December Question of the Month

date Dec 8, 2009
author Voddie Baucham topics & issues Biblical Ethics, Children, Discipleship, Elders, Family

The questions continue to pile in.  Most of the questions are fantastic.  However, some of them are a bit, shall we say, off target.  In fact, I’ll be doing a post later this month on “The Top Ten Reasons I May Not Have Answered Your Question.”  Remember, the goal here is to honor Jesus Christ by “Equipping Believers to Walk in Truth.”  As such, I try to pick questions that are broad, related to the nature and scope of my ministry, and common to a large cross-section of my audience.  Therefore, don’t look for your specific question about what to do about your husband’s (or wife’s) particular proclivities anytime soon.  Try to keep it broad and general.  If you need personal pastoral counseling, I recommend contacting your pastor, or a biblical counselor in your area (more on that in my upcoming post).


Question Of the Month:


A few weeks ago, I went and bought my oldest 2 daughters (aged 17 and 15) a lovely new Bible each, complete with a bookmark. And after the evening meal on the Sunday I quietly announced that we were going to read and discuss the Bible together as a family. The reaction of my oldest daughter, 16 was, shall we say.... vigorous! She nearly hit the roof!!! We were ramming religion down her throat. She even accused of child abuse! Needless to say, she didn't say thank you for the Bible.


Nobody else I know does this - and we know lots of Christian families. So I have no idea how I am doing - it truly is new ground for us.



A Particular Expression of a General Problem


I chose this question for two reasons.  First, this is a common question with broad implications that will relate to many readers.  If I’ve heard this question once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.  Second, the exact same scenario applies to families that make the shift to home education.  You could replace “read and discuss the Bible together as a family” with “homeschool” in this question and it would be an exact replica of numerous questions I’ve been asked at homeschool conferences around the country.  Therefore, answering this question will kill two birds with one stone. 


Families all over the world are beginning to recapture the importance of family discipleship and they are starting to do something about it.  Unfortunately, as these families commit to rejecting passivity in the battle for their family, they are rarely prepared for the battle ahead; especially the friendly fire.  This friendly fire comes not only from other Christians who aren’t as committed to family discipleship, but also from children in the home who experience a type of culture shock.  As a result, many families can identify with the desperation in this month’s question. 



My Personal Journey


This scenario is familiar to me not only because I’ve heard the question numerous times; I’ve also walked this road myself.  Many people assume that my commitment to family discipleship was forged in my home life as a child, or my seminary training, or perhaps by pastors and mentors from whom I’ve learned these things over the years.  Those people are mistaken.  I did not grow up in a Christian home, let alone one that practiced regular family worship.  Moreover, I did not have one college or seminary professor from whom I took classes, or one pastor under whom I served who openly promoted family worship/family discipleship... NOT ONE! 


It was not that long ago when Bridget and I found ourselves in the exact same position as the mom who asked this month’s question.  We had been married for several years, and I had been through college, seminary, a doctoral program, and five church staffs without coming away with as much as a hint, let alone a clue, about family worship.  It was not until we began to educate our children at home that we realized that we were missing something.  We thought we had simply made an educational decision.  Little did we know that we had actually unlocked the door to family discipleship.  We began to discover that we were not simply called to educate our children; we were called to disciple them.  Eventually, I found books like Thoughts on Family Worship, by James Alexander, and later Family Worship, by Donald Whitney.  I began to hear sermons on the topic that had been mysteriously absent before (at least from my perspective).  It was only then that we began to practice family worship in our home.  Thus, we too had ‘older’ children who went through the culture shock.  We learned (through a long journey of trial and error and the advice of friends further down the road) what I’ve boiled down to three steps to addressing this and other similar conflicts with our children.



Step One:  Own Your Part of the Problem


The first thing we as parents have to do when we face this kind of reaction from our children is take ownership of our part of the problem.  Children don’t grow up in a vacuum; they grow up in our homes.  Families who have neglected family worship and discipleship cannot expect their children to just snap into place when the practice is implemented.  Even if you have humble, submissive, obedient children (which none of us do, by the way... you just believe other people have them because you don’t see the work they have to do day in and day out), such a sudden change of direction is hard to take.  We think we have raised our children right because we’ve taken them to church, but we fail to realize the theology we have taught them by default.  These children have been taught for their entire lives that Jesus is not Lord of their homes.  They have been taught that God is to be worshipped in church, but never in the home.  They have been taught that Christianity is a week-to-week religion, not a daily pursuit.  We cannot expect them to reject the theology they have been taught simply because mom and dad came under conviction about something.  This is especially true when we are dealing with children who are unconverted (which of course is an entirely different discussion). 


Try to remember what your home was like before you began to practice regular family worship (or home education for those of you following along).  More importantly, try to view the difference through the eyes of your child.  You have these newfound convictions; they do not.  Moreover, the convictions your children have are due in large part to what you have taught them either intentionally or unintentionally.  Through their eyes, what you are promoting is a radical departure from the norm, and this is probably not the first time you’ve tried a new “be-all-to-end-all life and family changing program. 



Step Two:  Address the Root Not the Fruit


Once you have owned your part of the problem, turn your attention to your child and her reaction.  However, when you do, be careful not to confuse the fruit (her response) with the root (the underlying beliefs that give rise to the response).  Belief drives behavior (Matt 12:34; 15:18, 19; Luke 6:45; Rom 12:2; Eph. 4:17–24; col. 3:9-10; 1 Peter 1:14).  Therefore, if you concentrate solely on the fruit (behavior) without addressing the root (belief), you may eventually see outward compliance, but the real issue will have gone unaddressed (Matt 23:25).


If your child is folding her arms, rolling her eyes and sighing at the sight of the Bible and hymnal being brought in for family worship, you need to know why.  Certainly, the behavior is unacceptable regardless of the cause, but you must avoid the temptation to take shortcuts and merely address the fruit.  Is your daughter antagonistic toward the gospel?  Is she antagonistic toward you?  Or is she simply chaffing at the hypocrisy of it all?  What is the real root of the problem?  Is she a non-Christian whose sin is being exposed and needs to be called to repentance and faith?  Or is she a believer who needs to be reminded of the gospel and it’s implications for the way she functions in the context of her home? 


I do not mean to reduce the possibilities to just these.  There are myriad reasons why an older child may rebel against the sudden introduction of family worship.  My point is not to give an exhaustive list, but to demonstrate the difference between dealing with the fruit (behavior) and the root (the belief) of the problem.  Again, the behavior must be addressed.  It is never acceptable to dishonor  one’s parents (Eph. 6:1-4; cf. Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16; Prov 1:8; 6:20; 23:22; Matt 15:4; Col 3:20), and that behavior must be addressed.  However, we must always look beyond the behavior to the real issue. 


For example, when we are dealing with quarreling children (i.e., quarreling over whether or not we will have family worship), we must go beyond merely addressing the outward issue of quarreling and deal with that which God says is the root of the problem:


“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:1–4 ESV)


Thus, when addressing the fruit (quarreling), I must dig beneath the fruit to the root (self-centered passions, desires, etc.).  Ultimately, we must point our children to the cross and call them to repentance and faith for their real problem.  This is not about a child who is refusing to “get with the program;” this is about a child whose heart is not turned toward Christ, and therefore is not turned toward their parents in humility and submission.  Even the command to obey one’s parents is connected to the gospel:  “Children obey your parents in the Lord.” (Eph. 6:1)  Notice the connection between the fruit (obey your parents) and the fruit (in the Lord).  If a child is “in the Lord” they will “obey their parents”.  If a child is not in the Lord, even the obedience they offer will be woefully insufficient since apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), and even our righteousness is like filthy rags (Is 64:6).


So ask yourself why your child is rebelling, and against what.  Then go directly to the heart of the matter.  This is our only hope of real victory.



Step Three:  Remember the Goal and Stay the Course


The first two steps may be more than you bargained for.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  Ultimately, though, we must remember the goal and stay the course.  The alternative is unthinkable.  If we give up on family worship/discipleship, we are basically giving up on the solution in favor of the problem.  Remember, we do this to honor God in our homes and obey the Lord’s command to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  If we give in to our children’s rebellion on this issue, what other recourse do we have?  Do we simply throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, I tried to bring the Word of God to bear, but it doesn’t look like that’s the proper tool for the job so I’ll find a better one.”  That would be like giving our child cereal for dinner every night because they hate vegetables and hoping that somehow they will grow up to be healthy and well-nourished.  And in case you think this analogy is a bit overstated, remember “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3)  This is a question of whether or not we will nourish our children’s souls.  We can’t let a tantrum dissuade us in such a weighty matter.


We may have to repeat these steps over and over again (in fact, I can guarantee it), but in the end, we really have no other choice.  Don’t give up.  And when you contemplate doing so, just hear the apostle Paul’s words ringing in your ears, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) And again, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)  And just in case you need one more, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)


Your children may or may not come around on this issue.  However, that’s not your job.  You are responsible for obedience; not results.  God is the one who calls his children to himself.  “[F]or it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)  Our job is simply to keep the gospel before our children.  And one of the most effective ways to do that is to engage them in family worship on a daily basis. 


How will we [raise our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord] unless we read and explain the Scriptures to our children and catechize these precious ones whom God has entrusted to our care? Regular family worship is the best way to obey these commands from God. This is not a duty we can abdicate to the church or Christian school; God will hold fathers accountable for how they have instructed their children (Jams Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship).


Therefore, if you have committed to doing this, you must stay the course.  Yes, you will have to confess and own up to your part of the problem.  Yes, you will have to address the root of your child’s problem.  But ultimately, your job will be to simply put one foot in front of the other and keep walking in spite of what appears to be chaos, confusion, and downright rebellion.  Remember, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)