This week, in prep for our “Family Conversation” Sat night, let’s consider five contrasts between parenting from grace versus parenting for moralism.

This week, I wanted to share five posts, one each day from today through Saturday, containing thoughts that swirl in my head and heart regarding “grace based parenting.” It is in preparation for our Westpoint Church “Family Conversation” this coming Saturday night @ the Roper YMCA in Winter Garden, FL at 6pm.

It has been inspired by such resources as:

:: Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel
:: Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
:: Gospel-Centered Parenting by Rick Thomas
:: Gospel-Centered Family by Tim Chester

For those planning on being there, please consider reading these five posts I will post this week prior to coming Saturday, as they will certainly enrich our learning conversation together. For those who can’t make it, I hope they encourage and sharpen you in your parenting.

Hopeful for more “on earth as it is in heaven” in our homes and kids’ lives.



contrast 1 _ parenting with the Gospel versus parenting for moralism

Let me begin by stating the obvious – my wife and I may have six kids but that doesn’t mean we are good parents. In fact, we are very aware of our mistakes, and we try to be confessional about them with the Lord and with each other.

Furthermore, may I suggest that God did not intend for the goal of your parenting to be GOOD. By that I mean the Scriptures never seem to call us to focus on our own goodness and improvement, measuring our performance while expecting perfect results. This is a sure fire formula for severe disappointment, both in ourselves and our kids.

Notice what Moses commanded the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 6:

Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give you-a [land with] large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill [them with], wells dug that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant-and when you eat and are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-12 HCSB)

Among the many things one could say about this Scripture, notice that Moses challenged them to remember who God is and what He had said and what He was doing and that He wanted to be as close to them as in their heart, involved in the everyday rhythms of their lives. Also, notice that Moses challenged them to be cautious when they got into the land not to reflect on their own goodness and accomplishments forgetting the goodness and nearness of God. God’s goodness was to be highlighted so that their kids would know Him above all else.

It’s almost like Moses expected them to forget God gave them what they had. It’s almost like Moses anticipated their pride and their tendency toward making themselves the idol as well as making for themselves an idol. After all, he had quite a history with them that demonstrated this pattern.

We are prone to wander, too. Prone as people to forget the God who so loved the world instead living like we, the world, need to perform perfectly to earn His love. Prone as parents to try to be good enough so that our kids will turn out good instead of remembering that even our best efforts still won’t guarantee our kids make the best choices. Prone as families to create cultures within our homes filled with expectations that kids maintain a certain image, modifying their behavior with self-improvement tactics instead of living lives eager to confess when mistakes are made, highlighting a Savior who invited us to deny self and follow Him daily.

May we never forget all that God does in and through us in spite of our stubbornness and in the midst of our mistakes.

Moses never challenged the people to be GOOD parents. Maybe because God wants us to trust that His goodness is enough rather than trying to be good enough?

Does God want us to parent our kids on a foundation of grace or from a foundation of self-improvement?

Let’s consider the purpose of marriage. Is it to grow in oneness with the Father together as a couple while growing toward intimate oneness that leads to being fruitful and multiplying in many ways, including dying to self in order to give life into one another as well as into the next generation? The Garden story seems to declare this.

Let’s consider the purpose of parenting. Is it to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength, learning and living His ways together as a family and emphasizing His teachings in our everyday rhythms such that our children get to know and never forget this God who has come near and invites them along with Him? Deuteronomy 6 seems to declare this.

Let’s consider the pragmatism of parenting. What will cultivate for our kids living a Jesus-centered life? Will it be raising kids in an environment that demands moral perfection creating kids so clean and tidy they never think of even needing the Gospel? Or will it be raising kids in an environment of gracious relationship where wrongs are confronted with opportunities for confession and rights are encouraged with grateful affirmation? It must be an environment where selfishness is challenged at all costs. And all kinds of selfishness – both the self-indulgent kind as well as the self-righteous kind.

My prayer is that our children will grow into adults who recognize knowing Jesus as a desperate need rather than an opportunity for improvement and advancement?

The goal of our parenting may need to be adjusted from our kids having good behavior to our kids believing in and understanding their desperate need for God’s goodness. What are we doing to help them realize how good He is rather than realizing a personal goodness?

Paul declared that perfect rule keeping simply isn’t enough. In fact, he declared it as contrary to the cross of Christ.

19 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. 20 Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule- keeping, peer- pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule- keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
(Galatians 2:19-21, MSG)

Wow. So, how does that change my parenting philosophy and approach? Hopefully we can continue to learn along that pathway of thinking together on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, why do we parent our kids as though they shouldn’t make mistakes? Lets look at that tomorrow…

are southern baptists asking the right question?

A friend of mine named John holds a prominent post in southern baptist life. I love his heart to want to see southern baptists living sent and loving the world as the church should. I also appreciate some of the questions he is asking. Here is a clip from a recent email he sent out:

Consider some very sobering statistics. 56% of the growth in Florida Baptist churches from 1960 to 2008 has been through transfer growth. We all know that transfer growth may increase membership or attendance in a specific church, but the Kingdom of God hasn’t grown when people leave one church for another. The mission Jesus gave His church is very specific. We are called to “seek and save that which was lost”.  A church’s attendance and membership can increase through transfer growth while hell’s population increases also. Transfer growth doesn’t de-populate hell. We’ve got to be more missional in our churches and convention of churches.

In 1960 the population of Florida was  4,951,560.  There were 1257 churches and missions in the Florida Baptist Convention at that time.  They gave $2,584,840 to the Cooperative Program.  50% of the Cooperative Program giving stayed in Florida.  There were 62 Florida Baptist Convention staff members. There were 480,407 in total Florida Baptist Convention church membership who witnessed 25,517 people come to Christ and follow through in believer’s baptism.  They baptized .52% of the population of Florida.

In 2008 the population of Florida was 18,807,219. There were 2907 churches and missions in the Florida Baptist Convention at that time.  They gave $38,654,690 to the Cooperative Program.  60% of the Cooperative Program giving stayed in Florida.  There were 154.5 Florida Baptist Convention staff members. There were 1,016,726 in total Florida Baptist Convention church membership who witnessed 34,414 people come to Christ and follow through in believer’s baptism. (Not including approximately 7000 people baptized in our Haiti partnership.)  Our churches baptized .18% of the population of Florida.

We praise God for every witness given, every soul won to Christ, and every dollar given to missions through the Cooperative Program!! We praise God for every staff member who has served our local churches and local associations.

Statistics are not always a true indicator of everything that is happening.  Praise God He knows all that is going on for His glory!!! At the same time, we can learn some things from information we as baptists have desired to gather and report through the years through our Uniform Church Letters and now the Annual Church Profiles.

We are obviously not keeping pace with the population boom of Florida!!  Just last week, I learned from Dr. Tola, Director of Language Missions for the Florida Baptist Convention, that 60% of the population growth in the past five years in Florida is Hispanic. What a wonderful opportunity God is placing before us!!

We must ask ourselves what we see when we consider these kinds of statistics? What do the numbers show? If reaching the lost is truly our mission, how successful have we been?  Are there reasons we are falling behind in reaching our state?  Are we willing to ask hard questions that may lead us to be more effective and efficient in fulfilling the Great Commission here in Florida and globally?  These are just a few questions that come to mind, there are no doubt many others.

When you ponder the stats from the last forty years, several questions typically come to mind. These are the ones I most commonly hear. Why aren’t we baptizing more? Why are so many churches dying? Why aren’t our churches growing at a faster rate, or even growing at all? However, these may not be the proper questions. We’ve been asking these for some time now, and arriving at their answers has not affected change. Could it be that we are not asking the right question? Could it be that we are asking these questions with the assumption that our measurement systems are exactly what they should be? Could it be that the answer to these most commonly asked questions are not helping us focus on the right answer?

A friend of mine was actually on the team of engineers that helped to launch the first space shuttle. He told me the story one time, with a proud smile on his face, of a brainstorming session his fellow engineers and he had before that first launch in order to solve a very small but important issue with the shuttle. It weighed too much to get off the ground. The force of the blast off was not going to be capable to lift the weight of the shuttle and all its accessories. It wasn’t enormously overweight, but like most baptist pastors, it needed to lose just a bit. A change of some sort had to be made.

The engineers looked at the situation from all angles. Most were angles that people who completed only 10th grade geometry would not understand. A simple matter of weighing too much, and these educated engineers could not come up with a possible solution. They finally settled together that they would find something to take out of the cargo bay. However, nothing that could be spared weighed at or above the amount of weight that needed to be shed. They were baffled.

Finally, my friend asked a question. “How much does the paint weigh on the fuel tank of the shuttle?” The amount was calculated. It was just over the amount that needed to be taken away in order to get the shuttle off the ground. A simple problem. So many complicated solutions proposed. The right question. An answer so obvious it is missed. The problem solved. And the shuttle went up with an unpainted fuel tank.

We see the problem. Are we asking the right question? The question that helps us to arrive at the appropriate solution and affect change? What if “why aren’t we baptizing more?” is not the right question? Don’t get me wrong, baptizing is important. That public confession of our personal commitment is a beautiful expression of faith. But asking that for the last forty years has created an emphasis that has not created the desired result. What if the right question is simply this – HOW MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE PART OF A SOUTHERN BAPTIST LOCAL CHURCH FAMILY HAVE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS OUTSIDE OF THAT LOCAL CHURCH FAMILY? I’m talking about with those Jesus called “lost.” Are there lost people who would introduce that local church member as “my friend.” Sadly, we have been the salt of the earth by acting as a preservative of our church stuff rather than being the church daily as “salt” that brings out the flavors of God in the lives of the lost around us. That’s the only way they’ll taste Jesus. This may be why we are not baptizing more. This may be why churches are dying and not growing.

We see the problem. Are we asking our common questions with the assumption that our measurement systems are exactly what they should be? Take a look at the annual report forms. How many baptized? How many in worship? How many in small groups / Sunday School? Again, all important. But measuring these for the last forty years has not created the desired result. Our measurement systems always indicate our definition of success. How many are coming has been our measurement system. This means that the number of people “coming to church” is our definition of success. However, Jesus sent the church. We all agree that the church is not a place or an event, and yet we keep wanting more and more to “come TO church” or “be AT church.” Both “to” and “at” are prepositions that when used with the word “church” indicate that we do not define church as people. She is a who, not a what. And how many people “come to church” may be the wrong measurement system. After all, “in worship” and “in small groups” are both INward focuses. The church was intended to be sent. How many are living sent? Are our strategies pushing people out the doors of our church buildings to be connecting with the lost or trying to get the lost into a “place” that they don’t want to go? This may be why we are not baptizing more. This may be why churches are dying and not growing.

We see the problem. Are our most commonly asked questions helping us focus on the right answer? Almost all suggestions given for church growth strategies are focused on changing aspects of the church. Better music. Better preaching. Better media. Better visitation programs. Better small group curriculum. Better facilities. Can we really make the church better? Can we make her more beautiful? Can we adorn the bride any more beautifully than Jesus already did at the cross? The answer is simply NO. And we weren’t intended to. Jesus did not expect the world to become infatuated with His church. Jesus did not intend the world to be attracted to something better. He wants no one else courting His bride. He wants the world to fall in love with Him and become His bride. Are people staring at Jesus when they look at your local church, or just some place or event you have attempted to make more attractive? Maybe that’s why we are not baptizing more. Maybe that’s why churches are dying and not growing.

Because people can become engaged with church and not meet Jesus. However, if they become engaged with Jesus, they will be His church.

These statistics are alarming. If we do not make a shift from “come and see” approaches to “church,” then I am afraid the statistics will tell a far worse story forty years from now. May we ask the right questions, define success the way Jesus did, and focus on Him.