in your journey to grow in this crucial area of your life.
IDEAS TO CONSIDER…
COMMIT TO PUTTING GOD FIRST IN YOUR LIFE. Matthew 22:37-40 reads: “And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.””
Putting God first is the best and most practical way to parent, but it’s not easy. We’re often overwhelmed and distracted by the “wants” of life, and as a result, we are often pulled in many different directions away from the life that God wants for us. I believe that behind any want or perceived need we might have, what we’re ultimately striving for is what God has labeled “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. However, Galatians 5 also makes it clear that the fruit of the Spirit is the result of putting God first in our life, choosing to live by the Spirit of God, and obeying what He’s calling us to do. Herein lies an important truth to consider: As parents what we ultimately want for ourselves and for our children is completely dependent upon our relationship with God and our following after Jesus Christ. My encouragement to you is to work to resolve any personal issue you may have that is distracting you from putting God first in your life. As parents, we have to pick and choose which battles we fight and this is a battle worth fighting. Just keep in mind, you’re not fighting alone. God is with you and he’s got your back.
CONTINUE GROWING IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHO GOD IS. Spend time throughout the week with your children studying scripture to understand more about God and his character, and exploring ways to live out a Christ-centered life together as a family. Some questions to start with… Who is God? Why do we need him? Is Jesus the only way into Heaven? Are Heaven and Hell real literal destinations? Proverbs 4:7 says “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”
Here are my personal answers to those questions, but what would your answers be? God is far too significant to be easily defined in only one way…
God is the creator (Gen 1, Heb 11:3, Col 1:16, John 1:3) and sustainer (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17) of life. He is more loving than we could possibly imagine (1 John 4:7-21, John 3:16), full of grace (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 6:14, Rom 11:6, Jam 4:6, Heb 4:16), mercy (Luke 6:36, Matt 9:13, 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 1:9) and truth (John 8:32, John 14:6, John 16:13). He has always existed and always will (Psalm 90:2, Rev 1:8, Rev 21:6). He is unchangeable (Mal 3:6, Psalm 102:25-27) and always keeps his promises (1 Sam 15:29, Num 23:19, Josh 23:14, Psalm 12:6-7). He is a God of justice and order (Mic 6:8, Gal 6:7, Isa 30:18, Psalm 33:5, Ecc 3:17 Psalm 37:27-29), he does not tolerate sin (Rom 3:23, Rom 6:23, Gal 5:19-21, Jam 1:14-15 ) and because we are sinners in need of saving, he offers us a plan for our salvation (John 3:1-21, Rom 5:8, John 14:6, Rom 8). He is perfect in every way, and greater than we could possibly imagine (Gen-Rev).
We have all sinned against our very Holy God (Rom 3:23, Isa 64:6, Isa 53:6, 1 John 1:10, Psalm 51:5, Jam 2:10). Our hearts and minds are desperately wicked (Jer 17:9, Mark 7:21-23, Ecc 9:3, Matt 15:19, Matt 12:34, Prov 28:26, Prov 6:14, Prov 3:5) and apart from God, we deserve judgment (2 Cor 5:10, Heb 9:27, Matt 12:36-37, Rom 6:23, John 12:47-48, Rom 14:12, Rom 14:10-12, Rom 2:12, John 3:36, Rom 1:18, Rom 2:5, Eph 5:6). However, God does not seek to destroy us for our sinful nature, instead he offers us the free gift of forgiveness and redemption through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:9, Titus 3:5, Acts 4:12, John 14:6, John 3:1-21). Scripture is clear that Jesus is the only path to salvation, and there is no other viable option (John 14:1-7, Acts 4:12, John 8:24, John 12:48, 1 Tim 2:5, John 10:9, John 3:36). When we die there are only two potential destinations and both are very real places: Heaven (John 14:2, Rev 21, Rev 22:1-5, Luke 23:43, Matt 6:19-21, 2 Cor 5:1, Luke 12:33-34, Matt 13, Luke 16:19-26) or Hell (Matt 25:41, Rev 20, Matt 25:46, Luke 16:19-26, Matt 10:28, Matt 8:12, Mark 9:43-45, Matt 22:13, Matt 13:42, Mark 9:43, Matt 18:7-9, Jude 1:7, 2 Peter 2:4, Psalm 9:17). Jesus said, the only way to God is through Him, and there is no other way (or other religion) that gets you into heaven: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
DO YOUR BEST TO MODEL GOD’S CHARACTER IN YOUR PARENTING. Continue growing in your understanding of God’s character as a Heavenly Father and try to model that to your children in the way you parent. If you’re not sure where to start your Bible study, I recommend looking into the following topics (in whatever order makes sense to you): Forgiveness, grace and mercy, unconditional love, and justice. Here’s a starting point for you to consider…
Forgiveness: Forgiveness is hard, but it’s what God calls us to do as believers in Jesus Christ. Please take time to read Matthew 6:14-15 and Matthew 18:21-35. Who in your life has hurt you to the point that you’re struggling to forgive them? The more unforgiveness we hold onto in our life the stronger the negative influence it has upon our mental health and all of our relationships, including how we relate to our children. It’s like poison to our soul. Often times people link forgiveness and trust/reconciliation as one and the same, but they are not. Forgiveness means to no longer hold a grudge against someone, to give up your “right” to get them back, and to stop hoping for some form of destruction to come upon them. Trust on the other hand is earned based on character and should be given with much caution because we need to protect ourselves and our children. It is possible to forgive someone and choose not to trust them. It is possible to forgive someone and choose not to be in a relationship with them. We may not ever reconcile with a person that’s hurt us, but forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation. Forgiveness starts in your heart and I would encourage you to pray asking for God’s help to forgive those that have harmed you. Let go of your “right” to get them back, because, like poison in your soul, it’s harming your ability to be a Christ-centered parent.
Grace and Mercy: Grace is God’s favor or gifts given to those who do not deserve it, and Mercy is withholding punishment to those that do deserve it. Scripture verses to look into on this topic are: 1 Cor 12:9, Luke 6:36, James 2:13, Matthew 5:7, Eph 2:8-9, Rom 6:14, Rom 11:6, James 4:6, Heb 4:16, Matt 9:13, 1 John 1:9, John 1:16, Rom 5:8, Rom 3:20-24, 2 Tim 2:1, 2 Tim 1:9, John 1:17. Start having conversations with your children about what God’s grace and mercy is, and find learning opportunities in your day to give your children something good they absolutely do not deserve, or withhold the punishment they do deserve. Do it with love though, and without shame, guilt, or expectation, and use this opportunity to teach them about God’s grace and mercy. In my home, I use grace and mercy synonymously (despite the technical difference between the two). I tend to offer this to my children randomly when my child messes up and they know they messed up, and instead of giving them a consequence (like I normally would), I’ll ask my child something to the effect of “Would you like grace for this?” and following their answer of “yes”, I’ll transition the conversation toward something faith-based that’s related to whatever situation we’re faced with. For me, this is a win-win because these moments of connection strengthen my relationship with my children and build upon their faith/understanding of God’s character. Both of which positively impact their future behaviors. Win-win.
Unconditional Love: Unconditional love is a choice and commitment to love another person regardless of what they have done or might do. As parents, we’re called to love our children unconditionally. Yes, providing them with consequences is loving. Yes, we need to set limits and boundaries and correct negative behaviors. But this all must be done in the safety and security of unconditional love. Ephesians 6:1-4 provides two separate instructions that I believe are not necessarily contingent upon one another. One instruction is for a child to obey and honor their parents and the other instruction is for parents to not provoke their children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. However we decide to address “bad behavior”, we must retain our love and care in how we deliver the discipline. Spanking, time-outs, taking things away from children, and giving extra chores can absolutely all be done with love. Yelling, screaming, insulting, name-calling, and shaming are mistakes because they do not reflect the character of God. Yes, it’s normal to make mistakes, but when you do, make it right with your child, pray for help, and consider getting help from others to work through personal challenges that might be negatively impacting your ability to love others well. We all need help at times. This is normal.
Justice: Our God is a God of justice and this is supported throughout scripture. Here are some Bible verses to look into: Isa 30:18, Isa 1:17, Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Prov 21:15, Psalm 33:5, Isa 61:8, Psalm 106:3, Lev 19:15, Rom 12:19, Zech 7:9, Prov 21:3, Prov 28:5, Prov 31:9, Psalm 37:27-29. God doesn’t let sin go unpunished and yet at the same time he doesn’t “throw the book” at us either. There are always consequences for our actions and God has demonstrated this throughout history. Perhaps the most significant example of this is how he has chosen to deal with our sinful nature. He cannot accept sin, and yet he knows we cannot make up for it on our own. That’s why he sent his one and only son to live a perfect and sinless life on earth, and then die on a cross bearing the weight of everyone’s sin. God chose a form of Justice that would fix the problem of sin and allow anyone who would believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to be forgiven of their sins and live eternally with him in Heaven. Our God is a God of justice and as parents, we must demonstrate this to our children in the rules we set, the boundaries we enforce, and the limitations we place on them. However, how we deliver this justice is equally important. God has modeled to us what great parents ought to strive for in setting high standards of behavior and enforcing justice through support, love, discipline, grace, and mercy. Not only that, but God himself became the bridge we needed to get from where we were, to where we needed to be. What can you do as a parent to become the bridge that your children need?
DO “LIFE” WITH OTHER BELIEVERS. Try to spend time most days of the week connecting with other believers via phone calls or in person. Try to do life with other Christian parents in a similar stage of life that you’re in. In my opinion, connecting on social media and via texts doesn’t count, because these communications don’t satisfy a need that God has hard-wired into each of us for fellowship, and living life interdependently with others. We need deep connections with others. Here are some scripture verses to consider: Heb 10:25, 1 Thes 5:11, Acts 2:42, Matt 18:20, Prov 27:17, 2 Cor 13:14, Heb 10:24-25, Ecc 4:9-12, Gal 6:2, Rom 1:12, 1 Pet 3:8, 1 Cor 12:12. As parents, it’s easy to feel isolated, ashamed, judged, and disconnected. Committing to living life with other like-minded believers is important and if we’re able to do it with other parents faced with similar challenges like ours, that’s even better. If you don’t know where to start to connect with others in this way, start with your church pastoral team and ask them for ideas. If you’re not part of a church, it’s time to find one and get plugged in. If you’ve been hurt in the past by other believers or a church, and you’re apprehensive to join a church again, perhaps it’s time to talk with a Christian counselor, therapist, or pastor to help you work through what’s holding you back from being connected to a body of believers that can encourage and support you as a Christian parent. What I’ve found in my own life is that I needed to simply slow down and make time to connect. I’ll be the first one to admit, I’ve been guilty many times of rushing out of church as soon as the service is over because I’m more focused on satisfying my hunger than I am on satisfying my needs to do life with other believers. I have to continually remind myself of my personal need to connect with others, and not simply move onto the next scheduled event.
PRAY FOR AND PRAY WITH YOUR CHILDREN. Spend a few minutes each day in prayer with your children. Let them hear your heart before God as you pray for them, their needs, and their future. God wants us in prayer, he wants that communication from us, and he responds to our prayers: 1 Thes 5:17, Jer 33:3, Phil 4:6, Jam 5:16, Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 2:8, Mark 11:24, Matt 6:5-13, Jam 5:13-18. Our children need to develop and cultivate this important spiritual discipline and it’s our job to model this in our own lives first.
GIVE GOD THANKS. Spend a few minutes each day giving thanks to God for what he’s provided and intentionally spend time thinking about what you’re grateful for. God told us to do this (1 Thes 5:18, Psalm 118:24, Col 3:17, Psalm 136:1, James 1:17, Eph 1:16, Col 3:15, Heb 12:28, Col 3:15-20, Psalm 107:1, Eph 5:20, Psalm 50:23, Psalm 100:1-5), and brain science is just catching up to a point where researchers are realizing that time spent being grateful actually has real and measurable benefits on our emotions and brain functioning. If you’re feeling drained and emotionally spent, one way to recharge is by giving thanks to God and spending time thinking about what you’re grateful for.
MODEL RESPECT. Be intentional about modeling to your children what it looks like to be respectful. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12). In all that you do, in every relationship you have, strive to communicate with respect. You can show respect to someone you disagree with and even to someone that hasn’t “earned” your respect. Easy ways to show respect are listening, not speaking poorly about someone behind their back, trying to give others the benefit of the doubt, not talking down to people, and not trying to use guilt or shame to manipulate people into doing something for you. Teach your children to respect others and above all, teach them to respect God.
IDENTIFY AND WORK TOWARD YOUR GOAL FOR PARENTING. Take time throughout the week to reflect on what your goal is for parenting and decide if there are areas of your parenting you want to improve upon. Each day presents a brand-new opportunity to be a better parent than the day before, and it’s completely normal to make mistakes along the way. Decide what the most important aspects of parenting are for you and do what you can to win those battles. Even if that means letting smaller battles go. Choose your battles wisely because you only have so much energy, emotional strength, and focus. Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
REGULARLY CONNECT WITH YOUR CHILD IN MEANINGFUL WAYS. Try to spend time most days of the week, connecting with your children in meaningful conversations and play. Never underestimate the power of connection and relationship when it comes to your children wanting to do right by you. Because you love the Lord, the stronger the relationship they have with you, the more likely they are to follow in your footsteps in matters of faith. I often find that when I’m working with a rebellious teenager, I’ve found that at some point there was a breakdown in communication and trust between them and their parents and their rebellion often leads them to rebel against not only their parents, but also the God that their parents profess to love. Meaningful conversations, actively listening to our children, and playing games with them goes a long way in opening the door to their hearts and minds. Time spent in these activities are a wise investment.
STRENGTHEN YOUR MARRIAGE. If you’re married, then strive to live out what scripture describes as “one flesh” (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:4-6 and Eph 5:31). You and your spouse are not going to agree all the time. That’s normal. However, as Christian parents, we should want to agree to submit to God’s authority in raising children. You and your spouse need to figure out how to co-parent in such a way that your children do not become a wedge between you two. This is made possible through putting God first in your life, allowing Christ to be the foundation of your marriage, taking time to strengthen your marriage, going on regular date nights, going to couples counseling when needed, and doing life TOGETHER as much as possible. Is this easy? No, absolutely not. What can be really helpful is talking with other married believers, especially those that have been married for decades and have a marriage you’d like to emulate. If you feel stuck on a particular issue in your marriage, just know that this is common, you’re not alone, and it’s normal to ask for help. Talk with your pastor, a Biblical counselor, or a Christian Marriage and Family Therapist that you can trust. Get the help you need because your marriage is a foundational component to Christ-centered parenting.
Is this an end-all-be-all list of ideas for Christ-centered parenting? Absolutely not. I think it’s a good starting point though… Run with the ideas that make sense to you, come up with ideas on your own, and ask others what their thoughts are on this subject. After all, what we’re ultimately striving for is what God has labeled “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. However, Galatians 5 also makes it clear that the fruit of the Spirit is the result of putting God first in our life, choosing to live by the Spirit of God, and obeying what he’s calling us to do. Herein lies an important truth to remember: As parents what we ultimately want for ourselves and for our children is completely dependent upon our relationship with God and our following after Jesus Christ.
Citation Notice: Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.