This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m reading and praying in Proverbs with “parenting eyes” and blogging whatever comes to mind. That’s the plan, for good or bad. The chapters 10-24 are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there may be different themes/topic that you notice but I go in a different direction, so I hope you understand that. Today, I read Proverbs 19-21

My friend Dave and I decided to offer a parenting class at our church. He was a former youth pastor who had a broad range of experience, including a stint with teens who were in detention facilities. He had training in restraining methods and a former college football linebacker. He also had two daughters in high school. He had parenting stripes.

What I brought to the table was about 15 years of youth pastoring experience, both in on-campus ministry and in churches. We’d had a few teens live with us in that stretch and had teens over to our house all the time. I also had daughters in elementary and middle school. I had my fair share of parenting experience, too.

Not to say we were experts or doing it perfectly, mind you. But we felt like we had a little bit to offer the folks in our church as we could walk through a lot of our experiences together and let them glean a few things here and there. I mean, we’d spent a lot of time working alongside parents in crisis and handling the problem-solving kinds of issues. And, while there’s certainly a glut of parenting curriculum out there, for some reason we decided that it’d be good to write our own. We felt like nobody in Nashville, the home of the Christian Culture Industrial Complex, knew our families as well as we did. Besides that, we’d learned that all those books/curriculums were written from a position of strength as a parent. I mean, who writes a book when your kid underperforms or underachieves or is a success in one area and a dismal failure in another? As I’ve said before, those books aren’t about parenting but rather memoirs along a journey that person is on.

So, we felt like it’d be fun to write a curriculum, and it was. We knew the course would be 6-weeks long. We knew we wanted to leave plenty of time for discussion in the class. So, we knew we’d have roughly 6 one-hour sessions to communicate. So, as you can imagine, we spent a great deal of time talking about what was MOST important…I mean, if we had 25 sessions that class would’ve been a bit different, no? After about four months of discussion and arrangement of the principles we’d decided were most important, and then another month of writing/editing our lessons, and then a week to put all of that into a handy-dandy notebook, we were ready for sign-ups.

We realized we touched a nerve in our church body, because the first week of what we thought was going to be a four-week sign up deadline we had “sold out” the seats that our allotted classroom would hold. We couldn’t have been more excited to get started.

And we did. Week 1 brought us a packed classroom. Week 2 the crowd was down a bit. Week 3 the crowd was down 50%. By the time the class finished there were 3 couples showing up.

Obviously, we wanted to evaluate…so we asked those that signed up why they didn’t finish…

…and were taken aback by the general rationale: You guys didn’t talk much about how we can keep our kids in line or in bounds. You spent so much time on us as people that we never got to how to deal with our kids when they pop off or how to motivate them or what to do when they disappoint you or make sure they make good choices or any of that. Nope. This was all about our walk with God and being real and such. That wasn’t at all what we signed up for.

Did you catch where we missed the felt needs of parents?

Our disconnect with those that showed up was that we were convinced that you couldn’t get to use those techniques until we’d built a foundation from which to employ them. The last week of the class was a few of those that would help, but we felt that those would ultimately fail if they were mere techniques without a legitimate basis. We didn’t want parents manipulating kids to “good behavior” and/or “good outcomes,” we wanted parents to point their kids to following Christ, and to do that from an authentic place.

So, the next go-round we provided a disclaimer: We’d be building a foundation where the tools would actually “work better.” We still had to joke that we had the lowest class-retention rate of any teachers at that church…even with our little encouragement at the beginning to stick it out and we’d eventually get to a few tools to help the day-in day-out back-and-forth of parenting. They still dropped out. We had fun with those that stayed, though.

We were convinced that proactive parenting (as compared to reactive parenting. Most of us parent as a reaction to what we liked that our parents did or what we disliked as children) was understanding that God’s focus on the heart was more important than any techniques in books. I got that from Proverbs 21: 30 & 31: “There is no wisdom and there is no understanding, and there is no counsel against the Lord. A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is from the Lord.” Sure, there are other places that sentiment is echoed in Scripture. But if God’s Word is truth, then we’d need to be communicating that truth to our kids, right? And how can we communicate that truth unless we ourselves not only know that truth, but also are living that truth authentically and making sure that it’s so much more than a good theory to nod at but a reality in our lives? And not to mention that we needed to be trusting the Lord more with our kids than we were.

We also wanted our parents to be doing that from a loving place…first in their marriages (yes, we had accounted for single parents as well in the notes). Proverbs 19:13 mentions that a contentious wife is like a constant dripping. Proverbs 21:19 mentions that it’s better to live in the desert than with a woman who fights all the time. Now, I’m not picking on wives here. I’m just noting that we have the opportunity to choose to be loving towards our spouse. These verses tell us that these folks are annoying and difficult to be around…but if you’re choosing to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, well, you’ll be more of all the good things that make relationships work. So, we focused on being loving towards our spouse (or, in the case of single parents, the other relationships like work/school/civic that they were involved in) and all the benefits that come from modeling healthy, functioning, loving relationships in front of our kids.

Then we talked about being loving and respectful towards our children. Why is it that we will actually behave in such ways towards our kids that if other did it, we’d risk jail time to keep it from happening? Proverbs 19:12 highlights authority and how to wield it: A king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass. See? A king can motivate by fear (which 19:19 shows us can be a vicious cycle: A person with great anger bears the penalty, but if you deliver him from it once, you will have to do it again) or by provision and patience. But we wanted parents to guard their own hearts as they disciplined their children. The results of this are in 19:18: Discipline your child, for there is hope, but do not set your heart on causing his death. Discipline gives our kids hope…it shouldn’t break their spirits. And, we know when we do that, right? Oh, and notice when we should expect to become wise in 19:20, “Listen to advice and receive discipline, that you may become wise by the end of your life.”

See, parenting takes time. Lots of it. Lots and lots of it.

And the most important thing in parenting is to walk humbly with God in integrity AS parents. This requires a lot more time and attention than a few techniques on listening and basic instruction…and to employ those techniques without that foundation is spinning wheels in mud. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing in an eternal sense. Just kids with decent social mores who fall in line with a path to successful mediocrity.

Sure, maybe we could have done a better job of marketing the class…or been better at our craft…

…but I’m being honest with you when I say that I really think the crux of our lack of retention was indeed the reality that parents would rather have had a checklist of things that would create kids who did all the right things and made all the right choices with all the right people, and the underlying belief that the problem is THEM and not US. We should focus on them and if they’ll get it right, then we’ll be able to be better with them.

But God wants our hearts as we trust our children with Him…

and these two Psalms highlight that:

20:7 The righteous person behaves in integrity; blessed are his children after him.

21:21 The one who pursues righteousness and love finds life, bounty, and honor.

So let’s don’t cheapen our role as parents to techniques and behavior management. Let’s take it for what it is: A chance to know our God better and fulfill the role he gives to us for about a quarter-century. Do we really strive for righteousness–a right relationship with the God of the Universe–as the foundation of our parenting? Or are we focused on outward results…in both them and us?

P.S. Oh, and on last “Chrisitan Fortune Cookie” in tomorrow’s entry…with this as foreshadowing:

19:21 There are many plans in a person’s mind, but it is the counsel of the Lord which will stand.