Milk keeps their bones strong. But what are you doing to keep their faith strong? Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope reveal the secret ingredient to growing a spiritually strong family.
Milk keeps their bones strong. But what are you doing to keep their faith strong? Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope reveal the secret ingredient to growing a spiritually strong family.
Bob: If you want to have meaningful conversations with your son or your daughter around issues of life, about God, about stuff that really matters, Pastor Steve Stroope says you need to make sure you allow plenty of time.
Steve: We look at vacations. We look at activities for the family and we think we have to bribe and entertain our kids all the time. I think our kids really desire to spend time with us, just to spend time doing life together. Just make time to get out and begin to talk about things that we would never talk about if we had some kind of project going.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about the important role we play as moms and dads in evangelizing and discipling our own children.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. As you were raising your kids, other than your mom and dad, did you have a model, other couples or other families who you looked at and you said “we need to follow what they are doing?”
Dennis: I had a couple of them. Don and Sally Meredith were one and they discipled me at the University of Arkansas as a student. I had another one in Dr. Howard Hendricks and his wife Jeanne, who I studied under at Dallas Theological Seminary. I had some pretty powerful models.
Bob: I’m going to say yes, you pulled out the big guns here. I was just thinking of some family down the street that was maybe doing it right.
Dennis: I’m just telling you…
Bob: Who lives down the street from you, right?
Dennis: …that’s who influenced my life. I think we underestimate the power that a model can be and you don’t have to be Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary to influence somebody’s life.
Bob: In fact, I’ve got some friends of mine who just recently got together on a Tuesday night with a younger couple in their church. This younger couple had come to them and said. “We’ve been married for a couple of years, we don’t have any kids, we’re doing okay, but we’d just like to hang out. We’d just like to learn from you.” So they’re going to get together, I don’t know, every month or so…
Dennis: That’s good.
Bob: …and just spend an evening together and talk about whatever they want to talk about. I thought that’s healthy for anybody, to have that kind of relationship with somebody who’s maybe a few laps down the road from you.
Dennis: I couldn’t agree more, Bob. We have with us in the studio a couple of chefs who… You know how the Colonel had his secret herbs and spices at Kentucky Fried Chicken…?
Bob: Most of our listeners don’t remember, because that was in the marketing campaign from about thirty years ago. But I remember it myself.
Dennis: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Dennis: Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope join us on FamilyLife Today. You gentlemen work together at a little church down in Rockwall, Texas, 11,000 members, Lake Pointe. You have been in ministry Steve, for thirty years, and Kurt, how many years for you?
Kurt: In pastoral ministry, about four and prior to that I was at Focus on the Family for about twenty years.
Dennis: Together you’ve come up with a book called It Starts at Home and it’s talking about how a church can really have the DNA of building families and equipping their families.
Bob: How you can cook that up.
Dennis: That’s it exactly, exactly right. You guys have got a couple of herbs and spices that you say are the secrets to ultimately being a successful parent.
Bob: And these herbs and spices came from your own observation.
Kurt: Well, they did. For Olivia and me, when we were young parents, we looked…. Keep in mind that she came from a very troubled home. I came from a Christian family and one of my heroes is my dad and, of course, my mom. My dad, in particular, as he laid down his life regularly for his family, worked two jobs because he had seven kids to feed and so forth.
But I wouldn’t say we were in a home that had the kinds of ideas that our generation has in terms of how to be intentional about the faith. So family devotions were a boring thing in our family, sitting there with the giant family Bible once a year because the preacher said you’re supposed to do this and Mom nudged Dad, Dad felt guilty, and he pulls out the Bible and we’d rather be at the dentist than having family devotions. So it wasn’t a model that I looked at and said that’s what I want to do with my kids.
Dennis: I want to ask Steve that. What kind of home did you grow up in? Did you have the big Bible opened at your house like he’s talking about?
Steve: No. The thing is that the two finest Christians, Dennis, that I’ve even known in my entire life were my mom and dad. That’s one of the great blessings that God gave me. I know that everybody doesn’t have that model but most of my parenting I learned from my mom and dad. They didn’t have the resources that we have today but I think they were led by God’s spirit to know that it was more about relationships than it was about content.
Steve: I just remember going on camping trips with my parents. They couldn’t afford to take us to Disneyland or some of these other places. I’m grateful for that because we just spent time together, fishing together, hiking together, cooking together, and they just lived out their faith in front of us. So they were the model for me.
Kurt: You talk about the two ingredients. That is a foundational ingredient right there and it’s simply relationship. Another way of putting it is laughing together, spending time together, and enjoying one another’s company.
When we were young parents we started interviewing some of these couples that had older kids. Ours’ were really young. They had older kids and we’d look at them and we’d say they have a good relationship with their kids, nothing perfect. They enjoy being together. They still want to talk to their parents, you know, even though they’re 17, 18, 20, whatever it may be.
We looked at those families and we said we wanted to find out what they did so that we can do that. And it came down to what we call two secret sauce ingredients. The first one was relationship. It was just that they enjoy one another’s company. The second thing is they all did something to be intentional in terms of the faith formation of their kids.
It looked different in every one of those homes. Some of them it was a weekly breakfast out with Dad or out with Mom, with each kid on a rotation. Some of them it was family night activities where they’re intentionally creating object-lesson-based fun, engaging activities in the home. Some of them it was a bedtime blessing process.
So it looked different in every one of those homes but there was something they did that was intentional, that was catalytic, that was routine.
Bob: Steve, you talked about your parents and the camping and the hiking and the fun part. Was there an intentional side there too?
Steve: We didn’t do so much family devotionals. They took us to church and one of the questions Dad would always ask was “what did you all talk about at church?” He would let us talk and tell what we learned and he would ask us probing questions. Then he would talk about what their lesson was about. And he, of course, would put it in our language.
Then I also remember sitting around from time to time and Dad would say “let’s all come in the living room and just talk for a little bit.” So we’d all stop and all go in there. Dad would say, “What’s going on in your life, guys? There were three boys in my family. He would just say “what’s going on in your lives?”
One of the best questions my dad would ever ask is “how can I pray for you guys?” I’ve taken that into my own life. Any time I’m with anybody and I start to leave I ask “how can I pray for you?” I ask that of Christian brothers and they’re always thrilled for me to have that question. But I’ve asked it of folks who don’t know the Lord. I’ve never had anybody offended by that question.
Now we have a family tradition where we keep a chalkboard above the table and on that chalkboard is the name of my two grown daughters, all four of the grandkids, the sons-in-law, and Marsha and I. And on there (everybody knows where the chalk is) you can go and you can put your current prayer request there. If you go to the homes of my daughters they have a chalkboard just like that there.
I don’t know if anybody’s thought about it but that all came back from Dad, when Dad used to ask “boys, how can I be praying for you?” Just that simple question opened up our lives to him and we were able to share in a little more vulnerable way.
Bob: Maryann and I recently had some of our extended family, our kids, back in town.
Most of the family was together and we all went to a movie together and then out to eat after the movie was over. As we sitting around at the table afterwards, one of my kids looked at his siblings and said “So, what was your spiritual highlight from the movie tonight?” The kids all laughed. Maryann said to me later “That kind of made me sad. They were mocking you.” She was pointing to me. “They were mocking you.”
Dennis: Because you always used to…
Bob: Because I’m kind of known for talking about the spiritual highlights of stuff. There was one time when my daughter had brought home a young man who she was interested in. At the dinner table I said “So, share with me one of the spiritual highlights of your life.” The kids were all “Dad… You don’t ask the guy at the first dinner table that question.” (laughing)
So now it’s become this “Dad’s going to ask about somebody’s spiritual highlight” and Maryann said “I was sad they were mocking.” I reflected back on that and I thought some of that may have been sarcasm and mockery, but some of it was that that’s sticking with them.
Steve: The highest form of complement. The fact that it’s a family joke means it means a lot to the family.
Kurt: That’s right. They’re going to look back on that. I just did that the other day. We left a movie and went out to eat. I always do the same, I talk about it. I use movie nights as a spiritual formation tool. With the older boys and the “ahh, Dad, I don’t want to have to think about it on this film.” “Yes, you’re going to think about it.” So it becomes a playful joke. But the joke is actually part of the joy. It’s actually the ability to laugh at yourself.
You notice that families that are troubled and broken… my wife, again, came from a family like this… you’ll find that they have trouble laughing at themselves. They take themselves very seriously. I think a sign of a healthy family is that you’re able to laugh with one another, at one another, in a playful and, of course, respectful way. But that’s all part of that mix. Part of that secret recipe, isn’t it, of joy?
Bob: You mentioned earlier a family that kind of became adoptive grandparents to your kids. Have there been other families along the way that you and Olivia, looked at and said “we need to see what they’re doing. We need to watch what they’re doing,” and you’ve picked up habits from them?
Kurt: There are and, in fact, I would say none of them realize that the habits we picked up were even habits in their own home. You step from the outside and you say “that’s a neat thing.” Little things. You probably heard of the whole mealtime where you do high low. “What’s the high point of your day? What’s the low point of your day?” at mealtime. We just picked that up from one of these families. They didn’t realize they were doing that or that it was having an impact.
But when you’re a younger family and, this is again how the church collectively can help younger families, let them see. Invite them over for dinner. Let them see how it plays out at your household. Maybe both of those parents came from a family where they never saw that in their home. They need a picture. So they’re just sitting around the table doing high/low. And what happens is each child says “here was the high of my day, here was the low point of my day.” They look forward to it and they do it every day. What happens is a whole dialogue can come out just from that little activity.
Steve: What’s funny about that is that Kurt got that from another family. Well, Marsha, my wife, got that from Kurt’s material and now she’s doing that with our grandchildren. So here’s a family out there who was doing it right. Kurt got an idea from them, did it in his own family, now we’re doing it with our grandchildren. I guarantee you our grandchildren will one day say to their kids when they tuck them into bed at night before they pray, “Tell me the high point of your day today. Tell me the low point.” So it just gets passed on and we can share these things and learn from each other.
Kurt: That’s one great example of a little thing you do that’s feeding fun and enjoyment relationally. But it also leads into the intentionality of spiritual discussions. I can’t tell you how many times something comes up, that occurred in their day, perhaps the low point of their day, that we would never have known about had we not been practicing that little routine.
It surfaces an issue of “Oh, my goodness. We need to talk about that one.” So it surfaces and it triggers and it prompts and it becomes catalytic for those formal conversations. It’s just an informal routine we do for fun.
Steve: I’ll tell you one of the family traditions we got. We got it from someone else and I can’t even remember who they are. But I remember someone telling me that on birthdays that they would all gather around and they would affirm whoever’s birthday it was. We picked that up back when our kids where middle schoolers.
We just started this habit of whenever someone has a birthday we would all go around and we would tell what we respected about them or what we valued. It’s just something, again, that you see work in other families. You see the value that it brings to those families. And then you incorporate it into your family and it becomes a part of that family heritage.
Bob: Relationship and intentionality.
Steve: That’s right.
Bob: I’m trying to make sure I’m keeping that at the forefront. Build relationship and then be purposeful in terms of spiritual formation.
Kurt: I’ll tell you, you guys know I’ve had a passion for years for things like family night activities, bedtime, mealtime. The reason is that’s where the two of those converge. Instead of let’s have a category of spiritual and discipleship discussions and another category of fun activities…
Steve: Sacred and secular…
Kurt: How do we merge those together so the best and most enjoyable part of the week are activities that we are doing together that have an object lesson or some type of a spiritual theme?
It was time for us to do allowance with our younger kids recently. Actually we did it both with our older kids when they were younger. We needed to talk to them about God’s principles of money. One of our favorite activities was we went to the bank and pulled out a thousand one dollar bills. By the way, I found out you have to have it in there before they’ll give it to you.
It became an issue. But we needed one thousand one dollar bills.
Dennis: Details, details…
Kurt: So we’re going to get a thousand one dollar bills. It’s a story I heard from one guy so I’m going to do that with my kids. We had a pile of a thousand one dollar bills and I put an envelope in the middle of this pile that said “God’s Instructions for Money.”
We start our family night activity. I say to the kids, “There’s a treasure somewhere in the house. Go find it.” They go running all over and Shaun, who at the time, I think, was about seven years old, finds the pile of money. One thousand one dollar bills is a lot of money for a seven year old kid.
Bob: It’s a lot of money for a 58-year-old pastor, but go ahead.
Kurt: He starts, he literally starts rolling around and throwing the money in the air. And he’s says, “We’re rich! We’re rich!” We can buy a house with a swimming pool.” He’s going ballistic. “Now, we can spend the money on anything we want, guys, after we follow God’s instructions for money. Step one. Let’s count the money.”
That took like 74 hours to count out a thousand ones. But they’re having a blast counting the money.
The “God’s Instructions for Money” envelope had three principles. First, we’re going to give. Second we’re going to pay our bills. We listed out bills. And then, third, we’re going to save. You can just imagine, as they’re paying out the electrical bill, and the house payment, the color is draining from their faces. You know, we feel it every two weeks, right?
The color is draining from their faces and they’re seeing this money go out. Finally, at the end, there was one dollar for each of them to spend on anything they want after following God’s instructions for money.
Well, that activity was a blast. Our kids, our older two, are now 20 and 18, and they still tell stories of “Remember when we did the money family night and we counted out the money?” They helped us do it with the younger kids not too long ago.
Well, what’s happening there? We’re teaching them about money but we’re doing it in a way that’s fun and engaging and so there are the kinds of things you want to create. By the way, it’s really important to rush the other $998 back to the bank the next day.
Just a tip in case you’re thinking about doing that activity.
Dennis: To cover the checks.
Kurt: That’s right!
Dennis: …that are coming in. You know, one of the things that you’re illustrating there is not just having fun, but taking the Bible and practically breaking it into bite-sized pieces that those kids can understand and then begin to digest.
Here’s the thing that I found as we raised our kids. You can’t expect them to get it one hundred percent of the time and many times you just need to anticipate that you’re going to run into all kinds of static. I mean we had family times at the dinner table and they’d be shooting peas across the table. They’d be spilling apple juice all over the floor. It’s never going the way you imagine it to go in your mind. You have to really develop a sense of humor and be extremely flexible.
Kurt: That’s right. My wife says… You know we try and make mealtime a priority. She says you have to anticipate at least one sacrifice to the “spill god” at every meal. Don’t sweat it. Just wipe it up and move on. Don’t let it ruin your meal. But, yeah, you have to go with the flow and enjoy it.
We have one family at our church that when we kicked out our initial campaign said “Hey, I’m going to try family nights!” So this dad said, ”Alright. Here we go.” He did the first activity and it ended up with their son in tears because it didn’t go right. Sometimes these things are awkward. It was funny though. They reflected that evening. The wife said. “That was a disaster but we’re doing it again. And we’re going to keep doing it because it’s very, very important.” It doesn’t matter. You’re going to have some blow ups. You’re going to have some failures. Just keep doing it because over time it’s little by little by little.
Bob: Steve, you talk in the book about this whole concept of being intentional in relationships as playing the odds. That’s kind of the framework you put around it. Let’s be honest. You can do what we’ve talked about. You can be relational and intentional and do it all and have a 17 year old, an 18 year old, a 22 year old who says “I’m out of here. I’m not bought in on this and I’m pursuing something else.” The father in Luke 15 had a son like that, didn’t he?
Steve: Yes, he really did. The great thing was that when the young man found himself in the pigsty, and the keys words are “he came to himself” he knew where to go. He had a place to go. I really think it’s important that we give our children the best opportunity to have a relationship with God and to grow Christlike character. That’s our job, to give them the best opportunity.
But they are responsible for their own choices and we can’t take that guilt. Satan would love for us to take that guilt upon ourselves and to try to punish ourselves. What I think what we can do is we can be faithful. We can give our kids the best opportunity.
We can also give them a place to come back to when they come to themselves and know that there is a loving father, a loving mother, who never stopped loving them, by the way. Didn’t enable them. Didn’t agree with all their choices. And stated it at least once. But still loves them.
They’re there to help them do the right thing. They will not be there to help them do the wrong thing. And that’s our responsibility as parents.
Kurt: That’s why we call it playing the odds. There are no guarantees. There are no guarantees. Proverbs 22 is not a guarantee that your children will embrace what you believe. But in the context of healthy relationships odds are in your favor because children tend to want to embrace your beliefs and values. So make the relationship a top priority.
Steve: Let’s not miss the obvious here. It’s about time, friends. It’s about making time to do relationships. Sometimes that means not entertaining your kids. We look at vacations and we look at activities for the family and we think we have to bribe and entertain our kids all the time. I think our kids really desire to spend time with us, just to spend time doing life together. Make sure that we’re not always glued to a video screen or letting someone perform for the family. Just make time to go spend some time where you’re forced to talk.
I know one of the things that Marsha and I do is we take, every chance we get, every evening that I’m home, we take a walk after dinner. One of the reasons we walk after dinner is because there’s not something for us to do. There’s not a television to watch. There’s not a chore to do. There’s not even a book to read. There’s certainly not a phone to interrupt us. And, you know, it’s amazing. About twenty minutes into a walk you begin to talk about things that you would never talk about if you had an activity going. That’s purposeful. We need that time.
I think we need that time with our kids too, where we can get out and begin to talk about things that we would never talk about if we had some kind of project going.
Dennis: Well, I sure appreciate your guys pointing us in the direction of relationships and building friendships and heart to heart connections with our children and our grandchildren and secondly, being intentional. Just do something. No family does it all.
It’s real easy to listen to a broadcast like this and to suffer an inferiority complex thinking “Oh, my goodness. Listen to what Kurt and Olivia do in their family. And then there’s Steve and Marsha and their family. We’ve not done that.”
Well, you know what? Make today and this week the first week of making relationships much more of a priority, having fun. And then secondly, beginning to make some memories and being intentional about passing on the truth of God’s Word and the truth about Him to your children.
Guys, I just appreciate the model you guys both are individually and in your own marriages and families. But also, there at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, Texas, of standing strong as a church trying to show other churches, as well as make it happen in your own backyard, of how the church really is the most powerful unit for helping the family in existence today. I just appreciate you and hope you’ll come back and visit as again sometime.
Steve and Kurt: Thank you for letting us be here.
Bob: It’s great too that you guys have taken what you’re doing at the church and how you’re connecting with your families and put that in book form with the book It Starts at Home. Of course, we’ve got that in our FamilyLife Today resource center. We’ve got a link online to the Drive Faith Home website where churches can learn more about how you can launch an initiative in your church to connect families and churches together.
Then we’ve got information as well about the resource that Kurt and Olivia created along with us here at FamilyLife called Just Add Family, recipe cards for Family Devotions. If you’ve been kind of slack in that this year and, as you head toward the new year, you think “We’re going to do a better job at that,” get a tool like this. I love the fact that you can just go over, open the recipe box, pull out one of these devotions, and in about ten minutes you’re ready to go with something your family can do together tonight that will stimulate some spiritual conversation.
So, again, all the information about the book, the website, the Just Add Family resource can be found online at our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll-free 1-800-FLTODAY, I-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 hear the first part of a message from author Gary Thomas about thankfulness, about recognizing the goodness of God in our lives and giving thanks for it. It’s an appropriate day to do that tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. I hope you can tune in and be with us for part of your Thanksgiving Day.
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 will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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