The Christian Parent Trap

  1. Are you trying to raise up good, healthy, whole, wise, and productive children of faith? Beware of the real Christian parent trap. 

The Parent TrapMany of us remember that classic Disney movie, The Parent Trap, starring Lindsay Lohan. Many old-timers may remember the original version starring Haley Mills playing the dual role of clever twins scheming to reunite their divorced parents.

Either version is cute, fun and ends well.

The Christian parent trap I’m referring to here is actually attractively insidious with long-term damaging implications.

Good Gone Worldly
We’ve all seen good kids, even from “good Christian families” go off the deep-end when they get to college or even high school. Some students merely just drift away from the faith of their youth. Recent extensive research (Barna Group) reveals that nearly 3 out of every 5 young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

The 6 major causes for their drift from vibrant Christian lives are varied:

  1. The Christian church feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse
  2. Their Christianity experience growing up was light and shallow
  3. Christianity comes across as antagonistic to science
  4. Their church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental
  5. Christianity seems too exclusive
  6. The Christian church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

So how does a parent combat this?

How do we raise and influence our children and grandchildren to be healthy, whole, wise, reverent, and productive little people, then teenagers, young adults and ultimately grown adults raising and influencing a new generation?

It’s tough enough doing so as a cultural secularist. How do you increase your odds for success if you’re a Christian wanting to raise astute children up in the Christian faith?

The first step is to understand the red flag of a fundamental deception that applies to modern Christian parents of young children and developing teens: Who’s teaching your kids?

Children Are What They’re Taught
In fact, children are a function of what they learn, regardless of who’s doing the teaching. If we want a particular outcome we best consider the source of their teaching. If we, as parents, are teaching our children Christian ethics, standards, Biblical precepts and principles, then they run a very good chance to owning those same teachings as they develop. The home is certainly a critical learning ground.

One’s church is another influential training arena. A family may attend a local church that supports good Christian beliefs and even has a good children’s program.

This all works well and good from toddler through pre-school years.

But then what happens?

We send them off to school. It may be public or private; those even highly rated by common standards. Either way they are now outside our complete influence, at least through noon or mid-afternoon.

Is this a problem? Maybe or maybe not. But now you’re not necessarily controlling all that your children are exposed to or are learning.

The Christian Parent Trap
And that’s the real Parent Trap. It’s the assumption that your children are getting all they need at home, church and school. “Hey, even 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!” you might say. Actually, 2 out 3 unfortunately may not be good enough. It may even be fraught with problems while you’re blithely assuming all’s well and good.

Here are common scenarios of the modern Christian Parent Trap:

  1. Home Training – As a family you pray at meals (most meals – well, mostly dinner), you read your children from Bible story books (sometimes), you even do a family devotional once in a while (actually, not that often).
  2. Church Training – Your family attends a “good Church” that believes in Jesus (or at least seems pro-God) and has a good Children’s and Youth Program that you plug your kids into on Sunday morning. Better yet when they have mid-week programs for Jr/Sr High students and fun winter and summer Church camps they can attend.
  3. School Training – Your children attend a good public school (high test scores!) or a good private school (Catholic or secular). Your focus is mostly about a good education, but some religious training is a plus.

The problem with the scenarios above is that you can be lulled into thinking your children are a getting good sound Christian upbringing and education.

Let me share a case study very close to home.

A Case in Point
We raised our 3 children in Mountain View, CA. All attended public schools through high school and each graduated from good colleges (UCLA, Westmont College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). We attended a good Bible-believing mega-church and the kids went through all the good programs from age 3-18.

Nothing wrong with all of that except that 2 of our children got burned out on Church along the way. They found their way back eventually to the faith of their youth and today all 3 are solid in faith and stronger than their parents were at their age. They and their spouses are raising Christian families in ways that are avoiding the Christian Parent Trap that my wife and I fell into:

  1. Home Training – This is serious. “Fix these words of mine to your hearts and minds…Teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19) It’s on the parents, with fathers leading, to wisely engage and train up the children to God’s Word and Ways in the home. The home isn’t church-heavy. It should be fun, safe and reflect the Spirit of God. Our focus would be consistency in all things, rooted soundly in Biblical principles.
  2. Church Training – Big miss for us. Do not assume that even good churches are sufficient to supply the wise Christian upbringing and training for your children. We only superficially augmented the teaching we thought they were getting at church. Churches do well but are absolutely no substitute for home/family Christian education and training. Children today should be challenged with relevant training and equipping in Christian apologetics.
  3. School Training – New dilemma. Today we would mostly likely put our children in solid Christian private schools or consider home-schooling with its many teaching resources and co-ops. I believe a major trend is afoot here with the demise of quality and the public school system’s disregard for Biblical moral teaching. Who is teaching your child and what they are teaching them is even more crucial in today’s wide-open cultural landscape.

The Christian Parent Trap is real but avoidable if you merely think about it. Our mistake was taking things for granted and making huge assumptions. The modern-day is fraught with risks for our children but not without solutions. It becomes a matter of awareness, depth of faith, and personal priorities.

Are you caught in the Christian Parent Trap?
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”- Ephesians 6:4

Categories: Abundant Living, Church, Family, Marriage

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4 replies

  1. Mike, thanks for this thoughtful post. Here’s a counterpoint on the subject of schools. Suppose I send my young kids to Christian schools through high school. The first time they hit a non-Christian institution is when they’re living in a dorm on a college campus in another city or state; they’ve never been surrounded by non-Christians before in large numbers.

    To me that’s a scary situation; I’d prefer that they encounter the unbelieving world while still living at home, so that they could talk with us about the people and culture they encountered.

    And here’s a point that Pete Sommer made: We cannot raise Christian children; we can only be Christian parents.


  2. Thanks, Collin. Good counterpoint. A couple of decades ago we didn’t send our young kids to Christian schools for that very reason. We also wanted us, as involved parents, and our children to be “salt and light” in the public schools and community. I’m suggesting now that in today’s culture we might rethink that approach.

    Our course it would be dependent on a variety of factors, though I believe many of our public schools have been usurped and corrupted by anti-Christian biases. The “quality” or standard rating of a public school should not override an anti-Bible worldview that may permeate a school’s curriculum. Not to say that this can’t be overcome with good home support, education and Christian parenting.

    I see lots of great things happening with Charter Schools and the some pressure to reset teaching standards and curriculum. But beware of the strong entrenched forces in play within the public school systems across California as well as the nation. It will not go down easily but I do foresee a voucher system of sorts in the coming decade. It’s interesting to watch what happens when you wipe out the current system and have to start anew – see the reports coming out of New Orleans post-Katrina where the entire public system was literally washed away and had to start over. Great results coming out of the new system there.

    By the way, I know many children/kids/teens that are products of “good Christian schools” that have not stayed solid in faith. Christian schools are not the answer. Good teaching/living/wisdom at home is critical to determining whether children stay grounded in Godly ways regardless as to whether they attend public or private school.

    To Pete’s point I would counter as follows: Yes, we can raise up Christian children to follow, serve, obey and be devoted to God. It comes from Christian parents, not the world around them. So my statement would be: We, as parents and followers of Christ (Christians), can and should be raising our children to be followers of Christ (Christians) in the ways and knowledge of His Word.


  3. Can I differ with you on one point? This will be my last reply on this thread 🙂

    => We, as parents and followers of Christ (Christians), can and should be raising our children to be followers of Christ (Christians) in the ways and knowledge of His Word. <=

    We can try; we can present them with the truth and pray like crazy, but we cannot force them to follow Christ; only they can make that decision; we can't make it for them.


  4. Collin, agreed – can’t force it, but like the Hebrews were instructed, parents are to work it:

    – You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:7), and
    – Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

    Our responsibilities as parents are to teach our children and raise them up in “the ways of the Lord.” Of course, as they grow up and leave the home they will have to make their faith their own. Those taught well will be more equipped to make better life choices and follow God into their own adulthood.

    So, as scripture points out in Godly wisdom, it is our responsibility to lay down the foundation; that will improve the chance that the child “will not not depart from it.’


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