By Tyler McKenzie
I have three young children, ages 7, 4, and 2. With each passing milestone, my desire to see them grow in Christ deepens. As the pastor of a church made up largely of young families, I’ve found this to be a desire many parents share. At our church, we call it being an “intentional parent.” However, I have also found these same parents feel just as strongly that they are doing a bad job at it. When I ask what the problem is, their answers are the same, “Tyler, I just don’t know how.”
I ain’t buying it.
In my observation, parents show a high level of competency in forming their kids to do all sorts of things. My 7-year-old boy loves baseball. (Not bragging, but we’ve wrapped up the South Oldham Fall Coach-Pitch Championship. Yes, he’s 7. Yes, we keep score. Yes, I’m reliving my glory days vicariously through him. Stop judging me.) Having gotten our feet wet at the local Little League, I have been stunned by how intentional the fathers of Oldham County are at teaching their boys baseball.
Now, if you ask them to be intentional about God, for many it’s all shoulder shrugs and I don’t knows. Guys, I ain’t buying it. You may not know the Bible that well or have a degree in youth ministry, but you know how to form your kids. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You have invested thousands of dollars in travel ball, one-on-one private lessons, and all sorts of advanced equipment. You have invested hundreds of hours playing catch in the yard, going to practices, and attending summer camps. Some parents have built batting cages in their backyard or hung nets in their garage. They are watching Major League Baseball games together at night. They bought their kids bedsheets and pajamas emblazoned with balls, gloves, and bats. They are 7, but we are already all-in on their journey to Cooperstown. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to be intentional. Instead, imagine what we might do if we invested all that into our kids’ spiritual formation.
Quick confession, my son is involved in a lot of this. We played spring ball, then all-stars, and then went to three summer baseball camps. He loved it. I loved it more. At the camps, I was in awe at how many dads had taken off work to line the fields and watch their sons practice in 95-degree heat. The pride and ownership over their son’s baseball prowess was inspiring. No joke, that’s an invested dad!
I’ve been a bit cheeky so far, but there’s nothing wrong with baseball. It’s a great teacher of life. I just wonder when we will realize there’s an almost 0 percent chance our kid will go on to play Division 1 baseball in college (much less get a cup of coffee in the majors), but there is a 100 percent chance they will stand before God one day. Will they be able to show him more than just good swing mechanics?
It’s the same thing with basketball, music, theater, dance, robotics, and gymnastics (just to name a few). Most of us keep our kids busy with an array of activities unrelated to church. The parents in my city want to be intentional. I’ve seen it. They know how to deploy their resources to make sure their kids are disciplined, trained, and formed.
I’m not asking anyone to stop baseball. The pitch of this article is to bring that same intentionality to your kid’s faith. Your role is essential. Here is something my youth pastors will tell you. Church twice a month (whenever travel ball or lake trips don’t conflict) will not be enough. A 15-minute Bible lesson and craft in kids church will not be enough. Nothing less than parental responsibility will do. Even if your kid is already an older teenager, it’s not too late to be intensely intentional.
Parenting our kids in Jesus’ name should be a top priority in life. If you’re a parent, the front lines of the mission field start at home! We should be sacrificing profit and personal ambition. We should be sacrificing sleep. We should be giving our best hours, best planning, best thinking, and best ideas to this. We should bring all the wisdom and creativity life has given us. We should bring all the scars and lessons from the school of hard knocks. It should be calendared and courageous. It should be celebrated with big cheers and lots of cake.
If you were to ask me, “What is one thing you want to get right in life?” I would tell you that when my kids fly the nest, I want to be able to say, “I made it a primary ambition to lead my kids toward Jesus.” I want to be able to say, “When it came to parenting, I got it right. Not perfect, but right. I put in the time. I spent the money. I took them to church. Their eternity was the priority.”
No one has that sort of confidence. Many parents say, “I’ll never write the book on parenting!” Then we laugh and fake humility, but I always think, Why not? Why do we have to surrender to a reality that says we’re doomed to get it wrong? It’s probably because we all know we can’t control our kids. At the end of the day, they will have to choose their God and life for themselves. We want them to be a math equation or a recipe with guaranteed results. They aren’t that.
Once you let go of the burden that you must control the end results of your kid’s faith, you can start measuring parental success by the means that you put in. If the means is the only thing we ultimately control, then there is no excuse why every Christian parent couldn’t say, “I did it right. I gave it my all. I invested the resources. I was an intentional parent.”