7 Words of Encouragement for Sending a Child to College

Asian college student.

In August of every year I see the posts and get the emails. Parents are dropping off their kids at college – and, it’s hard. I know it is hard.

Our first son went to college in the city where we lived, so we got a somewhat break from this one – although even them moving in a dorm room across town is hard.

I think it’s the empty bed, which causes such a problem – you know, the one in the room you used to fuss about never being clean? And, the empty spot at the dinner table. And, the laughter. And, sometimes the late night school project because they thought it wasn’t due until next week.  

There is a profound sense of loss. (Word to parents of children at home. Enjoy those messy bedrooms while you can.)

When our oldest son went away to school – nearly 8 hours away – it was almost more than I could stand – or, so it felt like at the time. With both boys out of the house I went through a minor depression stage. And, I know the symptoms. It felt life would never be as good again. And, my wife and I had and have a great relationship together. We simply loved having our boys at home.

I have had a few years to process moving a child to college and I have some advice to share. Please know I’m being sensitive. About every year I get a frantic email from a parent. Everyone responds differently, but it hits some people so hard they are near panic.

These are particularly helpful for the time of dropping off your child at college and the few months which follow – those appear to be the hardest. 

Here are some quick words of encouragement about leaving your child at college:

Don’t overstay your welcome.

When the time comes to leave – leave on a high note. This may be the most important advice I can give and the one I didn’t do right. You want to see them having fun if possible.

Nate was mature enough to know it would be hard, so we decided to make it a father/son adventure to drop him off at school. He had a couple good days of orientation where they wanted one parent there. Nate seemed to be making friends. He had a great group of guys in his dorm. I was excited for him. 

Then I made one fatal mistake. Learn from me parents. I spent another night and said we would have breakfast together before I left in the morning. Wow! We sat in a breakfast place for 2 hours and never said a word. He is a youth pastor now across the country from us, so I don’t think he would mind me telling you the truth now. When it was time for me to leave, he lost it. I had to pull myself away and knew he was miserable as I left.

Had I left when he was busy, involved, and surrounded by friends it might have been easier. I certainly think it would have been.

Let them have their space.

It’s their new journey. This may include letting them decorate their room – as they want to decorate it – or looking for hints when they want to make the decision on their own. Now isn’t the time to baby them. They are entering a very adult, independent phase when they get to college. Treat them with this respect.

Of course, we know they have much maturing to do. They still need your wisdom – and, hopefully will want it. But, you are more likely to get asked for it if you do not force it upon them.

Let them help determine the level of communication.

Obviously you cannot wait to hear from them. But, be careful. This isn’t elementary school – nor middle or high school. Remember how with each progression you knew less and had to figure out more on your own? Well, this is college. Don’t keep texting them looking for updates. Don’t guilt them into calling. As hard as it is, the more pressure you use the less they may be motivated to tell you.

This said, I think it is fine to send them encouraging cards and emails. Don’t overdo this either, but they will especially enjoy getting mail – the snail kind. You could even use this time to affirm them and let them know how you are praying for them. This is good advice for grandparents too. And, occasionally include some of their favorite snacks in a care package.  

They probably will do better than you think they will.

You need this reminder, don’t you? Because, right now you’re concerned for them. Will they know what to do if something bad happens? Will they take care of themselves physically? Will they eat right? Well, I can almost assure you they won’t do everything right. Do any of us? Even still? But, at least in my experience, children often seem to perform better when we aren’t around. Hasn’t it been this way much of their life? You loved how other parents bragged on them for their behavior at their house. Even in this sometimes careless days of college they will not forget but you taught them. 

There will be a period of adjustment.

Adjustment will come for you and for your children. It is harder for some parents and some children than others. Seek encouragement from other parents who have done this one – and survived (which most of us do). Church is a great blessing for this. 

It’s okay to cry, but try not to as much on drop-off weekend. (I knew I needed to be strong for my son, so I waited until I got to my vehicle -then I cried all the way home.) Be prepared to encourage your children during this transition season. They will need you more than they know how to ask for your help. They have their own emotional sense of loss. They may try to be strong, but the first semester may be difficult. Remember, they’ve never done this either!

They will come home again.

You feel a sense of loss, but you’ve not lost them. They will be home. It will be different, but it will be great. You will enjoy these times and make new memories. And, trust me on this one, as much as you’ll love them being home – anytime – in time you may even be glad it’s time to go back to school again. 

If only we could put a lid on time. If only we could slow down the speed of our children’s life. We can’t. It keeps moving forward. Enjoy this new season of their life – and yours – like you have (hopefully most) every other season.

If you’re having to do this – it means you did something right.

You’ve done your job well. Most of us want them to mature, grow up, move out and settle on their own. Remember, you raised them for this moment. And, many others they will experience.

Celebrate parenting done well. You are sending them out with more foundational wisdom than you think you are. Let your godly pride for them replace some of the emptiness you feel inside.

If the day has come to send them to college – do it with joy! Embrace the moment. These are good times too. Seriously.

Praying for you.

Experienced parents – any other advice you’ve learned?

The Dad Challenge: The Nurturing Father


Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Fathers are not usually seen as the nurturing ones in a family. When my boy’s got sick, they didn’t want me, they wanted Cheryl.

The Bible, however, tends to also place the father in a nurturing position. We are told not to “exasperate” our children, which means not to wear them out with correction, but to “bring them up”. The phrase literally means we spend time with them on a regular basis and encourage them in the development of their character.  

Sounds like nurturing to me.

The Bible tends to lay a huge responsibility on the father to help set the tone or the climate of the home. A father, who is consistently harsh or is never satisfied with his children, will tend to produce children who lack the confidence to face tough situations in life.

On the other hand, a father too quiet and passive to be intimately involved in the lives of children will likely lead to adults who cannot connect well with others, either in the workplace or in their own marriages and homes.

Fathers are often one of the best determinates of a child’s future success in life.

Wow, this is a sobering statement, but it’s true!

If a boy never feels he meets his father’s approval, he may become either an underachiever or an overachiever, but he will likely never feel that he “measures up” in life. A girl whose father fails to affirm her will often seek that approval from others – often in seeking inappropriate or less than ideal relationships. She may enter marriage unrealistically expecting something from a husband he may or may not be able to give.

I haven’t even mentioned the impact of an absentee or abusive father. Some reading this know this impact well – including the writer of this post (me).

The biggest impact in the life of a child whose father never nurtures is they often have a harder time realizing the nurturing aspect found in a loving relationship with a Heavenly Father. Without the model of an earthly father, they may see God more in the role of Judge than of “Abba” – which is the Hebrew term for our modern “Daddy”.

I’m thankful for the grace and mercy of God, which allows so many second chances for fathers who have missed the mark – but if we desire to be Godly fathers, we will strive to nurture our children in love.

How’s this for a Dad Challenge? I love investing in other men. We are in this together! I want to encourage you today! But, we have great work to do, men. Let’s do it to the glory of God!

For more thoughts on parenting, click HERE.

Ask yourself – what changes do I need to make to be a more nurturing dad?

10 Principles to Consider for Parents on Healthy Discipline of Children

A young girl enjoys the afternoon with her family.

As a pastor, I’m consistently asked about disciplining children. I am not an expert – and every family is unique, with different parents and different children – but, I have learned some things personally and from watching others. Plus, I know some things I would do differently if I had the early years of parenting to do again.

There is always special interest in the subject of spanking – whether it was appropriate or not and whether I believe in it or not. While I believe discipline is a personal topic for parents to decide where they land, I do believe there are some helpful principles for all parents to follow. I am probably less inclined in this area to talk about what I did and more inclined to talk about the principles I believe are even more helpful.

I have written my basic overall plan for parenting in an earlier post. You can read it HERE. Since I believe the most important thing is you have a plan for your parenting and where you are trying to steer children as they mature, I decided to share some principles I believe can help the discipline part of your plan.

10 principles for parents on healthy discipline:

Goal set first. 

Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” You should understand the reason behind discipline. You are taking your children somewhere they need to go. There is great value then in discipline. Just as you have to discipline yourself to do anything of value – or just as they have to be disciplined to master an activity in which they are involved – your parenting needs to include healthy discipline.

Never discipline in anger.

When you act in anger you will say things you do not mean and do things you should not do. Discipline done in anger is rarely productive and usually harmful long-term.

Discipline yourself first.

At the time of need for discipline, remember this 3-step process: Stop/Think/Proceed. This takes practice on your part, but keep in mind, you’re supposed to be the maturer one. This also means you’ll do less yelling in the moment and take more decisive actions when you administer discipline. Obviously, when they are younger you have to make quick decisions. If your 2 year old is about to stick their finger in a socket – react fast. Decisions regarding discipline get more difficult as the child gets older, however, so you may need to take longer with each of these steps.

Be consistent in your discipline plan.

It will mean nothing to the child otherwise. You must help them learn how you will respond. The discipline may not be the same, but your attitude towards them and your follow through should be. As they get older, they will test this one.

Pre-think principles, rather than pre-planning specifics.

You should have some value-centered, character-based goals you want discipline to promote in your child. But, be careful declaring what you will do when your child does something specific. Avoid saying things like, for example, “My son will never wear his hair long – and if he tries I will…” You may regret those words someday. It should go without saying, but I believe Biblical principles are always best – and should come first. 

Differentiate discipline for each child.

To spank or not to spank should not be as big a deal as what works best for the child. Every child is unique and what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. The more you individualize your approach the more successful your plan will be.

Do not make threats with which you are unwilling to follow through

Your children will catch on quickly when you do. It’s probably best not to make threats at all. Again, be goal-driven, value-centered. Threats usually cause more harm than good. Either they push you in a corner to respond – or, depending on the will of the child – encourage them to test your threat.

Use age appropriate and action appropriate discipline

As a child matures the discipline should mature with them. Be careful not to overkill a minor incident or ignore a major occurrence. Remember a 3 year old is 3. They are learning – and sometimes they can be so cute doing things the first time. But, if it’s a character issue – such as lying – treat it seriously. (Usually you don’t have to do a whole lot to convince a 3 year old it’s serious, either.) It becomes a lot more serious when a 13 year old is still lying to parents – especially if they were never disciplined about it at 3.

Always discipline the child for results, not your comfort level.

Discipline in its concept is not necessarily pleasant, but it reaps a reward if done right. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Many parents refuse to discipline in the name of love. All parents love their children. And, punishing people we love – even when needed – is difficult. Don’t discipline in a way which is comfortable for you – discipline in a way, which is productive in producing maturity in your child.

Discipline should never teach a child he or she is unloved.

Actually, if done right, discipline should reinforce the love a parent has for the child. (Hebrews 12:7-10) This is especially true as they get older. They should be able to look back and see – while you may not have done everything right – you always disciplined in love; you always cared for their best interest – even ahead of your own.

The discipline part of parenting is the hardest – and we all make mistakes. Keep this thought in mind: we parent our children to eventually be adults. Begin with the end in mind. What characteristics, values and morals do we want them to have when they are grown. This thought helped me many times when deciding which discipline to use – and certainly the severity of which I should view a matter needing discipline.

5 Suggestions to Attract Young People to Church

young people

I have never met a church which didn’t want to reach young people. Every church sees the value in younger people becoming a an active part of the church. They know the future life of the church depends upon it.

The problem is often the church doesn’t act like what they claim to value.

If a church is more interested in protecting traditions, for example, than it is in creating a future, then it will most likely fail to attract young people.

At least that’s been my experience.

If a church is interested in attracting young people, it must think strategically about doing so. And, let’s be honest- we are all figuring out this subject. I’m totally open to learning from you. These are just some things I’ve observed. 

Here are 5 suggestions for attracting young people to church:

Value them and their ideas

Young people will want to do things differently. They see things differently. We must give them a voice and an access to authority. This doesn’t mean we have to change anything we believe or teach, but it does mean we have to listen to them and not dismiss what’s on their heart and minds. I’ve found I must make time in my schedule for the younger generation. I need to engage them regularly. They want to know me personally. But, when I do, it’s huge to them – and I have more credibility to speak into their life. (And, it fuels me personally.) 

Give them a place to serve

Find ways to let young people assist others. It’s a huge value for them. For the newer generation, it appears service may be the new front door. They will care more about serving than they will about “membership”. They want to make a difference meeting real needs. I’ve discovered they like hands on experiences. And, they usually aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. 

Be genuine with them

Young people can spot phonies. Let them see you are real. Authentic and transparent have been admired cultural values all their life – so they will accept nothing else. Be honest with them – about your shortcomings, your flaws and your fears. Let them learn from your mistakes and the things you did right.

Love them

Young people want to sense they are loved – even when they mess up. In my experience, young people want a safe place to be transparent and they want you to love them even when they do things – and believe things – of which you wouldn’t approve. If you want an opportunity to speak into their life, they have to know you genuinely care for them. 

Guide them

Young people want direction and they want to learn from your experience. If you talk about the concept of mentoring – they are into it. If a more experienced person is willing to invest in them – they’ll listen. This is a huge opportunity for the church in reaching a newer generation.

These are a few of my observations. Feel free to add your own. There are so many things drawing our young people’s attention these days. The opportunities before them are unlimited. And, frankly, church is only one small option for most of them. We must be intentional and strategic if we want to reach them. 

Olive Tree Parenting – Growing Children of Character

Smiling little boy digging in vegetables garden

Every time I write about parenting, people email me asking for more. I understand.

Parenting is hard work.

Most people who follow my ministry closely know this is one area of my life I have taken very serious. One specific desire Cheryl and I had in raising our boys was encouraging them to love Christ and display His character. It’s great to teach our children how to play sports or to do well in school, and I think we should, but our greatest goal should be to help them be people who aspire to have good character – specifically the character of Christ.

Recognizing the Bible is a great guide to do this, I once developed a model for parenting called Olive Tree Parenting.

This model is based upon a couple verses of Scripture.

Psalm 128:3 says, “Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.”
Psalm 144:12 says, “Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants.”

Here are a few facts I’ve read about olive trees:

  • They were a symbol of peace and happiness to Hebrews.
  • It takes some varieties 8-10 years to even bear fruit.
  • It takes 20-50 years for an olive tree to be mature and really productive.
  • No one knows for sure how long they grow, but estimate is at least 300-600 years, with some estimates up to 2000 years.
  • When the tree trunk of an olive tree dies new sprouts come out keeping the tree alive.
  • Olive trees are evergreens.

Do you see any parallels there in raising children – or your desires for them in life?

I firmly believe we are more likely to get out of life what we actually aim for, so our goal became to raise children to be adults that bear righteous fruit for generations. We began to think strategically how to develop Biblical characteristics of fruit in our two boys.

The Bible also gives us some clear indication of what righteous fruit looks like.

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Here are some suggestions to encourage each of these fruits to grow:

Love is the first fruit mentioned and perhaps the most important. Jesus said “love” was the greatest command for us all. I don’t believe we can teach our child to love. We must model it for them.

Here are some actions you can take, however, to instill this fruit in their heart.

  • Ask your children questions about their life. Get to know your child and what they are thinking.
  • Do everything in love — even discipline. (They will know when you are not acting in love. You will too.)
  • Discipline. Don’t neglect discipline in “the name of love”. Discipline should actually be an indication you love them enough to train them to do the right thing.
  • Watch how you treat other groups of people — including other races and ethnic groups.
  • Watch your child’s attitude — always recognize attitudes over actions (1 Sam. 16:24) and respond accordingly.
  • Love your children’s friends.
  • Be kind to your neighbors, friends and family. They are watching.
  • Get involved in church and community not out of compulsion, but because you love other people.

The goal of producing joy is not to make your children happy – even though most parents rightly want that for their children. The Bible makes a distinction between joy and happiness. (Psalm 68:3)

Here are some actions you can take to instill the fruit of joy in your child’s heart:

  • Don’t reward everything. Life should not be a big celebration. Life shouldn’t revolve around the next big event.
  • Have a sense of humor. Have fun parenting. Let them see you enjoying life.
  • Be positive. Children can’t take the pressure and stress of life that an adult has to handle.
  • Allow your children to enjoy life at the age they are – without trying to make them someone they are not.
  • Life is difficult and there will be trials, but let your children see you use trials as something you learn from and have faith during; trusting that God will work all things for good.
  • Remind yourself Scripture says to “be joyful always”. Model it for them.

Peace is a foundation for other great character traits you will want your children to have. The Bible says we can have peace that is there regardless of the storms of life. I know many adults who would like this kind of peace themselves. You would certainly want it for your children.

Here are some actions you can take to model peace for your children:

  • Pray for your children daily in their presence. This shows them the importance of prayer and relying on God for daily strength.
  • Teach them to pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Help your children understand they can talk with God anytime. They will catch on quickly. Faith comes much easier when built as a child.
  • Let them see you read your Bible regularly. Truth can ground us when we are afraid or stressed.
  • Talk about your faith. Peace is found in a relationship and they need to see that modeled for them.
  • Remain cool in stressful situations – as best as you can. It’s okay that they see you emotional, but they should quickly see you display a peace that surpasses understanding.

This is a tough one for me, because it is one of my weak points, but it is a part of the fruit of the Spirit God has encouraged us to have. And, our children need it greatly.

Here are some actions to help your children have this trait:

    • Let them see you waiting patiently. (If my boys or my wife reads this they will be wondering when they will see this in me. Still, I have had to wait for many big picture things in my life many times. I’ve attempted to do so patiently.)
    • Make children wait sometimes. Yes, I said it. Children shouldn’t get everything right away and they certainly shouldn’t be able to demand it with temper-tantrums or tears. One statistic I read says that children today get 90% of everything they want, yet as adults they will get less than 25%. We are setting them up for failure when we give them everything.
    • Don’t be a complainer. Do everything without complaining or arguing.(Phil 2:14)
    • Don’t let your children think they are the center of the universe. They are not – actually God is. Encourage them, but don’t crown them kings.

Kindness could be defined as “genuine friendliness, helpfulness and generosity”.

Here are some ways to instill kindness in your children:

  • Be a giver and not a taker. Let your children see you giving to others regularly.
  • Never let children see you being unkind to the cashier or waitress.
  • Know your neighbors and actually have concern for them.
  • Never allow degrading comments to be made to other family members.
  • Care for the hurting people of the world.
  • Be a regular giver/servant at church and in the community.

Jesus said “well done good and faithful servant” and “a good tree produces good fruit”. This is the opposite of bad. (Makes sense, huh?)

Here are some suggestions to instill goodness in your children:

  • Reward good acts towards others.
  • Give extra praise to your children for doing good things. (This can be done verbally and doesn’t always mean buying something.)
  • Never let them see their parents argue and fight.
  • Demand respect always. They don’t always have to agree, but they should always have to respect.
  • Always declare truthfulness. Never let them see you telling lies; even “little white lies”.
  • Teach prompt obedience. Don’t let them “think about” obeying you. This is especially true for younger children.

Children will be as faithful as you are, so in order to see them grow into faithful individuals you will have to model it for them.

Here are some action steps to help the process:

  • Be faithful early in their life to what you want them committed to later in life. If you want them to go to church as adults then take them faithfully as children.
  • If you commit to doing something then do it. Let your Yes be yes and your No be no.
  • Be an anchor in their life in whom they can always depend upon.
  • Be faithful in all relationships. They are watching.
  • Be consistent. If it is morally wrong today — it is tomorrow.
  • Let them know they can depend on you to do what you said you would do for and with them.
  • Let them find you in your devotion and quiet time on a consistent basis.

The word means “not harsh”. It doesn’t mean to be a “mealy mouse” and it doesn’t mean to avoid discipline. It means to be gentle — even in your anger. In John 2, when Jesus went into temple to drive out the money-changers, He first made a whip. It was a definite and determined response, but it was “gently” planned.

Here are some steps you can take to instill this character trait in your children:

  • Grant forgiveness easily. Don’t hold grudges against those who have wronged you.
  • Don’t let your children fear coming to you about anything, because of the way you may react.
  • Get down to the children’s level when trying to explain something or in the way you respond to them.
  • Always be available to talk with your children.
  • Talk gently to your spouse.
  • When there is a disagreement in public, such as in a restaurant, it is okay to protect your interests, but it should always be done with gentleness and respect for the other person. There is never an excuse to be rude or obnoxious.

The opposite here is being undisciplined. This is an important trait, because it affects all the others.

Here are some action steps to help build self-control into your children:

  • Don’t allow temper tantrums. “Expressing themselves” is not an excuse for unruliness.
  • Learn personal disciplines and model them — things such as daily Bible reading, exercise and tithing.
  • Know sin has consequences and teach this principle to your children. (Unfortunately you may have to model it also.)
  • Use appropriate discipline for each child. All children are different.
  • Determine the motive behind the action before disciplining your children.
  • Provide appropriate tests for them as they mature to see if they can handle a situation. As they get older grant them more and more trust.

There is a final step in the Olive Tree Parenting Model. You must teach your children to abide!

In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If our children can learn this skill all these others will become and remain a part of who they are. They will learn this best as they see you doing so.

I’m praying for your parenting.

I need to remind you that this is a “model” – and I wasn’t perfect at doing this. Some I did better than others. The fact is, however, we seldom hit a target we aren’t aiming for – so make this your goal and you will find it easier to achieve than with no plan at all.

7 Random Suggestions for Younger Leaders

Team in the office. Asian businesswoman standing in the foreground smiling, her team of co-workers in the background

I love working with younger leaders. It keeps me young and it helps to know I’m investing in something and someone who will likely last beyond my lifetime.

I also love sharing some things I’ve learned from experience. Some of it hard experiences.

If you can learn and practice some of what I’ve learned early in your career it will help you avoid having to learn them by experience.

Please know these are intended to help – not hurt or discourage. I believe in you.

Here are 7 random pieces of advice I give young leaders.

Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes

It helps you remember to write it down, but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed. If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people this is what you are doing.

Respect your elders

The fact is you may not always feel respected by them, but that’s their fault not yours. Showing respect to people older than you now will help ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Learn all you can from everyone you meet

This includes the awkward, even difficult people that you encounter. (You may actually learn more from them if you’re willing.)

Keep a resume handy and keep revising it

You may never use a resume again in today’s work world. It’s all about knowing someone or knowing someone who knows someone. But, the discipline of gathering your experience as you gain it forces you to think through your worth to a future employer. You’ll likely be asked to defend this someday and need to be prepared. (Also keep your LinkedIn account up-to-date. Future employers will look.)

Never burn a bridge

You’ll be surprised how many times relationships come back around. Don’t be caught by surprise. Leave well always. Always honor your past.

Be an encourager

Encouragers win the approval of others and are rewarded because they are liked. Be a genuinely positive influence on your team.

Never underestimate a connection made

When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. Follow through on the opportunity to know someone new. Always value networking. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will work for good.

Drop the defensiveness

Young people often get defensive when a person with more experience challenges them. This is especially true when being corrected by a leader. Remember you don’t know what you don’t yet know. It’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. Grow from correction. Be patient with those who are trying to teach you. Get the chip off your shoulder and allow feedback to make you better. Over time you’ll win over those who see you as inexperienced.

There are 7 random suggestions.

Elders, what other suggestions would you advise?

An Important Parenting Concept: Especially for Parents of Young Children


I have a theory about parenting. It’s a reality which only came to me when my boys were nearly grown I had observed it for years — we practiced it — but I only formulated my thoughts around the concept in the teenage years of our parenting. 

Here’s the observation.

Many parents try to control less when children are younger and more when they are older.

My theory.

Successful parenting should be the opposite. Control early. Less control later.

I’ll admit. It’s my most “controversial” theory. How dare I suggest we ever control a child! Barbaric. Dictatorial. Borderline child abuse. Let children be who they are designed to be.

I’ve heard all that and more when I submit this theory. And, I’m all for letting children explore, be unique, be themselves. I’d even encourage it.

But, here’s my contention. When our children are toddlers we tend to dismiss the control issue. Sadly this appears to be epidemic in today’s generation of parenting. I hear parents often saying things like, “I can’t get them to take a nap” or “They won’t obey me”.  I see it at church when parents won’t leave their toddlers in the preschool area because “they just didn’t want to go today.” 

The fact is you can make a toddler comply if you really want them to. You can. You are stronger, bigger, scarier, and smarter than them. You may not feel you are – the little ones can be intimidating– but you are. And, I’m not trying to be funny. I certainly am not advocating abuse. Of course not. I advocate love above all. 

But, I do think it’s important – even Biblical – to train a child in the way they should go. And, the time to control your children the way they need to go is when they are young. It may be the only time. You can make decisions for them they don’t have enough life experience yet to make for themselves. You can teach them it’s not okay to throw a temper tantrum. You can.  And you can decide where they go and don’t go based on what’s best for them. You can help steer their actions – ultimately their heart – towards thing you know, because of your life experience – are best for them.

That’s what parents do. We raise children – children who will one day be adults.

Here’s the deal and why this matters so much and actually how this whole concept even developed.

Something happens when a child enters their late elementary and middle school years. Our children naturally begin to resist authority. And, if we have this parenting thing backwards what do we do? We attempt to control them even more. 

How does that work for a teenager? It doesn’t.

They have more freedom in their schedules. They are stronger, bigger, scarier and smarter than they were as toddlers. They can even pretend to comply and yet do their own thing when parents are nowhere around. The biggest problem with trying to control children into their teenage years is they can completely rebel against our authority. Have you ever known that to be true of a high school or college student?

Many parents release early then try to control later. It doesn’t work. They hang out with the wrong kids. They wear the wrong clothes. They aren’t making wise decisions. The older they get the harder it is to control. At some point your parenting moves from more control to more influence. The key is to control early, things which need controlling – things like heart and character issues – then be able to release gradually as they get older and as they mature.

If you don’t do anything else in your time with your children, help them to know you love them unconditionally. That’s most important. But know you don’t accomplish this by giving into their every wish when they are young. You do it by lovingly guiding them in the right direction through discipline and correction when they are very young. When your children are older, when they need your wisdom perhaps even more, they will continue to seek your input into their life if a trust relationship has been developed. 

My encouragement, especially to the parents of younger children, is to instill the values you have for your children when they are very young, while you can still have control, then move to less control and more protection of their hearts through their teenage years. If you have trained them well and they know you love them, then they will continue to honor your influence over them later in life.

For more parenting tips, check out the parenting category of this blog.

3 Easy Parenting Principles We Used and Saw Amazing Results

Happy children playing with toy laptop at home

I am frequently asked what we did or didn’t do as parents. I am amazed God has allowed us to raise the two young men we have. In their mid-twenties they are far better men than I was at their age. They love Jesus. They work hard and provide for themselves. They love others well. What a blessing!

It’s all grace.

But, there were a few principles we practiced consistently.

Here are 3 easy parenting principles all parents should consider:

Be intentional

Parenting is hard work. Don’t try it without a plan. It’s amazing how we tend to plan for everything in life, but seldom for our parenting. I know men and women who have a plan to improve their golf game, but nothing to help them grow as a father or mother. Parents who plan great social events but have no plan to instill values in their children – they simply react to life as it happens. Some parents scramble to make their children happy, making sure they are in every activity available, but never stop to think what kind of character they want their children to have as adults and what is going to best help them get there. 

If you want to be a great parent, you must be intentional about the role. You must have an overall goal and plan for your parenting. This includes an individual plan for each child. They are each different and require unique discipline, interaction and approaches to parenting. It means deciding in advance what the character and values you are going for and thinking through – intentionally – ways to develop them. 

At the beginning of each new year, we discussed each boy and came up with a shared goal for each one and talked through ways we could better mold their character in the coming year. We thought about character traits should as honesty, integrity and kindness. It made us limit some of their activities so we could spend quality time with them and make sure they were in the right programs (yes church was one) and around the right people influences.  

Shape the heart

The Bible is clear we should “Above all else guard the heart for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) I believe in firm discipline. I also believe in extending much grace. More than anything, however, the parent should learn to know, protect and shape the heart of their child. It is the heart, which will ultimately determine the decisions and directions the child eventually makes in life.

I learned great lessons from older friends and things they did which tended to push their children away rather than draw them closer. I always wanted to have a heart connection to our boys. That doesn’t mean giving them everything. Ephesians 6 commands us not to exasperate our children. We exasperate when we have needless rules, when our homes lack grace, or we give them everything but never helping them develop discipline and structure for their life. 

We taught our boys biblical principles. We shared with them our own struggles. We built deep connections with them. Again, this required time to develop. We ate most dinner meals together and never turned down an opportunity to throw and catch a ball. 

Enjoy the ride

Children are children for a very short time. Enjoy those days. The diaper days turn into the diploma days quickly. Be a fun parent – balancing love with discipline. Laughing with your children will help relieve the stress of your life and theirs and keep them wanting to be close to you well into the difficult teen and early adult years.

Let their friends know yours is a welcoming home – where love abounds always. You may not allow everything, but the door should always be open for a child to return. Children can’t handle all the stress of the adult world. We didn’t hide problems from our boys but we did help them believe God was in control, they could trust Him and us and enjoy being a child. 

We played games and made up songs and laughed until it hurt sometimes. We loved seeing our boys enjoy life and grace in our home. 

For my complete parenting philosophy see THIS POST or read other parenting posts HERE.

Which of these do you most need to improve upon as a parent?

(Speaking of principles, be sure to read my disclaimer post about them by clicking HERE.)

8 Paradigm Shapers for Making Discipline Decisions as a Parent

Time Out

I frequently have parents ask me what type of discipline they should use with their children. I’m glad parents are asking the question, but I seldom can give a standard answer for every situation.

I prefer to use a paradigm through which parents can make their own decisions. That’s the purpose of this post.

Perhaps these steps will help you make wiser decisions regarding discipline.

Here are 8 paradigm shapers for making discipline decisions as a parent:

Have a vision – If you don’t know where you want to take children you’ll be less likely to take them there. This should be decided before the need for discipline arises and it should ultimately help shape the discipline you use.

Have a purpose – The purpose of discipline should not be to cause harm, but to teach. Discipline is to help a child learn how to live. Keep this in mind as you discipline and it will help you make wiser choices. Ask yourself, “What can I do to best teach my child what he (or she) needs to learn from this experience?”

Step back and process – Immediately after an offense is not always the best time to administer punishment. It’s okay to let children wait for a response. Sometimes this is the best discipline for the child and it almost always makes your decision better. This step becomes more important as they get older and the discipline decisions become more difficult.

Never make a decision in anger – You don’t want emotions to make the decision. You want a well thought out response.

Consider the bigger picture – This is where having a plan/vision comes in handy. Considering where you want to take the child, how they are progressing in life, and the motivation of their heart, what punishment will most help accomplish your objectives for the child in this specific circumstance?

Make the punishment fit the offense – In my opinion, you shouldn’t have a standard punishment. Grounding for older children or time-out for younger children may work in some circumstances but not in others.

Make the punishment fit the child – All children are different, learn differently and require different methods to teach the principles you want to teach.

Reinforce love – Every discipline should be used as an opportunity to show children how much they are loved.

Let’s face it, parenting is hard work. I’m hesitant to say anyone is an “expert” in this subject. We all have room for improvement. I’m not assuming you will carry around this list in your pocket, whipping it out at the appropriate time of need, but I do believe having a framework of this sort in your schema will help you better address the issues of discipline you face as a parent.

In the end, having this type of paradigm thought process, before the need for discipline arises, should help us be better parents.

What is the most difficult issue you deal with regarding discipline? What would you add to my list?

7 Things We’ve Learned about Reaching Millennials

young people

The statistics are staggering. The older a child gets today, the greater his or her chances are of disappearing from the church. The church must intentionally plan to reverse this trend.

I was a part of a church plant built around a desire to reach people who may not have previously been interested in church. We were amazed at the number of young people we reached. Defying statistics.

I’ve now updated this post, because we are currently in a growing, revitalized established church and — amazingly — our fastest growing group is the millennial generation. Again, defying statistics.

It must be more than structure or age of church — or even style of worship.

Along the way, we’ve learned a few things — and these are the things which regardless of type of church have remained true. 

Here are 7 thoughts for the church to reach millennials:

Love them – Young people today seem to crave genuine, no strings attached, healthy love from other adults — and they want it to be unconditional love — through the good times of their life and the times they mess up. And, they want us to love first, without qualifications added.

Be biblically true – Millennials don’t want fluff or sugar-coating. They want an authentic, honest approach to the Bible. Whether they believe all of it yet or not, they want the people who teach to teach what they believe — and then be willing to discuss it with them as they explore.

Be culturally aware and relevant – This generation has been exposed to the problems, challenges, and changes in the world. And, changes are coming fast. They are more socially conscious than in years past. They want the church to be addressing the needs they see in the world around them.

Give them a place to plug-in – They want to make a difference. They want to be a part of change. They want you to support them in their pursuits. They want to serve somewhere they believe is doing good work and makes a positive impact on the world — and they may even want to help lead the effort.

Value their ideas and input – You have to allow Millennials to do things their way — often with technology — within groups of friends — sometimes unscripted. A church which is bent on protecting the past over creating the future turns young people away from the church.

Be genuine/transparent with them – The overused word is authentic, but this generation wants to learn from the mistakes of those older than them. Pretending as if we’ve always been wonderful doesn’t help them deal with the issues they are dealing with today. They need living examples of battling life’s temptations, struggles, and fears.

Guide them – I love this about them — they are wisdom-seekers. They want help making life’s decisions, but they want it done in a way that helps them understand wise choices, but gives them freedom to choose their own path. Young people today crave older adults who will walk with them through the obstacles they face on a daily basis; while extending love, grace and support.

What would you add to my list? How is your church reaching Millennials?

Again, notice I didn’t say anything about music. It’s a bonus if you give them worship styles they enjoy, but I’m not convinced it’s as much a necessity if the others on this list are kept.