Letters to My Friend -

An Open Letter to Christian Parents

By Mary E. Stephens
Nov. 2023

Dear Christian parents,

There is a lot of information being put out by various groups about how to raise “good, godly” children. There are various methods promoted, some even will imply or say outright that their method is the best and will absolutely give the desired results “if followed correctly.” Some go so far as to form cult-like groups to keep their children “safe” from not only the world, but also from the real or imagined problems with other Christian groups and people - and I do mean real Christians, just to clarify.


I'm a married Christian woman who has no children. But, I watched my parents raise two much-younger siblings, and I have observed a lot of friends and other people with their children, and I'd like to share some thoughts with you. I know some people get all uptight about single or childless people having opinions about raising kids. I understand that because I know how intrusive some people are with their uninformed opinions. However, I also know that some of us see real problems and, because we know our thoughts are not welcome, we are afraid to say anything. Sometimes they are things that would actually be helpful to you if you would stop to consider our perspective. So, I'm writing this with the hope of helping someone who may be feeling overwhelmed with some aspects of raising children in this day we live in. I doubt any honest parent would say they haven't been overwhelmed!


1. There is no foolproof plan.

The Pearls, Bill Gothard (ATI, IBLP), your pastor, Voddie Baucham, the Duggars, James Dobson, S.M. Davis, Tedd Tripp, Scott Brown, and dozens of others, do not have a perfect plan. They are not experts on your children. Even you don't know everything about your children. Only your children’s Creator can claim that role. Only their Creator should claim that role. In fact, when parents become obsessed with knowing everything and controlling everything about their children very bad things can happen. Just sayin'...


There is no perfect formula -

“If we do A and B then C.”

“If we follow this plan perfectly, our kids will turn out well.”

"If we enforce this set of rules, our children will be godly."

"If we are 'in church every time the doors are open' and have family devotions daily, our children will automatically follow God."

"If we discipline them in just this way, they will not become terrible sinners."


IMPORTANT - You cannot protect your children from their own sinfulness - “If we keep them away from ________ (other kids, bad people, public school, television, the internet, social media...you fill in the blank) they won’t learn bad things." Everyone has the same sin nature and no temptation is uncommon. - 1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man... You cannot incubate children enough to protect them from their own sin nature. It’s inside them. It is not your job to fix that problem. That is what salvation through Christ is all about. If a human could fix this problem we wouldn't have needed a Savior.


This is not an excuse to give up, but to give them the admonition of the Lord and to make sure you follow and honor His word, not the traditions of man.


Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


2 Timothy 3:14-15 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

You are not the ones who make your child wise unto salvation. You give them the word of God and let it do the work He intends it to through His Spirit. Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.


2. You are not responsible to teach them everything they need to know or to micro-manage everything that comes into their eyes or ears or minds.


I know this is a hard one for some parents to accept but, truly, you don’t have to “figure it all out.” Life is too short and you are too limited to get it right all the time.


Your job is to try to teach them to think and to discern for themselves before the Lord. It is to prepare them to see and understand life without you being there, watching all the time. And, they will need to start doing this at a much earlier age than many parents imagine. You should protect them, but you need to realize that you are not going to do a perfect job. You need to instruct them so they will be ready and able to recognize evil when they encounter it - and they will!


Another thing: One of the points of the body of Christ is that we are to be joined together in a fit way so that the nourishment of Christ can flow through us. Ephesians 4:14-16 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.


If your kids are saved, they need to interact with other Christians, not just your carefully selected “approved” few. The contention between Paul and Barnabas was so strong (over John Mark) that they had to part company (Acts 15:36-41). Yet we never read any warning from Paul about Barnabas, and later he asked for Mark to be sent to him (2 Tim. 4:11) which admits that Barnabas’ efforts with Mark had been fruitful. The people we separate from should be only for really important and biblical reasons. Sadly, there are people who make so many “important” reasons that they cut themselves off from the body of Christ almost completely. Don’t be those people.


The "family-inclusive" preoccupation has labeled things like Sunday School as evil and ungodly. There is nothing wrong with Sunday School, contrary to what some tell us. There are a lot of things that are not specifically spelled out in scripture which are useful and/or edifying in some way. Sunday School, as we know it today, is not commanded in scripture but it is not forbidden in scripture either. The same goes for youth groups. (Yes, I know that they can be a mess in some situations, but they can also be a blessing in others, so…) Fathers raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) does not mean that no one else may teach them. Beware of broad brush warnings and commands appropriated from the Old Testament or interpreted to suit the teachers’ presuppositions or ideals. God means for the body of Christ to be an important part of the lives of children as well as adults.


Note: I do draw the line at so-called “Jr. church.” There is no reason why the children shouldn’t worship and learn together with the adults in corporate worship and teaching. It actually seems unhealthy that they shouldn't. Learning to sit quietly still for 45 minutes once a week is actually a useful life skill. However, Sunday School is not that. It is age appropriate and directed teaching which certainly can serve a useful purpose and in most churches is a separate meeting time from the main worship and preaching services.


Your kids should also have wholesome adult friends who are Christians. I had been communicating with the daughter of a friend of mine at one time. I wasn't sure my friend knew, so I mentioned it to her when we were talking on the phone. She told me that she wanted her children to be friends with older Christians who desired to follow the Lord, even if she didn’t have complete agreement with them. I was a little surprised, but she went on to explain that she knew that sometimes kids go to others for advice or council at some point instead of to their parents, and she would rather have her children talking to other Christian adults who had good sense than to people who would lead them away from the truth. I saw a lot of wisdom in that. I know I did it myself at times when I was young. Encouraging your children to have good friendships with other adults in the body of Christ who are walking orderly before the Lord, even if you don’t agree on everything, is a safety net you can’t afford to do without, friends. It may mean the difference between good council and worldly lies at some point in your kids' lives. If they don't have those kinds of friendships, who do you think they will go to? Probably not a good source.


3. Heavy-handed control and manipulation will give bad results, and may even cause you to lose at least some of your children.


Heavy control and manipulation may cause your children to rebel and turn away from the gospel entirely. Or they may become clones of you, your admired teachers, or your church leaders, following a set path they think leads to life when they do not even understand true salvation. Some may be saved and learn to follow the Lord for themselves, but they may be forced to walk away from you to do so, Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. I have known of parents like this, and I’ve known of young people who followed one of these routes in response to those parents.


A great deal of control and manipulation happens in the cause of keeping kids "from making the same mistakes that I/we did." As children grow up, they need to be allowed to make their own choices in various ways, even when they make mistakes. If you don’t allow them to ever make choices or mistakes (by your interpretation), they won’t know how to deal with real life. We all make mistakes. We all get into situations we wish we hadn’t. No, you don't need to let them run feral and be little monsters, but kids who don't learn how to recognize hazards, avoid mistakes, and take responsibility for their actions are headed for serious problems. Yes, there will be situations where you need to step in because you are the parents and that's your job. However, there are parents who are so preoccupied with protecting their kids from running amok and making mistakes that the children grow up with almost no skills for dealing with their mistakes and sinful nature. This is dangerous. It sets them up for failure and even destruction. Proverbs 4:1-2 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. Romans 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.


They also need to learn to think for themselves before God without feeling obligated to seek your approval. Why? Because you are not God. You do not know God’s plan for their lives. You are not the final authority and you don’t have all the answers. Only God does. They need to learn to communicate with Him directly without reference to your preferences or ideas. Yeah, that’s hard. But, you can’t imagine what a difference it will make in their lives. I hate to think where I would be if my parents hadn't granted me this freedom. Certainly they corrected and instructed me, but they desired for my siblings and me to have a good relationship with the Lord on our own. They wanted us to walk worthy of what God wanted for us without someone constantly looking over our shoulders to make sure we were doing it "the right way." Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,


Romans 12:9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
DISSIMULATION, n. L., to make like; like. The act of dissembling; a hiding under a false appearance; a feigning; false pretension; hypocrisy. Dissimulation may be simply concealment of the opinions, sentiments or purpose; but it includes also the assuming of a false or counterfeit appearance which conceals the real opinions or purpose... (Webster, 1828)

Don’t put on airs of false humility pretending that raising children is a huge responsibility so that you can lord it over your children and demand absolute, unthinking obedience. Kids are not stupid. Soon or later, they will see through this ruse. I understand why some parents tell their kids, "Spanking you hurts me more than it does you." But, truthfully, folks, there are people who say that more to manipulate their children's minds and increase their guilt than out of any kind of sincerity. Don't be those parents.


Acknowledge your sins to your children and even apologize to them when you have sinned against them. This is one of the things that made a huge impression on me at an early age with my own dad. I remember him apologizing to me once when he spanked me for something my brother had done. I was impressed in my teens by my Gramma apologizing to me when we had had a misunderstanding and both had sinned against the other. And, another time I was impressed with an older friend who apologized to her children when she had been very grumpy with them all day and she even stopped and asked them to pray for her, which they did. To see your parent or grandparent humble themselves before you and admit they are not just a sinner, but that they have sinned against you, is worth more than many, many sermons on humility and repentance. It can’t be faked, though, or it will have the exact opposite effect, so do it in sincerity and truth. James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another...


4. You are not ultimately responsible for your children’s salvation.


You can't get saved for you kids, nor can you make them get saved. You are responsible to give them the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they will hopefully understand it. You are responsible to live out the gospel before them. But, you cannot make sure they are saved.


I have heard of some parents who actually believed that their children would automatically be Christians because they are or because they have a “covenant home.” This is in essence, a form of believing that your children inherit eternal life from you. Since eternal life can only come from God, this is a false gospel, even heresy. Sadly, some people with this ideology actually fail to give their children the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus leading to people who grow up thinking they are saved when, in fact, they are not. If they continue this path,  in just a few generations there can be whole large groups of people who think they are saved because they were born and raised in a “Christian” home but none, or few, of them are truly born again. I’ve seen this among the various Reformed people of Western Michigan, and others.


Some parents may become so distraught over the fact that their children are not saved that they will become overbearing in giving the gospel or trying to “help” their children get “under conviction.” This can be a serious problem. Kids may actually get to the point where they are afraid to get saved because of what they perceive as the high demands for holiness, or they may reject the gospel because they become hardened to their parents’ constant pushing. Don’t let this happen in your home. Try to be consistent in your own testimony - to both talk and live out the way of life - but let the Holy Spirit do His job of reproving their conscience. He knows exactly what each child needs to show them their need of salvation. You don’t. No actually, you don't. Also, you cannot spank your children into becoming Christians. Sadly, some people appear to think this way based on some twistings of scripture.


John 16:13-14 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.


And by the way, just because your child takes longer to get saved than you expected or than someone else's kids did, that doesn't mean you failed. One sad case I heard of was a father whose son realized when he was a young adult that he was not truly born again and he got saved. Reportedly, the father, instead of rejoicing with the angels in heaven because one sinner had repented, was sad because he said he failed as a father since it had taken his son so long to get saved. You know what's really sad? That that man's opinion of himself drowned his Christian joy at seeing his son come to Christ. He was so focused on himself and his duties as a father that he lost sight of what really mattered. That is a tragedy.


5. Seek out godly accountability and wisdom. Don’t think that you can figure it all out alone, but also don’t go seeking out teachers to follow who don’t even know you or your family.


Often times, parents seek teachers based on the fact that they are saying what they want to hear or what they think they need to hear. This may have nothing to do with the truth of God’s word or His will.


If you younger mothers don’t seek council from the godly older women in your lives, you are in the wrong. How can they teach you the Titus 2 things if you won’t ask or listen? Even some women who made mistakes may have useful things to impart. If they acknowledge their mistakes, as one elderly lady whom I looked up to did, they can impart wisdom based on what not to do. And just to be clear, if don't include older, godly women in your circle of friends, you need to examine your choices, because that isn't even biblical.


People who are closer to you and your family will likely observe things that need to be brought to your attention. This is the very reason that some people want to seek advice and teaching from someone over the horizon who will never likely see their family, or only in a controlled environment if they do. Some parents don’t want to know the truth about their methods or to deal with their own faults. They want to follow a “perfect plan” that someone assures them “will work” and not be accountable to anyone who might point out their own sin or flawed thinking. Is that you? Please consider carefully. The consequences of making this mistake are too horrible to disregard.


It is really sad to see parents who are so set on their "perfect plan" that no one can talk to them about the obvious mistakes they are making with their children. When parents are so self-assured and superior in their own ideas that they cannot be approached by the people nearest to them who love them and their kids, something is terribly amiss, and the results won't be good.


1 Thessalonians 5:11-15 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. The body of Christ is meant to edify, admonish, warn, comfort, and support one another. You have to be part of the local group of believers in order to obey these things. You also have to listen when someone approaches you with a problem they have observed.


6. Take responsibility where it is rightfully yours.


Some parents seem to think that because they are part of a church, this will ensure their children are taught and instructed “properly.” There seems to be some entitlement thinking coming to some Christians where they believe that certain aspects of training and instruction should be done for them by the church.


It is not the responsibility of the church to give your kids their basic education. A church school might be a nice thing to have, but it is not an entitlement or expectation. It is also not the responsibility of any school - public, charter, private, or Christian. You are responsible to make sure your children are educated properly. My parents discovered that my brother was not being taught properly by his 1st grade teacher because she was ignoring him. He  was one of the few quiet boys in her large class of mostly rowdy boys. They had to make a decision to make sure that he got the education he needed. They chose to put him in a Christian school and they followed up and made sure he was learning more there – which he did. (That amazing Christian school teacher taught him all of 1st grade in half the school year!)


It is your responsibility to teach your kids basic manners among other people. You teach them to sit quietly in church meetings. The church is not obligated to provide you with free daycare so that you can "have a break during church." Sure, that might be nice if it’s there, but it is not your entitlement. I'm pretty sure that the nursery and "Jr. church" are fairly new innovations in church life when you consider that we're 2000 years into it now. Many Christian parents have done without and never considered that they were being "cheated."


You also are the ones who should teach your children to behave respectfully toward other people in the congregation – not running around elderly people, speaking politely to their elders, not being mean to other kids, not making pests of themselves with people who are trying to have a conversation, not screaming inside at the top of their lungs just for fun, etc. No, children aren’t going to behave perfectly and no sensible person would expect them to, although some non-sensible people might. But, it’s bothersome to hear parents complain about having to take care of the children they chose to bring into the world. It’s also frustrating to see parents ignore or even excuse their children’s bad behavior as if they weren't responsible or it didn’t matter.


Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


Fathers are commanded to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – not the pastor, not the church, not the Sunday School teachers, not the Christian school teachers. All of those may add useful things in a child’s growing up years, but it is the father’s responsibility to do the main up bringing in these areas. Mothers and grandparents also are responsible to teach the scriptures as we know from the fact that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy to know the scriptures “from a child,” and they were commended by the Holy Ghost through Paul. (1 Tim. 1:3-5)


Ask for advice or help if you need it. But, don’t expect others to do what you are commanded to do in scripture.


Due to worldly wisdom and ideas that are spreading in the church, I feel like I need to say this too: It's part of your job to spank your kids when they need it. If you live in a country where that is not allowed, then you need to come up with other means of disciplining your children. The biblical principle is to chasten and spank with reproof, but spanking isn't an absolute command in the teachings to the New Testament church. Just sayin'... (Neither side of the "absoluters" will like this. Parents these days either absolutely don't want to spank at all, or they think it's an absolutely nonnegotiable command. Based on what the Bible actually says, I believe the truth lies somewhere in between.)


And for those nay-sayers that want to say that the rod of the Old Testament isn't speaking of the rod of discipline: Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Just to be clear, that isn't the "comforting rod." It's the rod that is used to underscore reproof. Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.


Don't get yourself all tied in knots over that. Take it in context of what Jesus said about offending little ones and don't assume God means that children should be abused. Let's honor the God who is love with the respect and trust to believe that He wouldn't recommend child beating as some people teach it today.


Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.


Hebrews 12:5-6 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. While we're mentioning this verse, it should probably be pointed out that not every Christian gets the same kind of chastening or scourging. We get corrected by God in ways that are suitable to our listening and learning skills. Let that guide your manner of correcting your own children. Make it age and mentality appropriate. My family has cringed over parents who spanked their kids for every tiny infringement of their wishes and commands. We've also been shocked at those who encourage spanking small babies - those too young to receive reproof and understand what it means. When the discipline is without reproof (explanation) or is a constant flow of punishment, don't be surprised if the kids eventually rebel and turn on you and your God with anger.


In conclusion:

I hope you realize that I did not give much specific child rearing advice here. I didn’t offer any rules about bed times or sleep overs or diet requirements or exactly how to discipline or any of the thousands of subjects that various experts like to pontificate upon. Hopefully you also realize the reason is that I’m trying to point you back to the Lord and His word and your local fellowship of believers - the accountability and sources of help that you should be looking to in the first place.


I probably sound like a broken record, but I see so much failure in this area that I find it hard to believe I can mention it too much: examine everything by the word of God. Stop following men and their traditions (old or new), and their allegedly “perfect plans.” Stop accepting human interpretation of scripture without considering it and examining it for yourself. Just because someone says "The Bible says..." doesn't mean they are telling the truth or in context! Check up on them!


Follow Jesus. Get to know Him and His word, so that when your kids are grown - whether they are saved or not - they will be able to say “I saw Jesus in my parents.” Some parents are so busy making sure they raise their kids just right to get the exact outcome they want, they forget that they themselves should be growing "in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) They miss the point that if they don’t do that, they will not be able to live a “Christ-life outpoured” before their children.


Life is short. The time your children are in your home is generally much shorter. The greatest thing you will ever give them is an example of following Christ with others who call on God out of pure a heart. Make the most of it.


2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Because Jesus Loves You, Mary Stephens

Related Links in this site:

The ABCs of Raising Children


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vintage graphic: unknown source