17 April 2012

"It's My Money, And I Need It Now!"

There's a rather annoying (but effective) commercial for one of those we'll-take-all-your-money-over-time-and-give-some-of-it-back-to-you-now places; you probably know the one I mean.  They say, at least 20 times, "It's my money, and I need it now!".  In fact, other than the narrator giving the address and phone number of the company, that's about the only dialogue in the commercial.  It's effective because it plays directly to post-modern Americans' need for immediate gratification.

'Mr. Wentworth'

Cameron Cole wrote an interesting blog post over on The Gospel Coalition website.  Here's the whole thing...it is worth a read.  But I want to focus on just one of his points. In explaining some of the problems with contemporary youth ministry, he says this in point three-

3. Parents want moral children.

A gospel-centered youth pastor in South Carolina once told me that parents were his biggest opponents to him fully preaching the gospel. After several years of teaching the radical grace of the gospel, parents complained about a lack of concentration on drinking, sexual abstinence, obedience to parents, and "being nice." They viewed the message of grace as antinomian and as a license for kids to pursue hedonism. Parents rightly want moral children, as do youth pastors. Sometimes, families view the church exclusively as a vehicle for moral education, rather than spiritually forming them in Christ, and put pressure on youth and senior pastors to moralize their children. Many parents view the law alone as the catalyst for holy living, rather than law and grace, and want the youth ministry to embrace this same theology.
The fact that parents want moral children isn't surprising, nor (do I think) is it a bad thing to want.  The problem, as Cole hints at in this segment, is they want results now.  I struggle with this in my own parenting.  I keep wanting to treat the symptoms instead of the disease.  One of the things my wife and I remind ourselves and our Sunday School class on a regular basis is, we need to be more concerned about the long-term status of our children's faith than the short-term status of their behavior, without neglecting their behavior.

Here's how we put it: "Would you rather have a perfectly-behaved teenager who doesn't understand the gospel, or would you rather have a teenager who messes up on a regular basis, but has a great understanding of the gospel?"  The question may seem rhetorical, but it isn't.  We need to ask ourselves, and answer to ourselves, that question on a daily basis.  In our daily discipline and instruction of our kids and how they should behave, are we consciously focused on the long-term, big-picture aspects of making sure they have heard the gospel in all that we do toward them?

This isn't an easy task.  If any of you have any magic pills for this, I'll take a bottle at whatever price you ask.  (This could be a better retirement plan than weight-loss pills.  After all, not everybody is fat*, but everybody who has teens struggles to parent them!)

 (teens not behaving badly)

The problem is, we parents want what we need (good behavior from our kids) and we want it now.  Our own pride rears up when they misbehave.  We worry what other might think of us in the community, and this worry can easily outweigh our (well-placed) concern for the true state of their hearts in spiritual terms.  What that happens, we become like the parents in the blog post above; sort of a spiritualized version of helicopter parents, with just as much risk and the potential for even more damage than a secularized version of the same. We, like the parents in the post, begin to view patience and grace as bad things, when we have directly benefited from these things when we've behaved as badly as our own teens (and this from both our earthly parents and our heavenly father!). We begin to pressure our youth ministers to moralize our children, and the gospel gets lost in the mix.  No wonder we see the long-term results we see.

The only solution I see is to make sure our imperatives to our kids are given in the light of the gospel's indicatives.  We need to make sure we daily plan to purposely steer our kids toward the gospel whenever we also steer them towards the law.  We won't get it right as much as we'd like, but the good news (pun intended) is, the power unto salvation is found in the gospel, not our ability as parents.


*OK, CDC says about 40% of Americans are fat.  That's too many.  The diet pill thing is still a good retirement plan, if you can find one that actually works.**

**This isn't medically possible, so quit wasting your time.  Go for a walk instead.


  1. So true, and such a challenge for parents. Would love to be in your Sunday School class that you teach with your wife. My daughter turns thirteen this summer & I'm NOT ready! In reading your article, I am convicted about how often I fail to point my children to Christ in my discipline. It is so easy to give the imperatives without the indicatives...but so dangerous!

    1. Thanks, Aimee. This is an ongoing battle. Learning to parent teens is hard enough...doing it in light of the gospel grows one up in a hurry!


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