Zig Ziglar famously said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”1 Most organizations understand this concept, which is why they expend so much energy crafting vision, mission, and values statements and setting specific, measurable, attainable goals. However, when was the last time you asked yourself the question, “What is the goal of parenting?”
It’s very easy for us as dads to slip into pursuing the wrong goals in our parenting. What are some of those common unbiblical goals?
1. Children Who Stay out of Trouble (Minimalist Parenting)
Have you ever talked to someone who seems to think of himself as a parenting success simply because none of his kids are in prison? His attitude is “As long as my kids are basically good, law-abiding citizens, I have done my duty as a parent.” It’s a somewhat defensive style of parenting, because the parent isn’t necessarily trying to shape the child or teen. He’s just trying to keep him or her within the bounds of societal acceptability.
This parenting model is unbiblical because it focuses on what society considers acceptable rather than what God expects. God’s law and the law of the land are two separate things. I can break God’s law without ever breaking man’s law. So we must be after more than just children who meet society’s standards.
2. “Successful” Children
This parenting model is very common and highly praised in our society. The key question is “How do you define success?” Here are several worldly examples.
- Money – “My children will be successful if they make lots of money.” 1 Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. If your primary parenting goal is to raise children who get good jobs and make lots of money, you may very well accomplish your goal, but end up with evil kids!
- Education – “My children will be successful if they get good grades.” Have you ever asked a parent how their child was doing and he or she responded by telling you about the child’s grades? It’s as if good grades were the measure of success! Now, good grades are certainly important and the fact that Johnny’s grades are up may be an indication that he is doing well spiritually–but then again, it may not. It may just be that Johnny doesn’t like being grounded or is becoming a proud perfectionist. It could also be that he just really likes math–but that doesn’t necessarily mean he loves God. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no god.’” The world is full of smart, highly educated people who are fools in God’s eyes,so we must carefully distinguish between educational success and spiritual maturity.
- Social Skills – “My children will be successful if they are popular.” Some parents are pleased when their kids communicate well, treat people nicely, and have lots of friends. Children with good social skills but no love for God and people will simply learn to manipulate people in order to get what they want.
- Special Skills – “My children will be successful if they participate in lots of activities.” It can be tempting to think that we have failed as a parent if we don’t put our kids into lots of extra-curricular activities. We become the chauffeur, driving Jordon to karate, then piano, then football, while mom takes Jimmy to cello, soccer, and underwater basket weaving. And this all starts when our kids are in preschool! We get so busy that we can’t make it to church because the t-ball game is on Sunday at 10 AM. We don’t have much quality time as a family, we have less time for family devotions, and we all end up tired and overwhelmed. Should our kids be involved in activities? Sure! Kids can use these skills to serve God. However, participation in lots of activities does not make my child a success in God’s eyes.
3. Well-behaved Children
There’s nothing wrong with well-behaved children, but this parenting goal is insufficient and may end up producing little Pharisees.
We fall into this trap when we become focused on what others think of us. Nobody wants to have a kid who is known as the terror of the Sunday school class, but the condition of my child’s heart is much more important than his outward behavior. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” If you focus on shepherding your child’s hearts, right behavior will follow.
4. Personal Comfort
As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes our choices as parents are based solely on our desire for personal convenience. Consider the parent who ignores his child’s actions until he’s so irritated that he snaps and yells at him. What is shaping that dad’s decisions? It’s his own desire for comfort. He chose not to discipline his child immediately because of the effort that would take, but then he blew up at his child for annoying him. He was looking out for his own interests, not the interests of his child.
This is the complete opposite of the Bible’s definition of leadership. The Bible says that leadership is about self-sacrifice. Jesus is our ultimate example in this area. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Our children do not exist to make our lives easier; rather, it is our job to serve them.
A Biblical Parenting Goal
My primary goal as a parent is for my children to please God. We want our children to walk with Him. As they walk with God day after day, they will gradually become more like Jesus. We call this process “progressive sanctification.” Ephesians 4:15 says that we “grow up into Him in all things.” Psalm 1 says that we become like a strong tree that bears fruit. So, the end goal of biblical parenting is to evangelize my kids and disciple them to walk with God on the path to spiritual maturity.
Can you do that? Can you make your child into that kind of a person? No, you cannot. You cannot save them. You cannot sanctify them. You cannot keep them. Only God can do those things.
As dads, we are called to an impossible task, but we can take heart from the last words of the Great Commission: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When we go to make disciples, the risen Christ goes with us. The same goes for parenting. When you have to discipline your two-year-old for the tenth time in one day, Jesus is with you in that task. When you’re having that difficult conversation with your teen, Jesus is with you. His power and His grace stand behind your efforts. You are serving on His behalf. Does that reality guarantee that your kids will turn out right? No. There are no guarantees. God is sovereign and your children have to make their own choices. But God is with you in the task.
Your children may never excel at a sport or an instrument. They might not be very popular. They may not be rich. But if God is pleased with them, what more could we ask? Let’s set aside unbiblical parenting goals and aim for children who please God.