“Since Christian parents have been both saved and sanctified by God’s grace, Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s power, we must recognize that it is impossible for us to be our child’s savior and sanctifier. We will never be the ultimate reason why our child is saved or their hearts are softened to delight in God, since we were not the ultimate cause in our own salvation.”
What does it mean to be a gospel-centered parent? As a youth minister who is also a parent, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I may have a bit of insight.
At our church, we often talk about four plumb lines – little phrases that, we believe, capture the heart of grace-centered parenting.
1) “Parents are neither saviors nor sanctifiers”
2) “Parents are pastors”
3) “You parent best when you repent most”
4) “Parent your kids to be sent, not to stay”
These are neither exhaustive nor the final word on what parenting is or isn’t, simply how our church community has chosen to encourage parents in their efforts to parent through the lens of the gospel.
1. “Parents are neither saviors nor sanctifiers.”
Since Christian parents have been both saved and sanctified by God’s grace, Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s power, we must recognize that it is impossible for us to be our child’s savior and sanctifier. We will never be the ultimate reason why our child is saved or their hearts are softened to delight in God, since we were not the ultimate cause in our own salvation.
Faithful, gospel-centered parenting is neither hurrying a “decision” from your child, nor making sure their behavior is perfect. It’s pointing with your life, your sinfulness, and your repentance that there is a greater Parent in heaven.
As parents, it’s easy to believe that if we are intentional and skilled enough, we can bring our kids to love God, and love his commands. But this is not true; only God can accomplish these things. At the end of the day, our inability is actually good news. If it were possible for our efforts to save our children, we would never be certain their salvation was secure. We would wring our hands, punish them more severely, and anxiously count their Bible verses memorized – hoping these things would finally give us calm.
The best news parents can hear is that we cannot save our children – but God can. He has died to prove his love is greater than ours, and he has been raised to prove his power is greater than ours.
2. “Parents are pastors.”
Whenever I onboard new volunteers who happen to also be parents, I always ask them, “What is the difference between parenting and pastoring?” I ask that because I’m concerned the parenting choices of my volunteers (dating age, movie selection, cell phone usage) may be imposed on the children of other parents. I want my volunteers to wrestle with the idea that pastoring students does not always mean parenting them.
While not all pastoring is parenting, all parenting is pastoring. Each family will have their own culture and rules that determine everything from bedtimes to college choices. But as parents saved by Christ, our first job is the same as a pastor’s – to continually place before our kids the greatness of God, the gravity of sin, and the grandeur of the grace found in Jesus Christ. The advantage parents have over pastors is that, as parents, we can do this daily (not just on Sundays). We have the opportunity to continually sow the seeds of the gospel, while grasping onto the promise of 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”