Full text of Pastor Andy Stanley’s talk titled “The Secret to Great Parenting” which is a part of the lecture series called ‘Parenting in the 21st Century’.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Andy Stanley – Leadership Author and Pastor of North Point Ministries
Hey everybody, thank you so much for joining us. If this is your first time, we certainly hope it’s not your last time. And this is a great time to join us because we are at the front end of a brand new series.
For the next several weeks, I want to talk to parents, grandparents, future parents, aunts, uncles, anybody who feels the weight, and the responsibility of equipping an infant, a child, a teenager, a middle schooler, or a high schooler for life.
Today, and for the next few weeks, I want to talk about parenting.
Now, when Sandra and I talk to parents about parenting, she always says something that gets everybody’s attention. And for those of you who are in this season, where you’re raising middle school or high school students, you totally get this.
Here’s what she always says, she says: “The days are long… the days are long, but the years… the years are short.” And this is oh, so true.
On the front end, you feel like you have plenty of time, and then you blink, and they’re 10. And then they’re graduating from middle school, and then they’re gone. And you will think, “Oh, no, are they really ready? Did I tell them everything they needed to know? Did I prepare them for life?”
And the answer to that question is always, “no, you didn’t.” You probably forgot a few essential, some really important things, which is understandable, because you were busy. You were busy parenting.
Now, like most first time fathers and mothers, I will never ever forget the terror. And that’s the right word, the terror I felt when the nurse at the hospital, you’ll remember this, some of you, closed our car door, as she sent Sandra and me home with a baby by ourselves.
What were they thinking?
I knew what I was thinking, I was thinking, “Surely one of you is coming home with us.” I mean, what if we do this wrong? And that’s, I think that’s the first time that it dawned on me that just because I have a parent, just because I have a parent doesn’t mean I know anything about being one.
And maybe more to the point. Just because I was a kid once doesn’t mean I know anything about raising one. And so you’ll remember this, some of you, so you’re sitting in the car, the doors are closed, you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s just terror. I think it’s just terror. I mean, there’s excitement, but there’s terror, and the nurse, she just stood there. And she waved goodbye with that knowing look on her face.
But we figured it out. But we didn’t figure it out on our own. Sandra and I were sponges, like many of you are, we were sponges for good parenting advice. Whether it came from books, or videos, or friends or even experts. And honestly, we had an advantage that most people don’t have.
At the time I was serving as the student pastor at our church, which meant I had the opportunity to oversee our middle school and high school students, which meant we had lots of interactions with parents of middle schoolers, and high schoolers. That we had interaction with the parents, we saw great examples and we saw, what we saw, what we consider some really bad examples.
But when we saw parents who had a healthy relationship with their teenagers, we were not shy about inviting them to lunch. We wanted to know their game plan. We would say we want your map, we want to know how you did it.
How did you get them from the car seat to the driver’s seat with the relationship intact?
And the relationship was so important to us, because again, we’d seen so many parents undermine their relationship with their kids. And nobody does that on purpose. Nobody has a plan to undermine their relationship with their teenage or their adult kids, but we saw it over and over and over.
And when we saw parents who got it right, or who did it right, we wanted to know how they did it. And every time we would ask these parents for advice, they would just kind of look at each other and shrug and they would say things like, “We don’t know, we just we just loved our kids.”
But we knew better. They had a map. They had an approach. They had some habits, but it was so intuitive to them. They oftentimes they couldn’t verbalize it.
But Sandra and I were students. And we were serious about figuring this out. And to some extent, we were afraid, right? Because we want to get it, we wanted to get it right.
And here’s what we noticed, Here Are A Few Things That We Noticed Upfront.
The parents who seemed to have been able to maintain a strong relationship, even through the middle school and high school years, one of the things that was true of almost all of them is that They Had Fewer Rules. They had far fewer rules than the parents whose kids were always in trouble for breaking their rules.
One of the things that we noticed when we did middle school and high school ministry together was how many kids were always on restriction. They were always on restriction. They were being restricted from things. They were grounded all the time. And in our experience, these kids never really got any better. They were always the troublemakers and they were always in trouble.
No Restriction Or Grounding To Discipline
But when we talked to parents who had been able to maintain strong relationships with their kids, even through the middle school and high school years, we discovered that none of them, that virtually none of them ever even used restriction or grounding, as a tool to discipline their kids. We will come back to that later.
The other thing that we noticed about these extraordinary parents who seemed to have gotten it right, is, and this may sound strange, they were not afraid of their children.
They Were Not Afraid Of Their Children
Now, if you don’t have children, this may seem strange to you. But I’m telling you, it is easy for parents to become afraid of their children. And when you fear your children, your children are just by nature, the fact that you’re afraid of them, or you fear them or you fear their response to you, they are in charge of the relationship. They’re in charge, in some cases of the of the marriage.
But these unique parents, they did not fear the rejection of their children. And that’s oftentimes what parents fear, they fear the rejection of their kids. They weren’t afraid to discipline their children.
But again, they didn’t discipline their children in the traditional ways that parents often discipline their children. Again, we’ll come back to that later here.
Here’s the other thing, then I don’t know exactly how to say this, so give me a minute. These extraordinary parents discovered, I think is the best word, they actually spent time discovering, or they discovered, and then they facilitated their kids’ interest, their kids’ strengths and their kids’ talents, rather than, and this is key, rather than forcing, or insisting that their children embrace what was most interesting to or what came naturally to the parents.
They Invested In The Natural Flow
In other words, instead of the athletic dad, insisting that his son be an athlete or his daughter be an athlete, instead they stood back, and they were students of their kids. And they figured out the direction, the natural flow of their children. And then they invested in the natural flow rather than trying to force them into something.
And again, we’ve all seen parents do the opposite of that. And again, we’ve all seen where that leads. In fact, maybe that’s your story growing up. Your mom had a special interest, and she wanted you as her daughter to embrace what was interesting to her, but you weren’t interested in it.
And again, what happened, there was a relational friction. Somehow, these wise parents, they avoided all of that.
Resisted The Temptation To Involve Their Kids In Everything
Another thing that we noticed about these parents is that, they resisted the temptation to involve their kids in everything. Not only were they not afraid of their children, they didn’t fear their children missing out.
In other words, here’s how I say this. They prioritize, they prioritized relationship over experience. They prioritized their relationship with their kids and their kids’ relationships with each other, over experience. They prioritized the experiences that they could experience together over the experiences that sent everybody in 100 different directions.
And then there was one other thing. And it’s what I want us to spend the rest of our time discussing today. As we got to know these families, through the years, through multiple years, we noticed that all of them had what we would consider healthy marriages. Not perfect, because there is no perfect marriage, but healthy.
In fact, we walked away from those multiple conversations convinced that perhaps the best parenting tool of all, perhaps the best gift we could give our children was a healthy marriage.
And for some of you, that’s when you put down your pen. And that’s when you stop taking notes. I understand that because if a healthy marriage is part of the parenting equation, if it’s an important part of the parenting equation, that’s bad news for you, discouraging news for you, because it’s out of reach for you.
In fact, it’s so discouraging, and I’ve been doing this for so long. It’s so discouraging that honestly, I was tempted to skip this part of the series. As you can imagine, it would be easier to just leave marriage out of a conversation about parenting.
And you know this for years, there’s been a push to do just that, to divorce parenting from marriage. And honestly, the parenting conversation is certainly easier, it’s more comfortable, it’s more politically correct, if we just set aside the notion of the nuclear family, a phrase that we don’t use that much anymore.
The nuclear family is simply a father and a mother and children all living together under one roof. It’s easier to isolate parenting to a standalone topic.
But to do that, and here’s what we’re going to talk about for the next few minutes. To isolate parenting from marriage is actually to steal something valuable from the current and the next generation. To isolate parenting from marriage is to steal something valuable from your children, and your grandchildren. To do so is to remove, well, it’s not only to remove the bullseye, it’s like removing the entire target. And hopefully that will become clear in the next few minutes.
Now, that brings us to this uncomfortable tension that you’re already beginning to feel. This uncomfortable tension between What’s Real, and What’s Ideal.
What’s real, and what’s ideal. It’s an uncomfortable tension, because for many of us ideal, when we talk about family and marriage, ideal is seemingly out of reach. And it would be more comfortable again, to just put it out of sight.
But part of my responsibility from time to time is to step into the emotional, uncomfortable, perhaps dangerous role of a prophet. To plant my feet and my heart and honestly, my compassion in the middle of what’s real, while pointing to an ideal.
And to ignore reality, and again, it’s easy to do this when we talk about something like marriage, but to ignore reality, leaves us or leaves me speaking or teaching in such a way that doesn’t take into consideration the families and the family dynamics that actual people are actually navigating.
It leaves the impression if we don’t deal with what’s real, it leaves the impression that the message of Jesus and this is so important, to not delve into what’s real, what’s actual, is to leave the impression that the message of Jesus has no real bearing on real life.
To ignore current reality, your current reality leaves us with a static kind of stained glass religion removed from reality. Church and sermons become nothing more than reminders of somebody else’s reality, standards that we will never attain to, a world that no longer exist if it ever existed in the first place.
So for a discussion on parenting to be relevant, we have to take into account what’s real, which again, should be really easy for Christians. And this may come as a shock. In fact, this may be offensive, but of all the people in the world when it comes to embracing what’s really going on with families and marriages, this should be second nature to us as Christians, because there are virtually no, as in non, there are virtually no good examples of family in the entire Bible.
When it comes to illustrations of real world family dysfunction, the Bible is actually your go-to-source. I mean, just think about it. Think about the first family, you remember them, they were pretty much a disaster.
Think about it, sin entered the world, if you’re a Christian this is what we believe, that sin, all sin entered the world through the first married couple before they even had kids. And then they immediately started blaming each other.
And their kids, well, we don’t know much about their kids. But what we do know is this that one of their sons murdered his brother. And we’re off to the races, the human races.
Just about every Old Testament story involving family is bad. In fact, just about every Old Testament story that deals with family is horrible, by modern standards.
So the point being this, the church, we should be really good at taking into account the realities of family life. Taking into consideration what’s actually going on. Taking into consideration what’s actually going on in any conversation about parenting, because our book, our text, the Bible is full, it’s full of bad examples.
But at the same time, and this is what makes this conversation so fascinating, and actually so helpful. At the same time, the authors of the New Testament, the authors of the New Testament paint a picture of what could be and what should be. What could be and should be as it relates to family. They actually point us toward the ideal, while they embrace, clearly embrace reality. They also point us to this ideal, and we shouldn’t be surprised because they knew and God knew what we intuitively know.
And that’s simply this, that if we remove ideal from the equation, if we remove ideal from the family equation, simply because it’s out of reach for some of us, out of reach for some of us in this generation, that simply ensures that it will remain out of reach for many, and the next generation.
Part of our responsibility as parents and grandparents, come on, is to give our kids and our grandkids something to aim for, something to live for, most importantly, something to decide towards.
Now, when it came to living and teaching and the messy middle between what’s real and what’s ideal, Jesus was the Master. He navigated during His entire ministry that this tension between real and ideal and He clung to this tension, He didn’t abandon it. But then of course He did, because the gospel, the gospel doesn’t begin with, once upon a time in a perfectly ordered world where everyone always did the right thing.
The gospel, Christianity begins like this, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture. The gospel assumes sin, the gospel assumes that we’re going to get it wrong. The gospel assumes real while it points to ideal that Christ showed up in a perfectly disordered world where ideal seemed out of reach honestly, for everyone.
The gospel begins with this, “For God so loved the world,” but which world? Not the garden of Eden world, our world, your world, my world, our broken imperfect, less than ideal world.
The tension between real and ideal was embedded within just about every single one of Jesus’ parables. He would say things like this, He would say, “The kingdom of God is like.” And His disciples would say, “Yeah, but this isn’t the kingdom of God.” To which He would then smile and say, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, you will find rest for your souls.” And then He would pivot.
And once again, He would point to the ideal. He would say things like this, “You have heard it said, you have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery.” To which His audience would always say, “Yes, we have heard that said.”
And Jesus would say, “but I tell you, but I tell you, anyone who even looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” To which they would say, “We had not heard that part.”
And Jesus, honestly, that makes us feel bad about ourselves. So don’t say things like that anymore. That’s just, it’s unrealistic. But He kept saying things like that. He consistently pointed beyond the lowest common denominator to the ideal. He gave people, He gave people in His audience, He gives us something to aspire to.
And then when He would bump into people who fell short, unlike the religious leaders of His day, He did not condemn them. In fact, Jesus condemned the condemners. And then He would die for the condemned.
Instead of lowering the standard, He turned up the grace. He redefined adultery and made every man an adulterer, and then He paid for their adultery. When religious leaders attempted to trap Him with His own words, during a discussion regarding divorce, Jesus, this is amazing, Jesus raised the marriage standard, so high, so high that He slammed the door on a man’s opportunity or freedom to wiggle out of his responsibility to his family.
In fact, Jesus raised the bar so high, He pointed so intuitively, and so pointedly to the ideal that when He finished talking about marriage and divorce, when He finished the discussion, and they walked away, His apostles, the 12 that followed Him everywhere, they looked at each other.
And here’s how they responded. They said, “Wow, if this is the situation, between a husband and a wife, it’s just better not to marry.” In other words, “Jesus, you made it sound so permanent. But Jesus, that’s so unrealistic. I mean things happen, people change.”
To which Jesus would have said, “I know, it’s why I’m here.”
So Jesus, let me get this straight, so you’re against divorce, “Of course, I’m against divorce. Divorce hurts people, divorce breaks people, divorce leads broken lives, divorce leaves wounds, of course, I’m against divorce.”
“Well, then Jesus, what are you going to do about divorced people?”
“I’m going to give My life for them.”
And this is the tension. This is the beauty of the gospel. This is why if you’ve walked away from faith, perhaps you should reconsider. Jesus never… Jesus never dumbed down the truth. But He never turned down the grace.
And here’s the fascinating thing, John… Matthew, Mark, Luke, John… John, who knew Jesus well, who spent three and a half years with Jesus, heard everything He taught, saw all the miracles. John said, it was so remarkable. It was so remarkable.
And then John writes one of my favorite things that anyone said about Jesus. He said, “Looking back over my time with Jesus, having watched Him deal with real people who were dealing with real life situations, situations for which there were no easy answers, no quick fixes.” John said, it was remarkable day in and day out, Jesus would point these people who were living with real difficulties to the ideal. He consistently pointed them to the ideal while helping them navigate what they were facing, living through, living with.
Again, as an old man looking back on his time with Jesus, he summarizes his time with Jesus with these familiar and powerful words. Here’s what he writes. He said the ‘Word’ — speaking of God. He said, God came to live with us, “the Word became flesh, and He camped out with us.” He dwelt among us. He didn’t send us more rules and regulations from afar, He became one of us. He navigated our reality with us. He showed up in human form, He moved in with us.
And he says, “and we have seen, we have seen His glory.” To which the Old Testament scholars and the first century Jewish scholars would say, “No, no, you haven’t seen the glory, no one can see God’s glory and live.”
And John’s like, “Look, I’m just a normal guy, and I’m just telling you what we saw. We saw the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father.” And then this next phrase, this next phrase that I think summarizes in so many ways, what kind of Christian, what kind of person I want to be.
In fact, if you lost your faith, if you lost your faith, perhaps it’s because nobody ever explained this part about Jesus. He said, “The glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father full of grace, and truth.”
Jesus was not the balance of grace and truth. He was a full dose of grace, he was a full dose of truth. Jesus was all grace and he was all truth all the time.
Again, He didn’t dumb down the truth to make us feel better about ourselves, but He never turned down the grace. And again, that’s the kind of Christian, that’s the kind of Christian, that’s the kind of person that I want to be. And maybe part of that is because I grew up on the truth version, grace, not so much.
But here’s the problem, truth without grace, and I know from personal experience, that truth without grace creates pretenders and hypocrites.
But grace without truth creates kind of a permissive version of faith that ultimately hurts everybody in the end.
But grace and truth, grace and truth is personified and illustrated by Jesus, it’s powerful.
John wraps up the passage with this, again, so much that could be unpacked here. He says this “For the law,” talking about the Jewish law, “for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This is so powerful.
It was Jesus who first introduced this tension between grace and truth and then lived in it rather than leaning one way or the other. And here’s the thing, as dynamic as this is, and as inviting as this is, this is a difficult thing to live out. And yet, it’s what we have been called to live out as Christians. And it’s what we’ve been called to model corporately.
I mean, come on, the church… the church is the body of Christ, and as His body this is our responsibility. This is our role in culture. This is how we serve as conscience and comfort in our communities and in our nation. I mean, you know what the conscience does, conscience from time to time makes us feel bad about ourselves.
But a properly informed conscience is also what keeps us from losing our way, keeps us from losing our bearings. Our conscience tells us when we veered into dangerous territory. It reminds us that we’re about to undermine our own future and the future of those who depend on us.
So back to parenting, and marriage, let’s get maybe uncomfortably specific. Here’s the ideal, ideal is parents raising children together under one roof. Communities don’t raise children, parents raise children.
Communities are simply the context for raising children. And in communities, whether they’re rural, urban or suburban, communities whether the nuclear family is the exception rather than the rule, you know what happens. The government is forced to step in and help raise children.
Local schools are forced to feed children, agencies are created to protect children. We all know that. And we all want better than that. We want better than that for each other. And we want better than that for the next generation.
Communities don’t raise kids, but they certainly set expectations for kids for good or for bad. It’s why some of you have gone to great lengths and honestly great expense to ensure that your children are being raised in a community that affirms your values. And this is so important. And you are to be celebrated for this.
You’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that your kids are being raised in communities that affirm your values, even when your particular situation falls short of what you value. And you are to be so commended that. In fact, we have designed our churches to partner with you in that process.
We want better for your kids because you want better for your kids. You don’t want to be told that everything is fine so that you’ll feel better about yourself because you’re smart, and you love your kids, and you know better.
So every once in a while, every once in a while, we all need to be reminded of what should be and what could be. Maybe not what can be for us, but what could and should be for our children, that’s good parenting. Every once in a while we all need to be coaxed back into the tension between what’s real and what’s ideal.
So when it comes to parenting, marriage matters. And any attempt, any attempt to downplay the importance of marriage, to downplay its role, is just misguided. Not because of the dynamic it creates within a particular family, but because it robs children of an opportunity to aspire for and to decide toward the ideal.
Now, I think, again, one of the reasons that I have so much energy around this, is something that happened to me about 10 years ago. 10 years ago, I had a conversation that brought this entire dynamic into very, very sharp focus. This dynamic between real and ideal in marriage and parenting.
Sandra and I met a gentleman named Rick. Actually, I met him first. Rick is about my age. His family situation growing up was extremely unhealthy, chaotic, and at times, he would say, dangerous. By the age of 13, Rick had had enough and he was planning to run away from home. He told his uncle, who was disabled, he told his uncle what he was planning to do.
And his uncle urged him, said, “Wait, wait, wait, let’s talk about this.” And his uncle explained to him that the state of Georgia, would help him, provide him with a place to live, predictable meals, a consistent roof over his head. So his uncle, he said cashed his welfare check to pay for a cab and he and Rick who was 13 years old, taxied over to the Defects Office. His uncle dropped him off. Rick did not wait to be taken out of his home, he opted out himself and he was placed in a temporary foster home.
Later, he moved to a children’s home. And he was eventually placed with a family in Gwinnett County, which is a county just north of the city of Atlanta, where he says his life was changed forever.
Now, Rick and I had a long lunch. And he told me his entire story in detail. But toward the end of the story, he said something that honestly it altered the trajectory of our family’s life. He said this, he said, “Andy, until I went to live with the Price family,” the family in Gwinnett County, he said “until I went to live with that family, I had never seen a family sit around a table for dinner without arguing and screaming.”
He said, “I’d never seen a man come home from work with a paycheck.” He said, “I’d never seen a father provide for his family.” And he said, “seeing that, just seeing that, was life changing for me.” And then he said this, and I wrote it down because it had such an impact on me.
And I quote, he said this, he said, “I just needed to see it to aim for it.” I just needed to see it to aim for it. “Once I saw it and experienced it, I knew what I wanted, at 13 years old. I knew what I wanted, until then, I didn’t even know such a thing even existed.”
When I called Rick to get permission to share this part of his story, he got emotional all over again, just working through some of these detail, explaining some of these details. And he said this, he said, “Andy,” he said, “the thing is this, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Once you see it, you can’t forget it.“
So after that initial lunch, 10 years ago, I went home and I told Sandra, Rick’s entire story. And we agreed we could do that. We could give some kids a different picture of family, not a perfect family, not a perfect picture. But a picture that they may otherwise never see, never experienced.
In a few weeks or a few months with us in our household, perhaps we could provide a child with a picture, a potential that they didn’t even know existed. And if we can do for even one child what the Price family did for Rick, wow.
Now, as you know, from time to time, I encourage you to ask and answer this terrifying question: what breaks your heart.
And as it turns out, kids growing up without a picture of what could and should be as it relates to marriage and family, that broke our hearts. So we became foster parents.
As you know, there are tens of thousands of children who will not aim for ideal because they don’t even know it exists. And they’ve never seen it, they’ve never experienced it, they don’t even know what’s out there.
So and here’s really the point of this opening session of the series: to do or to support anything, to do or to support anything that removes ideal from the equation, the conversation, the culture, to downplay the importance of parents raising kids together, simply because it seems too ideal, too American, too Western, too traditional, to remove that from the equation because it’s too ideal is stealing. It’s stealing the future of our future generation.
It’s a mistake that we will pay for, for generations. And make no mistake, women and children… women and children will pay the highest price. They always do. So yeah.
It was tempting, it was tempting to just jump right into some parenting tips that would have been easier, safer, certainly less potential to be misunderstood. But that would have been irresponsible, because parenting is first and foremost. Parenting is first and foremost about preparing our children for their future which requires us to cast a compelling vision for their future, what could and should be for them, regardless of where our lives have taken us.
A vision for them academically, financially, spiritually, but maybe most importantly, relationally. Our shortcomings as parents, and we all have a right, our shortcomings, if we leverage them wisely, can serve as a catalyst, a catalyst for our children to climb to heights that perhaps are out of reach for us. And if they do, that’s a win, it’s a win for them, and it’s a win for us. It’s a win for our community.
So while we navigate what’s real, let’s not give up on ideal. And let’s instill a dream in the hearts and minds of this next generation that positions them to live better lives and perhaps make the world a better place. And let’s resist, let’s resist the voices in culture that have the potential to steal the dream of family, from our kids.
There will always be a tension between what’s real, and what’s ideal, and we dare not resolve it. To resolve it is to lose something.
So when it comes to family, let’s resolve not to resolve that tension. Let’s live in it. Let’s parent in it. Let’s follow Jesus through it. After all, He came and He made His dwelling among us, and He was full of grace and truth.
Think about it, talk about it, argue about it. And we will pick up the discussion right there next time in part two of Parenting in the 21st Century.
For Further Reading:
- Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection: Reshma Saujani (Transcript)
- How Babies Think About Danger: Shari Liu (Transcript)
- How To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children: Lael Stone (Transcript)
- 3 Steps To Help Kids Process Traumatic Events: Kristen Nguyen (Transcript)
- What You Should Know About Raising An Autistic Child: Patty Manning-Courtney (Transcript)