How can I bring my children up in the training and instruction of the Lord without exasperating them?

How can I bring my children up in the training and instruction of the Lord without exasperating them?

I love my kids, however being a Dad is not a simple thing.
I love my kids, however being a Dad is not a simple thing.

I am a trained youth worker.

I know most of the theories of adolescent development.

I have worked with all kinds of youth from all kinds of backgrounds.

You would think that being a parent of teenagers would therefore be easy.

Its not.

Being a youth worker is completely different to being a parent.

A few months ago I wrote a reflection on the realization that parenting teenagers is fundamentally about a clash of Kingdoms. My realization  was that parenting teenagers is about stepping into, and not avoiding the right kinds of conflict.

Leeanne and I committed ourselves to seeking first the Kingdom of God in every area of our lives when we we were married, and that commitment (based on Matthew 6:33)  has been the foundation of our marriage and family. That doesn’t mean we have got it right all the time.

Knowing that we are meant to seek first the Kingdom in our parenting doesn’t automatically mean we know how. Our life has been a constant journey of facing our blind spots and learning what our original commitment actually means.

As a Pastor I realise that one of the qualifications for leadership in the church is that:

4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.
(1 Timothy 3:4 NIV)

So what does it mean to manage my family well and see that my children obey me?

If my 18 year old son refuses to do what he is told, does that mean that I am no longer able to be a pastor?

As a family, we have read out Paul’s pattern for a healthy family a number of times:

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
(Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)

I quite like the first three verses, I’m less excited about the fourth.

Over the past couple of weeks a book that I didn’t want to like has helped give me a clearer vision of what it means to lead my family in a way that takes Matthew 6:33, 1 Timothy 3:4 and Ephesians 6:1-4 all seriously.

The book is called Creating a Culture of Honour by Danny Silk.

The reason I didn’t want to like the book is that Silk is pastor from Bethel church. Bethel is one of those mega-churches that lots of people visit and quote.

I’m not sure if it’s because I am an Australian, or simply because I am immature, but when it comes to something that lots of people think is special, I am pre-disposed to look for what is wrong rather than what is right.

I have a sense that God takes particular delight in challenging my prejudice by teaching me through Danny Silk’s book.

Silk’s basic thesis is that the Kingdom of God creates a culture of honour rather than a culture of control. This is interesting, because as I read 1 Timothy 3:4 and Ephesians 6:1-3, I get the sense that I am meant to control my kids.

I think understanding would be the most common one in Christian circles. I have often heard people quote the traditional translation of Proverbs 13:24: “Spare the Rod and spoil the child.” A better translation is:

24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
(Proverbs 13:24 NIV)

Reading all these passages from an authoritarian understanding you get the idea that as a Father I am meant to rule over my family with an iron will.

However in each of these passages there is another side to the story that indicates that Danny Silk might be right.

1 Timothy 3:4, indicates that I should manage my family, it doesn’t tell my to rule it, and the way that I am to do it is in a way that is worthy of respect, not worthy of fear.

Ephesians 6:1-3 is very unusual in all literature from Greek and Roman culture, because Paul is writing directly to children. Paul is assuming that children have a choice about how they act. In all other literature from the period there is an assumption that children have no rights. The fact Paul encourages children to obey their parents, makes it clear that he understands that they have the ability to choose.

While I, like many parents, are very happy to quote Ephesians 6:1-3, Ephesians 6:4 indicates that Paul has a different parenting style in mind than an authoritarian one:

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
(Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)

This verse is one of the most challenging ones in the New Testament for me. How can I bring my children up in the training and instruction of the Lord without exasperating them? If I am not to be authoritarian how can I keep boundaries?

It is clear that as a parent, I must keep boundaries in place, which is what I wrote about in the previous reflection. There is no getting around the fact that Proverbs 13:24 does instruct parents to enforce consequences for their children, however the second half of the verse indicates that these consequences are meant to be delivered with care and with the purpose of discipline rather than simply punishment.

The distinction between discipline and punishment is something that Silk focusses on in his book. I have found his insight both helpful and also challenging:

The typical practice of family, church, and government is to set a series of behaviors called punishments in front of offenders. Offenders are then required to walk through these behaviors in order to prove that the family, church, and government are still in charge in their respective environments. In this way, we help to confirm what offenders already believe: that they are powerless to change and powerless to take responsibility for their behavior. This whole business is just what Jesus died to get rid of. He’s introduced a whole other world with a whole other way.

Silk is not talking about creating an environment without boundaries, in fact he is saying that boundaries are essential:

There will be no culture of honor without the active use of effective confrontation . The skill of combining these two relational elements—honor and confrontation—is the key to sustaining an environment of grace.

The difference between punishment and discipline, is that punishment brings powerlessness and despair, while discipline ultimately brings hope and life. Silk writes:

The process of Kingdom confrontation is a process of empowerment, not domination. When a person fails and generates a consequence for the failure, the confrontation leads and empowers the person to clean up the mess.

Danny Silk has helped me see what the Bible is actually saying about being a parent and a leader.

As a father, it is my task to create a culture of honour that empowers my kids.

As a leader in the church it is my task to create a culture of honour that frees our people.

As a follower of Jesus, it is my task to live in freedom and not in oppression.

All of this, however, is much easier said than done.

I am going to continue this wrestle in my next reflection, because it seems to me that the quest to create a culture of honour is a very important one.

It is also true that this quest that is right on the front edge of what Jesus is trying to teach me at the moment, and I need to keep wrestling with what it means.

I'd love to hear what you think...

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