FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Prodigal Profile

with Tim Kimmel | April 5, 2007
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Family advocate Tim Kimmel, father of four and author of the book "Why Christian Kids Rebel," defines what a prodigal is for Dennis Rainey. On today's broadcast, Tim explains why good kids go bad.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Family advocate Tim Kimmel, father of four and author of the book "Why Christian Kids Rebel," defines what a prodigal is for Dennis Rainey. On today's broadcast, Tim explains why good kids go bad.

  • 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.

Family advocate Tim Kimmel defines what a prodigal is for Dennis Rainey.

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The Prodigal Profile

With Tim Kimmel
April 05, 2007
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Tim: I'm thinking of, like, this girl named Wendy, and she was center stage in the church and seemed to love God and then, all of a sudden, she got involved with a boy that didn't share the same value system as the parents, and she had a radical change in her life.

 The next thing you know, she's using very coarse, vile language with her mother, screaming and yelling, not wanting to go to church, rolling her eyes when her mother tries to bring up the Bible – in other words, a complete contradiction to the values and beliefs that this girl says that she's embraced.  That's what we're talking about.  That's a rebellious kid, and they happen a lot in Christian homes.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 5th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Are there things we can do as parents that will reduce the chances that our children will turn from the faith?

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You sure you want to do this?

Dennis: Yeah, I am.

Bob: Well, you remember last time when we had Tim Kimmel as a guest on FamilyLife Today, he talked about grace-based parenting.  Do you remember that?

Dennis: We had a few listeners who felt like we'd stepped over the line in terms of of …

Bob: … compromise.

Dennis: … how you'd define the word "grace." 

Bob: They thought that we were talking about license, about letting kids do whatever they want, or …

Dennis: … and we read their e-mails, and we listened to their phone calls, we took them seriously.

Bob: Not enforcing standards – I mean, I forwarded some of them to you, do you remember.

Tim: Yes, I certainly do.

Bob: So now he's written this book about why Christian kids rebel.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And that's a pretty important subject because how many of us want our kids to rebel when they grow, right?  None of us.

Tim: None of us.

Bob: So we want to hear this, but if we're going to hear this, he's got some controversial things to say.  Are you sure you want to go through with this?

Dennis: I think we need to go through with it.  We need to let Tim preach it.

Bob: Then we'll let the e-mails come.

Tim: Just forward them to my office?

Dennis: We'll take the hits for you, Tim.

Tim: Yeah, well, I appreciate that.

Dennis: Dr. Tim Kimmel, along with his wife, Darcy, are founders of Family Matters, which is a ministry committed to strengthening marriages and families all across the United States headquartered in – well, near Phoenix, Arizona, shall we say?

 Tim and Darcy have four children, two grandchildren, only two grandchildren, I might add.

Bob: Why do you say only two?

Dennis: Well, you know why?

Bob: Because you've got seven, right?

Dennis: Because we've got seven, and Tim's only got two.

Bob: So that's kind of nah nah nah nah nah.

Tim: I'm used to it.

Dennis: But he has written a book called "Why Christian Kids Rebel," and, Tim, I have two very important questions for you.  First of all, you dedicate this book to Cammy Van Rhuy [sp]?

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: Cammy Van Rhuy?

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: It says, "You never rebelled, you never wanted to, you never needed to."  Who is Cammy?

Tim: Cammy is the daughter of a guy I went to seminary with, and he became a missionary to the Sudan, and Cammy Van Rhuy was diagnosed with cancer when she was three, and she fought it hard until she was about six, and they thought she had cleared the corner on that.  It came back when she was 18, and she's been fighting it hard for the last seven years of her life.

 And when I think of a girl who has been really short-changed when you think of life and all the things thrown her way and the incredible stress that she's been under, if anybody had more of an option and maybe a logical reason to get mad at God, to get mad at her parents, to get mad at life, Kammy would.  She never did.

 And I think it has a lot to do with the grace that her parents raised her with and how they let her process life at the street level with her physical impairments and everything else.  She's a marvelous girl, and I just thought, you know, when I thought of all these kids that rebel, for what I think are pretty weak reasons, and I see Kammy, this girl was amazing.

Dennis: And Kammy is still alive?

Tim: Yes, she is.

Dennis: I would encourage our listeners to pray for Kammy.

Tim: Kammy is a wonderful girl, but she does need our prayer.

Dennis: And, you know, I think it's really great that you dedicate this book to her and just honor her for her faith and obedience during suffering, because if we are going to rebel, it can be during a time of suffering.

 The second question I have for you, Tim, and I want you to be honest – not that you wouldn't be.

Tim: I don't know whether I want to hear the second question.

Dennis: Well, the second question is a pretty tough question.  Now, you've written a book about why Christian kids rebel.  Have you ever had a child who has rebelled?  Now, I'm not talking about they got mad and slammed the door.

Tim: That's normal.

Dennis: Or they got angry and backed out of the driveway and peeled out.

Tim: That also is normal.

Dennis: Have you ever had a child who really stepped off in rebellion?

Tim: Not in the rebellion we're talking about here, and some people would say, "Well, then why are qualified to speak on that?"  Two reasons – one is I've been working with rebellious kids for my whole adult life, working with parents.  And the other thing is that because I paid close attention, I found that there are some things that you can do to minimize your kids' need to rebel, and we tried to implement those in our home.  And because our kids have been able to live our their faith, act out their faith, without that costing them anything, I think we've preempted a lot of their need to rebel in our home.

Bob: Well, give me an example of the kind of child you're talking about when you talk about a child who rebels.  If it's not slamming the door and peeling out, if that's normal, what are you talking about?

Tim: Well, I'm thinking of, like, this girl named Wendy, who had gone off on a nice missions outreach with her high school group, and she was just center stage in the church and seemed to love God.  And then, all of a sudden, she got involved with a boy that didn't share the same value system as the parents, and she had a radical change in her life.

 The next thing you know, she's using very coarse, vile language with her mother, screaming and yelling, racing out of the house, slamming the door, but this time it's not just a little "I'm upset with you," but  "I have a loathing for you and your value system."

 Not wanting to go to church, rolling her eyes when her mother tries to bring up the Bible, mention anything about Jesus.  In other words, a complete contradiction to the values and beliefs that this girl says that she's embraced.  That's what we're talking about.  That's a rebellious kid.  And they happen a lot in Christian homes.

Bob: More than we know, do you think?

Tim: Well, I think that it's astounding how many kids brought up in evangelical Christian homes are abandoning their parents' value system and belief system when they leave off to college.

 The good news is many of them return, but not without a lot of scar tissue on them.  Some of that scar tissue is covering them for life and impairing them for life and, to me, this is unnecessary if we have a better idea of why they want to rebel, how they rebel but, more importantly, some things we can do to keep them from needing to rebel.

Bob: You think there are things we may be doing that may be pushing them in a rebellious direction?

Tim: I certainly do, I certainly do, and I realize that's, once again – now, get ready for the e-mails …

Bob: All right, here we go, I told you.

Tim: I'm not just trying to pick a fight, that's not what I'm doing at all.  I'm just saying that we've got to realize that some of the conventional wisdom that we've been told as Christian parents that make sense in raising kids can actually tick them off towards God and turn their hearts away from Him.

Dennis: For example?

Tim: For example, cocooning them.  Now, I understand that when our kids are young, we need to protect them, but a lot of times Christian parents actually create a very tight structure around the child that they want to control all the variables.  They want to keep sin out of the house and keep the kids from sinning.

 The problem with that is that biblically it says you can't keep sin out of the house, it's a preexisting condition.  It's in their hearts.  And, on top of that, when we cocoon, we often create systems that substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God's Word in a kid's life.

Dennis: Are you talking about rules that they have to embrace and obey, endless lists of things, is that what you're talking about?

Tim: Yes.  Let me give you something more specific.  Let's say that I have placed my kids in a very highly cloistered environment, either educationally or their friends or their structure at church, and we have a sterilized home so that we don't have any – maybe no television or no videos or all that kind of stuff.  And we're thinking, "This will keep my child safe, and this will actually make them strong."  It does not necessarily keep them safe, and many times it makes them weak.

 That very system that we've created is saying to them, "Your God is not big enough to be depended upon to keep you from getting sucked into this world.  And because I can't trust you, and I'm not certain about Him, I will create a substitute to take His place in your life.

 We would never think that we're doing any such thing.  In fact, it seems just like the opposite, but the fact is that many times the decisions we make as parents communicate to our kids that our God is small, and He's weak instead of trying to bring them up to speed.  The reason we don't want to bring them up to speed in the culture that they're living in and help them to flourish in it is because they just might make some mistakes along the way.

 Well, of course, they're going to make mistakes.  And instead of us letting them work those out under our roof, we hold back on that, and then they go out into adulthood, and they make those mistakes but now we've got some serious problems because they might make a baby, or they might get a divorce, or they might get into some harsh habits that can really destroy them.

Bob: Let me see if I can head off some e-mail right here, just as you talk about cocooning.  If I hear you right, you're not saying that the decision not to have television in your home is a bad decision that will lead your kids to rebellion, are you?

Tim: I'm saying that any decision you make can be made for right reasons or wrong reasons, and here is what we all have to realize – if we do good things, but we do them for wrong reasons, we will have a bad outcome.  It will blow up in our face.

Dennis: Or, even if we do it for the right reason but implement it with a legalistic, heavy-handed, dictatorial, no relationship method, you're almost going to guarantee rebellion at that point.

Tim: You're inciting these kids to anger and frustrating them beyond belief.  And, on top of that, you're saying, "I don't want you to have to figure out how the Holy Spirit is to operate in your heart."  See, I'm not against rules and regulations, and many times when you talk about grace, people assume that that's what you're about. 

 If you saw the Kimmels in action, up close and personal, running our home and raising our kids, you'd say, "This is a very strict home."

Dennis: Such as?  Give us some limits that you have in your home – for teenagers.

Tim: Okay, for teenagers – we're strict about when they come in, where they go out, who they're with, what they see at movies.

Dennis: What about dating?

Tim: Dating – when they date, if they date, who they date – all those things.  We have standards on those.

Dennis: So you're not talking about just throwing the door wide open and say, "As a 14-year-old girl, you're a born-again Christian, you have the Holy Spirit, you've got the Scriptures up in your room, we're going to trust you, we're just going to give you an unlimited amount of freedom."

Tim: That would be called "reckless parenting."  That would be a nightmare waiting to take place.

Dennis: That's not grace-based parenting.

Tim: That is not grace-based parenting.  In fact, that would actually set your kids to rebel.  No, we're not talking about that at all, but what we're saying is that it is easy for us to create man-made life support systems for our kids – evangelical life support systems that substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit.

 Can I give you an analogy of something that I think maybe explains this?  Down in Tucson, Arizona, they did an experiment.  They wanted to see if we could create an environment where, let's say, people could survive on the moon or Mars or something like it – another planet.  So they made this thing called the Biosphere. 

 And it had, like five ecosystems in it, and they were going to put these scientists in there for two years and see if they could survive.  Now, the most important part of this experiment were the trees, because the trees had to create the oxygen.  So they put the best trees and the best soil, enclosed it in glass, put these people in there, locked them down, and they thought, "Great." 

 Because their calculations were these trees should put in more oxygen than they actually need, and they can pump some out.  As it turned out, the trees didn't flourish.  They wilted, some got top heavy and fell over.  They could not figure out what went wrong.

 Now, after the fact – by the way, they had to pump in oxygen to keep those people alive.  So, after the fact, they were trying to figure out what went wrong, and a tree specialist came along and said, "Oh, this is so simple.  This is so obvious.  There's no wind in the Biosphere.  It is wind, contrary wind, that makes those roots go deep and makes those trees supple and puts off that oxygen."

 There is a way to raise kids in our Christian homes that actually shows them how to appropriate God's power, God's Word, God's spirit, on a day-to-day basis that brings them up to speed, and when we do that, it's the opposite of cocooning them, but when we do that, we actually make them stronger and fitter and also it requires much more of an engagement between us and them at the heart level not just as a parent and a set of rules.

Dennis: I think you're exactly right, Tim.  In fact, your illustration of that wind blowing through those trees brings back a memory, when Benjamin, our oldest son, was in the 8th grade, he was reading a book, and I can still remember where he was sitting in our living room and, all of a sudden, he looked up from this required book that he was reading for English literature, and Benjamin is very, very bright, very smart, was in the advanced class, and he said, "Dad, I don't think I ought to be reading what I'm reading."

 Now, this is 8th grade.  I said, "Well, let me see what you're looking at, son," and so he handed me the book, and I didn't need to look at much at all.  I don't remember what the name of the book was, but, quite honestly, if you put this on TV or in a film …

Tim: It would be R-rated or X-rated.

Dennis: Yeah, it was pornography.  And so I kind of coached Benjamin in how to go to his English teacher and suggest an alternate book, which he did, which she turned down.

 Well, at that point, Barbara and I had the opportunity to go in with Benjamin and the English teacher and to compliment her on her abilities as an English teacher, and we said, "You know what?  You are our son's favorite teacher and in my opinion you may be the finest teacher in this school, and we want you to know we applaud you.  But because of our standards of who we are, as parents, we just don't feel that a hot-blooded, 14-year-old boy needs to be reading this stuff.  Would you give him another book that he could read?"

 And she said, "Sure."  Now, what happened in that process was, we let the wind blow through the leaves of our son's life as he went to his teacher.  Then, as he watched us go to his teacher in a very respectful affirming way, where we didn't beat her up, we didn't go in there with our biggest Bible and thumping it and pointing our fingers at her.  But we just went in as citizens and appealed to her conscience at that point. 

 And it seems to me what you're talking about here in raising children who don't rebel is to create that environment where our children can receive our teaching, but we create that environment so they can hear not only what we teach but how we teach it and why we teach it, and they can begin to understand the why so they can be motivated in their own lives to apply it.

Bob: I'm thinking that if all we do is create the environment, the Biosphere, in our home, and we say, "As long as I raise my kids in here, they're safe, they're protected, the cocoon will keep them safe," we have not prepared them for life, and we have not helped them develop the spiritual muscles that are going to be required to deal with real-life temptation and they're set up for rebellion because they'll be seduced by it the first time they walk out of the Biosphere.

 So it may be that you decide, "Listen, we're going to have a pollution-free home, and we're not going to have a TV, and we're not going to listen to the wrong kind of music.  We're going to keep our standards the way they are," but don't stop there.  Talk to your kids about the decisions you've made, why you've made those decisions, talk to them about what's on TV that's inappropriate, help prepare them for when they're in the college dorm room and somebody says to them, "Hey, come look at this," and they get pulled right in, right?

Tim: Absolutely.  You know, one other thing we've got to throw into that equation is that there comes a point in our kids' lives where they start to question us or start to step away from us.  They are moving from being our children to being young adults.  Our job is to move them from being dependent upon us to being dependent on God.

 Now, during that time when they want to shift away from us, they may start to question a lot of our standards, or they may want to try things out.  Now, you can just say, "Absolutely not," or you say, "How about we walk through a lot of this stuff side-by-side," like the music, like the movies.

 And I'm not saying that you abandon all standards, because we haven't done that in our life but, clearly, you know, when our kids were watching Disney when they were little, what they're watching as teenagers is different.

 Let me give you a Scripture that backs up this process of bringing your kids up to speed – Judges, chapter 3, context – these are the children whose parents fought the evil people in the promised land; whose grandparents only saw the enemies and were fearful, and God made them wander around for 40 years, okay?  Now, these are the grandchildren.  Here's what it says in Judges, chapter 3, verse 1 and following – "These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan.  He did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience."

 So God said, "Look, I want your kids to know how to trust me.  You know, parents, how to trust me because we work side-by-side in ridding this country of these people, but I left some behind because your kids need to know how to fight, too."  Now, I'm not talking about little kids, but I'm talking about bringing them up, and we've just talked about cocooning.  There's a lot of reasons why we, as Christian parents, often do things that cause our kids to rebel.

Dennis: There are, Tim, and I think what you've shared is really an illustration of how we, as parents, need to be purposeful as parents and be thinking about not only the end objective of where we're headed, where we release them.  You know, they are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – they were never designed to stay in the quiver, they were designed for battle.  And if they are going to be in the battle that means they have to experience some wars and some battles, and they need to be coached and encouraged along the way.

 And that's the assignment, Bob, of a parent.  Parents, however, need all the help they can get today in knowing how to do that, and I think Tim's book, "Why Christian Kids Rebel," is not just a book for parents whose children are already rebelling, but it's going to help us prevent our children from rebelling.

Bob: Well, none of us want kids who abandon the faith, who walk away, and this is a book that will cause you to think twice about what you're doing, why you're doing it, about the choices you're making, and there may be some points in the book where you say, "I don't agree with that."  That's okay, this will cause you to just reconsider those choices and know the potential risks that may be there with some of those choices.

 In fact, this book is a great companion to the book that you wrote, "Grace-Based Parenting."  We've got both of them in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and parents ought to get both books together and read them through to look at how this philosophy of parenting can integrate with what you're doing in your family.

 Go to our website at for more information.  At the bottom of our home page, there is a button that says "Today's Resources," and it says "Go" right in the middle of it.  You click that button, it will take you to the page where you can get more information about these books from Tim Kimmel, and anybody who wants to order both books together, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD of our conversation with Tim.

 Again, our website address is  Click the "Go" button at the bottom, and you can order from the Web, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to place an order, if you'd like.  Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 We have updated our resource center on the Web with additional parenting information, so if it's been a while since you've looked through our online resource center, you might want to go to our website again at and be sure to get more information about these books from Tim Kimmel.

 You know, I think one of the things we've emphasized today is that in order for our children to embrace our faith, they need to see is being lived out in a vibrant, passionate way.  They need to see us walking with Christ, and we, as parents, have got to take advantage of opportunities that are before us, to continue to press home the Gospel message to our children.

 Easter is just around the corner, and there's a tool that's available for parents of young children or for parents of older children to use in reminding all of us of the story of Jesus.  It's the movie, "Jesus" that's now available, digitally remastered on DVD.  This month we have decided to say thank you to the folks who help support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount by sending a copy of this DVD for your family to use or for you to pass on as a gift to another family you know.  It's our way of saying thanks for your ongoing support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today, as we seek to provide practical biblical help for your family, for your marriage. 

 When you partner with us financially in that, just ask us for a copy of "The Jesus Movie," on DVD, and we'll send it to you.  In fact, if you make an online donation, when you get to the keycode box just write in the word "Jesus" and that will be our cue that you'd like a copy of the DVD sent to you, or if you're making a donation over the phone, ask for a copy of the Jesus DVD, and we'll send it to you as a way, again, of saying thanks for partnering with us financially here at FamilyLife Today.

 Tomorrow Tim Kimmel is going to be back with us.  We are going to continue to examine why some Christian kids rebel against the Christian faith.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

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

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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