John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Filtering by Category: Parenting

Relationships > Rules

This morning I've been thinking about how much I like my kids. I don't just love them; I really like them. And maybe because I've just finished a three-part sermon series about parenting, it got me thinking about a post I wrote five years ago. It's one of my favorite stories about my experience as a parent. ----------

We have a lot of bedtime rituals in my house. One of my favorites started with my oldest daughter Anabel but now includes all three of my girls. I go into their room just before lights out and say, “I love you, but only this much.” I hold my fingers apart about an inch.

They say, “No, Daddy.”

“Oh, you’re right,” I say. “I probably love you this much.” Hands about six inches apart.

“No, Daddy.”

“This much?” Hands getting wider now.


And on and on it goes until I stretch my arms out as wide as they will go. “Daddy loves you thiiiiiiiiiisssss muuuuuuuch.”

“And more and more and more.”

It’s like a liturgy in my house. Every night the same thing, and every night we go through the whole thing.

One afternoon, my wife desperately needed some time alone, so I told her I’d watch the girls. She looked skeptical. “Are you sure you can handle them all by yourself?”

“Jill, I’m a grown man with a Master’s degree in Theology. I think I can handle three kids. Besides, the small one is asleep.”

She left, and I told the girls to play quietly downstairs. Then I settled in on the computer up in our office, leaving them to their own devices because I have a Master’s degree in Theology and am, in fact, a moron.

After about 20 minutes, I realized that it was really quiet downstairs -– too quiet, if you know what I mean. I came down to find that my three-year-old Eliza had taken an aqua-marine crayon and colored on every flat surface on the first floor of our house. The stove, the refrigerator, the bookshelves, the fireplace. When I entered the living room, there she stood — on the sofa — back to me — coloring the wall in big, broad strokes.

She felt the weight of my stare and slowly turned. She knew that she had sinned and that the wages of sin is death.

She suddenly threw her arms open as wide as they would go and said, “Daddy, I love you thiiiiiissss muuuuuuuuch!”

What are you going to do?

Sure, there were consequences — she had to clean it all up (and…yeah…I helped her), but here’s the point: Sometimes relationships are more important than rules.

Eliza knew what she had done was against the rules. She didn’t need me to yell at her or send her to her room for the next 90 days. At that moment, what my daughter needed most was to know that our relationship was too strong to be broken — by sin, by failure, by anything.

There’s another part to our bedtime ritual. As I stand there with my arms open wide, I ask them a couple of questions: “How long will Daddy love you?”

The correct answer is: “Forever and ever and ever.”

“What will ever make Daddy stop loving you?”

The correct answer to that is: “Nothing in the whole wide world.”

4 Stages of Faith Development

One of the worst things we can do to our children is bring them up in complete isolation, with padded everything, rescuing them from any and all consequences and shielding their eyes from the very real presence of danger and evil in our fallen world. I’m not suggesting you pin a 20 dollar bill to their vest and drop them off on the strip in Las Vegas to fend for themselves, but — at some point in time — they need to be exposed to life as it really exists. Small doses in safe environments at first perhaps — malevolent forces in fairy tales, for example. But we’re in danger of raising a generation of cry babies who are completely ill-equipped to deal with reality…and Christian parents are often the worst offenders. If we give in to this urge, our children may never develop into the kind of strong adults they are made to be. And, again, Christian children are especially prone to underdevelopment and stunted growth.

John Westerhof (Will Our Children Have Faith) has written a great deal about stages of faith development in children. Using very broad strokes, he has discerned four distinct stages. The first, he calls experiential faith. That is faith gained from experience; interaction with other people of faith. Paul writes about his young companion Timothy, that his faith was nurtured by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. Infants being raised in Christian homes, have something of a relationship with God, in many ways, because it’s all they’ve ever known. A lifestyle of faith is all they have ever experienced, and the only people they have ever known as people of faith. The primary reason people in this stage believe what they believe is because it’s all they’ve ever believed.

The second stage is affiliative faith — growing through involvement in a faith community. It is sharing in the worship, ministry, decision-making, caring life of the faith community. Paul first encountered Timothy when he visited Lystra, where Timothy was highly regarded as a member of the community. Children whose parents include them in church-related activities have something of a relationship with God, in many ways, because all the people around them, all the people to whom they are connected have a relationship with God. The primary reason people in this stage believe what they believe is because they belong to a group of people who believe the same things.

The third stage of faith is inquisitive — a questioning phase usually occurs sometime early in adolescence for children raised in Christian homes. Paul took Timothy on one of his missionary journeys. Participating in Paul’s mission, asking questions and testing his gifts, Timothy’s faith was challenged and strengthened. This is the stage most Christian parents fear. In fact, some churches and families discourage this stage altogether. However, if this stage is not fully experienced by a young person, his or her faith will become stunted, or worse, aborted.

The fourth stage is owned faith — a developed faith that has been tested. At this stage a person’s faith is marked by a commitment to certain beliefs, attitudes and practices. In the Bible we see Timothy sent out to resolve problems in Corinth and then to Ephesus where he is a leader in the church. Until a faith is allowed to proceed through the inquisitive stage, until a faith is questioned, it will not be mature enough to be truly owned by an individual. At this stage, a person believes what they believe because their faith has withstood the crucible moments of life.

As parents, the one thing we want more than anything is for our children to possess an “owned” faith. We want our kids to love God, serve God, enjoy God, trust God, partner with God — not because of who their mom and dad are or because they’re in a church where that’s expected. We want them to do these things because they’ve made the choice to do so from the core of their own soul.

One point must be made here: parents cannot make this happen. We like to live as if there is some kind of law of linearity at work here — some kind of hard-and-fast cause-and-effect. You do certain things, and your children will own their faith. Like Francis Schaeffer’s image of God as a cosmic vending machine, we expect there to be a magical formula by which to raise children that will ensure their eternal destiny. Regardless of what anyone has told you, this is not the case. I’ve all read the verses in Proverbs; but we must remember that those are proverbs. They are descriptions of the way life usually works; but they are by no means to be taken as covenantal promises from God. Every human being is born with a will of his own. With that free will comes the ability and responsibility to choose which path she will walk. The more we attempt to manipulate the choices of our children — regardless of how well-intentioned we may be — the more we will do damage to the development of their faith.

Having said all that, there are things we can do to alter the trajectory of a person’s life — to nudge them in the direction of God or push them away from him. If it is important to us that our children have a fully developing faith, we should understand the four stages of faith development and that they must pass through each of the first three in order to get to the fourth. These stages are not always neatly divided, and the boundaries are often fuzzy. But it will be helpful for those of us with children to be aware of which stage our child may be in so that we can keep an eye out for what may lie ahead.

Parenting Is Harder Than Math

There are lots of books written by lots of authors offering lots of techniques which produce lots of mixed emotions about the topic of parenting. You want to get your child to sleep through the night? There's a book for that. You want her to eat her veggies without complaining? There's a book for that. You want him to be fully potty trained before school starts? Get better grades once school is in session? Retain all that information over summer vacation? There are books for all that. Christian authors are big into writing parenting books, too. Many of these well-intentioned books take as their theme a verse from the Old Testament book of Proverbs: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Then they spend 13 chapters explaining in sometimes meticulous detail what "the way he should go" looks like with the promise that if you'll just do it this way, your child will turn out healthy, wealthy and wise -- a morally upright, productive member of society -- an upstanding citizen who will be involved in church activities for the rest of his life.

But the often untold truth is that is sometimes doesn't work out like that.

Sure, sometimes it does. Sometimes the parent does the right thing, and the child responds the right way and becomes the right kind of person.


But not always.

See, the book is called "Proverbs" -- not "Promises" -- it's a general description of the way things usually work.

But when we make Proverbs 22:6 (which isn't at all talking about the morally upright "way", by the way, but that's a topic of discussion for another day) into some sort of promise, we set ourselves up for negative consequences. If our child turns out well, we're prone to pride ("Of course she turned out like that; we raised her right! Everything she does is because of us! She's great because we're great!"). If our child turns out not-so-well, we're prone to unnecessary guilt ("Where did we go wrong? Her failures are our failures! She shouldn't be held responsible for her actions because somehow this is our fault! God is punishing us through her!").

But parenting isn't math. Parenting is harder than math. There's no equation for this. I wish there were. I wish I could say, "If you'll always do x, when your child does y, then the result will be z (and z = happy).

In parenting, there are no guarantees. You might do everything right, and your kid might choose to rebel. Or you might get it wrong more often than you get it right, and your kid might become the next Max Lucado. There's some mystery involving the human will and God's sovereignty here.

I told people Sunday, "You can never be such a great parent that God is obligated to save your kids. But you can't mess them up so badly that they fall beyond the reach of God's amazing grace."

I don't know about you, but my parenting needs grace a lot more than it needs math!

Stop Raising Children

I know the title of this post may seem strange, but please hear me out. Here in America, we spend somewhere between 18-24 years raising children. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that when we're done, that's precisely what we have: children.

Physically, they're adults, but emotionally-, psychologically- and spiritually-speaking they're children -- or at least they're childish, woefully unprepared for life in the real world.

Life in the real world requires skilled, mature adults who are less concerned about following rules and more concerned about making wise choices.

Now, I haven't changed my name to Chicken Little, and I'm not saying that the sky is falling (except in Iceland where it kind of is). Most kids seem to be doing fine. They're not in jail at least. The vast majority of kids go to school. They get jobs. They don't carry concealed weapons or deal drugs.

But there are some -- some days it seems like most -- who aren't doing so well. They're aimless and anxious, sad and sullen, fearful and I can't think of another thing that starts with F.

The sad truth is that many of our children reach adulthood seriously lacking the life skills they need to navigate adulthood. They can't cope with pressure. They don't know how to make decisions. They're intellectually impoverished and spiritually bankrupt.

And the worst part is, few of them are even aware of this.

We've been raising children, and it's not working out so well. We've got to stop raising children and start raising adults.

Question: How would you parent differently, if you began thinking about how to raise an adult instead of settling for raising a child?

Hearts & Minds: The Sermon Series

We're starting a new sermon series at Shannon Oaks this Sunday called "Hearts & Minds". It's about parenting, but it's a bit of a twist on the parenting theme. See, I'm going to try as best I can to avoid recommending any techniques for how to get your child to sit still at the dinner table or use his manners or come home before curfew. I'm going to try to help parents look beyond behavior to try to discern how to instill a way of thinking and feeling about life. Hopefully, if we can do this, behavior will take care of itself.

Obviously, I'm not talking about trying to reason with a hysterical toddler. But I am talking about parenting with the end in mind -- thinking about an 18-year strategy for launching your child into the world.

Now, those of you who have followed the blog for a few years know that I've written and talked about this a lot. I even co-authored a whole book about it.

Still, it's helpful to revisit these topics periodically, and this is one that's been on the shelf for a while. So, let's get back into it with a few questions.

What's the best parenting advice you ever heard?

What's the worst parenting advice you ever heard?

What do you think the goal of parenting should be?

Rant: On Winning and Losing

Okay, so we had a birthday party for Amelia yesterday. A baker's dozen small children littered our house, literally spilling out onto the front lawn, hopped up on sugar and adrenaline. There's this thing that goes on among the parents these days -- this one-upsmanship that no one likes to speak of. The most recent birthday party our kids went to featured a young(ish) woman dressed up like a princess who painted faces and performed magic tricks. There was a moon bounce and a pony ride and lots of other carnival-type attractions.

We are not in a position to offer such things.

So, we decided we'd go old school with the birthday festivities. You know -- pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs, that kind of stuff. Except we hadn't reckoned on something: kids don't play those games anymore. When we tried explaining the rules to musical chairs we realized that none of the children present had the foggiest idea what in the world we were trying to get them to do. At first, I thought it was because they were too young. Maybe this would be their first exposure to a wonderful game everyone learns to play at some point in time during their childhood.

But as we progressed the awful truth began to dawn: they not only had never played this game before; they'd never played any game like it. You know -- where someone wins and someone loses. The concept of losing was completely lost on them. Worse, they all began to cry immediately upon being labeled "out".

Now, I'm not a huge fan of zero-sum games where, in order for one person to win everyone else has to lose. But still...musical chairs? I quick survey of the adults present revealed that no one had, in fact, witnessed such a contest in any of their children's classrooms. They simply don't play games that deal with winning and losing anymore. Everyone's a winner. Everyone gets a trophy.

The children were baffled at this mysterious thing that was happening to them. "I was walking around and around. Then the music stopped, and I looked around for a place to sit. But someone had taken one of the chairs away. I have no place to sit. Everyone else, but not me. Does this mean I get a prize?"

No, Olivia, it means you lose.

As the crowd of chair sitters grew smaller and smaller, the number of criers grew larger and louder, commiserating with one another at the sheer injustice of it all. "Can you imagine it? A game where only one person gets the prize?! This is terrible! I'm going to be in therapy for years!"

In talking with the other parents present, I asked if any of them remembered playing musical chairs when they were children. Everyone said yes. And did they remember the sting of being called "out"? Of course. Did they weep inconsolably over it? No. you think maybe the children are missing a vital life lesson here?

Rant over.

Parenting From the Inside-Out

God's agenda for us is that we become more and more godly -- not merely more and more biblical. The latter is merely functional as a means to the former, and if we ever find ourselves becoming more biblical but less godly, we can be assured that something has gone terribly wrong! Furthermore, God's goal goes far beyond morality. It is possible to be a very moral person and still remain far from God. The Pharisees are solid examples of people who fit both categories; they were very moral and very biblical. But they were so far from God that they couldn't recognize him when he showed up in person and stood right in front of them!

So, if godliness is the aim for our lives, how do we know we're hitting the mark in becoming the kind of parents God would have us be? Well, when you start parenting your children the way God has parented you -- then you know you're on the right track. And when your goal for your kids lines up with God's goal for them, again, you're headed in the right direction.

But most parents I talk to are more concerned with trying to get their children to sit still at the dinner table, to sleep through the night, to use their manners and stop hitting their siblings. In other words, parents tend to be more concerned with externals than internals, and end up calling behavior modification techniques good parenting.

One of the problems with such a focus on the externals (and there are many) is that you can end up raising kids who suffer from Eddie Haskell syndrome. You know the type of kid I'm talking about, right? You went to high school with someone who was always polite, always well-behaved...until all the adults left the room. Then he was the definition of troublemaker.

Jesus met up with people like this during his life on earth. He said that their outsides looked great, but their insides were rotten. They were like a tomb that had been painted white. It looked so nice and clean, but the contents stunk like you wouldn't believe!

It wasn't a new problem for Jesus, though. The prophet Isaiah, back in the Old Testament, had mentioned how the people looked so great as they practiced their religious rituals. But God could see what was really going on inside, and he knew how far they were from him in their hearts and minds.

Jesus' solution to the problem was interesting. He acknowledged that behavior was important, but he said it wasn't as important as character.

Jesus was less concerned with behavior than he was with what was going on inside a person. Jesus seemed to believe that people do what they do because they believe and feel certain things. So, he knew better than to focus all of his energies on behavior modification techniques that produce short-term results and "false-positives". He went to the root of the problem, looking beyond mere externals in an attempt to fix what was going on internally. He didn't just want his followers to do certain things; he wanted them to become certain kinds of people for whom the right things were done naturally.

So, if we were to allow Jesus to set the agenda for our parenting, we may need to take some of the emphasis off our child's behavior and put more emphasis on character development.

What might that look like? And why do you think more parents don't parent from the inside-out?

Parenting: Biblical vs. Godly

I grew up in a religious environment that stressed the importance of the Bible. Our church was keenly interested in finding a biblical reason for why we did particular things in particular ways. We wanted to be a biblical church with biblical leaders holding biblical beliefs and doing biblical things. This is not necessarily bad, but it's not necessarily good, either. It's not bad; it's just insufficient.

Being biblical should never be the goal for an individual Christian or a church. Being biblical is only useful as a means to a greater end, and that greater end is godliness.

For example, a person may "go into all the world" in an attempt to "make disciples" (a very biblical thing to do), but if, as you are going, you are a may be doing a biblical thing in an ungodly way. Being biblical people is of no use to us if it actually keeps us from becoming godly. And it often does just that when we think we've arrived by simply doing what the Bible says.

And here's why I bring this up now -- in the context of a series on parenting: There are a lot of biblical parents in churches. There is a lot of material out there designed to help you become more biblical in your parenting. Books and tapes and seminars abound where parents are given a lot of different Bible verses to apply in their homes.

But what is often missing is the idea that parents are supposed to be godly -- not just biblical. And if a biblical parent stops short of becoming godly, a lot of bad things can happen. Bible verses can be used to reinforce an authoritarian battle of wills with our children. Without taking on the mind-set, attitude and thoughtfulness of Jesus (aka "The mind of Christ") good Bible verses become a justification for taking a power-based approach to parenting -- an approach that dishonors God and fails to produce the long-term results we hope for.

In a biblical but ungodly model, "good" children are obedient -- never mind that it's usually passive obedience or merely external compliance. This shortsighted definition of success makes parents feel good, but the long-term consequences are disastrous. This kind of parenting often produces frightened, legalistic children rather than free and secure adults. As those children grow older, the tend to become less and less like Jesus and more and more like the judgmental religious folks for whom he reserved his harshest criticism.

So, the question good parents must ask themselves (and they must ask it often) moves from "Are we biblical parents?" to "Are we godly parents? Are we parenting our children the way God parents us? Would God ever 'bow up' on us and remind us that he could kill us and make another one that looks just like us? Would God ever yell at us for spilling milk at the dinner table? Would God call us names or threaten us?"

What are some of the differences you can think of between biblical parenting and godly parenting?

Jesus on Parenting

Jesus never had kids, so we don't typically think about him when we think about how God wants us to parent our children. Then again, Jesus never ran a business or pastored a church, but we think about him in that context all the time. But that's another story....

For today, imagine Jesus wrote a book about parenting. What do you think he would say? How would what he says about parenting differ from most of what we hear on the subject?

The Church Can't Raise Your Kids (a repost)

A little over a year ago I wrote the following post. Given what we've been talking about here lately, and the topic of my sermon this Sunday, I thought it might be appropriate to restate what I feel so passionately about.


I believe (and there’s some research out there to back this up) that every parent knows that when it comes to shaping the morals, values and ethics of our kids, it should be the parents driving that bus. I also believe that most parents feel overwhelmed and undermined as to how to go about doing it. In the absence of a plan, they most often turn to the only experts they know and trust: the church.

Most of the people who read this blog will attend church somewhere this weekend. You are thoughtful Christian people for the most part; many of you are thoughtful Christian parents. You take your kids to church, to a youth group or to Sunday School, and you expect them to learn something there that will help shape their faith and character.

That’s fine insofar as it goes. But I want you to hear this: the church can’t raise your kids.

It’s not supposed to, and it has done a terribly ineffective job when it has tried.

I love the fact that churches are getting more and more intentional about providing good, quality programming for children. It ought to be innovative and inspiring. It ought to rival the best Disney and Nickelodeon and PBS have to offer in terms marrying creativity and educational content. Churches ought to increase the percentage of their budget that goes to children’s programming, even if it means cutting some long-standing programs that benefit adults.

But I’ll say it again: the church can’t raise your kids.

I repeat myself because something really tragic has happened over the course of the last several decades. While we were busy developing innovative programming for children, we somehow convinced parents that it would probably be in their best interests to leave the faith development of their kids to experts like us.

Somehow, though I don’t think we did this intentionally, the faith development of children has largely become church-centered and home-supported.

Church is where kids go to learn about God and faith and morals and all that stuff. Families support those churches financially and by making sure the kids are there as often as possible. As long as parents have their children at church frequently enough, they feel like they’re doing their part to shape the faith and character of those children.

There are lots of reasons why this has happened; none of them are good enough. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. It can’t work.

God has not set it up to work. God established the family to be the primary unit of faith development. Families may come together to form a church, and that church can support what’s going on in those families. But the faith development of kids is supposed to be home-based and church-supported.

I have looked all through the Bible and have not found one verse that tells churches how to raise kids. God put those kids into a family — under your leadership — and he calls you to do the heavy lifting. Raise your own kids. Stop relying so much on the church to do something God hasn’t called or equipped it to do.

Now, in order to be the parent, you're going to need a plan. I’m not going to give you a plan. I’ll give you suggestions, but this is something I would never presume to tell you how to do. You know your kids. Anyone who ever tells you that all children should be treated the same way is wrong. Anyone who offers you the false hope of “one-size-fits-all” parenting should be dismissed. Kids aren’t animals, and kids aren’t computers. They have minds of their own and the ability to make their own decisions and choices. You must tailor your parenting to suit the personalities of both you and your child. Failure to do this is failure to honor your child and failure to honor the God who creates us uniquely.

For now, here’s the thing I want you to remember: the church can’t raise your kids.

Parenting is Harder, but is Parenting Easier, too?

A number of you wrote in to say that you think parenting is probably harder now than it ever has been before. There are plenty of reasons why someone might say this. There are certainly fewer "cultural allies", as one social critic words it. There was a time when just about everyone in your neighborhood (if you lived in a neighborhood) shared the same values and morals. Even when you might have disagreed about certain beliefs (say, the neighbors were Jewish or something) there was still a general sense of morality in your community. Parents could even trust the local radio and television stations to run generally wholesome programming during prime-time hours. You sent kids to school, and teachers would back parents up, teaching kids the same set of principles taught at home.

Now, this was obviously a double-edged sword. Prejudices were passed on and backed up, too. Ignorance was often confirmed in these kinds of situations. But -- on the whole -- parents could count on many of the other leaders in a child's world to be family-friendly. That's not always the case anymore.

And there are more opportunities for "other voices" to begin speaking into your child's life at an earlier age than ever before. More of us put our kids in daycare programs or plop them down in front of a video or the Disney Channel or on the Internet. There are a lot of different voices out there vying for your child's attention, and with more and more families relying on two incomes, it's easy to see how hard it can be to maintain your place as the primary shaper of your child's values and morals and beliefs.

There's also a sense in which parents' already shaky confidence is constantly being undermined by the vast number of parenting "experts" on the scene. Every newspaper or television show, school or church seems to have someone who majored in Early Childhood Development or Child Psychology or Family Therapy. These people often give off the impression that they know your child better than you do. After all, can you understand your teenager daughter's internalized angst-driven desire to seek homeostasis within your family system? I didn't think so. That's why you need an expert to tell you how it's done.

Just go to a bookstore and peruse the magazine rack. Look at how many headlines scream out to you: YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, AND YOU MIGHT BE DOING IRREPARABLE DAMAGE TO YOUR CHILD!!!

We spend less time with our children and, as a result, lose confidence in our ability to parent. Parents today feel guilty, worried and indecisive. We secretly think we're not very good at parenting, and the experts probably do know our kids better than we do.

So, in one sense, parenting is much harder than it used to be.

And yet....

Last year for Christmas I bought my kids the first season of the television show Little House on the Prairie. My girls just love this show, and it's provided a lot of "teachable moments" for us. One thing that continually amazes me, though, it just how difficult life was for those people. Your child might die from a common cold. They barely had antibiotics. You had to be careful about the water you drank. They lived on the verge of starvation. They didn't have immunization against polio or chickenpox or the measles. Heck, your kid could wander off and get eaten by a bear.

You want to talk about parenting being hard? We don't have to worry about half of the things they had.

And I'm not just talking about life as it was 150 years ago. If you want to talk about having it rough as a parent, talk to an African-American family who raised kids in the 40s and 50s. Imagine raising a child who didn't have a guaranteed quality education or equal access to good jobs. That's still a reality in some parts of of America, but a lot has changed in the past 50 years. The Ozzie and Harriet Show wasn't a reality for much of our nation.

So, if we can agree that there are ways in which parentings is more difficult now than it used to be, what are some other ways in which parenting has become easier in recent years?


I'm starting a three-week sermon series this Sunday at The Bridge based on the material in my book Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World. This week I'm going to try and answer a simple question, and I'd like your thoughts.

Is parenting today easier or more difficult than it was in previous generations?

Please explain your answer.

Doing Life with Children

Thanks for all your advice on yesterday's post. Amelia's our third, so we've been through this whole thing before. We've even developed a strategy. Amelia should know that her feelings are important, but she also needs to know that her feelings don't get to make decisions for the whole family. She also should know that just because she wants to do something, that doesn't mean she has to do it. On the flip side of that coin, just because she doesn't want to do something, that doesn't mean she doesn't have to do it.

Also, our response is often determined by how she says, "I don't want to." Whining might get one response. An honest plea gets a different response. A defiant tantrum gets still another response.

Finally, there are things she simply must do. She must take her medicine when she's sick. She must buckle up in her carseat before we leave. Things like that. In a situation where it's something she just has to do but doesn't want to, I sometimes resort to this method: "Amelia, you can either do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is daddy pours your medicine in this cup, and you drink it by yourself. If you do it with your good attitude, daddy might even give you a cookie after you're done. The hard way is daddy pours your medicine in this cup, holds you down, forces your mouth open, pours the medicine down your throat, holds your nose until you swallow it, and you have to stay in your room for 30 minutes. If you do all that with your terrible attitude, daddy might even spank your bottom. Now, which do you choose?"

She rarely ever chooses the hard way.

Now, here's something for us to consider: She's three. You expect times like this from a three-year-old. But the reason we discipline her now is because we don't want her pulling this kind of thing when she's 15 or 23. We want her to understand that part of being a grown up is doing things we don't want to do because the consequence of not doing them is even worse (and the benefit of doing them makes our lives better).

There's going to come a time when we won't be able to force her into the van and buckle her in her carseat anymore. We won't be able to hold her down and force medicine down her throath. If she doesn't want to take her medicine, it's going to be her choice. If she won't get in the van, we'll have to choose between leaving her behind or allowing her to ruin things for the rest of the family.

Of course we'll continue loving our child, but we will not allow her to hijack the rest of our family and sacrifice our goals and values and plans for the sake of her selfish agenda. If she refuses to participate in the life of this family, if she ever gets abusive or destructive, we may even ask her to leave. I've known parents who did just that, and it's got to be among the most heartbreaking choices a parent ever has to make.

You never stop loving your child, and you always hold the door open for reconciliation. But boundaries are healthy, and healthy isn't always pain-free.

Now, some of you may have figured out where I'm going with this.

How is this any different from dealing with people in church who simply do not want to change with the rest of us? They don't want to pursue the same goals or values or plans as the rest of us. They don't want to cancel Sunday night services. They don't want to stop adult Bible classes. They don't want to have all these strange, new people in their church. They don't want to give up their seat for someone else. They don't want to reach out. They don't want to give more. They don't want to volunteer. They don't want to serve. They don't really want to grow.

How should church leadership deal with those people?

"I Don't Want To"

This is Amelia, my three-year-old daughter. She's the cutest and funniest three-year-old I know. But she doesn't always look like this.

Sometimes she looks like this:

If you've ever known a three-year-old, you know it's not always fun.

Sometimes we'll ask Amelia to do something, and her new response is, "I don't want to."

Sometimes it's said in a whiny voice. Sometimes it's said earnestly. Sometimes it's shouted and followed by the stomping of feet or just sitting in the middle of the floor. Sometimes there's a full-on throw-down tantrum.

So...parenting experts...what should I do?

Hearts and Minds: The Study Guide

I've had several people ask me if there is a study guide for Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World. And the answer is...yes. Actually, the answer is not quite yet, but it is in the works. My wife Jill (who really wrote a lot of the book -- shhh -- don't tell anyone), is busy working on a study guide for individual use or (better yet) use with a small group.

So, if you've got a copy of the book and want to order a study guide, leave me a note in the comments.

Also, if you want to order a copy of the book, you can do that here.

If you've got a copy and have read it, it would help me out if you'd go someplace like and write a brief review.

Finally, if you're interested in hosting a parenting seminar for the folks in your community, you can get more info by going here.

An Overview of the Book

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of my new book, Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World. The book, co-authored with Dr. Kenneth Boa, is published by Tyndale Publishing and has a foreword by Chuck Colson. John is now taking requests to visit churches to conduct parenting seminars based on this material. You can now purchase an autographed copy of the book from our online store.


In part 1, we will talk about families as the basic building blocks of society. As families go, so goes society -- not the other way around. Therefore, if something has gone wrong with society, it is precisely because something has gone terribly wrong in our families. If we are ever going to stem the tide of moral decay in our world, we must begin at the family level.

Several factors make this difficult to do. In chapter 1, we'll consider the challenge of parenting in an age of specialization, and we'll make the case that parents must stop outsourcing their children's faith development. During the past couple of generations, the faith development of children has become church-based and home-supported. According to the biblical paradigm, however, it's supposed to be home-based and church-supported.

Parents are often afraid to take ownership of the faith-development process. It can be a daunting task; but with a simple understanding of the typical stages of faith development, parents can devise age-appropriate strategies. In chapter 2, we'll walk through four basic stages of faith development and give some practical examples of the things you can do at each stage to smooth the transitions your child will naturally go through.

One idea in this first section that isn't usually part of parenting discussions -- even of biblical parenting -- is using Jesus as our example. We tend to think that because Jesus did not have children, he doesn't have much to say about how we parent. In chapter 3, we'll look at Jesus' relationship with his disciples to glean some tips for teaching and training our children.

In part 2, we'll begin the heavy lifting. We'll unpack the basics of a Christian worldview in a way that busy dads and even-busier moms can understand. We hope it will help that we are both busy dads ourselves.

In chapter 4, we address the basic questions that a worldview seeks to answer, such as, Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? What's wrong with me and my world? and, Is there a solution to the problems of this life? We can tell our children what we believe, but the way we live reveals more about our faith than our words ever will. If our lives were congruent with what we say we believe, the whole world would change.

Everything begins and ends with our concept of God. Either he exists or he does not. If he is who he says he is, then he defines reality. If our children are convinced that God exists and that he is not silent, more than half the battle is over. Chapter 5 deals with the importance of giving our children an accurate picture of God.

Once we grasp the fact that God exists and has revealed himself and his will to us, we can begin to piece together some answers to questions about meaning, purpose, and destiny. Chapter 6 presses the premise of God's character to its logical conclusions and shows how God's existence and his revealed will affect the other fundamental life questions.

Part 3 examines what we value as Christians. There is a wrongheaded notion in our society that all ideas are equally valid and that truth is relative. Values are often culturally determined, but some things are more valuable than others. Some values have been held by all (or most) societies throughout history.

The first such value is truth, the subject of chapter 7. Societies have generally attached high value to truth and honesty over error and dishonesty. Truth is the basis for social order. Without truth, there can be no trust, and trust is what cements human relationships. Trust must be given and received.

The second value is goodness. History often divides the good guys from the bad. In old Westerns, it's pretty easy to tell them apart: Good guys wear white hats; bad guys wear black. In real life, no one is completely good or absolutely bad, but societies nevertheless agree that there is a difference between good and bad, right and wrong. In chapter 8, we consider who gets to decide which is which. Without an objective source of truth, good and bad are easily confused.

The final value we examine is beauty. Our cultural biases make it tricky to deal with the concept of beauty, but people throughout time have considered nature to be beautiful. Likewise, people have always regarded destruction as ugly. We believe that nature is beautiful because it is a reflection of God's nature. God is creative. Satan is destructive, and thus destruction manifests our fallenness.

Part 4 deals with our actions. Our children may not care much about what we say, but they are watching what we do. Biblically speaking, certain behaviors and activities validate our faith in God. Without evidence of life change, however, our faith will be shallow and ineffective. It won't be the attractive force that our children need if they are going to grow deep in their relationship with God.

God calls us to make a difference for him in the world. In this section, we'll see how faith prompts us to engage the world, hope sustains us in our engagement, and love is the means by which we engage.

In chapter 10, we consider the life of William Wilberforce, who sparked the beginnings of the worldwide outlawing of human slavery. Wilberforce demonstrated that we can make a difference for social good if we allow God to change our hearts. We must tackle social issues as ambassadors for Christ. Real faith is never relegated to Sundays only. It permeates every part of our lives.

Chapter 11 is about the hope that is necessary for sustaining life. The question is not, do you have hope? but rather, in what are you placing your hope? Martin Luther King, Jr. had the certain hope that he would inherit everlasting life with God, that justice would one day prevail, and that all our questions would be answered. These beliefs sustained his tireless efforts to see God's will accomplished in his generation. Such hope can be ours as well, and we can transfer it to our children by reminding them of great men and women of God.

Chapter 12 is about love, the core of the Christian life. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves; to care for marginalized people; to be Good Samaritans; and to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. Nineteenth-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry is a great example of someone who carried out these loving acts. Her compassion and compulsion to care for others came from her belief that every person has inherent value and dignity because they are created in God's image. Without that, we have no logical reason to care for others. When we treat people with love, we offer the best argument for the love and goodness of God, and we show our children what it looks like to be an ambassador for him.

Our conclusion suggests that you -- yes, you! -- will be able to pull this whole project off. As we've already said, parenting is difficult, but God has promised to give us the tools and resources we need to pass our faith along to the next generation. With God's help, by using the Bible and relying on the Holy Spirit, Christians can become better parents than they ever thought they could be.

Better Parenting or Better Parents?

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of my new book, Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World. The book, co-authored with Dr. Kenneth Boa, is published by Tyndale Publishing and has a foreword by Chuck Colson. If you are interested in reading an excerpt, request an electronic copy in the comment section of this blog. You may invite John to come to your church to conduct a parenting seminar. You will also soon be able to purchase an autographed copy of the book from our online store. **********

How would you answer if you were asked, "Are you better at being a Christian or at being a parent?" Most of us would say that being a good Christian is a snap compared to being a good parent. Most of us think of ourselves as decent Christians. The basics of Christianity are relatively easy to get a grip on, and they've remained constant for centuries. We have plenty of areas that we're working on, but God has helped us and brought us to where we are spiritually, so we feel relatively certain that he will continue to work in us.

But being a good parent? With all the talk shows and seminars out there, some of us feel that we must rely on the insight and education of professionally licensed and board-certified experts because they know more about our children than we do. It's difficult to master even the basics of parenting because there seem to be more basics now than there used to be.

Here's a secret that you may not have heard: Personhood sets the tone for parenthood. In other words, the kind of person you are will have a longer-lasting effect on your children than your parenting techniques. Whether or not you were able to insightfully discern the inner monologue of your preteen daughter will not matter as much as whether or not you were an example of Christlikeness to her. If you want to be a better parent, the place to begin is with your own relationship with God. The closer you draw to him, the more transformed you will be by the power of the Holy Spirit; the more you take on God's perspective, the better you will be at parenting.

The proliferation of parenting books at the local bookstore can be overwhelming, and parents can begin to feel doubtful, anxious, and guilty. The last thing we want to do is to make parents feel more intimidated. God has called you to do something remarkable -- to live in such a way that your child will see God and his purpose for each of us. That purpose is to bring glory to God by living with integrity, enjoying the gifts he gives us, and being good stewards of those gifts.

Chief among those gifts are our children. Part of living a God-honoring life is remembering that children are a blessing from God -- however much they may sometimes feel like part of the Curse! One of the best things you can do for your child is to become the kind of persho who feels good when you're told, "She's just like you." Instead of telling your son, "I can't wait until you have one just like you," what would it be like to say, "I hope you have a son who is as much of a blessing to you as yo uhave been to me"?

It might also be helpful to know that the basics you need to be a good Christian are the same basics you need to be a good parent. To be a good Christian you need to have the right beliefs, the right values, and the right practices. In other words, you must love God with your head, your heart, and your hands. As you do that, God's Spirit will transform you into a godly person, and your parenting will change as well.

There are other good books that deal with how to get your child to sleep through the night or sit still at the dinner table. We're more concerned with how you can help your children to see the world as it really is, to understand the world and their place in it, and to give them a filter through which they can interpret life as it is happening.

Your worldview shows up in why you vote, what you watch, where you shop, and how you drive. Your worldview determines how you talk to yourself and others, how you treat your neighbors, and whether or not you can forgive your enemies. Your worldview is demonstrated by your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

Here's the scary part: If you say you believe one thing but your behavior reveals something completely opposite, guess what your kids will remember.

That's why we're going to focus less on children and more on parents; less on child rearing and more on how parents can live in a way that demonstrates a life of faith to their children.

Parenting Isn't Primarily About Kids; It's Primarily About Parents

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of my new book, Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World. The book, co-authored with Dr. Kenneth Boa, is published by Tyndale Publishing and has a foreword by Chuck Colson. If you are interested in reading an excerpt, request an electronic copy in the comment section of this blog. You may invite John to come to your church to conduct a parenting seminar. You will also soon be able to purchase an autographed copy of the book from our online store. **********

We've intentionally avoided techniques and gimmicks for making your children behave better. We have tried not to get bogged down in external measures that can produce a false sense of success for parents. This is not a book about how our children ought to behave, but about how we ought to live as their parents.

We built this book on a foundation laid by researchers and theologians, experts in the fields of psychology and education, such as Hal Runkel, Kevin Leman, Alfie Kohn, Ray Guarendi, Tim Kimmel, Edward Hallowell, and many others. We read a lot of books during the process of writing this one to be sure that our opinions were sound.

One of the biggest flaws we've found in many parenting books (especially Christian parenting books) is the myth of technique. Often the impression is given that we can control our children with the proper technique. This usually comes from misreading Proverbs 22:6: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The truth is that you cannot really control your children.

If your goal is to make your children behave in a certain way or to force them to be a certain kind of person, you may or may not achieve that goal. Kids grow up to be adults with minds of their own. You may do everything right and still see your kids walk away from their faith when they get older. Despite what you may have been led to believe, they may not come back. If your definition of successful parenting is having faithful children who make you proud and turn your friends green with envy, you may be setting yourself up for a rude awakening.

The truth is that you can't control your kids or their choices. The only person you can really control is yourself, and most of us struggle with that. What if we took Gary Thomas's advice? He says, "The ultimate issue is no longer how proud my children make me, but how faithful I've been to discharge the duties God has given me." Focusing on our God-given responsibilities as parents changes our definition of success.

Parenting our kids requires gifts and skills that we don't have. Only God has what it takes to raise children properly, and he calls us to parent in partnership with him because he knows that it will make us rely more on him. As we are invited to draw closer to him each step of the way, parenting becomes a spiritually formative activity. We need to raise children as much as they need us to raise them.