Spirit-Led Nurture and Control: Equipping Parents to Nurture Their Childrenā€™s Faith in an Increasingly Secular World

Uncategorized Jun 20, 2024

Some time ago, a university study identified four classic parenting styles (Baumrind and Maccoby & Martin). The study defined a "parenting style” as the combination of parental support and responsiveness, or more broadly, nurture and control. The categories were more descriptive than prescriptive in that one parenting style was not necessarily advocated above another. The study aimed only to explore different parenting styles, considering which style produced the most healthy, happy, and successful children.

The Authoritarian Parent

Parents who exhibited high control combined with low support were described as authoritarian. The classic phrase that describes this parenting style is, "You will do as I say.”

Authoritarian parents set rules and closely monitor their children but offer little nurture or emotional connection. This parenting style typically has low communication levels, so it is rare that they explain to their children why compliance with rules is necessary. This parenting style often uses severe discipline when rules are broken.

The Permissive Parent

Parents who exhibit low control and high support create a permissive parenting style. This parenting style is best described by the phrase, "I trust that you will do the right thing.” A permissive parent usually makes few rules and places a great deal of trust in the child with very little monitoring of their behavior. This parenting style has high levels of nurture and warmth but makes very few demands on the child. These parents exhibit high acceptance levels, sometimes described as flexible but lax.

The Uninvolved Parent

Parents with low control and low support create an uninvolved parenting style, captured by the phrase, "You'll do what you want, and you will learn from your mistakes.” These parents usually set very few rules, rarely monitor their children, and offer little active emotional support. While the child's basic needs are fulfilled, the parent is usually emotionally and physically withdrawn from their child's life. However, extremely uninvolved parenting can result in rejection or neglect of the needs of children.

The Authoritative Parent

Parents whose parenting style involves both high control and high support are described as authoritative parents (not to be confused with authoritarian). The statement best describes them, "I love you no matter what you decide, but I encourage you to do as I say.” High control and expectations represent this parenting style yet provide nurturing and open communication. Discipline usually involves a reasonable exercise of corrective action, but not to the extent that the child's independence is restricted. Authoritative parents respond to their children; they are willing to listen to questions, and when children fail to meet their expectations, these parents demonstrate forgiveness rather than only punishment.

Biblical Nurture and Control

The university study echoes a concept found in the Scripture. 

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT).

At first glance, the words "discipline" and “instruction" can seem like synonyms. But in the original Greek, the word translated as "discipline" also refers to education, training, and nurturing children. The Greek word translated as "instruction" can also be translated as a warning or admonition. Thus, the two concepts the classic university study discovered demonstrate what the Bible has already taught us. (I don't find that surprising at all!)

The world’s society is changing. That is certainly not shocking news. But I am grappling with what I see parents in my congregation grappling with every day - the speed with which society is changing.

For example, the Washington Examiner recently reported that US District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued an injunction against an attempt to expand "gender discrimination" in federal law to include a non-biological definition of gender. Just a decade ago, I never dreamed that American families would face questions like, "What is a boy?” or "What is a girl?” How should Christian parents teach their children to respond to such a social atmosphere?

And over the grand scale of our society, that example is a light one. Every day, Christian parents are faced with the challenge of how to bring up their children amid a world that seems to inch closer and closer to total moral breakdown.

Well, take courage, believing parents. There is a solution. Raising children to have faith in Christ in this generation is possible. Our families' challenges are so varied that it would be impossible for me to attempt to provide answers and responses for every one of them. Still, there is a tried and proven method that can serve as a compass and guide for Christian parents. At the risk of oversimplification, I would like to express this method in two principles.

Parents: The Greatest Influence on Children

Principle number one: the most significant ethical and moral influence that a child will ever receive is that which their parents demonstrate. A study by the National Library of Medicine found that parenting styles affect a child’s physical self-concept, perception of the family concept, nervousness, empathy, and benevolence over their lifetime (Martinez-Escudero et al., 2020). These things affect how a child makes choices between right and wrong. There are dozens of other studies that are too numerous to quote and reflect similar findings. Despite the influence of friends, society, educational systems, fads, trends, and social media, parents are still the most influential force in a child's life. That means that amid a changing society, Christian parents still have a chance to make a lasting impact that can shape their child's life for the good.

Since the weight of that responsibility to influence children rests upon the shoulders of parents, Christian parents must take the opportunity to influence seriously and protect that responsibility. The evidence indicates that an unhealthy parenting style can foster rebellion and resistance in a child’s heart. It can cause self-concept issues and emotional issues. However, if parents adopt a parenting style that provides high levels of nurture and control, children will become more open to their leadership, and parental influence will have a greater effect on them.

In the text I quoted above, Paul indicated that it is possible for fathers (and mothers) to behave in a way that does not provoke their children to anger, which in this context would translate as rebellion against parental influence and authority. 

The Nurture and Control of the Lord

This leads me to principle number two: Parenting that promotes a child to accept and embrace their parent’s Christian influence is parenting that includes the elements of the nurture and control of the Lord. For the Christian parent, this nurture and control is a far cry from the generic descriptions found in the studies of the four parenting styles. This is the nurture and control that comes "from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). In other words, godly parenting is an intentional demonstration of the kind of nurture and control that comes from God the Father. This parenting style begins with the parents living under the influence of God’s nurture and control and then demonstrating and communicating that influence to their children. This parenting style supersedes mere categories. It is an effective parenting approach because it is carried out through the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Christian parents, you represent the greatest influence for Christ that your children will ever see. They will watch you wrestle with it, grapple with it, fail, repent, and try again daily. But somewhere amid the frailties of human effort, God's grace will get involved in the lives of your children through your parenting so that your children recognize the love of Christ himself. And that will stay with them for their whole lives.

A passage of scripture that succinctly describes this principle is Hebrews 12:5–11 (NLT): 

5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” 7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? 8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. 9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? 10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. 

God’s love is the perfect balance between nurture and control. He nurtures us because “he loves” us (Hebrew 12:6) so that we might produce His character in our lives (Hebrews 12:10). He corrects us because he establishes guidelines for our good (Hebrews 12:10) and so that we might experience “a peaceful harvest of right living” (Hebrew 12:11). As that happens in the lives of parents, it will spill over into the lives of their children.

Society may change. In fact, society will change, and chances are it will change for the worse. But our children do not have to be victims of society’s deterioration. As long as there are godly parents, there can be godly children.



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