As I go through each year, I try to read in a variety of fields (theology, leadership, church, preaching, history, philosophy, apologetics, biography, family, fiction). Books are an important way for me to continue learning and growing as a follower of Christ. Recently, I finished an excellent book on parenting boys: Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, by Stephen James and David Thomas. If you are a parent of boys, I would heartily recommend this book.

It is insightful, humorous, and helpful. At times, I found myself laughing at the hysterical accounts of the wild things boys do (things flushed down the toilet, adventurous activities, becoming superheroes). You’ll have to get the book to enjoy the benefit of those accounts. James and Thomas’ humor and candor provided a healthy framework for truly beneficial insights.

Following are a few parenting principles I gleaned from the reading. While they are centered on my own responsibility being a father to two sons, there is certainly overlap for parenting in general.

What your children see, they will do. Any parent knows that self-control is a difficult virtue in raising children. Sometimes our voice volume goes too high. Sometimes we are quick tempered. Sometimes we veg out of engaging with our family by being addicted to our screens. There’s a funny insurance commercial out now about how young adults are turning into their parents. That is a reality long before adulthood. My boys raise their voice and escalate arguments because that’s what they see/hear me do. Moms and dads, what you model is what they will become.

What you see in your children, what you speak to your children, and what you draw out of your children, they will become. This principle flows out of a section where the authors argue that parents (dads in particular) should see their sons, name their sons, and draw their sons out. Parents, you have enormous power in the lives of your children. How your children see themselves is a direct result of how you see them, what you say about them (naming them), and what you draw out of them. Does your vision for your children reflect unfulfilled dreams in your own life (athletics and success) or unattainable expectations of perfection for your children? If so, then you need to evaluate your words and how attentive you are to who your children should be. Recently, one of my children confessed that he felt the need to be perfect and felt guilty when he wasn’t. Where do you think he got that idea from? Yes, he got his internal need to be perfect from me. And that is not a healthy burden to carry. It is our job as parents to speak truth, encouragement, gospel, and purpose into the lives of our children.

What you value for your children will shape them. If you value grades, then your children will judge their competency by grades. If you value athletics, dance, friends, health, character, relationship with God, those values will shape who they become. Notice I didn’t say they will become your values. Sometimes parents value the wrong things and our children react against our values (shaping a contrarian value system in their own lives). Other times we say we value one thing, but model something different and our children react against our hypocrisy. I’m not saying we need to be perfect as parents, but we do need to be aware of the tension between what we say and what we show. Here are a couple of quotes that reflect this principle:

As parents, we must decide which is more important, material success or character. Too often, parents, educators, and coaches focus on behavior modification with boys and not enough on character development.

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 175.

I make Sam go [to church] because the youth group leaders know things that I don’t. They know what teenagers are looking for, and need–they need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn’t mind growing up to be. And they need total acceptance of who they are, from adults they trust, and to be welcomed in whatever condition life has left them–needy, walled off. They want guides, adults who know how to act like adults but with a kid’s heart. They want people who will sit with them and talk about the big questions, even if they don’t have the answers; adults who won’t correct their feelings or pretend not to be afraid. They are looking for adventure, experience, pilgrimages, and thrills. and then they want a home they can return to, where things are stable and welcoming.

Anne Lamont, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, quoted by James and Thomas, Wild Things, 80-1.

Parents, the value systems you instill (or not) in your children (faith, character, church) will affect them the rest of their lives. If you want your children to follow Christ as young adults and parents in the future, then it is your job to instill those values by model and voice now while they are in your home.

What love and preparation you provide will dramatically influence the emotional and spiritual health of your children. Children are sinners just like everyone else. They’re going to do foolish and sinful things. They do need our correction, discipline, and instruction, but they also need our unconditional love, guidance, and blessing. Following are several more quotes that undergird this principle.

About our boys as teenagers: “You will need to pray often–for wisdom, mercy, and forgiveness–because you will likely say and do a lot of things you will later regret. You’ll also want to pray for your boy’s safety, because he will likely do a lot of things that he will later regret.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 68.

Moms, this one’s for you: “A powerful paradox of motherhood is that if you do your job well, your son will leave you completely.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 236.

Dads, this one’s for you: “A boy needs a dad who is looking ahead of him, mindful of his tomorrows.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 260.

Parents, it’s our job not just to get through today’s trials and difficulties. It’s our job to be mindful of the future of our children. We are to look out for their tomorrows and prepare them to be adults in a difficult world.

This book has been one of the most meaningful and impactful that I’ve read this year. It is worth your time and investment in reading. If you do have sons, the chapter entitled, “Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage,” is worth the price of the whole book. Parents, if you have boys, they will become men when you tell them they are men. Creating an individualized rite of passage into manhood is an important part of your role as a parent.

  • Dads, this one is on you. You are the primary voice and example for developing your boys into men. Buy this book. Read about rites of passage and develop one for your son(s).
  • Single moms, don’t lose heart. Pray that God would provide men in your community and church to invest in your boys to model manhood for them.
  • Moms, love your boys. They need your encouragement and inspiration more than you will ever know. I would not be the man I am today without the voice of encouragement and guidance from my mother who is now with Jesus.
  • Church, pray for our families. Our church will only be as strong and healthy as our families.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

This article was originally posted at Lifeway’s Pastor’s Today Blog.

Recently, we had a birthday party for our oldest son, Will. His mother and I planned, prepared, and invited a handful of his friends. We spent a lot of time investing in his party. We expected his reaction to be wonder, enjoyment, and gratitude. What we received was complaint, ungratefulness, and pouting. Needless to say, we spent the rest of our evening attempting to teach our son the importance of gratitude and respect when others do something nice for you. This little experience got me thinking about some of the ways being a parent is like being a pastor.

  1. Sometimes our children are ungrateful. My wife and I were pretty disappointed in our son’s attitude regarding his party. We put a lot of time and effort into making a day all about him and didn’t receive any genuine gratefulness. This sometimes happens as a pastor. We invest, spend time, and pour ourselves into a parishioner or a ministry and receive little or no gratitude. It is easy to take such things personally. But we must not. While we should model gratitude for our children and our churches, we should move past our good deeds for others and onto the next person or assignment.
  2. Sometimes our children are disingenuous. When we pointed out our son’s failure to be grateful, he rather quickly told us, “Thank you for my party.” However, with scant a pause, he followed that up with more disrespect. He didn’t really mean the thank you. If you’ve been a pastor for long, you’ve had church members tell you to your face what you know they don’t mean in their heart. My personal favorite is when they tell you how good your sermon was when it appeared to you during the sermon that they were asleep for most of it. Now, I don’t think most of the comments coming from our church members are disingenuous, but some are. We have to learn to discern the truth and show grace when we hear disingenuous comments. Saying “thank you” and moving on is generally the best thing we can do.
  3. Sometimes our children are disobedient. It is our job as parents to correct and discipline our children, which are important aspects of teaching obedience. If we don’t teach them, then who will? As a pastor, there will be times that correcting a church member will be necessary. As with our children, correction must take place with compassion, deliberation, and consistency. Restoration to obedience is the goal, not pointing out the sin.
  4. Sometimes our children are needy. Sick little ones or those who are hurt may require more time and attention from their parents. This is a necessary part of parenting. Church members are no different. Those who are hurting, emotional, going through difficulty, or sick may need more attention from their church or pastor.
  5. Oftentimes, both parents and pastors feel overwhelmed. The tasks and expectations of parents and pastors are never-ending. Parents, there’s always somewhere else to go with your children, always something to clean, pick up, or fix, always homework or school projects to do, and on, and on. Pastors, there’s always the next sermon, the next lesson, the next counseling appointment, project, mission trip, or task. If we’re not careful, we’ll let our lives be run by our schedules and the next thing on our to-do list.
  6. Our children were created to grow up. Our privilege as parents is to assist the natural growth of our children. They were made to grow. Similarly, those we pastor were made to grow spiritually. It is our privilege to provide systems, ministries, and opportunities for the spiritual growth of those we lead.
  7. Our children bring us unprecedented joy. Witnessing their development, smiles, wonder, love, and dependence is incalculable. I realize that pastors are not parents to their parishioners as they are to their children. But in part, pastors have been tasked with the spiritual development of their congregation. Much joy comes from watching the spiritual growth of people. Seeing the relief and joy on the face of a new believer whose weight of sin has been lifted by Christ is incomparable. Experiencing a counselee apply the Scripture to their situation is spiritually satisfying. Or participating with church members give of themselves and their heart on a mission trip or project is deeply encouraging.
  8. No investment in life is as important as the investment in others, especially our children. When our life concludes, the influence we’ve had on our children will be one of the few things that will last beyond our days on earth. They will carry on our character, our values, and our names by the way they live their lives. While not as directly impactful, the investments we make in the lives of our congregation can also be far-reaching. Like being a parent, a pastor’s influence and impact is not defined by outward success, popularity, twitter followers, Facebook friends, or blog readers. The true impact of a pastor, like a parent, will be found in the relational investment of lives changed, disciples made, and people equipped for ministry.
  9. Ultimately, how our children and our congregations turn out is the Lord’s responsibility. Sometimes, being a parent and a pastor, we think we’re in control of the spiritual progress of our children and our congregations. We’re not. God is. Yes, we partner with God in the process of the spiritual development of those we parent and lead, but we are not ultimately responsible. Learning or in my case, relearning, that truth is deeply liberating and encouraging.

For those who are parents, let your parenting inform your responsibilities as a pastor. And to all, cast the burdens of being a parent or pastor on the Lord who is able to carry them.