FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Are You a Model Parent or a Modeling Parent?

with Bruce Johnston | September 2, 2008
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Would your children say you’re passionate for God? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks to JH Ranch founder and president Bruce Johnston about a mother and father’s responsibility to model a strong, passionate faith in front of their children.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Would your children say you’re passionate for God? On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks to JH Ranch founder and president Bruce Johnston about a mother and father’s responsibility to model a strong, passionate faith in front of their children.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Would your children say you’re passionate for God?

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Are You a Model Parent or a Modeling Parent?

With Bruce Johnston
September 02, 2008
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Bob: Today's generation of parents is more involved in their children's lives than maybe ever before.  But are we, as parents, more involved in our children's spiritual development?  Here's Bruce Johnston.

Bruce: A lot of parents are putting their children in Christian education or taking them to church or sending the coach to do the job that they are supposed to be doing, and they are spending a lot of money on them, they're giving them a lot of time, they're not missing any sporting events but, in reality, the children are just as much in the current of the culture as a non-church child would be.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 2nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  You may be going to all of your children's games, but are you pointing your sons or your daughters in the right direction for life?

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I want to ask you a – it's just one of those questions that calls on you to speculate.  I mean, you don't have any hard data on this, but …

Dennis: Is this going to be similar to a Y2K question, Bob?

Bob: No, no, this is just …

Dennis: You know, I ran across my files from Y2K, and I asked my assistant to give those to you in memorial …

Bob: Our listeners …

Dennis: For all the wrong predictions that I made about Y2K and, of course, who was right?  Who was right?  Bob!

Bob: Well, it's just the optimist …

Dennis: What about Bob?

Bob: It was just the optimist in me thinking we'll be okay.

Dennis: He had a similar grin when you asked me about Y2K.  So what's the speculative question, Bob?

Bob: Here is my question for you – if you had to grade American parents …

Dennis: Huh!

Bob: … on how they're doing, give them a letter grade, in general.  Some parents, I know, are doing an A+.  Some parents have completely detached, and they're flunking.  But if you had to say the average American parent, how are they doing at the task of raising their children, what's the letter grade you'd give American parents today?

Dennis: Okay, I know what my answer is, and before I do that I'm going to introduce our guest.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: And we're going to see what kind of letter …

Bob: Give him …

Dennis: Because he's over there kind of grinning, too, and I think, well, hey, you know, he thinks he knows, so let's get him in here.  Bruce Johnston joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Welcome back, Bruce.

Bruce Johnston: I'm glad to be here, thank you.

Dennis: Bruce is a real professional.  He is the founder and president of JH Ranch and Outback America, which is – well, both are outreaches to parents and children equipping the next generation to live for Christ.

Bruce is one of 12 children.  He and his wife, Heather, have two children and live near Birmingham, Alabama, and I know you're in the Deep South …

Bob: And you're seeing parents from all 50 states come to JH Ranch in the summer, right?

Bruce: They're coming from all 50 states, and I think we've had them from 14 countries around the world.

Bob: So you're watching some of these moms and dads up close and personal.  Do you have a grade you'd give them?

Bruce: Well, I give every parent an A+ that is being intentional with their children; that want to do a better job; that are looking for resources; looking for ideas, and kind of getting in the current – a current that's going to help them.  Raising children is not easy. They are so different and especially the culture that is being thrown at our children through media and technology and so forth.  There's just nothing easy about it.

So it is a time where we cannot passively raise our children.  I think the day has changed.  We have to really be intentional.  So parents that are intentional, they are looking for resources like the Ranch, I'd give them an A.

Dennis: Bruce – Bruce, Bruce …

Bob: That was a politician answer.

Dennis: I am telling you …

Bob: If I ever heard one.

Dennis: I thought what a diplomat.  We've got an opening at the United Nations.  I can tell this is real painful for Bruce.  I'm going to allow you to rank two groups.  How are Christian parents and then how is the culture, in general, without any reference to Christians, doing?  So the Christians are …

Bruce: We're not doing very well, we're not doing very well.

Bob: Is that a C?  Are we passing?

Bruce: No.

Bob: Wow.

Bruce: No, we're below C level.

Dennis: Now, here is what's difficult about answering the question about the average parent.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: Because what's your standard?  What's the scale?  And I only have one scale.  That's the Christian, that's the …

Bob: That's the Scriptures, right?

Dennis: That's the Scriptures – it's a biblical approach to raising kids.  So I honestly don't know – I don't know how to evaluate "the average parent" who is not a follower of Christ.  But I'm with Bruce, I think they're doing a below-average job because the culture seems to be winning the day with our youth, and I wouldn't blame the parents, and Bruce didn't, either, but I wouldn't blame them that 88 percent of the children are leaving the faith upon graduation from high school but I do think that's an indication that we're missing the mark.

Bob: Well and, again, it's not because parents don't want to raise their children and see them grow up and become good godly young men and women.  I just think there are a lot of parents who say "I've got the desire, but I haven't seen it modeled.  I didn't see it modeled growing up, I don't have a game plan," and that's what we're trying to help parents with this week on our program.

Bruce, as you look at what parents are doing, where are they stumbling today?  What are the things that you would say to a mom or a dad – here are the pitfalls that a lot of parents are falling into, and here is how to avoid them?

Bruce: That's a great question.  I think the definition of "parent" in our culture is the professional provider.  The definition of "children" in our culture is the professional consumer.  But in Hebrew, the word "parent" means "teacher" and "trainer." 

I believe that dads don't feel like they really have the resources to teach and train their children.  They feel inadequate.  That's why they're passing the children off to the professionals.  We are modeling what our fathers modeled to us – be a good provider, be a good protector, get your kids to church, get them a good education, get braces on their teeth, some music lessons, sporting events, hopefully, they get through high school and college without getting drunk or pregnant and, voila, I've been a good parent.

And there's a whole lot more to it, obviously, than that.  So what I believe that we need to do is go back to the basics and really teach parents how to teach and train their children.  And these transferable concepts that we're talking about here on the show are simple, the parents can understand it, the children can understand it, it's done in picture form where it's like, "Oh, okay, I get it."  It's really not that complicated.  It's just a lot of common sense, along with, as we talked about, it has to be built on the value system of God's Word.

Bob: So you're saying parents are starting off with the wrong assignment in mind?  If Mom and Dad are thinking, "My job is to be provider," and the child's job is to be consumer, we've got the wrong picture from the get-go.  It's no wonder we're not doing the job well if we're doing the wrong job to start off with, right?

Bruce: That's correct.  I think the parents want more for their children than what they've been able to aspire to themselves and, as a result, they're doing a lot of instruction into the lives of their children; they're teaching them good values, are communicating the right values, but the problem is, is the children do not see those values modeled in the lives of the parent. 

A biblical precedent of that would be David, King David, had a passion for God.  He walked with God.  Solomon, on the other hand, did the work of God.  He didn't have the passion his father had.  He did a lot of the work.  Now, you take Rehoboam, Solomon's son, he observed his father in how he operated from day to day, and he saw a father that did all the religious things but didn't have the reality to his life.  So Rehoboam not only rejected his father, he rejected his father's faith, and when he came into a position of leadership, he took an entire nation into judgment.

And what we are doing as parents, the impact that we're having on our children, is for either good or bad, is based on what we model.  This is more caught than taught.

Dennis: In fact, Bruce, as you interviewed parents as they've gone through the Ranch, you say that one of the greatest fears of parents is that their kids aren't going to embrace these values that they're trying to imprint in their lives?

Bruce: That's correct.  The number-one fear of parents in America is that they will not be able to pass their values on to their children.  And it's not only in America but it's in countries around the world, and I believe the greatest form of distraction that we're dealing with is the media that comes through all the forms of technology that we have.  It's so enticing to children.  They are multi-tasking on three or four different types of media at the same time, and what's happening is they built a relationship with technology, with the values that come out of that technology, and there's no time or space to develop a relationship with God.

Parents have done a lot the same thing.  They have embraced, they have fallen into it.  You have to be very intentional, I believe, in your own life to keep that sacred side available to give God the first fruits of your day, or there's a thousand things that will come in and suck it out.

It's pretty surprising to me how lax Christian parents are about what they allow to come into their homes through media.  Is it any wonder that the children begin to live out the value system of what they have seen through the media for so many years?  I believe that extreme times require extreme measures.  We are in extreme times.

You and I grew up on "Leave it to Beaver," "I Love Lucy," "Bonanza."  I mean, these movies had some values to it, but it's different for our children, and we have to protect our children, at least in these early years, from media like almost a loaded gun, I really believe that.  One of the decisions that I made is that we weren't going to have just media flowing through our home at will while our children were growing up, and it really gave our children an opportunity to get their feet on the ground, get sound in their value systems, and as they now are older, they really see the folly of what's going on.

It's kind of like the frog in the boiling water.  You turn – you put the frog in, and the heat goes up, and that frog is not going to jump out.  It's going to slowly bake.  Our kids are at the place where if they fall into that boiling water, they're going to jump out, because they see that there is an extreme culture out there, and it's so easy to get sucked into that current.

But we've given them a chance to get their feet on the ground.  Does that mean that we totally protect them from the world?  No, we live in a real world, and we need to have an impact in a real world.  But – we're also living in very extreme times, and in what's being shown and what they're seeing and what they're taking in.

Dennis: What did that mean for you and your family as your kids were growing up?  I mean, practically speaking?  Did you have TV?

Bruce: We had a television, but it was not hooked up.  We did so some family night videos, we had select DVDs and so forth, so we were pretty selective on what the kids were seeing.  But, other than that, I would say it's probably …

Dennis: You didn't have cable, then?

Bruce: No, we didn't, and you know what?  We still don't.  In order to get the news and things, we do have a – we get a few channels that are coming in now, but we're getting a lot of our information off the Internet, out of magazines, out of things, because there can just be so much time wasted.

I'll tell you one of the benefits of not having the distraction of the television is that when Dad comes home, instead of refreshing himself for three hours in front of the television because he deserves this because he's worked hard all day – if that distraction isn't there, and he's sitting in the living room with some music on, there's an environment there.  It's amazing how the kids will come in and sit and do their homework, you'll get into conversation, you'll talk about things.  It's just that interaction that just spontaneously happened that would never happen if the media was taking over the home.

So it's one of the best decisions that we've made, and maybe we're old-fashioned, but the way my parents raised us is that we got to watch an hour of TV a week.  Of course, we had musical instruments we had to practice, we had sports, we had our jobs, our work, and so forth.  There wasn't a lot of time; we were pretty busy.  But we only got to watch an hour a week if we got Bs or better on our report card.  Needless to say, about the only television I watched was in a department store.


So, anyway, we …

Dennis: Twelve children would probably cut down on your viewing time, too, because, I mean, just the 12 hours when it's available.

Bruce: That's right.  I remember my brother leaving, going out of the room when commercials played, because he was saving up all this commercial time so he could get more TV in.  Isn't that pretty creative?

Bob: Bruce, you say that parents need to be moving in transition along with their children.  In the early years, when the kids need safety, the parents are caretakers.  In the elementary years, when the kids need direction, you say parents need to be cops during those years.  During the junior high and high school years, we become coaches, and we move toward being consultants.  Do you think too many parents are continuing to be cops too long?  Or are they checking out altogether?  Or are they doing both?

Bruce: They're doing both.  If they cop their children too long, they're going to get such a negative response for the children that they will – a lot of parents just eventually abandon ship.  Parents are beat up.  Every – like we mentioned, every conversation is a conflict, and I think that if we structure it right, raising teenagers can be a whole lot of fun.

Here's one of the things that we did during this transition time from cop to coach.  In the Jewish culture, they have what they call a "bar mitzvah."  "Bar" means "son," "mitzvah" means "commandments."  Put those together, "son of the commandments."  It's where you take ownership to your faith; you own it.

So we had a very special celebration for our son that we prepared for for about a year.  It wasn't overwhelming; it was simple.  You can't do things that are overwhelming for your children.  They already have enough on their plate, so we tried to make it fun.

What we did was, at the end of the year, we took him to Dallas, Texas.  We knew a family that had a beautiful home there and a lot of acreage, and my parents flew in from California, Heather's parents flew in from Birmingham.  We made it an event, like we were really going to go someplace, this is special.

We did a big banquet for David, and we sat around the table, and we talked about stories, about his life, and it was all about honoring him.  We gave him a notebook full of pictures from the time he was born to the time he was 12 and a half, 13 years old.  In that notebook were letters of affirmation from teachers, coaches, friends, his parents, grandparents, that he will keep the rest of his life.

At the end of the banquet, we went into the living room, and David gave a talk to the family, and in this talk what he did was he went down through the Ten Commandments, and he talked about what each commandment meant.  Now, I helped prepare him for this talk.

When he got down to the area of moral purity, he talked about how he was going to be morally pure in an impure world.  We read a couple of books together and talked about them, and I helped him prepare his talk.  He did a practice talk, and he did the presentation.  I believe that it is absolutely mission critical in our children's life that they have an event that they look back to where they become accountable for the moral decisions they're going to make – just like we have weddings.  Why do all the people come?  They come as a witness to that commitment.

The family is there as a witness to the commitment that I'm going to make God's values my priorities.  I'm going to own my faith.

Bob: You know, our friend, Dr. Robert Lewis, has talked about this same idea in the book that he wrote called "Raising a Modern-Day Knight," and he affirms the same concept, and coaches dads on how they can have those kinds of bar mitzvah moments with their sons and ultimately with their daughters as well to help mark their journey into adulthood.

Dennis: Bob, all today we've talked about, really, the power of a father in the life of his children to model biblical values, because our kids need that, and my mind was drawn to how Paul wrote about how fathers were to model for children.  In fact, he said, as he spoke to the church at Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, he said, "For you know how we, like a father with his children, exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."

That really is a great summary of what we've talked about here, especially in terms of dads modeling a walk that would challenge their kids, their sons and daughters, to grow up to, number one, walk with God, be obedient to Him and honor Him with their lives.  And I think what ever father and mother can gain from today's broadcast is just kind of a bit of a spiritual wheel alignment to say "What is my goal?  Where are we headed?  Am I a good model?  Am I modeling the right stuff?"

Bruce, I just want to say thanks for your work at the Ranch, JH Ranch and Outreach America, and I've got one last little assignment for you that I want to – you know, you're a son of a father who had 12 children, and I've got just one little interesting assignment for you that I'll bet you've never done, that I want to give you before the broadcast is over.

Bob: Before you do that, let me let our listeners how they can find out more about JH Ranch that Bruce heads up out of Northern California.  They do adventure camping for teenagers, they also have father/son, father/daughter, mother/son, mother/daughter programs, and they've got a program for married couples to come out and spend a week with them during the summer as well.

You can find out more about JH Ranch by going to our website, When you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  Click where it says "Learn More," and there's a link to the JH Ranch site on the broadcast page at

You can also find information about a helpful book that Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written called "Parenting Today's Adolescent."  It covers a lot of what we've talked about today and really gives parents some strategic things to think about in more than a dozen different categories that are going to be issues for you as your son and your daughter go through the teen years.

Now, if you're interested in getting a copy of the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," we are happy to send along at no additional cost the four-color chart that Bruce has put together that maps out the journey of transition that we've been talking about this week.  It helps parents think through the different transitional times in a child's life and how our role needs to change are our children are growing.

Again, that chart is sent along at no additional cost when you order a copy of the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent."  All the information you need is available on our website,  You can order online, if you'd like, or simply call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-FLTODAY.

When you get in touch with us, I hope you'll keep in mind that FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported ministry.  We depend on folks like you who listen to the program who believe in what we're doing to partner with us to keep this program on the air on this station and on other stations by making donations from time to time to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

This month, when you make a donation of any amount, we would love to send you, as a thank you gift, a two-CD series featuring a conversation we had not long ago with our friends, Tim and Joy Downs, about conflict in marriage.  They've written a book called "The Seven Conflicts of Marriage," and in this book they outline some of the danger spots where conflict can often occur in a marriage relationship, and they talk about how to biblically resolve some of those conflicts.

Our conversation with the Downs' is available on two CDs, and it's our gift to you when you make a donation this month of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you're donating online, when you come to the keycode box on the donation form just type in the word "conflict," and we'll know to send you those two CDs.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, make a donation over the phone, and you can request the two-CD series with Tim and Joy Downs on "The Seven Conflicts of Marriage."  Again, we're thrilled to send it out to you as a way of saying thanks for your generous support of this ministry.  We appreciate you.  Dennis?

Dennis: Well, Bob, today we've had the privilege of talking with Bruce Johnson about what it means to model God's love for us to our kids and raise them through the perilous years of adolescence, and, Bruce, I promised you that I was going to give you an assignment here at the end of the broadcast.  And here is the assignment – I'm going to seat your father across the table from you.  Is he still alive?

Bruce: He sure is.

Dennis: How old is he?

Bruce: He's 81.

Dennis: Eight-one years of age.  I'm going to seat your dad across the table from you right now. Bob and I are going to leave the studio.  You're going to be left facing your father, and I want to give you 90 seconds, that's all, just 90, to look your dad in the eye and address him as you address him, and tell him how important he's been in doing what you've talked about here today.  Can you do that?

Bruce: I sure can.  Dad, you've been the most important hero in my life because you walked the talk; because you modeled a life of integrity; you modeled a life of godliness; you modeled a life of generosity; of service; of sacrifice; and had I not seen it in action I wouldn't have known, really, what that looked like.  And you've given me an example of what a godly man is all about, and my greatest heart's desire is to pass on to others the example that you've been to me.  And I just want you to know that I love you, and I appreciate you so much as I know the rest of my brothers and sisters do and, of course, my mother.  I love you.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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