By / Nov 30

On our previous episode in our series on gender and sexuality, we looked at the family and how parents can approach these important topics with their children. Today, we’re turning our attention to an issue that has caused anxiety for some parents: gender and sexuality in schools and how to direct our children as they are confronted with teaching and examples that contradict what the Bible says. 

As we discuss these important topics, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing this conversation. 

Joining us on today’s episode is Shaka Mitchell. Shaka serves as a Senior Fellow for the American Federation for Children. He is also an elder at his local church.  He has previously served as Associate Director of Policy and Planning at the D.C.-based Center for Education Reform and led outreach efforts at the Institute for Justice, a constitutional law firm based in Arlington, Virgina. He is an alumnus of Belmont University where he teaches as an adjunct faculty member. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Shaka and his wife live in Nashville with their children and are active in several non-profit organizations.

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Nov 16

So far in our gender and sexuality series, we’ve learned what the Bible teaches about God’s design, we’ve traced the sexual revolution in our society, and we’ve heard a powerful testimony of honoring God in the midst of a struggle with sexual sin. Today, we’re going to discuss talking with our kids about gender and sexuality.

We’re going to hear some helpful advice for parents as they seek to teach their children a biblical view of sexuality.

As we discuss these important topics, you might have additional questions. We’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know how you’re processing this conversation. 

On this episode, Steven and Amy Castello are going to help us think through some important aspects of teaching our kids God’s intent for gender and sexuality. Steven is the Lead Pastor and planter for City on a Hill Church in Boston, MA. He previously planted Immanuel Church in Birmingham, AL, before moving to Boston. Steven holds an undergraduate degree from Samford University and a M.Div from Birmingham Theological Seminary. 

Amy is the Director for Women’s Discipleship and Care for City on a Hill Church. She also serves as the Spouse Care Advocate for a non-profit in Boston called “For Greater Boston”. Amy has served in the local church, discipling and counseling women since 2009. 

Steven and Amy are parents to four daughters who are in middle school and high school. You’ll also hear briefly from our friend Katie McCoy who also joined us in episode 341 of this series, Society’s Spiraling Sexual Crisis.

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Jill Waggoner, Lindsay Nicolet, and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Aug 17

You walk into your 11-year-old son’s bedroom. His back is to you. Over his shoulder, you can see that on his phone he is watching a pornographic video clip that contains violence. How you react then may well have a significant impact on the rest of his life. Will you yell, ignore it, freak out? The best thing you can do as a parent is have a calm conversation with him about it, based on the facts of what pornography does to him, and to others. Are you ready for that conversation? If you are not sure you are ready for that conversation, then I have written a book with you in mind.

Why I wrote a book about pornography

Not long ago, the harmful nature of pornography struck me in the face and shocked my conscience. While researching ways to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, I was struck by how the pornography industry undermined my work without mercy. I wrote Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids with the intent of shocking your conscience as well. Like all parents, I know you want what’s best for your kids. And in this day and age, it isn’t always easy to know what’s best. Even if you have strong opinions on what might be harmful to your children, protecting them can feel unrealistic or even impossible. But we must do our best to help our kids navigate a world where people seek to turn a profit by turning sex and sexual violence into a product and selling it to our kids. I’m here to help you understand the many ways that porn can hurt your kids and what you can do about it.

Porn is violent

In the past few decades, the violence that kids (and others) have been exposed to in pornography has grown from occurring in a small niche market, to being more common, to being in almost every scene1A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85. and image.2J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791. Pornography scholar Megan Tyler notes that the early 1990s brought in a new level of violence into mainstream pornography. In the late 1990s, violence increased further. Most recently, acts so violent in pornography that they lead women to vomit are mainstream.3Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010). Scenes degrading women by showing men’s bodily fluids on their face are now commonplace on the internet.4S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45. Though some pornographers, and those who support them, occasionally play down the violence in pornography, scholars who study pornography note that men in the industry celebrate the fact that their work is abusive.5Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).

One of the most important things about pornography that we need to understand as parents is the way that it objectifies the people in porn, particularly the women. At some point in your life, you have probably heard the phrase “pornography objectifies women.” Essentially what this means is that pornography turns a human being into an object to be acted upon, without agency, and without humanity. Objectification in pornography isn’t just a philosophical statement; it is fact supported by strong evidence. Research has shown that the more pornography men use, the more they see women as objects, not as people.6R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198. And given the content of pornography, it is no wonder that men see women in it as objects. 

A 2020 study of internet video clips found that 45% of scenes in online pornography include at least one act of physical aggression. Spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking are the five most common forms of physical aggression.7Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0. Furthermore, in pornography with aggression, women are the target in 97% of the scenes, and the response that they have been told to have during the aggression, while they were being filmed, is almost always either neutral or positive. Men were the perpetrators of aggression against women in 76% of scenes.8Ibid. Thus, pornography teaches viewers that women like to be hit during intimate activity, sending the message that men’s violence against women is acceptable. This is a message that we obviously don’t want being sent to, or believed by, our children.

Why do you need to know about pornography if you don’t already? For too long, people have thought of pornography use as a private issue that wasn’t anyone else’s business. In fact, pornography is harmful to those who make it and to those who use it, and in turn, harmful to sexual partners or victims who may be hurt by the mistaken point of view that women like to be objects of violence. 

Practical suggestions

If you were to find your 11-year-old son looking at pornography, my advice as a father and as someone who has studied pornography for many years is to build on the relationship you have built with your son and have a calm conversation with him about it. Discuss how it is natural for him to be drawn to these images, but these pictures are harmful to his development as a person. The following questions can be a helpful guide in such conversations with your children.

Children who are 8–12 years old 

  1. If someone showed you a picture of people who didn’t have their clothes on, what do you think you would do?
  2. Do you think it is okay to watch videos where people have no clothes on?
  3. If you are over at a friend’s house and they told you they wanted to show you something cool but that you can’t tell your parents, what would you say?

Children who are 13–17 years old 

  1. When your friends hand you their iPhones or iPads, what kinds of things do they show you?
  2. In the past, what have you done when a friend of yours handed you a smartphone and it had pictures of people who didn’t have clothes on? 
  3. How did looking at the pictures make you feel inside?
  4. Were any of the images you’ve seen in pornography violent?
  5. What do you think the makers of pornography want you to think when they show violent content in their video clips?
  6. If you based your views on what sex should be like on the pornography you have seen, what do you think the consequences of that decision would be?

The sad reality is that in our day and age many of our children will most likely be exposed to pornography at some point in time. But the good news is that we can do things today that will equip them to flee that temptation. The power of God’s Word—filled with the truth that God made us in his image and bestowed value upon us, calls us to respect and care for those around us, and has a plan and design for our sexuality—is stronger than the schemes of the enemy. We can pray and trust that the Lord will use our efforts to help our children see pornography for tje evil that it is and see God’s way as best.

***

The following is an adapted version of Chapter 1 from the book “Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids” by John D. Foubert, Ph.D. (Northfield). 

  • 1
    A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85.
  • 2
    J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791.
  • 3
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 4
    S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45.
  • 5
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 6
    R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198.
  • 7
    Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0.
  • 8
    Ibid.
By / Feb 28

We’ve encountered a ton of parents who are reactive to a problem rather than proactive. The typical parental approach to the topic of sexuality is to avoid the subject as much as possible, drop one big “talk” sometime in their kids’ tween years, and then avoid it again for as long as possible.

One problem with this approach is that it’s too slow. Parents will be caught off guard if they wait. From an early age, kids encounter sexual content — by stumbling into illicit material online, by participating in sex education at school, through conversing with friends, and by watching suggestive or explicit content in music videos, television, and movies. The world will disciple your kids in the way of sex if and when you don’t. Do you want that? We certainly don’t for our kids.

What does a proactive approach look like?

Start from an early age

A proactive approach starts from an early age. Sexual discipleship entails teaching a biblical theology of sexuality as early as is developmentally appropriate. Your kids need to know what God thinks before the world gets to them. Disciple them often and early, so that these conversations will be natural and normal by the time they hit the tween years.

Use every opportunity afforded to you in daily life to teach your children the ways of the Lord. Consider Moses’s words in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your chil- dren, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (vv. 4–9)

Good parenting thrives in the ordinary, everyday teaching moments of conversation. Scripture emphasizes not only the content (“love the Lord your God with all your heart”) covered by these conversations but also the context (“when you lie down, and when you rise”) where these conversations happen.

Establish that no topic — even sex — is off-limits

Establish in your home that no topic, including sex, is off-limits. It’s an awkward topic but a necessary one. Conversations about sexuality are a vital part of discipling your kids — to teach them the ways of the Lord in all things. Have honest conversations with your kids so they don’t figure these things out on their own.

One family told us, “From experience we have noticed that sometimes our children feel guilty and don’t know how to tell us they are struggling. Simply asking them, point blank, ‘How are you doing with what you are looking at on your phone and computer?’ opens up a safe place for them to talk. Even if they don’t say anything at that moment, it causes them to think about where they are in regard to purity. And sometimes hours later they will come to us and share their struggle.”

Celebrate biblical sexuality

Teach your kids about the riches of God’s gift of sexuality. Juli Slattery writes, “Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed.” Parents should model and uphold a biblical view of sex, not a prudish stereotype in which sex is treated as dirty and disordered.

Be careful not to spend all your time just preaching at your kids about the dangers of sexual immorality. Teach them that sex outside marriage is wrong, but don’t stop there. Author and pastor Sam Allberry observes that we can turn God into a cosmic killjoy by implying that he randomly restricts and cuts off ways for humans to be happy. Children grow up thinking that he practices a sort of divine arbitrariness in which he pronounces some things good and some things not good. Sam Allberry writes, 

Every time God gives us a prohibition, he’s protecting something good. So we need to teach the positives behind the negatives, and show that God’s Word isn’t in fact arbitrary but instead points toward what is best and most life-giving for us. Whenever God says no to something, he is saying a much bigger yes to something else. Unless we thrill people with the biblical vision for marriage and human sexuality—especially how they point beyond themselves to God’s love shown to us in Christ—we won’t be providing the full spiritual resources needed to fight deep and besetting sinful desires.

We must teach our kids about a holy and sovereign God who loves us through Christ. Sex is a part of God’s kindness to us. We shouldn’t reduce sexuality to a list of don’ts but instead hold it out as a beautiful part of what God intends for those who love him.

Editor’s Note: Selected excerpts taken from Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography, ISBN 9781629953830, by Jonathan Holmes and Deepak Reju, pages 195-198.

Used with permission from P & R publishing Co., P O Box 817, Phillipsburg, N.J. 08865  www.prpbooks.com

By / Nov 15

This week, Chelsea Sobolik sits down with Herbie Newell of Lifeline Children’s Services to discuss National Adoption Month, how the church can care for vulnerable children, and how we can be preparing for a post-Roe world.

Guest Biography

Herbie Newell is the President/Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and it’s ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, and Lifeline Village. Herbie holds a Master’s degree in Accounting from Samford University. He joined the Lifeline staff in 2003 as Executive Director. From January 2004 to December 2008, he served as the president of the Alabama Adoption Coalition. Herbie was chosen as a Hague Intercountry Adoption evaluator and team leader by the Council of Accreditation and serves in that capacity currently. Under Herbie’s leadership, Lifeline has increased the international outreach to 23 countries, helped Lifeline attain membership in the ECFA (Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability), and led the creation of foster care ministry. Having witnessed the plight of older orphans on many trips overseas, Herbie’s burden for the fatherless was a catalyst for starting (un)adopted during 2009. He worked with WAKM Companies, LLC, a prominent accounting firm, for many years as an independent auditor before being led to Lifeline.  He and his wife, Ashley, live in Birmingham, Alabama, and are parents to son, Caleb, and daughters Adelynn and Emily.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 28

We desire a strong and robust partnership between children’s ministry and parents. Some Christian parents view the church as the place where their children merely “get saved.” These parents neglect to teach the Word at home, which puts more pressure on the church to produce Christian children. They send their kids to church, Christian schools, and camps, expecting that full-time Christian ministry folks will teach, instruct, and model faith for their kids. (One ornery parent once said, “After all, that’s why we tithe, right? We pay you so you can do this work for us.”) 

There is no formula to produce Christian children. No way for us to say or do the right things so that out pops a born-again kid. God must redeem our children. We know only God saves (Jonah 2:9). Yet, in his magnificent plan, he uses means to accomplish his sovereign purposes in salvation (Romans 10:14–15). God uses parents to point children to the truth and the gospel community around them to underscore the message of the gospel. 

Children’s ministry (and the church as a whole) is another means that God uses to declare his truth to the coming generations. Children come weekly to sit in Bible classes, listen to the prayers from the adults, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word in the main worship service. God uses adults in church to point children to the truth. 

Children’s ministry should never replace Christian instruction in the home. We teach, model, and disciple children while they are at church a few hours a week. But we also (as a church) build up parents so they can fulfill what God asks them to do — teach the next generation about who he is and about his wondrous deeds (Psalm 78:4–5). 

How does the church come alongside Christian parents to equip them in this task? 

1. Spiritual maturity is always our first goal 

This is what we expect of parents (and any member of our church): 

  • They attend the weekly worship services to join with others in prayer, sing, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word. 
  • At least once a month, they partake of the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation. 
  • A parent meets for one-on-one Bible study and prayer with an older, faithful Christian from the same congregation. They are mentored and poured into. 
  • Parents engage in regular fellowship with other believers. 
  • They daily spend personal time in prayer and God’s Word. 

These are not optional add-ons for the Christian life. God uses these spiritual disciplines to grow parents in faith, hope, and love. 

The best Christian parenting comes from a mom and dad firmly grounded in Christ. Maturity in Christ is the goal, not just for parenting, but for all of life. The apostle Paul declares, 

To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:27–28, emphasis added). 

If parents are missing church services often (for whatever reason), if they are not plugged into a small group, if a mom or dad doesn’t meet up with an older Christian to study the Bible, if they never spend any time in the Word or prayer on their own, then we’re not moving toward this most important of goals. 

2. We equip parents to know what Christian parenting looks like in the trenches of real life 

You can’t presume that parents will just “get it.” If you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, then you don’t know what Christian parenting looks like. You don’t know what it means (though you can try to make up for that with Christian videos and books). You experientially don’t know what it’s like and how biblical truths shape and define a home. 

There is far too often a gospel deficit in our parenting. How many parents would be embarrassed if someone played a videotape of their parenting? What would we see? Ugly comments, screaming, impatience, and constant fighting? Parents can sometimes act like the Bible is irrelevant for what happens between Monday and Saturday. You may think the work of a children’s ministry is limited to teaching the children. But the children are connected to families, and the family context is where they most grow and mature in their faith. So, helping families is often the key to real growth in these children’s lives. 

The pastor can share parenting principles from the pulpit whenever it’s appropriate to the text of the sermon. Staff can also instruct in parenting classes, offered for all age groups. An older father or mother in the faith can come alongside and mentor younger parents. There is an abundance of ways we can pass on truth and wisdom to younger parents. 

Terrance sat in the car with Scott, his discipler, as Scott drove his son, Jacob, to soccer practice. In recounting the story to us, Scott couldn’t remember what prompted Jacob’s tantrum, but his 4-year-old son had an all-out-scream-your-head-off fit. All the parenting books in the world can’t teach Terrance what he witnessed over the next few moments — a father frustrated at first (that’s Scott’s sin), then calming down his son with gentle words, and patiently helping little Jacob to work through his tantrum. It’s parenting in 3D — live, in person, real, and raw. Terrance, as a young believer, observed something that he never got growing up in a non-Christian home — a Christian parent whose gentleness (Proverbs 15:1), care, and patience (Ephesians 4:1–3; 6:4a) gives off the aroma of Christ. 

3. We encourage parents to start with the Bible 

We want to build into parents a desire and confidence to read the Bible and instruct their children. If the Bible is functionally irrelevant to what’s going on in the home and parents have no personal engagement with Scripture in their lives, it won’t show up in their interactions with the kids. If parents don’t treasure God’s Word as the very words of God himself, then the Bible will be absent from the home. However, if parents think, This book contains the very words of eternal life, they will do whatever it takes to make Scripture relevant to everything they do with their children. 

Here are a few practical suggestions about a parent reading the Bible to his children. Picture Jimmy, a dad, teaching his three kids — Benny, Betty and Peter. 

He reads the entire Bible. When the kids are younger, he starts with the Old Testament and Gospel stories, sometimes taking time to retell stories in his own words. As they get older, he adds and explains more abstract portions of Scripture, like the Pauline epistles. 

He reads thoughtfully. If Jimmy reads with a monotone voice, his kids quickly get bored. Instead, he reads in a way that makes the words comes to life. Sometimes he even uses different voices for different characters, or more inflection and more pronounced pronunciation of key words or ideas. 

He points to Jesus. Jesus is the new Adam; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Jimmy helps his kids make connections between the different parts of the Bible and Jesus. Moses, Joshua, and David all point forward to Christ. 

He dialogues with his kids. Rather than turning it into a monologue, he asks questions to help his children engage with the stories and learn from them. “Why did God bring a flood?” (Genesis 6:11–13). “Why didn’t the rich young ruler give up his wealth?” (Matthew 19:21–22). “Why did Jesus weep when he saw Mary and the crowds after Lazarus died?” (John 11:33–35). 

They pray, sing, and memorize Scripture together. Jimmy models prayer. Don’t be surprised if his kids start praying just like him, because they’ve heard him do it often. Jimmy and his kids sing truth and memorize it as another way to know Christ. 

What can we do as a church to help these parents? We equip parents to understand how to read their Bible properly and how to share with their children. The kind of teaching Jimmy submits himself to in his local church will dictate how he teaches his children. If his pastor carefully explains the Bible text and applies it every time he opens the Bible, Jimmy learns from him how to read the Scriptures correctly. If an older man in the faith in one-on-one discipling works through books of the Bible with Jimmy, he learns how to read and ask questions of the text and how to apply it. And as parents learn these things, Jimmy grows more confident in his ability to do this with his children. 

It’s far too easy for parents to presume that much of the Bible will be beyond their children’s comprehension. But that’s just not true. We challenge parents to teach the rich and deep truths of Scripture in a developmentally appropriate way but to not water it down. 

4. We equip parents with gospel tools 

Books or curriculum should never replace a family’s Bible reading, but there is an abundance of books, catechisms, curricula, and music that might help supplement our teaching. Because most Christian books or curricula are not available at your local public library, Christian parents and the church staff are a Christian resource library. Parents can highlight good books for other parents and pass them around. Church staff can also draw attention to resources and give them out on Sundays. 

Parents can expand a child’s knowledge of faithful Christian living. He or she could read a biography about a Reformation character or a missionary. By reading biographies, parents offer living examples of the gospel to their children. 

Parents could spend time at dinner reading about different countries in the world. It’s good to expand the children’s knowledge of God beyond the boundaries of their own neighborhood, to see how big and mighty the Lord truly is. 

5. We help parents to endure in faith 

Jimmy and his daughter Betty have a fight, and Jimmy spends the next hour feeling like a failure and wanting to give up. He piles self-condemnation onto the situation, mumbling to himself afterward, “You’re an idiot of a parent,” or, “You’re no better than your dysfunctional parents.” 

In parenting, you want to play the long game. You help parents remember that one nasty fight or lousy day doesn’t have to set the tone for their home. Out of fear and a lack of faith, parents let hard days define them far too much, but it doesn’t have to be so. The painful reality is that parents are going to sin and make mistakes. 

There are two ways we set an example of faith in Christ for our kids. The first is obvious; children learn by watching their parents obey and follow Jesus. Parents show with their day-to-day choices what it looks like to trust Christ with all of their life. But what about the times when we sin? Second, parents set a good example by demonstrating humble repentance. When parents ask God for forgiveness, turn from their sin, and lean on Christ for strength, their kids have a front-row seat. God’s grace teaches parents to live godly lives and steers us back to the cross when we fail. That is grace upon grace! These parents desperately need a heavy dose of God’s grace. 

The church holds out this grace to parents and reminds them again and again that their life is rooted in God’s grace. Parents can endure and take hope as they stay grounded in the gospel. 

Self-Examination: A gospel partnership 

How is your church building up and supporting parents? What are you currently doing? What can you change, expand, or add to your current offerings? 

Excerpted from Build on Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide to Gospel-Based Children’s Ministry ©2021 by Deepak Reju and Marty Machowski. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. 

By / Oct 20

Choosing a school for your children can be one of the most difficult decisions that a parent makes. Our family’s choice was complicated by our kids’ particular needs. My wife Megan and I are deliberate people, and after taking some time to consider our options, we sent our oldest daughter, Rachael, to a two-day-per-week kindergarten at a classical school, one that we knew would emphasize reading old books, choral music, and learning ancient languages like Latin and Greek. The school was a great fit for her; she seemed to thrive.

But that same year, our second-born, Lucy, began her academic journey at a half-day Head Start program. Lucy had been diagnosed with what would now be classified as level 3 Autism. Her language, social, and self-care skills were already behind her 3-year-old peers, and she needed the behavioral, speech, and occupational support that our local public school system could provide. 

Choosing two different schools seemed like a wise decision at first. The two schools felt like just the right fit for our two daughters. But living in two different educational worlds at once was more difficult than we anticipated. Not only were our girls’ weekly schedules radically different, but the school calendars — the holidays, as well as the start and end dates for the two school systems — just didn’t mesh. Lucy also had daily therapy sessions after school in our home. Even if one child was on a break, another still had something going on. We felt like we were always on the go. In many ways, that was our first rodeo as parents, and Megan and I were exhausted trying to manage it. 

So, as the summer drew near, we pulled both girls out of their schools, went to Disney World with my in-laws (we found that restful!), and began a process of making certain that both girls would have the same school schedule the following fall. Our Lucy needed the public school system’s support for children with disabilities. So in order to unite our family around a shared routine (and actually enjoy family vacations!), we put both girls in public education.

A battle for minds and affections

Choosing public school is not a decision that any Christian parent should come to blindly. Megan and I sat down with a friend and advisor who walked us through a process of identifying our values, ranking them, and then finally making the decision. 

One thing that made the decision so hard is the reality that public education isn’t designed to reinforce Christian values. As James K. A. Smith has chronicled in his book Desiring the Kingdom, the rhythms of the public school and university campus are aimed instead at forming the next generation to value and worship competition, radical self-expression, and economic success.

And it’s not only that the secular worldview heralded in the public school curriculum seeks to regularly undercut a Christian worldview. Whether your kids attend a Christian school or a public one, the passion and regular rhythms of middle and high school extracurriculars —whether it’s athletics, academics, or the arts — will compete for your kids’ affections. 

Smith quotes Duke Divinity school professor Stanley Hauerwas’s striking observation that “Friday night high school football is the most significant liturgical event in Texas.” Now don’t get me wrong. I stand up and cheer for each touchdown pass as loudly as the next man (okay, maybe louder). Football, along with other sports, is a gracious gift from God, but that doesn’t mean Smith and Hauerwas are wrong when they see games and competitions as acts of worship that can compete with the faith. 

What makes this even harder in the public school context is that most public schools no longer take church activities into account. Gone are the days when sports and activities take a midweek pause so that students can be involved at their church on Wednesday evening. And when the band competition ends late on Saturday night, it’s hard to get up for church on Sunday morning. 

Why let Caesar educate your kids?

We know that young people are susceptible to the influence of their peers and cultural environment. So, if the public school environment is so hostile to Christian belief, why would any parent choose it? Why let Caesar educate your kids?

The truth is that without some vision for what it will take to navigate public school culture as a Christian, it’s unwise to make that choice. Ultimately, I believe that a Christian’s school choice is a Romans 14 matter — an issue of Christian freedom that will be worked out as each mom and dad weighs the options in light of their individual consciences. There are great reasons to choose a Christian school environment instead, but I believe there are also some opportunities that public education uniquely offers to Christian families. Here are three:

1. In public school, students typically experience greater diversity. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, many conservative white churches became bastions for segregationist opposition. Especially in the South, a number of private schools were founded by people who were committed to segregation and opposed to any possibility of interracial romance. As Michael Aitcheson observed on The Gospel Coalition’s As In Heaven podcast, “My grandmother in Orlando, Florida, remembers integration happening and our first private school was founded ‘six hours later.’”

Though they began as “segregation academies,” many of these schools have turned from their segregationist practices, and there are even efforts within Christian education to prioritize greater diversity. But on the whole, public education remains much more diverse than private education, and this presents lots of little opportunities for Christian kids to learn how to respect cultural differences and engage peers who differ with friendly curiosity rather than suspicion.

Public school exposes our children to ethnic and racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, religious diversity, and ability diversity. It’s good to hear in a sermon about how we should honor the dignity of every human person made in God’s image. But the student in public school also gets the opportunity to practice showing honor when splitting a pizza with her Hindu friends. 

2. In public school, kids encounter pressing issues before they leave home. Christian kids who attend a public high school today are going to hear a Christian account of creation questioned in science class. And that Christian student probably knows at least one person in their classes who identifies as lesbian, gay, or transgender. Theologian Michael Krueger observes that too often Christian parents think their kids are best served by being sheltered and protected from any discussion or exposure to such non-Christian thinking. But it shouldn’t be that way!

It’s good to help your child wrestle with how, for example, to square what the Bible teaches about gender with the empathy she feels for a friend who experiences gender dysphoria. We need to give young people the basic biblical categories and tools they need to deal with non-Chrisitan belief while they’re still living under our roof. 

And just as it’s good for us to repent and ask for our children’s forgiveness when we lose our temper with them, it’s also good for parents to admit to their kids when they don’t know how to answer challenges to the Christian faith. When we’re honest about what we don’t know, kids will learn what it looks like to suspend judgement, do some research (pick up a book; ask a pastor), and think through how to give a reasonable defense for the faith. 

3. In public school, Christian students have the opportunity to be a witness. Some Christians ask, “Why put your children on a school bus to Babylon? Here’s the reality: No matter how much you’ve sheltered your child, they’re still living in Babylon. The question is whether they’re merely assimilating or living as bold exiles. 

On the one hand, it’s essential for students to have a Christian community beyond their nuclear families. Every Christian needs to know that he’s not alone. That’s one reason I’m so grateful for our church youth group that includes kids who are in public, private, and home school. 

But if a young person is only around people who share his beliefs and, as a result, his faith is never tested during his growing up years, that youth may trade cultural conformity in a Christian environment for a more dangerous cultural conformity in his college dorm. 

The public school environment certainly tests a young person’s faith. But when that faith is tested, there’s also an opportunity to see its true mettle. The student who chooses to dress modestly, not to participate in an event on Sunday, or share how her views of social justice involve convictions about hell and final judgment will be seen as socially awkward — perhaps even weird. She’s also a witness. 

The biggest reason we chose public school in the first place was for the specialized care it provided for our daughter Lucy. Staying in public education has meant greater intentionality about teaching and modeling a biblical worldview to our daughters at home. 

At the end of the day, a family’s educational choice for their kids is just one factor in a child’s formative years. In his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp warns against the danger of evaluating your parenting by your child’s educational success. He wrote, “Unfortunately, scores of disillusioned and broken people are thoroughly educated. It is possible to be well-educated and still not understand life.” For the Christian parents who help their students learn to celebrate other image-bearers, work through doubt, and stand for Christ even when it seems strange, public school can be a pathway toward gaining a heart of wisdom.

By / Sep 23

“Parenting isn’t for wimps.” That’s how Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins open their book, Full Circle Parenting: A Guide for Crucial Conversations. In the chapters that follow, they show you why. But more importantly, they show you how to approach parenting with wisdom, grit, and gospel focus.

They do so with the recognition that “Christian parents have to have rock-ribbed convictions, nerves of steel, tender hearts, and open arms—all accompanied by a fantastic poker face” (3). This sort of honesty is refreshing, because when it comes to books on parenting, all too often we’re met with content that is laughably formulaic. A three-step strategy that offers a fast track to turning your child into a Christian, an honor-role student, and homecoming king is sure to sell copies. The only downside: it’s never that simple.

Not only that, but in the publishing world it’s mystifyingly easy to find marriage books written by near-newlyweds, or parenting books from authors who are looking forward to their child’s upcoming graduation — from kindergarten. Instead, the best sorts of books in this vein are from those who are further along and offering wisdom that only comes from experience and tempering. Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins offer precisely this sort of wisdom, and, frankly, are precisely the kind of parents I would want to emulate myself.

Over the course of the book, the authors work through a series of topics that will be of use to any parent: sexuality, technology, peer pressure, realities of substance abuse, bullying, and how to have challenging conversations. Throughout these topics, several things in particular stand out.

Full-Circle Parenting is realistic

Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins provide a remarkably clear-eyed view of the challenges that come with parenting, particularly in chapter two, which lays out a Christian vision for parenting, and chapter three, which outlines how children themselves are complex. Throughout, the authors explain how sin warps both parents and children. Children, for example, are going to act in stupefyingly inconsistent ways — even “good” kids. Like the pediatrician reassuring the anxious young parents, “Oh, that cough you heard is completely normal and you needn’t worry,” Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins remind us what we should expect when we approach parenting.

Full-Circle Parenting is gospel-focused

Additionally, Full-Circle Parenting moves beyond a vision of what’s to be expected, to how we may address each of these topics in the context of the gospel. Each of the subjects the authors cover are placed in the context of the 3 Circles tool — which traces God’s design for our lives, the sin which leads to brokenness in our lives, and the remedy of repentance and belief in the gospel that allows us to recover and pursue God’s original design. This tool, originally conceived as a tool for evangelism and gospel presentation, is endlessly helpful when applied to issues of parenting and the Christian life as well. These aren’t “Jesus bits” tacked on at the end of a chapter but rather than main thread that weaves together everything the authors say on a given topic. Grounding each one in the context of God’s design, sin, repentance, and flourishing is not only helpful and practical but exactly what a Christian book should be.

Full-Circle Parenting is timeless

Thankfully, this book does not provide granular advice on how to block harmful websites or how to utilize particular apps to track location or whatever the case may be. As necessary as this sort of information is, these technologies move far faster than the publishing industry does. Instead, Full-Circle Parenting writes from a decidedly 21st-century context, but one that speaks to issues in ways that will be still be relevant 10 and 20 years from now. Instead of, for example, providing a specific age and kind of phone to provide to one’s children, the authors talk about the principles dictating how they use phones, who is responsible for them, how we should think about technology, and how we can model what we prioritize in our own lives. This kind of counsel does not suffer from an expiration date.

Full-Circle Parenting is practical

Perhaps the most noteworthy element of Full-Circle Parenting is just how endlessly practical it is. Throughout the book, there are sample conversations of how to address situations with one’s children and scripts to give to children to help them navigate difficult conversations. There are innovative ideas, like “sibling time” in chapter seven, which details specific ways Jimmy and Kristin have sought to create a culture of togetherness and friendship within their family. There are candid admissions about how they counsel their children to deal with peer pressure and bullies. Most importantly, there are gospel principles throughout which will continually remind readers of the foundational issue (and solution) behind every problem.

In all, Full-Circle Parenting succeeds most notably in providing an honest and compelling vision of what it takes to parent faithfully: both gospel and grit. It focuses on the importance of creating an environment where families can thrive, modeling a life that children can emulate, and providing a tool that parents in all life stages can use to think clearly and biblically about how to shepherd their children faithfully and point them to the gospel. Parents should read it; pastors should stock their shelves with it; and churches should give it away regularly.

One of things on social media I regularly enjoy is when Jimmy Scroggins posts video clips of athletic coaches talking about discipline, strategy, effectiveness, skill development, and growth, or any number of issues. When he does, he often adds a single line of commentary above: “Pastors should learn from coaches.” In their new book, however, Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins are themselves the coaches — outstanding ones we should all learn from.

By / Sep 7

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

I’ve heard it said that a new father has lots of opinions and no experience, and one with grown children has lots of experience and few opinions. My oldest child is 10, so I suppose I’m halfway there. Some days it seems the only sign of accumulating experience is that my confidence about how to parent steadily drains away.

For me, in being both a pastor and a father, an unnervingly common experience is having no idea what to do. To a married couple locked in years-long trench warfare, what can I say that will not trigger a landmine? At home, a property dispute breaks out over which small human may legitimately claim this Lego figure or that half of the couch. Each makes a seemingly airtight case. Your move, Dad.

Parenting and character training 

Scripture’s instructions to fathers are simple, but that does not make them easy. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6–7).

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The charge is clear: disciple your kids.

Parents and pastors have the same mission, though their starting points and contexts differ. The business of both is making disciples. And one of the best ways you can prepare to pastor and grow as a pastor is by pastoring your children.

If you are married, desire to be a pastor, do not yet have children, and are actively putting off having children, you might want to rethink the logic of that position. Especially if you are putting off children so that you can prepare for ministry. I am not laying this down as an ironclad rule. My “might” three sentences back is genuine; exceptions exist. If you move to seminary at 22 years old, newly married, with a wife who is willing to support you financially for a time, it might be good stewardship to seek to delay children for that season, or part of it. If you do, watch out for the burdens that will lay on your wife. Still, in general and all things being equal, a man who is a father is more ready to pastor than a man who is not. Of course, the equation differs for couples who struggle with infertility, which is its own test of a man’s ability to shepherd.

Parenting enrolls you in full-time training for your character and competence as a leader.

Before I became a father, I would not have said I have a problem with anger. Raising four children has disabused me of that illusion. I am not naturally a patient person, and I would not say that prior to having children I had made any great progress in the virtue. How patient am I now? Who knows. Not as patient as I should be. But if I now have at least a small flour-sack of patience in the pantry of my character, most of it has been ground, grain by grain, by the millstone of parenting. As for competence as a leader, being a father requires you to provide, protect, oversee, manage, mediate, reconcile, teach, train, model, explain, and correct — and that’s just in the hour before bed.

Like pastoring, parenting is a weight you can never fully shrug off. Like pastoring, parenting requires you to enter into experiences that differ drastically from yours, and to bear emotional burdens that would otherwise remain remote. Like pastoring, parenting plugs you into all the high highs and low lows of lives other than your own. Parenting at once shrinks your world and vastly expands it. Children change you in ways you did not know you needed to be changed.

Like church members, children have eagle eyes for inconsistency and hypocrisy. Like church members, children are far more likely to do what you do than do what you say. As James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”1James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (orig. pub. 1961; repr., Vintage: New York, 1993), 61–62. 

Discipling your children 

How can you pastor your children? 

Continually teach them God’s Word. Lead them in family devotions. Short, frequent, and flexible is better than idealistic and inconsistent. Over the years, our family’s approach has steadily morphed. We started with story Bibles, memory verses, and children’s catechisms. We have memorized short psalms and longer chapters of Scripture. Over the past few years, we have focused on simply reading Scripture sequentially, followed sometimes by brief discussion, and more regularly by prayer based on the passage. Sometimes, the older children and Kristin and I take turns reading and praying aloud; often, I simply lead both. If we have time, we sing a verse or two of a hymn. 

We have found that breakfast offers the most regular window for our main time of family worship. Our kids tend to be fresher and calmer at breakfast than they are at bedtime. For at least a few minutes while they eat, they are a captive audience. And ministry obligations virtually never pressure our breakfast window, whereas they often compress our evenings. My point is not to say you should do what we do, but simply to get your wheels turning. When it comes to family devotions, just about anything is better than nothing.

Finally, attend to your children individually. Learn their temperaments, tendencies, and typical temptations. Convert your knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses into compassion. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13–14). Learn to adapt your counsel to their constitutions. As much as you can, as often as you can, give each of them your undivided, delighted attention. Learn to love what they love because you love them. 

One wise father of several grown children recently told me that, when his kids were growing up, he wanted his attitude toward each of them, and the quality of time he spent with them, to convince each of them that they were his favorite.


Content taken from The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring by Bobby Jamieson, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.

  • 1
    James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (orig. pub. 1961; repr., Vintage: New York, 1993), 61–62.
By / Aug 23

The news about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is nearly unavoidable, and rightly so. We are watching a horrific human rights atrocity happen before our very eyes. Our children are likely seeing the images but are not as tuned in to this historic event, and that’s OK. But as Christian parents, it’s important that we teach our children to mourn with those who mourn. Here are three things my husband and I did with our children to help them understand what is happening right now and how Christians should respond.

Find a good news source

I’ve found that listening to news for children can be an effective way to introduce them to complex world topics. While we will often show them video footage of current news at times, some events feel too weighty for children to watch. So, we chose to listen to this podcast from the BBC while we ate supper. A podcast allows us all to listen while doing something else (like eating a meal) which makes it seem more natural and less forced. 

We listened to the first 10 minutes or so of the episode and paused when needed. This segment included a few fascinating interviews with those being directing affected by these events, including a female activist who refuses to leave Afghanistan out of a commitment to the women and girls that she has mentored and led over the years; and a journalist in neighboring Pakistan. The news felt even more real and pressing to them because of the ability to hear from people halfway around the world. 

Allow plenty of time for questions

Our children are 13, 11, and 9, and they had a lot of questions. Who are the Taliban? Are they like Al Qaeda? Why are the U.S. troops leaving the country? Why are we in Afghanistan? My husband and I had read a few articles that day and watched several clips online about the horror happening, so we tried our best to explain what we were seeing. But most of the questions they asked were not cut and dry. We had to answer “I don’t know” several times and explain to them that some things are more complicated than we’d like them to be. 

Ultimately, we made every effort to point our children back to the fact that we need to pray for the Afghan people because God is the only one who can fully understand and deliver them. We also tried to humanize things for them so that they could better understand how to pray for the Afghans. We told them that some people were so desperate to leave the country that they held onto the tires of evacuation planes in hopes that they would be able to survive, only to fall to their deaths. We wanted them to think about what it would be like to feel that desperate. We’ve found that it’s always good to help children cultivate empathy for others, especially in a crisis like this.

Pray together

The final thing we did as a family was to pray. My husband read Micah 6:8 and talked to our children about the injustice that is happening in Afghanistan and why it’s right that we pray for justice. I then picked five things we could pray for and let each member of the family pick their topic. Since we have five people in our family, it made sense to identify that number of topics. This makes praying a bit easier and helps us avoid generalities. 

These are the things each one of us prayed:

  • The U.S. government, military, and President Biden: Our 11-year-old son prayed that God would give President Biden and the generals involved in the military wisdom to do what is best and to help the people of Afghanistan. 
  • The Taliban: Our 9-year-old son prayed that these people would stop doing wicked things and that God would soften their hearts toward the Christians living in Afghanistan. 
  • Women and children: Our 13-year-old daughter prayed for women and children to be protected and that their value would be seen by those who seek their harm. 
  • The church in Afghanistan: I prayed for our brothers and sisters in Christ that live in Afghanistan and asked for the Lord’s protection, while also asking God to give them courage to endure and face possible persecution and execution. 
  • The country of Afghanistan: Jesse prayed for the Afghan government, for justice, and for God to bring structure to the chaos. He closed our time in prayer with some reiterations of what we all had said, thanking God for his sovereignty in this moment and always.

You can also find another ERLC prayer guide here

If you are a parent, especially a parent of elementary age children and older, I encourage you to talk to your children about big world news like this. If you’re like me, you will probably feel inadequate. But, we can trust that God is working on our children’s hearts through our imperfect efforts. 

Our time together didn’t go as I’d planned, though. While listening to the podcast, we still had to deal with real family issues. We had to stop a few times to deal with relational conflicts that occur at any family dinner table. And in between listening to the podcast and our prayer time, we had to deal with a child that was mad about someone eating their food. This is real-life parenting.The kids were not perfectly enraptured with the podcast or our answers. Sometimes I could tell their minds had wandered off. But we were faithful in the moment to model empathy for another people group, and to take those concerns to the Lord. That is all we can do as parents. I encourage you to trust God with your inadequacies as you walk your kids through important moments in our culture.