The Call of a Parent
About the Guest
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Adam GriffinAdam Griffin (DEdMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of Eastside Community Church in East Dallas, Texas. He previously served as an elder and spiritual formation pastor at the Village Church. Adam co-wrote Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones with pastor Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Adam lives with his wife, Chelsea, and their three sons Oscar, Gus, and Theodore, in Dallas, Texas.
Your children need guidance, and you are their guide. Adam Griffin talks about a parent’s call to intentionally teach their children what it means to love God and love others.
The Call of a Parent
Bob: If you’re a mom or a dad, what is job one for you as a parent? Adam Griffin says the Bible gives us clear instruction: we are to raise our kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Adam: This is the general call of every Christian parent. It’s not just about having a well-behaved kid nor is it this shameful thing of having a misbehaving kid or a kid who rejects the Lord. Our theology has room for all of those versions; including imperfect, discouraged, worn-out, exhausted moms and dads. How do we help them see the call to lead their family spiritually, without saying, “Hey, here’s another thing you’re not doing well”?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today Monday, November 2nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got some words of encouragement for you today and some practical coaching on how you can fulfill God’s assignment to disciple your kids as you raise them. Adam Griffin joins us today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re coming back to a subject that we visit somewhat regularly here.
Dave: And we should!
Bob: It’s what parents tell us they need help with.
Bob: In fact, as we were producing The Art of Parenting® video series, we were talking about: “How do you form character in a child’s life/how you help a child grow up with character?” Part of that is the spiritual disciplines that take place in your family. We talked to a number of our contributors to The Art of Parenting about the issue of family devotions and how they do that.
You were included in this [Dave]. I thought we should just start by revisiting what people like Alistair Begg, and Dave and Ann Wilson, and Steven Kendrick, and Kevin DeYoung—how they talked about family devotions in their families. Are you ready to listen?—it’s about three minutes.
Ann: Oh, no!
Dave: I don’t even remember what we said; oh, boy!
Ann: It’s probably bad!
Bob: Here’s what it is. Here we go.
[The Art of Parenting Excerpt]
Stephen: Parents, who are not familiar with family devotions: it’s awesome! You’ve got to do it.
Basically, no preparation—you don’t have to be seminary-trained or anything—but get some copies of God’s Word in the same translation; turn off the TV; sit on the couch together, as a family; and just pray, “God, would You speak to us now?” Then open up the Word of God; read a chapter of God’s Word out loud; and then just talk about it; then pray together, as a family, for God to help you to apply what you’ve learned and for the events of the day.
Alex: It’s not rocket science. You’re sitting there, reading God’s Word, talking about it in this very relaxed setting. But in doing so, we are prioritizing time with the Lord and time with each other, and makes our relationships stronger. It breeds the education of the Word of God in the lives of my children, and it gives them a hunger to know the Lord more.
Man: We just try to have one or two points: “What do we learn about God?” “What do we learn about ourselves?”—just two simple questions. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar, but just help them think about who God is and who we are in light of who God is.
Alistair: I don’t want to say we were sporadic; we were sporadically consistent, you know? Our kids understood, and we did our best; and it has been patchy along the way. I'd like to have that time all over again. I read some of the books; and I go, “Goodness, gracious! I was horrible at this.”
Dave: Ann always had this idea—that I often heard about, in the early years, when they were toddlers—that we would have a family altar. Once a week, we'd all come together; and I would lead us in teaching Scripture, and prayer, and the whole deal.
Ann: Oh, the image in my head was the best. It was just this beautiful time: “Oh, dad! Tell us more,”—that was my image.
Dave: And the kids would sit there and fold their hands and listen—that was your vision.
Actually, we tried that a few times. They were running around the house, and screaming, and yelling. I ended up throwing the Bible at them. [Laughter] It was like, “Okay, that's not going to work.” [Laughter] Some families can do that—and some do it and it works—it didn't work for our family.
Ron: We had devotionals with our kids when they were younger; but then they got older. [Laughter] We had to change how we went about that. They became young adults, and they moved out of the house. Now I send a text; it's a group family text. Sometimes, we get to have a conversation around that text; and sometimes we don't. I'm just trying to keep the Lord in front of them.
Kevin: We are like most families in that we struggle. It's hard work to have this family worship or this devotional time at the table, because our kids are running all over the place. I don't mean that figuratively; I mean it literally—they're running all over the place—on things/around things. It's very easy for me to think of family worship times that have been less than ideal. I'm not sure I have any that have been ideal.
Man: It’s not always great.
Woman: You’re going to have those nights.
Man: There are times, where the kids get under my skin. It’s like, “Okay; let’s sit down and do a Bible story today”; and they’re just haywire. I’m like, “Okay; let’s just pray and get to bed,” because we’re done with it.
Kevin: It is worth it; it is worth it. I think of my parents just methodically reading a passage of Scripture with us—nothing fancy at all—but the impact, over years of the Bible and prayer with Mom and Dad, is immeasurable.
Bob: Well, again, a great montage of voices talking about the importance of family worship.
Ann: I’m glad that we—
Dave: We were the worst ones! [Laughter] I’m glad we were in there—like, “Yes, it didn’t work for us,”—we actually didn’t get to finish that, because it did work in a different way.
Ann: That’s right; it did, honey.
Bob: You know, what we’re talking about today is not just family worship. We’re really talking about a broader subject of family discipleship; family times together around God’s Word are a part of that, but there’s much more to it than that.
Adam Griffin is joining us to help us dive into this. Adam, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Adam: Well, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Bob: Adam is a pastor and an author. He lives in east Dallas, Texas—has written; actually, he co-wrote this book with Matt Chandler—
Adam: That’s right; yes.
Bob: —a book on family discipleship. I had a sense, in reading your book, that this was a rhythm that you grew up with/that family discipleship was something that you experienced as a child.
Adam: I think, yes; but it is different, because every family is different. Even though I had a version of it in my childhood, this is not a reiteration of that; it’s a total restart, because I’ve got my kids.
You know, my parents had me; and I was mischievous, rambunctious, not wanting to listen. Theirs was much more ritualistic, I remember, growing up. It was the Lord’s Prayer: “We’re praying it like this,” or “We’re going to do this devotional book.”
I think there’s a lot more flexibility in the version that I’m getting to lead out in.
Bob: Hearing Alistair, Dave and Ann, and Kevin DeYoung, and all those guys—you’ve talked to parents, who can tell you any number of stories about what it looks like in their house; right?
Adam: Absolutely! And that’s one of the advantages, I think, of co-writing this book. Instead of just coming from my perspective, you’ve got Matt’s perspective, as a parent of teenagers, and my perspective as a parent of elementary kids. He’s talking about taking his son out for breakfast and talking about football, the Bible, and girls; and I’m talking about putting my kids to bed at night and praying with them/blessing them as I’m putting them to sleep.
Both of these are good examples of how we’ll shift and change as our kids get older and as we determine: “Who are these kids the Lord gave us?” and “What is the way that this kid is going to be the one I’m dialing into and pressing towards the Lord?”
Bob: Tell us about your family.
Adam: I have three sons: Oscar, Gus, and Theodore. My wife Chelsea works full-time as a labor and delivery nurse; she works nights, and so we both work full-time. We get to do family discipleship together; sometimes she’s leading it when I’m out; sometimes I’m leading it when she’s out.
My sons are just a joy! They share a room; they love each other right now. We’re at that kind of golden age of parenting, where it’s not been an option to not do family worship together; it’s not been an option to not go to church. It’s just normal and ordinary for them that we are reading the Bible together.
Bob: And did you come into marriage and parenting with a vision for this? Or did you have kids and go, “Oh! We’ve got to figure this out”?
Adam: I feel like my background in student ministry has led to my passion for this in kids. I spent so much time in one-on-one discipleship with teenagers that—when I had my own sons/now with my three sons—it’s been a very easy and natural transition to say, “What will it look like for me, who discipled so many young people, to now disciple my own kids?”
I spent time as a public school teacher. I got to lead kids to the Lord, in the public school, that were students of mine. Similarly now, I look at my own kids; and I think, “Man, I’ve got all of this time with them! How am I going to leverage the opportunities I have, the conversations we have, the time we have together to talk about the Lord?” Because I love them so much, there’s nothing I want for them more than to know Christ, so that led to this passion. It kind of coincided/dove-tailed with the gifts and the experiences that the Lord had already given me.
Dave: As a youth pastor and as a teacher, did you see things in the kids you were mentoring—like: “Okay, I don’t want to do that,” [Laughter] “I definitely want to do that,”—I mean, you saw families from—
Adam: Oh, for sure!
Dave: —as they were bringing them to your church. What were the things that made you think: “Okay; I can’t do that,” “I can do this”? Anything jump off the page?
Adam: Yes! A great example would be Jen Wilkin, who wrote the forward for this book, who now writes—like people know Jen.
Adam: I didn’t know Jen. I met her son when he was a freshman in high school, and I was mentoring him and discipling him. His mom hadn’t written any books yet; but when you met Matt—Matt Wilkin, her oldest son—you thought, “Man! This is a godly young man. He’s been parented in a godly way and been discipled.” And then, once you meet his parents, you’re like, “Of course; these people have been so intentional in raising him to follow the Lord.”
But then, I would also meet kids, whose parents did not know the Lord—who would come to church on their own or even against their parents’ wishes—who had come to the Lord. You look at the disadvantage they had—where they didn’t have a parent, who was leading them—but they now met this God. What is it going to look like for the church to step in alongside that kid and disciple them?
Both of those experiences helped me shape what I hope for my kids/what I pray for my kids, learning from other parents, as well as knowing my God is bigger than any of my shortfalls, as a parent; and praying through those things as well.
Dave: So what would you say is the calling of a parent? I’m saying it because, you know, when we became parents—just like everybody in this room—you feel this!
Dave: I can remember bringing our firstborn, CJ—who’s 34 now?—
Dave: —putting him in the crib after coming home from the hospital, and just standing there, looking down. I’m guessing a lot of moms and dads have this same experience, going, “I feel such a responsibility!” You know, number one: “I didn’t have a dad; now I’m a dad.” But I’m looking down at [him] like with almost fear and reverence: “I have a responsibility! Am I equipped to do it? What am I supposed to do?”
Talk about that; there’s a calling that a mom and dad have—as you obviously have in your title: Family Discipleship—but what’s the calling?
Adam: I think that’s been the driving force behind even writing the book at all. I felt like, when you get engaged, there are a thousand books you could read on engagement and on “Are you ready to be married?” Once you’re married, there are a thousand books on marriage; and they’re really, really good.
Then, when it comes to parenting books, there are a lot of books that help with some of those stresses about making sleep choices for baby, and making parenting choices for discipline, and parenting in a Christian manner—there are a lot of books like that out there—but I had trouble finding something that went: “How am I going to be equipped to lead my home spiritually?”—like—“How am I going to take on…”
When you read the Bible, it’s not all about discipline; and it’s not all about birth order; it’s not all about, you know, sleep choices. But a lot of it is about: “Hey, tell this to your kids: what the Lord has done in your life; communicate to your kids what the Lord has done in the life of God’s people.”
The call, like you’re saying: the literal call/the vocation of every parent is to be a spiritual leader in their home. I felt like there was an opportunity for us to say, “Hey, this is some helpful language we use/some helpful ways to think about it to help you take kind of the mystery [away] and demystify the idea of: ‘What does it mean to be a spiritual leader in my home?’—and help it become something ordinary and accessible, since this is the general call of every Christian parent.”
It’s not just about having a well-behaved kid nor is it this shameful thing of having a misbehaving kid or a kid who rejects the Lord. Our theology has room for all of those versions; including imperfect, discouraged, worn-out, exhausted moms and dads. How do we help them see the call to lead their family spiritually, without saying, “Hey, here’s another thing you’re not doing well”?
Ann: And some parents are feeling so overwhelmed!
Ann: They don’t come from a spiritual or Christian background, so they have no idea—like, “What do I do?” I think I’m just speaking for/because I talk with a lot of women; they’re thinking: “I want to do this, but my husband’s not onboard”; you know? But you’re saying it’s a call—
Ann: —that God has assigned us this task.
Adam: Yes, you’re right; it is a legitimate problem—
Adam: —that some of us have never been discipled. We don’t find, in the Scripture, that to be a legitimate excuse not to disciple our kids; right? In the book, we’ve made provisions for that, too, understanding that every family’s different: some of them are single parents; some of them are, spiritually, single parents, saying, “My husband/or my wife doesn’t believe the same thing, so how can I spiritually lead this home?” Some of our kids have disabilities, or there are blended families.
It’s like, “How can we, in this modern era, think about family in a way that’s going to demystify all the stuff that’s so discouraging; all the stuff that’s so exhausting; all the stuff that leads to comparison, and judgment, and shame, and self-harassment in that?”—because it is such a significant deal—
Adam: —“but at the same time not minimize how important this is?”—like it is a big deal; the Lord has entrusted to us a human life and asked us to raise them to know Him.
Dave: I don’t think—like that day I’m standing there, looking at CJ as a newborn—I don’t think I had in my head, yet, Matthew 28/the Great Commission—Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples.”
I had that as a pastor: “I’m supposed to go out/outside my home and make disciples of the men and women in our church.” But that’s a call—I mean, the most important disciple a dad or mom will try to pour into is their own sons and daughters; right?—that’s the call.
Adam: Yes, it’s right in front of you. The Great Commission and the great commandment is: to love God and to love your neighbor; to make disciples everywhere—it starts in your own home.
Ann: But it’s easier, sometimes, out there. [Laughter]
Adam: Sometimes, yes! Sometimes, it’s easier to say, “At the end of this appointment, you’re going to go home!” Whereas with your kids, it’s like, “We’re going to be together—you’re going nowhere; I’m going nowhere.”
But that’s why the family dynamic both lends itself to helping our kids understand: “How can an imperfect person follow a perfect God?”—not—“How can my kids get more perfect parents?” which is kind of what we trick ourselves into thinking: “Okay; family discipleship must be about me being perfect around my kids.” No! It’s about helping your kid understand you’re not perfect; you need to repent; you need a perfect God; you rely on the gospel!
“How do you help your kids see that version of you?”—not—“How can you do this in a way”—like you talked about in that intro, Bob, where kids are sitting down, folding their hands, and their faces are glowing, listening to everything you’re saying”—no! “How does an imperfect family follow a perfect God?”
Bob: I wish I’d had somebody giving me that mentoring, early on; because I didn’t grow up with an experience of any kind of family discipleship. I was starting cold. I thought: “My job is to model what this looks like, and let you see it in all its glory, and never let you see it in any of its brokenness; because if you think, ‘Mom and Dad can’t do it,’ maybe you’ll go, ‘Well, maybe, nobody can do it!’”
What I didn’t recognize is—I was not discipling my kids to know how to deal with their own failures. So part of the message they were getting was: “Well, Mom and Dad seem to have this all worked out. I don’t; I make mistakes; Mom and Dad don’t. I guess there’s something different about Mom and Dad than me.”
Ann: That didn’t happen in our house! [Laughter]
Bob: “Our kids knew that I messed up”; right? I mean, it’s not that I was always perfect in front of them.
But I remember a guest we had on FamilyLife Today years ago, who said, “Most Christian parents are teaching their kids how to avoid sin and how to conceal sin,”—so—“Stay away from this; don’t do it. If you do, you’ll get in trouble,”—that’s the message—so kids do stuff, and they think, “I’m going to get in trouble if they find out, so I’ve got to conceal it!”
Adam: “Got to hide it”; yes.
Bob: He said, “We’ve got to teach our kids how to confess and repent.”
Bob: He said, “The way you teach your kids how to confess and repent is you confess and repent in front of them—
Adam: Amen! Yes.
Bob: —“so that they can see, ‘Oh! That’s what it looks like.’”
One of the aspects we talk about in this book is—not just scheduling family devotions—it’s being a legit believer around your kids and inviting them into that—saying, “Hey, this is where Dad made a mistake, and I need you to forgive me.” Or when they make a mistake, pointing out, “Hey, Dad has done the same thing a million times. Isn’t it good that our God is forgiving?—that He can forgive us fully, freely, and forever. He can say both, ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ and ‘Go and sin no more.’ We can operate out of that great trust in Him.”
Dave: In a sense, that’s how you make disciples; right?
Dave: Because, I mean, we were joking on that Art of Parenting clip; but there was a real tension in our home, when the boys were really little, with Ann really wanting a family altar—she called it that!
Ann: I did not call that the “family altar”! [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, you did; that’s what I remember!
Ann: I said, “Let’s have family devotions, like Barbara and Dennis Rainey.”
Dave: That’s what she said! [Laughter] We didn’t know what they had, but we had this image that they sat [around] the fireplace. I’m not kidding!—this was it! We, actually—because I was like, “I didn’t have this; I didn’t grow up in a Christian home,—
Ann: I didn’t either; I didn’t know.
Dave: —“so how do we do this?” She actually convinced me, “Why don’t you just take the sermon you preached on Sunday morning and give a mini-version of it on Sunday night?”
Ann: I still like that idea!
Dave: Oh, my goodness!
Adam: It’s not a bad idea!
Adam: That works! [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, I thought, “Why would I care more about the people on Sunday morning than about my own household?” so we did it. I can see it right now—there around the fireplace with the boys—what were they?—four, five, six, seven years old. It was like boogers, and hitting each other, and running around. I got so frustrated; I thought it was going to be like Ann: a little halo above my head/soft-playing music. [Laughter] You know, I didn’t realize in that—and we tried it a couple of times—it’s like, “That’s what’s going to happen. They’re little boys! You’re not going to have them strapped in a seatbelt, listening to this quiet little thing.”
We learned—or maybe I learned—“It’s going to look different; it’s not going to look like that. We are still called to make disciples. Figure out a different strategy.” I threw away the sermon thing. I think what ended up happening is—it was an overflow of Dad’s life—like you just said earlier. It was like: “What did God say to you today?” “What did you struggle with today? How did God meet you today?” “What are you praying right now?”—grab a moment and emote that.
Adam: You think about: “What you would want if you were being discipled?
Adam: “What would you ask for/would you say, ‘What I really need is somebody just to sit me down on a fireplace, make me sit absolutely still, and talk at me for an hour’? [Laughter] No; we would say, ‘I want somebody to invest in my life!—
Adam: —“’to think about what is happening with me; to really look me in the eye and be present—not be on their phone; not be moving about; not just say, ‘Well, I’m sure they’re picking up enough as we go.’” No; you would want somebody to really show that they really cared. That’s the opportunity we have in our own home.
Sometimes, for some families, that’s going to look like, “Sit down; we’ve got a lesson we’re going to walk through.” And for some families, it’s going to look like, “I just want to ask you a bunch of questions about where you’re at/how you’re doing. I just want to pray for you.” At different stages, it can change for each family and for each kid. If we start to prioritize our plans over the people the Lord has put in our house, that is going to be frustrating.
Adam: But if we look at the people the Lord gave us, and come up with a plan based on that, then I think there’s going to be some fruit from that.
Ann: Well, I think the thing we realized, too, was bedtime was ideal for little kids; because they don’t want to go to sleep.
Ann: And they’re willing to talk about anything and everything at that point!
Ann: Is that what you have found?
Adam: Absolutely right! Yes; family discipleship time for us can extend far into the night. My kids, right now, are asking really deep questions. Part of it, I know, is they’re trying to avoid maybe bedtime some of the time.
But I think we’ll be surprised—and I hear this from parents all the time—you’ll be surprised at what your kids picked up, what they remember, what they keyed in on when you thought they were just running around the house and smashing things. It might have been that moment that the Lord used to convict their heart, or that they heard something, or that it really clicked for them. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works!
Dave: Yes; and I’ll add this—in the teenage years, bedtime was critical too. I mean, you don’t do it the same way—you’re not lying on the bed and rolling around in it—you might be lying on the floor. But there’s that moment at 9/10 o’clock at night, when homework’s done, and they’re getting ready; right, Ann?
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: There are still moments there. They’re men now/or women, almost—
Dave: —you know, as 13-, 14-, 16-, 17-year-olds. But man!—if I laid on the floor and said: ‘Boy, I struggled with this today,”—
Dave: —“God met me here,”—there were conversations that were sort of beautiful—that I had a tendency to say, “Hey, man! Good night”—
Dave: —walked out of the room. And now, as a grandparent—like, “Man, you’re going to blink, and they’re going to be gone; so seize those moments to help make disciples.”
Adam: Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about in the book—is saying: “What are the cross points your family already has?” You guys are already together!—so how do you leverage that opportunity for the gospel? If you’re driving them home from football practice, you’re not just going to talk about the game; you’re going to talk, maybe, about a Proverb based on what they said. It doesn’t have to be scheduled and prepared. You’re just thinking about, “How can I try to help this kid understand my relationship with the Lord and my desire for him to have one?”
Whether it’s putting your kids to bed at night when they’re teenagers—or it might be when they get busted in the concealed sin that you talked about, Bob—and talking about what grace the Lord has for us, we’ll see the reality of the Scripture when our sin causes devastation. Every parent is going to have that moment, where they get the opportunity to be the one who demonstrates grace to their kids—that I can still love you, even now.
Adam: And we have the opportunity in that, because we’ve seen the Lord do that for us. All of us have personally experienced that if we know the Lord.
Bob: There is a word that just keeps coming back, over and over again, anytime we talk about this subject that I think is the key word. The word is “intentionality.”
Bob: It’s moms and dads, who are purposeful with this as an objective.
If you say, “Oh, I’ll do that when the moment is right,”—well, that’s a good approach—but you have to be intentional to be looking for those right moments. You can’t just hope it’s going to kind of naturally emerge. You have to be thinking when and how—and “This is important; do I have opportunities during the day?”—looking to seize those moments for spiritual deposits in the lives of your kids.
What you’ve done for us with the book, Family Discipleship,is to help us think through—and I like these categories: the times, the moments, and the milestones—and how we can be intentional with all of that. In fact, we want to make your book available to any FamilyLife Today listener, who would like to get a copy. If you’re able, as a listener, to make a donation to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today, we’ll send you Adam’s book as a thank-you gift. It’s co-written by Adam and Pastor Matt Chandler.
Again, the book is called Family Discipleship. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. Your donations are what make FamilyLife Today possible for you and for others, who are joining us in your city and all around the world. We’ve got folks who are listening, not only on this local radio station, but they’re listening on the web, through our brand-new mobile app, which, if you haven’t downloaded it yet, go to the app store on your device and just type in “FamilyLife” as one word.
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Tomorrow, we’re going to continue to talk about practical ways we can do a better job, as parents, connecting spiritually with our kids. Adam Griffin is going to join us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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