What is Christian parenting?
Are there distinct roles and responsibilities?
How is Christian parenting different from other parenting?
What it’s not.
Christian parenting, in the minds of many, is associated with the things parents do or don’t do. But taking your family to church, reading the Scriptures, praying together, believing certain doctrines, and maintaining a particular lifestyle isn’t Christian parenting in or of itself. Nor is it avoiding swear words, bad habits, immoral people, inappropriate entertainment, fake news, false teaching, and sin in general. Christian parenting isn’t teaching your children how to be on the “good for God” plan. These things are religious, similar to what Jews, Muslims and Hindus do.
Let’s be clear on this. While Christian parents and their children usually hold specific values and beliefs, this isn’t ultimately what distinguishes their parenting from secular or any other parenting. And while Christian parents raise their children religiously, their practices alone don’t make their parenting Christian. In other words, being a committed Christian doesn’t make you a Christian parent.While Christian parents raise their children in religious ways, their practices alone aren't what makes their parenting Christian. Click To Tweet
So if Christian parenting isn’t about memorizing Bible verses or practicing various traditions, surely it’s about loving your children. After all, God tells us to love just as He loves us (cf. John 15:12). But love alone can’t be the distinguishing factor for Christian parenting. At the core of sacred and secular parenting, and regardless of philosophies, values or beliefs, most parents have a desire and capacity to love their children. As writer and activist Stephen Mattson says, “Christian parents don’t have the market cornered on love, and secular parents don’t have the market cornered on sin.”
What it is.
What, then, is Christian parenting? Maybe it’s imitating Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:1-5). Indeed, it’s having the same attitude, mindset, and love that Jesus has, i.e., being Christ-like in how we raise our children. Based on this view, Christian parenting is sometimes called Christ-like parenting. But while this is much closer to a holistic definition, it’s missing something. For even when Jesus is the inspiration and prototype for what parents say and do, their parenting can still be self-motivated and performance-driven. And parenting that’s self-reliant falls short of what God wants.
So how do we avoid parenting as a one-sided affair that relies mainly on a parent’s strengths and abilities? By viewing it as participation in a Divine activity (cf. Psalm 127:1).Christian parenting is joining together, sharing, contributing, and cooperating with God in what He's doing with our children. Click To Tweet
Christian parenting is joining together, sharing, contributing, and cooperating with God in what He’s doing with our children. It’s relying not on what we can do ourselves, but on Jesus. It’s habitually referring everything back to Him. Working together with God, it’s drawing on His patience, wisdom, power, provision and love. It’s continually siphoning nourishment from Christ. And it’s grasping that God alone provides the means and the message to adequately nurture a child’s emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual health and growth (cf. John 15:5).
Embracing what Christ does through you is the best parenting thing you can do. As pastor and author Paul Tripp says, “Good parenting lives at the intersection of a humble admission of personal powerlessness and a confident rest in the power and grace of God.”
Understanding Christian parenting as a partnership with God frees us to extend grace to ourselves, others, and our children. Christian parenting is liberating! It releases us from self-condemnation or trying to live up to high standards. And it shares the burden. Let this sink into your heart and mind – we don’t parent alone! When invited, God helps all parents in whatever situation they’re in. He is with us – He leads and guides – He empowers and encourages – and He gives us what we really need.
That’s not to say parenting isn’t challenging. It often is. And it doesn’t negate the parent’s part in raising their children. But when God is at our side, “Two are better than one … and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12.
Collaborating with God requires parents to join Him in what He’s doing, not ask Him to join them in what they do. It’s facilitating Jesus’ plans and purposes for His children. Note the phrase “His children.” Christian parents recognize that their children are God’s children. He loves them more than any parent can ever love them. And as such, He does what’s best for them – guiding them to maturity and “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” Ephesians 4:13.Christian parenting isn't a particular denominational style or the latest trending curriculum - it's teamwork – specifically, teamwork with Jesus. Click To Tweet
It’s a shameful denial of the power of God to restrict the scope of your parenting to the scope of your ability. The reality of Christian parenting is found in Christ. If your parenting doesn’t carry you beyond yourself, it doesn’t have the nature of God in it.
Parenting styles, techniques and methods are, therefore, secondary to relying on the mysterious, empowering, and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. For too long, parenting has represented something other than partnering with God to raise our/His children. This must change. Christian parenting isn’t a particular denominational style or the latest trending curriculum – it’s teamwork with Jesus.
What does this look like in practice?
Christian parenting is ultimately being united in spirit and purpose with the Lord. Because of the relational and reciprocal nature of parenting, it can’t be an all-purpose pre-packaged formula. Christian parenting is more than embedding key truths, beliefs, values and character traits into children. It’s a family connecting and cooperating dynamically with the Holy Spirit. It’s abiding in Christ – experiencing Him first-hand. Quite simply, it’s parents (or legal guardians) and children pressing into Jesus, interacting with Jesus, coordinating with Jesus, and living for Jesus.
What rules our hearts directs our actions. To focus on Jesus, parents must engage children with God’s Word, works and ways. And more. While it’s important to teach children about what Christ has done, it’s vital that we help them consider who He is and how His heart is inclined to them. This should be done diligently, frequently, contextually, and prayerfully – taking advantage of every God-initiated opportunity (cf. Deuteronomy 11:18-21).Christian parenting is more than a transaction ... it's a family connecting and cooperating with the Holy Spirit. It's abiding in Christ - experiencing Him first-hand. Click To Tweet
Scottish evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers says, “If you become a necessity to a soul, you are out of God’s order.” A parent must guard against stealing a child’s affection away from Jesus. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should. You’re not your child’s primary source of protective care and guidance. Jesus is. So don’t usurp His providence.
Do children turn out the way their parents want them to? Sometimes, sometimes not. There are no guarantees, even when your parenting is biblically informed. But the good news is that God’s ways are higher than ours (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).
Here’s the beauty of Christian parenting; you’re not writing your family story. The Lord is. So, rely on Him “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” Ephesians 3:20.
© Scripture Union, 2023