Parenting Advice for Pastors
Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.”
That’s not just a humorous quote; it’s a profound truth. The truth is this: wise parents do not perform in order to gain the applause of their immature, foolish children. They do what they know to be true and right—and in time, they believe their children will come along to the same conclusion. King Solomon put it this way in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
What Mark Twain and Solomon assume is that parents know what is good and right. They know the way to go. We cannot make this assumption, however, in the third decade of the 21st century.
So, with that in mind, I would like to give you eight actions to consider as you raise your children in the way that they should go. These eight things aren’t an exhaustive list; it’s a limited list, a personal list, a subjective list. These are eight of the building blocks we used to raise our family. Indeed, most of what I would tell you is born out of failure and not out of success. Truth comes through the Word of God (John 17:17), but I am going to tell you our experiences in order to let you know that this isn’t a theoretical thing drawn up in a laboratory. I haven’t mastered these things. I’m telling you them because I’ve gone to the school of hard knocks, and I have earned a PhD.
I also don’t want to put this list forward as a formula—that if you do this, your children will turn out a certain way. I’ve seen parents who have done everything wrong, and yet their children turned out to be polite, godly, and great people. I’ve seen parents who did everything by the book, and yet their kids turned out rebellious, ungodly, and unproductive. All of this is 100 percent dependent on the grace of God. Of course, this doesn’t mean you contribute nothing to the success or failure of your children. But I’m stressing we are ultimately dependent on the sovereign grace of God. This should humble the proud parent and encourage the discouraged parent.
What I am about to give you is the experience of the Moore family. My family is not your family. Your family is unique; don’t try to be another family. Listen to these points with a discerning ear and apply them by grace as they relate to you. I’m hoping there will be a few things that you can apply for your family. Some of the main mistakes I’ve made in parenting have come from trying to make apples to apples comparisons between my family and other families I saw that were doing things well. Don’t do that.
So I give you these eight points, in no particular order, except that Point #8 is the most important.
1. Use expressive words with obnoxious frequency in order to communicate love.
Talk with your children and let them know you absolutely love and adore them. As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” Apply this principle to the home. Encourage your children greatly simply by telling the all the time that you love them.
I can’t tell you the number of people who have sat in my office for counseling who have said, “My father never told me that he loved me.” Or they’ll say something like this: “My father never told me he loved me, but I knew he did because he showed he loved me. But I wish he had told me more often.” Or even if the father will say the words “I love you,” the child is still left with a life-long quest to earn the father’s approval. They feel like they’ve failed to get their dad to be pleased with them. All this can be taken care if you use expressive words with obnoxious frequency to communicate love.
Let’s take the greatest example of a Father ever: God the Father. As he is looking down out of heaven at his Son, his only Son, on multiple occasions—his baptism, his transfiguration—he publicly and unashamedly says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” “I love him and I am pleased with him.”
That’s how our Heavenly Father expresses his love for his Son. If we are to be godly, then we need to express our love to our children. Our Father leaves us no doubt as to whether or not he loves us. He shows us that he loves us, and demonstrated his love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
But he also told us with words that he loves us. There are 1189 chapters of the Bible—and he just keeps saying it over and over again.
How does this apply practically? Tell your children frequently that you love them. This might be challenging if feel you are “old school” and not that expressive. Well, “old school” is bad school in this instance. Being quiet and reserved has nothing to do with expressing love.
Over time, if you don’t express love to your children, it can have a destructive effect. People wonder all the time about what they can do to make their fathers pleased with them. I can tell you what you can do to correct that problem: use expressive words with obnoxious frequency to communicate love.
My father never had a father. His father left when he was 6-months-old. My dad was the only kid in town without a father. He had no model in front of him at all. I’ve heard guys blame their bad dad for their being a bad dad. But I say that’s hogwash. My dad had no idea how to be a dad. All he knew was that he loved his kids, and he said it all the time. He said, “I love you. I’m thankful to be your dad. I’m proud of you.” Every night before I went to sleep, he would put his hand on my head, he would kiss me, and he would tell me he loved me. He said everything that needed to be said every single day.
So, every day, tell your kids you love them. It’s a godly thing to do.
2. Use creative actions with enthusiastic spontaneity to create memories.
I almost left this point out because it’s not that spiritual. The point is “have fun!” Ecclesiastes 10:4 says, “There is a time to laugh and a time to dance.” The family is the place where this should be seen the most. If heaven is a place of joy, should we not model that in the home? The home should be full of joy. If your only emphasis in parenting is what your kids cannot do, if your house is a place that never has fun, is it any wonder they leave the house when older to have fun?
In our family, we’ve created traditions. For example, on July 4, we go into Manhattan all wearing the same Old Navy t-shirts. And then we take goofy photos with strangers. We’ve had Bible reading traditions. Every year, on the night before baseball’s Opening Day, no matter where we are, we sit down and watch Field of Dreams like we did when they were kids. I send my kids postcards. We play mini-golf tournaments. When traditions like this become part of a family, this is what it communicates: “this family is a big deal to me and it is a joy to have fun with you.”
We do these things to create an atmosphere of fun and delight. It doesn’t take a lot of money. You can get more mileage out of one wrestling match on the bed than a thousand trips to Disney World. My father always told me the best events in life aren’t planned, are inexpensive if not free, and are some of the greatest delights in life.
I remember many years ago, one night during the Christmas season, we decided to go Christmas caroling, just us. To this day, my kids remember that. It wasn’t planned; it didn’t cost any money. But they will remember things like that forever. When you’re having a good time, you really don’t’ realize how good of a time you are having. When it passes, it is gone. It’s the dad’s job to commemorate and draw attention to it as a big deal—with gratefulness to God. I want to demonstrate to my kids that this is a big deal because we are together. So use creative actions with enthusiastic spontaneity to create memories.
3. Use fervent prayer with tenacious persistence to convey humility.
It’s a very simple point: humble people pray and proud people don’t. If you want humble children, then you want to be humble because God gives grace to the humble. Therefore, you must pray. Pray with them, pray for them, and teach them to pray. When someone is sick, we must pause where we are and pray. Frequently, on hospital visits, I’d take one of my children with me to the bedside to pray with someone who was ill. Before you discipline your children, pray with them. Pray before bedtime. Pray 1 Thessalonians 5:1 “without ceasing” because the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. If a child grows up in a home where prayer is just spoken of and never done, then why do you think the child will become one who prays themselves?
Prayer is not only the means by which we get our requests granted; it’s also how we commune with God. In 1976, my brother was diagnosed with cancer. I can remember the way my parents dealt with that (thank God, my brother is alive and well today). Cancer research back in those days wasn’t what is today, so our family was frightened. But I remember the way they prayed, how they called upon God. My dad was a radio announcer, and so he would often be asked to go and speak at churches, usually small churches in rural Pennsylvania. Every time he would go and speak, he would go into the men’s room, he would get down on his knees, and he would bow his face to the floor, crying out to God saying, “Oh, God, please help me tonight as I speak.” I wouldn’t be the same as my father today, theologically speaking, but I saw the man dependent upon God in prayer.
You don’t just want your kids to see you as someone who pretends to pray or only ever talks about praying. You can’t fake it for that long. Instead, you need to use prayer in order to convey humility.
4. Use precious time with strategic urgency in order to minimize regret.
Life, like football, is a timed game. Moses tells us in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days so that we might gain heart of wisdom.” If life is a timed game, then it’s a quick timed game. You might get 70 years. If James calls that a vapor, then how short is the time you have with your kids? How short is the time when you actually have any influence over them? Your kids will come back to visit, but they don’t come back to move in.
We homeschooled our children, not because we were afraid of NYC public schools or for educational purposes, but for one reason: we really liked spending time with them. When we realized how much of our day was apart from them, we simply wanted them around more.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). If you don’t capitalize on the few seconds you have with them, you will wake up on day like Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof:
Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don’t remember growing older. When did they? . . . Sunrise, sunset. Swiftly flow the days.
There’s coming a day when your young kids don’t want dad to sleep in their bed—or don’t ask you to play G.I. Joes. We have tiny windows of opportunity. You will regret wasting this time. So make the best use of the time when their hearts are pliable, when they love their dads. Don’t say you’ll get to it another time—they grow up and they are gone. Capitalize on the time you have with your children.
5. Use sincere thanksgiving with peaceful contentment in order to teach providence.
I think the most valuable thing we own is a working knowledge of the providence of God. I wonder how people who don’t believe in the sovereignty of God—over both the good and the bad—don’t lose their mind. Why should anything work out if it’s all random?
But we believe that God is in charge, that the Lord gives and takes away. Teach your kids the practical value of resting in his providence by being thankful. Have a thankful heart and be content, especially when the ball doesn’t bounce your way. Temper and anger and impatience and complaining and fault-finding are the opposite of this. “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Listen to your children talk to one another and see if they talk like you. I’ve had to correct how my boys spoke to one another while admitting and repenting of the ways I’ve spoken critically and in anger.
What helped me in this area was understanding this simple yet profound truth: the gospel is for believers. The gospel isn’t only the means by which we are saved, it’s the means by which we grow. “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6).
Every aspect of the Christian life is attached to the gospel. I was an angry and impatient man. But a dramatic change came in my heart when I realized that the gospel is for believers. Things aren’t going to go well all the time. When they don’t, you have an amazing opportunity in front of you. It’s a test from God in order for you demonstrate before your family that you trust him and his providence—and that you will do it all with sincere thanksgiving.
6. Use joyful hospitality without petty grumbling in order to demonstrate selflessness.
“Show hospitality without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Our home is often open to the whole church. There have been more nights when people slept at our house who were not a part of our family than nights when we were alone. We like to have people over. We like to receive guests. Exposing our children to missionaries and pastors from all over the world has been wonderful.
But what about when the guests don’t know when to leave? What happens when someone breaks something? Then we have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to show hospitality without grumbling?” Then you have the opportunity to show your children the love of Christ. These people are here as our guests, and so we show them hospitality to the glory of God. We accelerate our kids’ growth in selflessness by allowing them to participate in the hospitality.
Recently, we helped someone flying through NYC who needed a place to stay. But when they showed up at our door, we found out they also had a dog. In more than 25 years, there’s never been a dog inside our house! So, what were we going to do? By God’s grace, we showed hospitality without grumbling, even when it was outside our comfort zone.
This is easy to preach in theory but hard to do practically. But when we think of how our Heavenly Father has welcomed us, we have the chance to show our children this kind of selfless love. Maybe they have to give up their bed and sleep on the floor. Maybe they have to work harder to prepare a meal or do the dishes. Hospitality is a great way to teach your children selflessness.
7. Discipline with faithful consistency in order to eradicate foolishness.
A few verses from Proverbs:
- “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (22:15)
- “Do not withhold discipline from a child, for if you strike him with the rod he will not die. If you strike him from the rod, you will save his soul from the grave.” (23:13–14)
- “Whoever spares the rod hates his son but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (13:24)
- “The rod and reproof give wisdom but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (29:15)
Let me say a couple of things here. My wife and I did a very poor job of disciplining our children until we read Ted Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Up until that point, we had used every worldly manipulative mechanism in order to discipline our children. “I’m going to count to three” or “you’re making daddy so sad” or “I promise you I’m going to discipline you now.”
You can make these empty threats—“if you keep doing that I’m going to take you home”—but when you do this, you aren’t really teaching your kids to obey.
This is how it worked for us. I’d ask them, “Do you know what you did wrong?” They say, “yes, I didn’t take out the trash.” I’d say, “Do you know what I’m going to do now?” They’d say, “yes, you’re going to discipline me.” Afterward, I would have them sit on my lap, and I would pray with them.
Why do you do this? To be in charge? No. To get your own frustration and anger out of your system? No, never. You do this to eradicate foolishness.
8. Use the practical gospel with personal applications in order to reproduce disciples.
If you added up the importance of everything I’ve said so far, it would not be as important as this last point. Show them how the grace of God works. You show kids how to do stuff—math, basketball, how to drive, etc. So teach them how the grace of God works. They need the grace of God when you are dead and gone. So teach them the gospel—that Christ died accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and raised. And teach them the implications of the gospel. Teach them what it means to be saved. Evangelize them. Then teach them how the gospel is for sanctification and growth. Teach them your need for the gospel.
Here’s the main thing I want you to remember: when you sin against your family—and you will—you need to call a family meeting. You need to say, “I just did something that was sinful. I spoke to your mother in a way the Bible says I shouldn’t. I want you to know that I’ve confessed this to the Lord, and he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But I want you to know what you just saw me do was sin, and I want you to forgive me. I make no excuses. It’s not because I’m tired or something your mother did. It’s not a habit I have. I’m prideful and sinful. I’m guilty. I’m sorry and I will make steps not to repeat this. The bottom line is this, kids: your dad is sinful and I need grace. I need Jesus Christ.”
We as children sometimes look at our fathers and say “they can do no wrong.” But we aren’t perfect. So, from the very beginning, don’t your children be let down when you mess up. Let them say, “I love my dad but I love my savior more. I love that champion. I love the one who forgives sinners. That’s who I’m looking to. My dad isn’t perfect but he’s leaning on the one who is.”
It’s hypocritical to call your children to account for their sins but never admit your own. Their problem is that you are their father and Adam is your father. They need to see the gospel lived in order to live the gospel. If we aren’t living the gospel before them, then why would we expect them to be remorseful or anything but manipulative? If you’ve presented yourself to your kids as always perfect or always with an excuse then, guess what, your kids will always fake being perfect or always have an excuse. But if you tell them that you are a sinner in need of the gospel, then they will see and by grace one day follow the model of going to Christ with their sins.
We need to discipline our kids to the glory of God. We also need to teach them mercy. “Judgment is without mercy to the one who shows no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement” James 2:13). We need to show our children the gospel.
Your children will either grow up in a performance-driven house or a grace-driven house. If they grow up in a performance-driven house, then they will either be hypocrites or rebels. If they grow up in a grace-driven house, they will be disciples who seek the grace of God.
In 50 years, when someone says to your child “tell me about your dad,” there are going to be a lot of things they will say that will be embarrassing about your legacy. But more than anything else, the one thing you want them to be able to say is that their dad was a Christian—that he loved Jesus, obeyed Jesus, and prioritized the kingdom of God; that he was a humble man; and that when he was wrong he pointed us all to Jesus Christ.
Long after you’re dead, that’s the thing you want your children to say when they tell people about their dad.