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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Letting Go...In Parenting and Discipleship

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6, ESV)

In my opinion, I had a pretty extraordinary dad. He certainly wasn’t perfect – he could lose his temper fairly easily and he wasn’t what I would call “warm” in the area of emotions – but he taught me a lot about the importance of common sense, working hard, and taking personal responsibility for your actions. He also taught me something through the liberty he allowed me to have as a teenager – something that I believe has real implications for believers we lead to Christ and mentor.

Recently, one of my church members posted some pictures on facebook of their seventh grade daughter having a “date” to a school social/dance. Even though I was familiar with these type of activities around here and how well chaperoned and almost restrictive they are in what they let the kids do, my initial mental response was, “Are you kidding me…she is too young for that!” But as I thought about that response, the first thing that came to mind was the realization that I had attended dances at that age (dances that were not as well chaperoned I might add) and in fact had already had my first kiss and girlfriend. This realized hypocrisy, then led to the second thing that came to mind; a conversation I had with my dad somewhere in my teen years (I don’t remember exactly when, but I am pretty certain I was approaching driving age). I asked him how he decided what I could be a part of and what I couldn’t. He said he took into account my track record of behavior, the inherent potential for danger in the activity (how likely was I to get into serious trouble at an event is how he put it), and the need for me to start growing up. What I took away from that exchange is that a big part of the skill of parenting is found in the ability of remembering to let go and knowing when to do that.

The passage quoted above is probably one of the key passages of Scripture related to child-rearing. I believe the basic lesson I learned from dad is implicit in its message. The passage makes clear that there is a point in which the child makes the choice to depart from the path or not. No, I don’t believe the verse to be a promise. Like all proverbs it is an observation about how life generally works. There are all sorts of influences on a child that the parent has no control over, not the least of which being the child’s own choices. But because it is a biblical proverb, it is not an optional step to take for the faithful parent. The first part of the passage is a non-negotiable instruction for all believing parents – train up your child in the way they should go! Such training requires oversight, punishment and reward, guidance, making them do things they don’t want to do but need to do, and letting go and letting them become adults at appropriate intervals.

As believers we are not called to make converts, we are charged with the responsibility of making disciples. Like parenting, this involves taking a level of responsibility for that person’s spiritual well-being, feeding them, instructing them, and even holding them responsible for their actions. But it also includes letting them go, letting them experience the “risk” of sharing their faith; letting them take the lead when possible; letting them discover their Spiritual gifts (sometimes through trial and error); letting them learn how to trust in God (in good times and in bad). It means helping them to understand that we are all responsible to carry our own burden, even as we carry each other’s (Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. [Galatians 6:1-5, ESV])

I wish I practiced this particular part of parenting as well as I remember my dad doing so. I pray that I learn how to challenge those in my spiritual care to “grow up” effectively in the days ahead.

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