There is a corporate mantra, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
It warns against trumpeting the five-year plan without changing the culture of the team. No amount of resolutions, colourful charts and snappy sentences will bring about change unless accompanied by shared convictions and habits.
A culture of Christlikeness
Families are just the same. We could easily put a list of characteristics we want for our family on the fridge. Memory verses could cover every wall. We could nag, lecture and moan all day long. Who wants to be in that family?
A changed culture starts with me. We can only parent from what we have. Helping our children to be grateful is possible if we are grateful. Passing on a passion for serving others can only happen if our hearts overflow with love.
Change is inevitable
I remember a conversation I had with a Christian counsellor. I told him that I had some experience of pastoral conversations. Progress seems slow, and it is often discouraging to watch the hurt and brokenness continuing. It occurred to me that he only gets to talk through the really big stuff. How does he cope with the responsibility? What if he can’t help? He paused. “What you’re forgetting Ed is that with the Lord, change is inevitable.”
Any godliness we want to see in our children needs to start in us. Before you despair, remember my friend’s words. With the Lord, change is inevitable. If you desperately want to see it in your children, then it is worth pursuing in your own life. Through prayer, and a work of the Spirit, your character and behaviours are being changed to make you more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Change takes a lifetime
Instead of desperately manipulating our children to do the right thing, we can focus on being the right people ourselves. After all, the goal of parenting is to disciple our own brothers and sisters in Christ. In any other discipleship relationship, we would be embarrassed to adopt nagging, shouting and despair as our chief tools.
This may leave us further back than we started. We thought we were working on our children and we have discovered that we are working on ourselves and our children! Take a breath and pause. Did you really think it was ever going to be just about them? To disciple others is always to be the first beneficiary. Caring for the needs of others always creates a gentleness and kindness in ourselves, when the Spirit is part of the work. I am convinced that parenting is where most (or all?) of us will see the greatest change to our hearts. Nothing reveals our anger, impatience or selfishness like being a parent. We can hide them from our spouse. We might even have an unspoken agreement not to highlight one another’s failings. Our children don’t play so nicely with us! Their fumbling, slow maturing into adulthood is the best discipleship course I have ever come across.
Make peace with the reality of their sin, brokenness and foolishness. They will always be a work in progress, with us as their guide for the journey. Join me in reluctantly agreeing that we, too, are a work in progress on the same journey. We pray that one day we will walk side by side into the ultimate destination.
A longer version of this article first appeared in Evangelicals Now.