As I look back over 50 years in ministry, my wife and I have been blessed in so many ways. We have had the opportunity to serve in churches of all sizes with staff members and elders who love God. We’ve had some difficult situations and struggles, but most of our experiences have been positive. Watching lives change as people accept Jesus has been a great joy.
By far, my greatest reward in ministry has been seeing all of my children and grandchildren become Christ followers. All three of my children are in full-time ministry and several of my grandchildren are now in or are preparing for full-time ministry.
As imperfect parents, my wife and I did not have perfect children. We had joys and sorrows, struggles and successes, and lots of prayer along the way. As I look back, I believe we all go through five stages of parenting.
1. Caretaker (Birth through Preschool): Provide and Protect
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, King James Version).
Abraham Lincoln said, “There is just one way to bring up a child in the way he should go and that is to travel that way yourself.” This simply means that we lead by example.
I learned early on I couldn’t rear all of my children the same way because they were all different. My parenting style had to adjust with each child. This was especially evident in learning each child’s communication style.
2. Coach (Elementary School Age): Influence and Instruct
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
How do we get God’s Word in our hearts and the hearts of our children?
- We must be intentional by impressing God’s Word on our children. Studies indicate the key to healthy families is eating a meal together every day and using that time to reinforce biblical truth as you recap the day’s experiences and challenges. Reading the Bible and/or praying with your children before they go to bed is another intentional ritual that can make a big difference.
- We must be informal; so much of what we learn is caught rather than taught. Someone said that 60 percent of learning comes by watching others we trust.
Try to model a Christlike attitude and lifestyle as you spend time with your children at church, at home, on vacation, and with friends.
3. Counselor (Teenage Years): Listen and Lead
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
My wife was a better listener with our children than I was. This became obvious to me when my children were teenagers. One of them called home and I answered the phone. They asked if mom was there. I said no. They said they would call back. Translation: Mom would listen to them and give feedback and advice; Dad would tell them what they needed to do.
“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 23:17).
Help your children determine their own values before they leave home. Help them learn how to deal with peer pressure and stand alone. Observe the teenagers they socialize with. My parents always told me, “Either you change your friends, or your friends change you.”
4. Confidant (When Children Leave Home): Advise and Affirm
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
You are a sounding board for your children as they struggle with the consequences of their own decisions. Allow them to make mistakes, but help them learn from those mistakes so they will not repeat them. Maturity does not come with age; it comes with acceptance of responsibility.
At every stage of parenting, as the children get older, parents must learn to gradually release them to make their own decisions.
5. Cheerleader (Grandchildren): Experiences and Encouragement
“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6).
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).
When your family gets together for holidays and vacations, be sure to talk about your values and traditions. Remind them why you have the values you do. Don’t be afraid to tell them about some of the struggles and pressure you have had to deal with to maintain those Christian values.
Younger folks tend to focus on fans, fame, and fortune. As you get older, your focus typically turns to family, faith, and friends. You realize your career matters less and your family matters more.
As grandparents, my wife and I have been intentional about making memories instead of making money. We have 11 grandchildren—7 girls and 4 boys. When they turn 13, we take each of them away for a week to build a memory. When the girls graduate from high school, my wife takes them and their mother away for a week to build a memory. I do the same thing with the grandsons and their father. When we celebrated our 40th, 45th, and 50th anniversaries, we took our 3 children and 11 grandchildren on cruises. Yes, we paid for it. We have decided to share our money with them now in building memories instead of simply leaving it to them after we die.
No matter what stage of parenting you are in, read God’s Word, share God’s Word with your children, and model God’s Word on a daily basis. The reward will be incredible.