FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Quit Parenting Like a Pagan

with Todd Friel | March 22, 2018
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Todd Friel, a father of three, encourages parents to look beyond behavior modification when disciplining our kids. Friel reminds us that we're all sinners, even parents, so we shouldn't be shocked when kids don't behave. Parents must humbly engage with our kids in a way that draws them even closer to Jesus, rather than pushing them away. We don't need to punish our kids for their sins, but disciple them for the greater good.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Todd Friel, a father of three, encourages parents to look beyond behavior modification when disciplining our kids. Friel reminds us that we're all sinners, even parents, so we shouldn't be shocked when kids don't behave. Parents must humbly engage with our kids in a way that draws them even closer to Jesus, rather than pushing them away. We don't need to punish our kids for their sins, but disciple them for the greater good.

  • 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.

Todd Friel encourages parents to look beyond behavior modification when disciplining our kids; reminding us that we’re all sinners, even parents, so we shouldn’t be shocked when kids don’t behave.

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Quit Parenting Like a Pagan

With Todd Friel
March 22, 2018
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Bob: There are a lot of homes today where the message of the gospel is affirmed—even believed. But Todd Friel says there are homes where it’s just not lived out, including his own home.

Todd: The gospel is basically two messages—number one: “I’m a bad sinner,” / number two: “Jesus is an amazing Savior.” Here’s the problem in my home—I keep forgetting the first message of the gospel. I don’t think I’m the chief of sinners; I think I’m better than everybody. So, when King Todd walks in the door, if everything isn’t the way that I’ve deemed it should be, I get mad at the serfs because they are not doing what royalty demands; and so, I get mad. I go to war because I don’t get what I want—because I think I’m superior.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 22nd. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens in a home when the gospel is professed and believed but it’s infrequently lived out? We’re going to talk about that today with our guest, Todd Friel. Stay with us.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m glad we’ve got a former backslider in the room with us; aren’t you?


Dennis: I am. He joins two others. [Laughter]

Todd: You too?! [Laughter]

Dennis: Sure. That’s Todd Friel who joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.

Todd: Yes sir. I’m shocked that I’m back! [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: We are too!

Dennis: It was a close vote.

Todd: The other guy cancelled—I got it. [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes. He’s written a book called Reset for Parents: How to Keep Your Kids from Backsliding. Talk to us about where the passion for this book came from; because you speak to a lot of college kids, or have over the years, and you’re seeing something that is troubling to you that, ultimately, caused you to kind of double down on this subject.

Todd: Yes. Well, first of all, the reason I wrote a parenting book is—I don’t know if you realize this, gentlemen, but I’m a perfect parent; and I just wanted to let everybody—


—yes; that’s exactly the opposite of the truth. [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes.

Todd: I’ve made a million mistakes.

What kind of ignited the fuse for this is going out to university campuses—we talk to kids / we witness to kids, regularly, on TV and radio, live—you can actually see it happening so that you can learn, perhaps, how to or how not to witness to somebody. Being in the Bible belt, I thought all of these kids would be theologically astute and they could spew the Westminster Catechism and Bible. Well, I discovered it’s not the case. In fact, recently interviewed 36 kids for a TV series we did—all of whom professed to be Christians—34 were incapable of defining the gospel—2 kids could / 34 did not know the very basics of the faith.

I started asking questions: “What went wrong here?” and they started answering.


I started to hear themes. I compiled them, and I put them in a book called Reset for Parents.

Bob: So, if they couldn’t articulate the gospel, when you said, “What’s the gospel?” what did they tell you?

Todd: They would say, “That’s Matthew,” “…Mark.” They would start to talk about the Gospels.

Bob: Really?

Todd: Some would just flat out say, “I don’t know.”

Bob: So, it wasn’t like they were saying, “It’s when you invite Jesus into your heart.”

Todd: No; they wouldn’t even get that—

Bob: Wow.

Todd: —because I would ask them: “What is the gospel?” They couldn’t come up with a definition. Then it would get even worse—I would say: “Okay; let me try to just launch you into this. You’re a really bad sinner, who’s under the condemnation of Almighty God; but what’s the good news?” “I don’t know.”

Bob: Wow.

Todd: It was shocking! I started to recognize there were patterns involved. I started to compile those—wrote them down so that other parents don’t become another statistic.


Dennis: I like where you started, because you’re calling parents to reset and reevaluate.

Todd: Me too! I parent like a pagan. I’m a behavioral modifier: “Hey, clean up your room!” “Don’t talk to your sister like that!” “What did you say?!” “Make sure you do the dishes!” What am I doing?—I’m getting them to conform, but here’s the problem. I become the authority in their life. But when they leave and go off to university—and dad’s no longer hovering, and they don’t have me as the law keeper—they just say, “Bye-bye,” to Christianity. They do whatever they want to do; because I’ve made myself the authority, and I haven’t parented like a Christian. That is painful to recognize that.

Dennis: So, what’s the most important thing a parent needs to do? Maybe it’s know and do, as they reset their parenting style.

Todd: There are a lot of things, but let me just say that it all falls underneath one word: gospel. I know we’ve all heard ten million sermons about: “Preach the gospel to yourself every day,” / “Think about the gospel.”


Alright; let’s just take a look—say, “What does that mean?”

The gospel is basically two messages—number one: “I’m a bad sinner” / number two: “Jesus is an amazing Savior.” Here’s the problem in my home—I keep forgetting the first message of the gospel. I don’t think I’m the chief of sinners—like Paul did in

1 Timothy 1—Paul said, “I’m the chief of sinners.” He said, “…wretched man that I am.” Well, I don’t think I am—I kind of forget that. I think I’m better than everybody, so here’s the problem. When King Todd walks in the door, if everything isn’t the way that I’ve deemed it should be, I get mad at the serfs; because they are not doing what royalty demands. I get mad / I go to war, as James says in James, Chapter 4, “I murder because I don’t get what I want,”—because I think I’m superior.

Here’s an illustration. Can you think of somebody that you really honor?—somebody that you really, really like that you’d love to have stay at your home.

Bob: Yes; I’d love to have John Piper spend the night at my house.


Todd: John Piper is now coming to Bob Lepine’s house.

Bob: Okay; alright.

Todd: What an honor. He’s sleeping in the guest room. You get up early

Bob: No; he’s sleeping in the master bedroom. I’m going to the guest room.

Todd: You know what? You make my point even more! So, he sleeps—you’re sleeping on the couch.

Bob: That’s right.

Todd: You make the breakfast. You squeeze the orange juice that morning because you want to make sure the Vitamin C doesn’t get lost over night. [Laughter] John Piper comes in, and he sits down at your kitchen table.

Bob: Yes.

Todd: You approach him with your pitcher of orange juice; and in the process, you accidently kick John Piper’s foot. Bob, what would you do?

Bob: I’d be horrified! I’d drop the orange juice—

Todd: You better: "I’m so sorry, Dr. Piper. Please forgive me! God wasn’t glorified when I kicked you in the foot.”

Dennis: Yes.

Todd: You’d be [stuttering], “Oh…”  [Laughter]

Okay; now, imagine you walk around to the other side of the table; and there sits your teenager, and you kick his foot.

Bob: Yes.

Todd: How do you respond now?

Bob: “Get your foot out of the way!” [Laughter]

Todd: Exactly! “Come on, size 14! Let’s pull those clodhoppers in.” Now, what’s the difference?—what happened in this scenario?


Here it is—and this is going to hurt a little bit. I was esteeming John Piper as better than myself, but I wasn’t esteeming my son as better than myself. Philippians 2: “Do not consider your own interests but esteem others as better than yourself. Have the same mind as in Christ.”

Bob: Even your kids?

Todd: Especially my kids. I need to show them that I remember the gospel. I think that’s perhaps—you asked the question, Dennis, “What’s the biggie?” I think the biggie is we don’t show our kids that the faith has affected us. We rarely—I rarely apologize. We command them / we can bark at them, but we don’t humble ourselves before them and show them “I’ve been changed by this thing.”

Dennis: I was just talking to a group of younger Christian leaders in another office, here, at FamilyLife®. I was explaining where I felt like the leakage is, within the Christian faith, with the next generation of young people coming up and why they’re leaving the faith.


I think it’s the very thing you’re talking about. I told them—I said: “I think what’s happening, within the Christian community—there is a divorce between 11:00 on Sunday morning and 12:00—that period of time, right there, where we go to church—and the rest of the hours in the week. There’s a divorce between the spiritual truth that is proclaimed and the reality of how people live.”

It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means you have to show you’re in process / that you’re engaging God; and He’s at work in you and through you, accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. I told those guys—I said, “Acts 13:36 is one of the most impressive verses in the Bible, for me, because it says about David: ‘After he had served the purposes of God in his generation, he slept.’”


I said, “I know of no more electrifying idea than to be in a relationship with Almighty God and to be tied into what He wants to accomplish in this generation.”

I think if you live that out—again, you don’t have to do it perfectly—but if you’re just plodding along, and you’re not quitting, your kids are going to get the message that there is a God: “He’s at work in Mom’s life,” “He’s doing something in Dad’s life. I don’t quite understand this, but I like—I like the product. I like what I’m seeing.”

Bob: Todd, I’ve been going around, interviewing people for The Art of Parenting™ video series that we’re getting ready to release. One of the people we interviewed is Jessica Thompson; she’s an author and a speaker. One of the statements she made is—she said, “On repeat, in our house, from parents to their kids is: “I’m a sinner just like you.”

Most of us, as parents—when I was raising my kids, my thought was: “I’ve got to be a model of righteousness. So ‘I’m a sinner just like you,’ does not sound like a model of righteousness.


I need to keep the sinful side concealed from my kids,”—right?—“I need to be a living example of who Jesus is so that they will follow my example.” I never said, “I’m a sinner just like you,” to my kids when I was raising them; and that’s part of the problem.

Todd: Yes; here’s the funny part too. You thought you were concealing your sinful side—[Laughter]—like they didn’t know!

Dennis: Yes.

Todd: As if you would say to them, “Hey kids, did you know that your dad was a sinner?” “You don’t say, Pop! [Laughter] Thanks for the news flash.”

Okay; let me just amp this up even more; alright? I’m going to make a provocative statement. When your child sins—because your child is never going to be naughty in the future—right?—your child is never naughty again. Your child is a sinner—that’s different. Because if I just see a naughty child, I’m going to correct the behavior. But if I see a sinner, I’m on a rescue mission. If your engagement with your child does not end with your child loving Jesus more, then you’ve biffed it as a Christian parent.

Bob: Wow.


Todd: Now, let’s apply that; and I suspect this scenario will resonate. You come home. You can smell the food that’s cooking on the stove—your favorite meal. Your wife has everything under control. The kids are going to line up: “Father, we’re so glad that you’ve finally made an appearance. [Laughter] We’ve been expectant—waiting all day for you.”

But instead you walk in and you hear: “Shut up!” “You’re a moron!” “Knock it off!”—it’s complete chaos. The first person who greets you is your wife, and she doesn’t look happy. She’s got the look, and she informs you that that son of yours has been disrespectful all day. Now, I’m not remembering the gospel—that I’m the chief of sinners—I want this to stop, because I want peace in my home. I want this to be the way that I imagined it to be, because I’m tired and: “I work hard for a living, and I pay for this roof over your head.”

I ask my wife where that boy is. I know the answer, because we know he’s upstairs in the bedroom because that’s where he’s been sent.


I’m charging up the stairs, and I’m maybe taking off my belt on the way.

Stop! Freeze frame! “I want this interaction to result with my son loving Jesus more.”

Now, walk up the stairs; and I think the scene is going to be different. It could look like this, and this might sound fantastic to you—this is not a fantasy / this can be reality. Now, I can walk calmly into my son’s room and sit him down on the bed and say:

Honey, I want to tell you a story about when your dad was in 5th grade. Your [grandma] was raising three boys by herself—no help. One-bedroom apartment—she slept on the couch. It was tough. You can imagine her nerves were pretty shot, and it showed.

I determined, in 5th grade, that my mom was kind of being a nag—that’s what I thought. One day, when she was talking to me, I said, “Why don’t you just shut up?!”—that’s what I said to your grandmother.


I told your grandmother to “Shut up!”

Honey, I’m telling you that story; because I understand that’s how you were talking to your mom today too. I’m telling you that because I want you to know I get you / I understand you—I’ve done it.

What you’ve got now is two sinners, sitting on a bed, who need a Savior. Why don’t we pray to that Savior and then, when we’re done, you go talk to your mom; huh?

Now, that’s a different interaction. It is not simply to control and to use a more forceful voice, or a severe word, or a stern hand. It’s bringing in the gospel. It’s demonstrating: “I’m a sinner just like my son is. We go to the cross together; and then, he’s led to hopefully go and do what is right.” That is a reset that we need, and it is very challenging to remember that—very challenging.


I remember, one night, I came home. I must have been in a super good mood because I announced to the family, “Who wants to go for yogurt?” I had two takers—I’m not going to use names, but let’s just say it was a daughter and a son. One of those children decided he didn’t want the other child to go with.

So, what did he do to her?—push the button / he knows what to do—he knows that, if he just does that / says that, she’ll not want to go and then he can go be alone with Dad. He sins against her. She responds and says, “I’m not going with that little brat!” So, what do you have here? He sins against her; she sins in response to his sin. I enter into the fray; and I announce, “Well I’m not going with either one of you!”—brilliant!—brilliant! [Laughter]

Bob: Nobody’s going for yogurt!

Todd: So now, my daughter, with a crushed look on her face—I don’t think it was sinful; it was just a broken-hearted look—looked at me and said, “Nice gospel-centered parenting, Dad.”

Bob: Oooh!

Todd: Ah—crush; she was exactly right.


And I tell you—God gave me grace in the moment / He allowed me to collect myself. I did something pretty radical. This was only by God’s power and grace. I said: “Honey, you’re exactly right. Your daddy was wrong. I sinned against you, and I’m sorry.”

We, men, think, “Well, that is going to lose you authority and power.” I’m telling you—her face was like a sunflower: “I love you, Daddy.” We do not lose power when we humble ourselves. We look more like Jesus; and that’s very, very attractive.

Dennis: One of the things you talk about in your book is an interesting concept, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent compared to—and that’s a turkey vulture. [Laughter]

Todd: You got them here?

Dennis: Oh, do we have them?

Todd: Okay; on a scale of 1-10 on the pretty scale, how pretty are those birds?

Dennis: They’re a 1; they’re ugly.

Todd: They are the ugliest birds. So, okay; my imagination—I’ve got free time. I always try to imagine one turkey vulture talking to another turkey vulture and telling the other turkey vulture how ugly he is:


“Yes; you think I’m disgusting. You’re revolting.” “Well, you’re…” You go, “You’re both ugly.”

Now, that’s what our attitude shouldn’t be. They’re forgetting they’re turkey vultures. I forget that I’m a really bad sinner. I look at some of my kid’s sin and I say things like, “What’s the matter with you?!” Well, what’s the matter with them is they’re a sinner, just like I am. Now, when I forget that I’m a turkey vulture—I get offended; I get annoyed; I get condescending; I return sin for sin. I’m worse than a turkey vulture; when I forget that, that’s when the fireworks start.

Bob: You should have called this You’re Worse than a Turkey Vulture. That would have sold—[Laughter]

Todd: It was on the list—it just didn’t make the top cut. [Laughter]

Dennis: Todd, we’ve found—Bob and I’ve found fresh ways of offending guests, here, on FamilyLife Today. [Laughter] You’ve found a fresh way to offend listeners.

Bob: —the whole audience.

Dennis: You just called the whole audience a bunch of turkey vultures.

Todd: No; I said we’re worse than turkey vultures. [Laughter]

Dennis: Excuse me; excuse me.

Todd: But that’s what the gospel tells—we’re so bad we needed God to die for us.


Unless we hear the nails of Jesus rattling in our pockets, we forget that.

And this is helpful too—when you remember you’re a turkey vulture—when somebody sins against you, you stop, and you think: “While that person did sin against me, it is only a fraction of the sins I’ve committed against my God. They offended—they were angry / they were selfish. My sins killed Jesus.” That perspective changes my heart and it provides me with the resource I need to actually forgive.

Here’s what we say to our kids: “Say you’re sorry and mean it!” and “You say…”—there needs to be a genuine transaction that takes place. Unless I’m remembering that my sins put the Savior on the cross, I’m going to be mad; because I think they deserve it, and I don’t see myself as a worse sinner than them.

Bob: Our listeners have heard me share this before; but we had a guest here, who said something that was profoundly reshaping for the way I think about parenting.


He said: “Most Christian parents are teaching their kids to be sin avoiders and sin concealers: ‘Don’t do that; and if you do, you’re going to be in big trouble.’

Todd: Right; right.

Bob: “So ‘If I find out about it, you’re in trouble.’” He said what we’re not teaching our kids is how to be sin confessors and sin repenters—that’s where we have to start. The way you teach them that is by letting them see you confess and repent.

Todd: But this is an absolute game changer. I want mom to imagine herself in the kitchen. She’s trying to get ready for dinner; and off in the distance, she hears World

War III breaking out. Now, if she’s just focused on self-behavioral modification—having a peaceful home—she’s going to be frustrated / she’s going to yell at the kids. She might ground them or do some sort of punitive action to get them to behave. But if she stops and goes: “Wait a second; they’re sinning in there. I’m on a rescue mission.” Now, she can enter into it, trying to lead them to the cross / to the Savior’s feet and not to her feet.


I’m telling you, from experience, this is a game changer. If your home is—you’re thinking it’s too far gone. I’m telling you—it is not. If you start apologizing today, the temperature in your home—it will change.

Dennis: And what you’re talking about Todd, in your book—I just want to remind parents of something you said earlier in the broadcast—but again, you mention, repeatedly, in your book, Reset for Parents—and that is, as you move toward discipline of your children, think about discipling your children and exhorting them to fall more in love with Christ—and deal with their stuff and deal with their brother or sister as Jesus Christ would call them to do. I think that’s a great question for every parent, as he has his or her moments in being frustrated with his kids: “Is my response—is it really going to help my kids?”


Todd: I know a young lady who got saved when her dad was spanking her, because dad wasn’t flying out of anger / he wasn’t out of control. Remember—we never punish our children for their sins. Why?—because Jesus was punished for their sins. When we punish them for their sins, we’re confusing the gospel. Instead, we’re discipling.

And this fellow explained: “Honey, this is how the universe works. God is holy, and He is just and perfect. And when we sin against Him, His justice demands that there’s a consequence. And that consequence is hell and it’s painful and it’s horrible. Now, I’m going to spank you; because I want you to understand the pain of the consequences that you can experience if you don’t have a Savior.” He did that, and she got it. She understood it, and she got saved. And she would tell you to this day “It was a spanking that led her to Jesus.”

Bob: Discipline and disciple are the same root word.

Todd: Yes.

Bob: And we need to keep that in mind, as parents. When we’re disciplining, we’re discipling and if your discipline is not discipleship, something is wrong with your disciplining.


This is one of the themes that is addressed in the new video series that FamilyLife has put together called FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting. It’s an eight-session video series that addresses the core issues that we need to be focusing on, as parents. It’s coming out in May. I just want to remind listeners—this is something you can go through with a small

group / something you can go through on your own, online. You can find out more about The Art of Parenting—in fact, we’ve got a short video trailer if you’d like to see what the series looks like. Go to

You can also get a copy of Todd Friel’s book, Reset for Parents: How to Keep Your Kids from Backsliding. You can order from us, online, at This is a great book for moms and dads to read through together: Reset for Parents: How to Keep Your Kids from Backsliding. Go to to order; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to get a copy of Todd’s book.


You know, we have plans to kick off FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series with a feature film that we have put together, along with help from our friends, Alex and Stephen Kendrick. In fact, Alex Kendrick has a role in this film. The movie is called Like Arrows. It’s going to be in theaters for two nights only / two showings only, May 1st and May 3rd. We’re hoping our listeners will plan now—you can buy tickets, now, to join us on one of those two nights for the movie, Like Arrows. Again, there’s a trailer for Like Arrows, the movie, on our website at as well—you can check that out. You can find a list of theaters where the movie is going to be showing.

We’re using the movie to help introduce people to The Art of Parenting video series. Our hope is / our prayer is we’ll be able to get this Art of Parenting content into the hearts and the hands of people who aren’t currently listening to FamilyLife Today or going to church—


—people who are raising the next generation and would be open to hearing about God’s design for parenting. We think there are a lot of folks who fit that description. We want to reach them with practical content that will expose them to the gospel and help them understand God’s design for parenting.

We’ve calculated that it’s going to take about $10 per home to get this material into the hands of those folks. We’re asking our listeners to join us in this effort. Our goal, over the next three years, is to try and get this content to a million people in the top three languages of the world—in Mandarin, Spanish, and in English. Would you consider making a donation, so that others can hear about God’s design for parenting? Go to and donate, online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. When you do, we want to send you, as a thank you, seven prayer cards, each one highlighting a different character quality that you can be praying for your children or your grandchildren. Those cards are our gift to you when you donate today.


Again, donate, online, at; or call to donate: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue talking about how we keep our kids from backsliding. Our guest is Todd Friel. He’ll be with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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