When the Method Becomes the Message

It’s right to be given a job and have a required result with the work we’ve been asked to do. But we get mixed up on the result required in regards to parenting. Our parenting is a reflection of our relationship with Christ, not our child’s spiritual state. If you do certain things to ensure you are sharing Christ’s wonderful story with your children because you know Him yourself and are obeying the Lord in your responsibility, wonderful! If you do certain things to ensure your child will grow up to be saved, you’re claiming a job that wasn’t given to you and you cannot perform.

It’s super easy to fall into the ‘trust the method’ trap of parenting in our Christianity. It becomes a saving mechanism instead of an act of obedience. But a very important spiritual doctrine is imperative to keep our heads in all this. Read these verses…. I mean, really read them as pertains to your parenting:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8,9 

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

God doesn’t need your method to save your kids from their sin. You can’t train it out of them, you can’t love them out of it, you can’t preach it or guilt it out of them. It’s God’s work. But you are called to be a faithful, loving, discipling parent no matter what the results are. I’m commanded to train them up in the Lord and talk to them of the Lord when I walk by the way, when I rise up, and when I lay down. It’s pretty much the first thing on my brain when I wake up and the last as I pray myself to sleep. But nowhere am I commanded to have results. My parenting is an act of obedience before God. My child’s response to faith is between them and God. I’d love to be a big part of that introduction between child and God, but thankful that the responsibility doesn’t rest on me to make sure it happens.

How we teach and train and disciple our children in the ways of Christ is NOT the point. So many people (most that I’m friends with, perhaps) are Jesus’ faithful followers without any method used in their homes while they were growing up, yet here they are, saved and sharing Christ with their families.

I also know many people who were saved in the middle or after the child training years for their family. If one of these newly saved folks looked at most of the Christian books geared towards having godly families these days they would be overcome with disappointment. According to most articles and books they missed their chance to be godly parents. Most of the teaching is focused on younger families ‘getting it right’ from the start. But what about those who can’t do that? It most certainly can’t be about the method of baptizing and catechizing them when they are young in order to make sure they grow up to love Christ.  What a weight for these folks to carry! And might I add, that is HUGELY works-based. (I’d like to clarify and say that it’s only works based if you expect the result of salvation in your children instead of your goal being simply to obey God’s command on your own life for what you are called to do as a parent. Those are two very different things.) Nowhere in Scripture is someone else’s love of the Saviour dependant on another’s action. Remember Ephesians 2:8,9!

There’s an idea that I’ve watched take hold in the Christian community while growing up. This idea that has turned into ‘fact’ is that you get saved and then somehow you have the ability to raise your kids to avoid the pitfall of growing up unregenerate… which happens to be the most natural thing in the world. But somehow we think that based on the way we raised them and provided the right atmosphere, love, and wise guidance from Scripture they will automatically follow Christ. How you live out your life becomes a saving mechanism instead of a simple act of obedience as it was intended. Heaven help us. 

How soon we forget from whence we came. How soon we forget that it wasn’t a method that brought us to Christ, but the power of the Holy Spirit awakening our souls to His truth. I look back at my parents’ testimony and stand in awe. Two people that weren’t seeking God end up pummelled by His grace in the midst of their worldliness and godlessness. They didn’t get discipled into the family of God. They weren’t argued into it. They didn’t have parents that raised them up in catechism and family worship times. God stepped in and made all things new in their life and, BAM, nothing will ever be the same!

I barely remember life with a bar in the living room, mom being a heavy smoker, and the ball team partying at the Homeplace after games. So I grew up with parents who were transformed by the amazing grace of God living their testimonies out in front of me for almost my entire life. The Dorey household was totally different almost overnight and people sat up and took notice at the change.

I, myself was gloriously saved at a young age, then years later I started raising my own family based on all that my parents lived out in front of me, and among my own hiccups in life kind of picked up where they left off. I’m trying to pass the torch with all of my might…as if I can make my kids reach out their hand and take the torch. When they don’t want it things can feel awkward…. What do you do then? In my own fumbling way I trained them to know how to run. I trained them to know what a race is, where we are supposed to be running, how to hold the torch, how awesome the torch is… but I cannot for the life of me make them want to hold the torch. That is not something the natural man wants to do, it is a spiritual desire that has to be given.

” The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

And then there’s the fact that I’m not God, so I can’t make that happen.  And it can get crazy heavy holding out that torch when they just won’t reach out and take hold yet.

In christian circles many have gone from preaching the gospel as the power of Christ transforming a life to instead preaching certain methods of how to share the gospel. We then turn around and after years of living it and being excited about the change in our own lives, start preaching the tradition as the gospel. Big problem here; traditions and methods do not transform, Jesus does.

I recently listened to a well known speaker talk about family discipleship and raising kids and parenting. He spent a long time discussing what Christianity should look like in a home. A sort of one size fits all to a godly home… as long as you’re a young family and can do it ‘right’ from very young ages I guess it could sound encouraging… Not much was said about the fact that spiritual life is something you pray desperately for in the life of your kids and when push comes to shove, no matter how we work toward providing opportunities, we cannot depend on the method, we have to depend on Jesus to work supernaturally in their life. All else is works-based theology. Nothing of what the speaker said was bad and there was so much good advice… but it certainly left a ‘works’ taste in my mouth, and you could tell from the comments of those watching him that they were pretty confident in this method as well, some smugly so.

Increasingly there is an underlying ungodly confidence in the how-to’s. You can show up to conferences, or check out websites and podcasts online of methods being taught as if they were the gospel itself. When a speaker can spend an hour talking about catechizing your children, doing family worship, and making sure you find and adhere to a denomination’s belief, but not talk about the only hope being the saving work of Jesus, there’s a problem… the method has become the message.

In light of all this, when you come to a place where you do all the things in your ‘method’ and it doesn’t turn out like you planned but your hope was in the said method, you will despair. But, if you plug away only using your method as a tool to share the main point of Jesus being our Saviour, when your family doesn’t look like you hoped you will not despair because your hope is actually in the person of Jesus Christ, not what you were doing. And we know that He is always still at work in the circumstances and isn’t circumvented by our approach. He’s the same Jesus that saved me and my parents without any catechism or ‘family worship’ involved, and so many things being done ‘wrong’! And many of my fellow church family can say the same.

We can see from Scripture that there simply isn’t any guarantees with parenting. Read about David’s family in the Old Testament…. all the kings in Scripture and how some had beautifully godly parents and still were ungodly themselves, or many had evil parents and were God-honouring themselves. I also love thinking about how thousands of people were saved in the New Testament who were older. Think of Pentecost. All the things Jesus expected of them as a newly saved person in all their responsibilities was to introduce everyone to Jesus through their testimony now, including their older children. Jesus didn’t give any specific family instructions on what a day should look like in their homes. But he did make it clear Who we should be looking to each day.

I will say that much of the advice offered by ‘method preachers’ on different parenting issues have been a great help to us. So much good is there. Maybe even 99% goodness, but that 1% really throws things off so that many are extremely confident in their results-driven choices. They don’t know what to do with it all when the results are wonky. When it becomes apparent that each person has to come to a testing and challenging point in their lives when they meet God and say ‘thank you Jesus!’ or, ‘I’ll do it my way, thanks.’; that inevitable individual choice of whether to grab the torch for themselves and start running, or not.

A parents’ job is to live faithfully before God with what they’ve been entrusted with. And every single parent is botching it in one way, or a thousand. You don’t think you are? You’re probably one of the worst offenders to what I’m talking about! lol!

I don’t think catechism is bad. It’s fantastic done with the right mindset. But it’s horrible if they aren’t invited to the table of God’s grace and forgiveness every single day by the way you meet them in their sinfulness. It’s so easy to bring kids up to think of themselves more righteously than they ought to think when they grow up in a ‘Christian home’.

Results-driven parenting leads to action based on fear and guilt… or self-righteousness… and I’m not talking just about the parents here. That’s the fruit we see in our children as a result of this mentality, too. We may love Jesus and not realize that how we are portraying Christ to them is actually pushing them to works-based salvation that they will either embrace and live in self-righteousness or they will reject because they can clearly see the hypocrisy in it. And thankfully even then, God can and will still work however He chooses. But remember, we are striving for obedience in parenting here, not results. It’s about our relationship with Him.

If your confidence in your child’s spiritual condition is in HOW you’re training and not in the simple work of Jesus Himself, then the method has become the message to you. It’s subtle idolatry. But when your one and only method (which you can play out in a multitude of ways) is to lead your children to Jesus no matter what happens or how old they are, your confidence rests in the One you’re reaching for not how you’re reaching. May God richly bless you in your parenting journey!

~Shannon


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