Parenting with Eyes on the Story

This is a guest post by Jared Kennedy, Pastor for Children’s Ministry at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  He blogs at http://sojournkids.com This is part 2 of an interview with Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, Associate Professor of Discipleship and Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  I recently had the honor of reading a draft of his new book, The Family Ministry Field Guide, that will be published this Spring.  Since I just finished reading the manuscript, I want to take some time while writing for Life2Gether to ask Dr. Jones a few questions about his work.  The book offers a ton of practical advice for pastors and parents.  Dr. Jones gracious enough to entertain my questions.  This is the second post with his answers.  You can check out the first post here.

In one important section of the book, you write about seeing our children with new eyes, that is, seeing them in light of the biblical storyline.  Could you elaborate on that concept? The four primary movements in God's storyline are creation, fall, redemption, and consummation--most of us know this at the level of our theology, but bringing all four movements into the ways that we respond to our children is hard. It must be learned. Apart from the work of Word and Spirit within us, coupled with a faithful community around us, our tendency is to parent only in light of creation and fall.

In light of creation, my child is a gift from God for this life; in the shadow of the fall, my child is a sinner. Both of these affirmations are true--but they are not enough. If I see my child only as a gift and as a sinner, here's what my goals as a parent will tend to be: to prepare my child for material success and to manage my child's sinful behaviors. But what happens when I also see my child from the perspectives of redemption and consummation? Seen in light of redemption, my child needs a Savior; in light of consummation, my child is forever. If we begin thinking about our children in terms of redemption and consummation, one implication of that is to recognize that our children are not only our children--they are also potential or actual brothers and sisters in Christ, and typically the nearest unbelievers or young believers to us. So all that Scripture calls us to do with unbelievers or younger believers should begin with our own children.

The problem is, in many churches, what our programs have tacitly suggested is that parents take care of creation and fall while the church takes care of redemption and consummation. The result is that churches have tended to divest themselves of dealing with whole persons--limiting themselves to the "spiritual" aspects only--and parents have not actively pursued their roles as primary disciple-makers in their children's lives.

You also write about three practical ways that parents can intentionally step into the lives of their children—faith-talks, faith-walks, and faith-processes.  Could you briefly describe each and its importance? Faith-talks are a time, at least once a week, when a family gathers together to hear the Word of God. "Family devotions" is another term that describes the same practice; some churches call it "family faith-training" or even "family time" or "family night." "Family worship" is a time-tested phrase from the Puritans. I used that term for several years--until I found out that, in the minds of a few parents, "family worship" implied leading a miniature church service in their house, complete with hymnals and liturgy! The idea is not to replicate a church worship service but to prioritize a particular time, at least once each week, to root our lives anew in the gospel by turning to the Scriptures together. Through faith-talks, we respond to God's Word through Moses, to teach our children diligently.

Faith-walks are the discussions in the course of daily life that turn a child's attention toward the presence of the Gospel and the providence of God in every part of life. These are the spontaneous opportunities as parents that we have to discuss God's truth throughout the day. Faith-walk moments remind us that, because God is working all things together for the good of those who love him, even the most mundane events of life can call attention to God's glory and God's story. My encouragement to parents is to seek at least one faith-walk with each of your children every day.

Having a faith-process in place simply means having a clear idea of what needs to happen next in the spiritual formation of each of your children. In conversations with Christian parents, when I ask, "What needs to happen next in your child's spiritual development?" the parents typically respond something like this: "Well, he needs to stop doing this." What that reveals is that we are thinking more in terms of managing behaviors than forming souls. My encouragement to parents is to develop some goals and directions for their children's spiritual development. Look for the heart issues behind the behaviors, then pray and work toward transformation. My two girls each have a journal for chronicling their spiritual growth; each week, I spend an hour or two with each one individually, talking through her current spiritual struggles and developing spiritual direction for the upcoming weeks. Some churches help parents with this by developing specific rites of passage to move children toward Christ-centered adulthood. However this may be accomplished, the goal is for parents to know where their children need to grow spiritually and to guide them in that growth.