So much advice has been given on parenting styles. Today AMBrewster unveils God’s expectations for Christian parents and helps us learn to utilize the only parenting style that glorifies God.
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Welcome back. If you didn’t catch our last episode about destructive parenting styles, please make sure you listen to it before continuing.
Last time we talked about the four fleshly parenting styles that hurt our families.
I hope you honestly critiqued yourself. I pray you were transparent. If we can’t be honest about the things we need to fix, how can we expect our children to do it?
So, today let’s look at the grand and beautiful plan God has for our parenting. Let’s discover together who the 5th Parent is.
Last time we answered the first question, “Who am I?” by discussing the four sinful parenting styles called the Dictator, Joker, Doormat, and Judge. We saw that they all had different combinations of high and low expectations for themselves and their children. And hopefully we recognized which of those parents we tend to be the most like.
Then we left off discussing the second question, “Who is God?” because when we understand who we are and who God is, only then can we answer the third question, “What does that mean for my parenting today.”
As we answered the second question about God we saw that He is many things. He has communicable attributes and incommunicable characteristics . . and, on top of that, He’s infinite, and we’ll spend the rest of eternity being unable to grasp His greatness. So for our purposes, we studied God’s expectations for Himself and for His children.
I pointed out last time that the Dictator was likely very happy to hear that God has high expectations for Himself and His children and that the Joker parent was probably freaking out. We also noticed that the Doormat and the Judge were probably conflicted because at least half the time they agree someone should have high standards. I’m curious to know what your initial response was, and I encourage you to share it with us in the comments.
But I also observed that “high standards” couldn’t possibly be the best way to parent, otherwise the best parenting style would be The Dictator. But the truth is, there is a very huge difference between God’s perfect parenting style and the other four because God’s expectations are nothing like ours - high or not.
“So, what’s the difference?” you ask.
The difference is this: God’s standards are His own.
You see, He sets the standard, and He is the standard. Leviticus 11:44, 45 and I Peter 1:16 tell us unequivocally, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” The difference between the first 4 parents and the 5th Parent is what the expectations are founded on.
Whether they were high or low, the Dictator, Joker, Doormat, and Judge’s expectations were all grounded in their personality, their preferences, their desires - not God’s.
So now we can now ask the final question, “What does all this mean for my parenting today?”
And this is the answer. We need to embrace the 5th Way to Parent by throwing off our fleshly expectations and becoming what I like to call, The Ambassador Parent.
II. The Fifth Way - The Ambassador
A. Positive Attributes:
Paul wanted the church in Corinth to follow him as he followed Christ. In fact, he wanted the people to follow Timothy as Timothy followed Paul as Paul followed Christ. And here’s the key difference between the Ambassador and the other 4 parents. The Ambassador Parent has high biblical expectations for self and high biblical expectations for others.
At this point the Dictators and the Judges and the Doormats may still be wondering how that’s any different than their high expectations that they’ve pulled from the Bible, and hopefully this will clarify it. Of course, the biggest issue is that I - as a Dictator Parent - may have high expectations that I’ve developed from the Scriptures. But the real motivation for my children reaching those expectations has nothing to do with God when I’m being a Dictator. I like reaching those expectations because I like it. I want my children to reach them because I want that for them. When we’re in town, I want my children to be polite and kind because of how it reflects on me. That’s a Dictator, not an Ambassador - even though the expectations of being kind and polite are biblical, the main motivation was my own pride.
This is not the Ambassador at all.
B. High expectations for self with godly priorities - The Ambassador speaks God’s Truth, not their opinions, not their preferences, not their desires. When you delight yourself in the Lord, He gives you your desires, but your desires have then become intrinsically His because He ultimately is your desire. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I desire to do right because I love Him. The Ambassador is motivated by God’s purposes and God’s glory, not his own. As I mentioned before, it’s important to realize that God sets very high standards for His people.
1. Again, God commands us in I Peter 1:16, “Be holy; as I am holy.”
2. The Joker and the Doormat fail because they often do not expect God’s highest in others or themselves. And the Dictator fails because though he may have expectations founded in biblical principles, the motivation for those expectations grow out of their own fleshly desires.
3. But the Ambassador has very high expectations for behavior that is governed by God’s will, not the Ambassador’s annoyances. And since God’s Word addresses the content of our expectations as well as the purpose of our expectations, the Ambassador lives to not only do right, but to do it for the right reasons.
C. High expectations for others with Christ-like patience - Meaning this: they speak God’s Truth in God’s love.
2. The Dictator and the Judge are regularly tempted with unkindness, impatience, pride, and pessimism in their parenting responses. This hurts their ability to influence their children because no one likes submitting to a demi-god. I love the scene from the first avengers movie where Loki, who happens to be a self-proclaimed god, has just been smashed repeatedly into the floor by the Hulk. After thoroughly demolishing Loki and his pride, Hulk utters, “Puny god.” That’s what we are. We are puny gods and our children are not interested in worshipping us. When our personal expectations are the basis for our parenting, we’ve removed God from the throne of our home and firmly planted our illegitimate rule in his place.
If you get furious in your parenting, if you become impatient, if you get scared, you can mark it down with 100% biblical certainty that you are not being an Ambassador.
3. Because the Ambassador acknowledges that the child’s sin is ultimately against God as he doesn’t struggle with sinful anger, hurt feelings, or fear in light of the “terrible twos” or “rebellious teens.”
Okay, so we’ve learned which of the 4 fleshly parenting styles we’re drawn to, and we also saw that we probably float back and forth among a few of them. And we’ve also seen the very high calling on the Ambassador. So, I’d like to finalize this discussion by putting some more practical flesh on it. We’re going to work through a short case-study and see the vast difference between the first four ways and 5th way to parent.
III. A Practical Case Study - Lying
A. The Dictator Parent’s goal is to have honest children. And that seems okay because it sounds biblical. Therefore he will issue immediate punishment, and any “counseling” he does will revolve mainly around how the child has offended the parent and God, or how the child will fail at life with such bad character. It may even contain very biblical sounding admonitions about displeasing the Lord. But when the Dictator points to God’s Word it will be used primarily as an unloving, blunt object with which to beat the child into a guilt-tripped submission . . . because, in the end, the main goal is for the Dictator to have honest children.
B. The Joker Parent has the same goal as the Dictator, but she also wants a stress-free home. Therefore, this parent will likely not issue correction until the lying begins to grate against her “long suffering” nature, offends her more than usual, or causes so much trouble with teachers or pastors that the Joker parent has been called into a very uncomfortable “conference” to discuss her child’s behavior. At this point, she’ll generally approach the child from a “friend” standpoint and come across very “loving,” but her “counsel” will likely lack a biblical emphasis on the severity, cause, and cure for sin. That would take work, and it’s easier just to have a nice chat with no follow-up or accountability. She will often point back to the child’s relationship with her as the motivation to stop lying. It’s not that she won’t talk about God, but it’s not as easy to engender a simple, emotional, and quick response when you talk about God. And she’ll do all this because her goal is to have a stress-free, honest home.
C. The Doormat Parent’s sanity cannot survive in a house with problems. She will first question her own ability to rear honest children. Then she will speak with her Dictator/Judge husband who will tell her she needs to discipline more. She will inevitably ramp up the discipline because that’s the expectation that was put on her, but true biblical counsel will likely be relegated to a casual morality tale including plenty of admission to personal guilt on the part of the parent but little genuine accountability for the child. These techniques work when you believe it’s God will for you to work your fingers to the bone to have a pristine home.
D. Now, the Judge Parent secretly relishes home problems (without them he would have little to complain about). Being angry becomes an enjoyable prospect for the Judge. So, when the children start lying he would probably let the consequences fly if he didn’t feel at least a little guilty about the lies he’s been telling recently at work. Or he will let the consequences fly and al the while his children will be unable to shake the thought that he’s a giant hypocrite. Any “counsel” would likely come off very terse, judgmental, and unloving. But the real fun would begin when complaining to his colleagues or spouse about his lying kid. This is true, because the Judge may want to have honest kids, but as long as he can soap-box to others about the ills of the world, he’ll feel much better.
E. However, the Ambassador’s goal is not a problem-free home home. He knows that’s an impossible goal. His goal is not even to have an honest home. He knows that goal is too far below the standard. His goal is a Christ-honoring home where sin is handled in a biblical way that promotes spiritual growth and glorifies God. Therefore, he would definitely give premeditated consequences for sinful behavior as it is not only his job, but it’s a necessary part of the child learning that sin will hurt him and everyone close to him. At the same time, the Ambassador Parent will realize that consequences are alone impotent to affect real change, and would then spend the bulk of his time on God’s Word in intentional discipleship with the child. The Ambassador would admonish the child from God’s Word - helping him see that the root of his lying was not merely fear or malice, but a deeper and far greater misunderstanding of who God is. His counsel would not be used to tear down, but to edify with Truth. The child could not help but see that his parent cares for him and his relationship with God. The Ambassador would then happily look for opportunities to reconnect with his child about his honesty with a premeditated desire for discipleship and growth.
But before we finish up here, I need to clarify something. I said earlier that wanting an “honest home” would be an inappropriate goal because it was too base a standard. And this has likely confused people. Here’s how I used to explain it to my class of 90 junior high Bible students. I would ask them at the beginning of the year what their goals were. A number would submit that they wanted to get good grades. I’d land on that one and survey the class to see if “getting good grades” was a good goal. 98% of the class would agree. I’m sure you can guess who didn’t. Anyway, I would then explain that getting goods grades should not be their highest goal, because it’s not a good one. I’d let the idea marinate for a moment and then I’d explain.
Any goal that can be achieved in a sinful way isn’t really a good goal. I can get good grades by cheating, I can good grades by trusting in my own strength and ability to do well. I can get good grades by blackmailing my teacher. You see my point.
So then I would submit to them the best goal they could have for the year. I told them their goal should be to glorify God in their schooling. To solidify the concept, I asked them what would happen if they did their best to glorify God when they were in class, and doing their homework, and taking notes, and studying, and taking tests, and writing papers? Junior Highers are very intelligent, because 100% of them agreed that glorifying God in their schooling would likely result good grades.
And that’s the difference. I can make sure my kids obey the Bible, but I can do it in the wrong way. I can work to have a stress-free home, but I can do it the wrong way. My highest goal in parenting should be to glorify God with my life and help my spouse and children do the same. That is the essence of agape love. And you know what? You can’t accomplish that the wrong way.
But, I’ve heard it before and I can hear some of you now. “Wow. That sounds hard. I didn’t realize that’s how parenting was supposed to work. I didn’t think I was signing on to be a professional counselor/theologian! How can I be expected to do all of that every time my kids sin?”
Well, here are your 5 options:
IV. The Commitment
A. If your goal is to have obedient children, The Dictator Parent need only apply a strong hand of discipline in the home to scare the kids into obedience. In the event of any infraction, a swift and weighty punishment should prevent any further issues. Overall, the Dictator’s commitment to discipleship is low - behavior that meets the parent’s standard is paramount. However, as the kids get older though, you’re going to have to work hard to keep them scared. Eventually you may be shorter and weaker than they are. And eventually they’ll leave. What will you do then?
B. If your goal is to have obedient children, The Joker Parent doesn’t waste his time at all on a plan for discipline because it’s hard for him to believe any of his children would ever do anything that terrible. Issues that come up can normally be wrapped-up over a coffee because stress-free equals happy - no discipleship necessary as long as everything is fun and simple. Of course, nothing actually works like that in the real world. Your children will just grow up to be worshippers of ease, not God.
C. If your goal is to have obedient children, The Doormat Parent will commit significant amounts of time coming up with charts, systems, spreadsheets, lessons, and methods gleaned from parenting podcasts to stem the flood of discipline issues in the house. Much is committed, but behavior management is more important than discipleship because “one can only do so much.” This is the parent who says, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” They clean their kids’ plates when they leave them on the table. They fold their clothes. They do their homework. And they basically teach their children that mom and dad are there to worship their kids. Kids get to do whatever they want and mom and dad kill themselves making sure the house continues to run.
D. If your goal is to have obedient children, The Judge Parent would love to borrow heavily from the Dictator’s play-book, but - instead - will find that dedicating large amounts of time discussing the child and their problems with their spouse or child’s youth pastor should do the trick because it will encourage them to do the hard work by taking a stronger hand in the child’s discipleship. The commitment to personal discipleship is very low because it’s easier to expect someone else to do it than it is to do it yourself. This parent will ostracize their children due to their overwhelming hypocrisy, and though someone else may be encouraged to be the Ambassador their child needs, the parent’s investment for eternity will be nonexistent.
E. Or you could just be the 5th Parent. You don’t ultimately want obedient children. You want Christ-honoring children. The Ambassador must commit everything to discipleship. No time is his own. No method is his own. His every meal, interaction, and game is dedicated to fulfilling his Lord’s great commission. Much effort will be expended to point his children toward Truth both in formal training and informal relating. And when more help is needed than the Ambassador can give without neglecting other equally Christ-honoring responsibilities (like the other children), he will locate another Ambassador whose schedule allows him to invest additional time in the child’s life. The beauty of this choice, is that you have God’s divine promise of power to accomplish it because you’re actually accomplishing your God-given mandate - disciple your children.
That’s not to say that every Ambassador has God-loving children. Yahweh, the perfect Father had children who rebelled - the nation of Israel. But by being the 5th Parent - the Ambassador Parent, at least you’re not getting in the way. Instead you’re creating an atmosphere conducive to genuine spiritual growth within the soil of redemptive relationships.
I know, being an Ambassador Parent is hard. It’s so much easier to give into our natural, knee-jerk personality reactions and “address” the situation with guaranteed-to-fail, Spirit-devoid methods. But we have not been called to fulfill the lusts of our flesh. We’ve been called to share the gospel with every creature and teach them the whole of God’s Truth in the power and love of Christ. And that includes our children. Ambassadors don’t have problem-free homes; they have growing homes.
And that’s the 5th Way to Parent.
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