Feeling a little unqualified to preach on parenting?
Take heart. Jesus did it and so can you.
Once there was a preacher who had no children, who preached a series of sermons entitled, “Ten Commandments for Child Rearing.” Several years later when he had little children of his own, he preached another series, “Five Suggestions for Child Rearing.” By the time his children were teens, he preached one sermon entitled, “Good Luck on Parenthood.”
Little can incite anger faster in a parent than a friend who offers parenting advice but has never walked a day in their shoes. Who hasn’t had to deal with the four-year-old boy who tests his parents at every turn, or the incessant whining from a middle-school girl who really, really, really needs that pair of jeans and may just die without them.
Let’s face it. Parents expect people who offer parenting advice to have crawled through the muck with them, to have felt worn down by the middle-school kid who battles homework every night or to have disciplined the teenager who broke curfew . . . for the second time in a week. How dare someone have a parenting opinion having never lived the day-to-day with three kids under the age of five?
But the truth is, there are plenty of parenting experts out there who haven’t parented a single day. They write books. They counsel families. They provide behavioral therapy and a host of other services. And as much as we hate to admit it, at least to these “experts,” parenting can at times be reduced to a science. It’s about relationships, training, and teaching. Many of these people actually DO know what they are talking about. Their arms-length observations often give them great insight on how to raise healthy and well-adjusted children.
But these are the experts, right? What does it mean for a pastor who either has no children or who has little ones under the age of two? Can a young, newly married, or childless pastor preach on parenting? And can he do it well? Can he guide and instruct parents on raising not only healthy and well-adjusted children, but children who genuinely love and long to serve the Lord? I believe so, and here’s how.
By looking to Jesus.
Sounds a bit ironic, doesn’t it? To look to someone who was never married and who never fathered a child? But think about it. Would you trust Jesus with parenting advice? Probably so. After all, He was God made man. He was the only human being who really did know it all. And while that’s true, we can also learn a lot from the way Jesus instructed (and seemingly parented) His disciples and followers. He may not have had the life experience most people today expect from leaders, but His presence and teaching drew crowds by the thousands. When He spoke, people listened. They also learned. So what foundational principles can we borrow from Jesus’ teachings to preach on parenting?
Why don’t we start with the brick and mortar: prayer and trust.
In Matthew 6, Jesus not only instructs His followers to pray, but He models it for them in The Lord’s Prayer. Again and again in His teachings, He urges His disciples and followers to pray. Even in the very hour He was arrested, He was “praying very fervently” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). And when He discovers His disciples sleeping nearby, He says to them, “Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46). Clearly, prayer is at the very heart of Jesus’ teachings. But why? Sure, through prayer we can ask God for help in difficult times or for wisdom when we’re at our wits’ end. But there’s more to it than just that. Prayer communicates our dependence on God, our comprehension that we are, indeed, desperate for God’s presence and help. When we pray, we are enlisting, invoking, inviting divine assistance. We’re asking God to come in. And let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves; we can’t do this without Him. You can’t preach effectively or teach people to parent effectively without God’s guidance.
Have you ever heard this from a mom or dad who is desperate for parenting help: “I don’t know what to do; I don’t know how to fix this. All I can do is pray.”
All I can do . . . as if prayer is nothing more than a last resort and a weak substitute for action. Make no mistake; prayer is everything. It is the most powerful tool you can teach the parents in your pews. When they come to you (and they will) needing wisdom for tough challenges at home, give them this good news: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5, NIV).
But let’s not stop there. Don’t simply instruct parents to get on their knees and wish them well. As their pastor, take their hands and lead them to the throne.
Along with teaching His disciples to pray without ceasing, Jesus also desperately wanted them to understand the discipline of trust. One story in particular stands out to me: Peter walking on the water.
It’s hard for me to read this story and not think of a child learning to swim. Picture a four-year-old girl standing at the edge of a pool. Her father asks her to jump into the water and swim to him. “I will not let anything happen to you,” he promises. She wants to trust him, but the water is deep. If something happens, can he get to her in time? She jumps. Then she takes in the length of the pool and the depth of the water and she begins to panic. But within seconds, he’s there to save her. Similarly, Peter wanted so badly to trust Jesus. In fact, he asked Jesus to command him to leave the boat and walk across the sea. When Jesus did, Peter obeyed. But then, like the little child, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink. “Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31).
It doesn’t matter if we are four or forty, a pastor or a parent. We struggle to trust. We doubt and have crises of faith. But hold on to this promise: God won’t leave us dogpaddling in the deep end. So, when a mom and dad come to you sinking under the weight of parenting and you are desperate to guide them correctly, remember the story of Peter and remind them that they have a Father who promises to never leave them or forsake them. They have a Savior whose hand is already outstretched, ready to pull them to the surface. All they need to do is keep their eyes on Him and trust that He will see them across the sea.
I agree with the great pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon. “If you pray and trust this day, it shall be unto you as the beginning of days—and from now on you shall delight yourselves in the abundance of peace!”
How true! If we pray and trust, we shall delight ourselves in the abundance of peace! Not just a little peace to get us through. An abundance! You can have peace knowing that no matter how qualified (or unqualified) you are to preach, you have a perfect example in Christ Jesus. Set your eyes on Him. Call on Him for wisdom. And trust that He will provide you with everything you need . . . including peace in abundance. Who doesn’t want that? I’ll be the first in line.