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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Spirituality of Parenting Part 2

This is the second of a two-part paper that was submitted to the Singapore Bible College as part of the requirements for my Graduate Diploma. It was for the module "An Introduction to Christian Spirituality".

Christian Spirituality & Parenting

Just as Christian spirituality is an amalgamation of a person’s relationship with God, Christian parenting adopts a similar perspective. A key understanding of parenting stems from our relationship with God the Father. Ephesians 1:3-5 articulates this relationship clearly, indicating that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”, and that in love, He “predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will”. As God adopted us to be His children, it is God who is the perfect model of parenting for us to follow. Matthew 7: 9-11 elaborates, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Christian parenting is about modelling God’s spiritual parenting. As a father to two young sons, it is my desire for them to know God as I know Him, and to pursue Jesus in the way that I do.
Christian parenting is about modelling God's spiritual parenting of us.
For our family, bedtime rituals are key, and I spent many nights sharing about the
Jesus of the Bible and what He means to me. 
The Role of the Community in Spiritual Parenting
Consider the role of the community. If we were to adopt a parenting approach based on the model of the early church, this would mean that we would need to teach our children on the importance of the community; it would refer to the importance of instructing our kids on how to share with other believers. The direct church community, as our children understand, would naturally be the local church comprising Sunday school as well as Cell Group. It would also be made up of the Bible School Fellowship group which my kids attend, as well as the Classical Conversations Homeschooling Group and the larger Homeschooling Community which they are a part of. The intention would be to instruct them on the importance of “belonging”. While my kids are still young, they have already expressed an affinity towards some of their friends, whom they are fond of, and whom they have invited to their birthday parties. The challenge would be how to build on the friendships that the young children have, and to instil the spiritual disciplines as exemplified by the early Church.

While it may be relatively easy to encourage our kids to develop closer friendships with other believers, it is however a greater challenge to help them develop a “community of belonging for broken people”. This takes time; and our kids have to learn from a young age that it is ok to be different; it is ok to have problems; and it is ok if you are hurt. The Christian community should be a safe place to share our problems and our hurts; for none of us are perfect, and we are all walking on a journey towards greater Christ-likeness.

A final consideration with regards to the role of the community would be the relational aspect as discussed by Scorgie and Reimer. The Church has to be a community that builds each other up, and spurs each other onwards towards a closer relationship with God. We strongly believe in the importance of mentoring, and have asked an older couple to be our mentors in the parenting journey. One of their suggestions has been to surround our kids with individuals of godly influence; other children whose parents love and fear God. Our mentors’ perspective is that if our kids develop strong friendships with other children who have strong godly principles, they would then consult them during the turbulent teenage years when things seem to become more difficult. It is based on the idea that as parents, we will never be able to cushion our kids from the numerous storms of life. However, when our kids’ faith is put to the test, hopefully they will listen to godly counsel from other believers, and hopefully gain the courage and strength to weather the storm.
Community is key. We want to surround our kids with friends who will be
a godly influence to them when times are tough. 
The Role of Temperaments in Spiritual Parenting
As a counselling student, I have always been fascinated with the impact of personality and how this influences the way we behave. Mulholland’s approach is interesting, as it presents the idea that individuals tend to choose spiritual practices that appear more suited to their personalities. Applying this to the concept of spiritual parenting, it would imply that we need to consider the temperament of our kids when we instruct them in the spiritual disciplines. Consider Jung’s four essential preferences as applied to my children. My 6-year-old son has a more introverted personality type. He is a sensing individual, and predominantly adopts a thinking and judging approach towards life (ISTJ). My 4-year-old son, on the other hand, is clearly an extrovert. He operates strongly in an intuitive manner, opting for feeling and perception as his modus operandi (ENFP).

If I was to adopt Mulholland’s perspectives on temperament and spirituality, this would imply that for my older son, that I would have to teach the spiritual disciplines in a manner that is more “analytical and structured” while for my younger son, I would have to adopt a more “unplanned and unstructured” approach. This methodology does make sense, as my older son appreciates a structured approach towards worship, prayer and the reading of God’s Word. As for my younger son, he does have a preference for a more unstructured approach towards the spiritual disciplines.
Parenting our two sons requires us to understand each child and to
respond to them in a different manner in accordance to their temperament.
It's a challenging, yet precious endeavour! 

The Mulholland approach can be co-related to the concept of Love Languages, as popularised by Gary Chapman. In the book The 5 Love Languages of Children which he co-authored with Ross Campbell (2012), Chapman observed, “Every child has a primary language of love, a way in which he or she understands a parent’s love best” (p. 7). He shared five languages through which children understand their parents’ love - physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service (p. 12).

Applying Chapman’s concepts to my children, I learn that my older son communicates best through the languages of quality time and words of affirmation. As for my younger child, he is more conversant with the languages of physical touch and gifts. Given my understanding of my children’s love languages, I realise that they respond to me best when I speak their primary love languages. However, while Chapman notes that our kids communicate best through their primary love language, he also observes that children also use the other languages in their communication with their parents. As such it would be prudent for us to focus on our children’s primary love languages, but also work on communicating love to them through all other means.

I am of the opinion that a similar approach can be used in applying Mulholland’s concepts of temperament and spirituality. While my 6-year-old appreciates a structured approach towards the spiritual disciplines and my 4-year-old has a preference towards a more unstructured approach, it would not be detrimental for their spiritual development if I adopt an approach that may not seem in line with their personality. This is in line with Mulholland’s perspectives on “one-sided” spirituality, which could have an adverse impact on the development of a child. Moreover, church communities are not intended to be individualistic or segmented. As such, there is synergy when people of different temperaments worship together. This exemplifies the concept of a body, as articulated in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
When we love our children we need to do so in a way that they understand.
Each child communicates differently in the language of love; and as parents,
our responsibility is to acknowledge and address their needs in a way that
we can understand. 

The Role of Missions in Spiritual Parenting
Missions is about using our being, thoughts, speech, actions, passion and relations i.e. our spirituality, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to “bring about the whole creation to worship or come under the Lordship of God and Christ” (Lang, 2016b). This understanding of missions incorporates our understanding of Christian spirituality and implies that we are to use our entire being for the purpose of missions work. Lang’s definition is congruent with a group of twenty global Christian bodies, which met to share a collaborative reflection on Christian mission. The Edinburgh 2010, which represents the various major Christian denominations, defined mission spirituality as an “experience of God, lived out as persons in communities through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for witness and service, following Christ’s way in the hope of reconciliation with the whole of creation” (Ma, W. & Ross, K. R., 2013, p. 7).

Considering this understanding of mission spirituality, it is imperative as parents for us to raise our children with a heartbeat for missions - and this does not only refer to the notion of taking our kids on a mission trip to an underdeveloped country with the purpose of bringing salvation to the people there. Missions involves the use of our entire being; and we use the gifts that God has given to us to draw pre-believers to Jesus. Parenting our children with a missions paradigm involves getting them to have an implicit understanding of their spirituality. It then involves sharing with our kids about others less privileged than us, in the hope that they develop a desire for outreach, and a burden to share God’s love to the nations.

We have been homeschooling our children since the older child was 2/1/2-years-old. This has allowed us to teach him various subjects not normally taught in pre-schools, such as history and geography. When our older son became 5, we became part of a group known as the Classical Conversations community. The group meets once a week, and the kids are taught about important aspects of life through biblical principles. We have therefore not shied away from teaching him about difficult issues in the world, and about how man has failed time and time over again; but that it is only through the redemptive power of Christ that the world can be saved. We were therefore heartened when our son decided one day that he wanted to sell away one of his toys and use the money to buy and cook food for a poor child, bringing the boy home with us and caring for him. We realised then that our 6-year-old had at a young age developed an understanding of the heart of God towards the less fortunate. We intend to continue the incubation of such precious values in him; and to one day bring him to visit poorer communities in Singapore and the world.


Many missionaries refer to the “call” as that turning point in their lives when they felt a prompting from God; either as a direct word from Him, through the movement of the Holy Spirit, or through the influence of godly people. The Macedonia Call, as described in Acts 16:6-10, has often been cited as a means through which God directs the movement of His people. While not all missionary calls are through visions as experienced by Paul, the prompting of the Holy Spirit is believed to be key in leading God’s people in the direction He has for them.
By helping our kids to understand what missions is all about, we share with them what is foremost on God's heart - for the whole of creation to be subject to the dominion of God, just as it was meant to be. 

Many Christian parents fear that their children will be “called” into a full-time ministry, either as a pastor or as a missionary. There is a genuine concern that as a full-time minister, that their children would always lead a life of poverty, not unlike some of the famous preachers and missionaries. The converse is true. When God calls a person to take on the role of a full-time minister, it may not be an easy job, but the vocation is no less demanding than any other “secular” position. If we were to understand the theology of vocation, we would have the perspective that there is no job too “sacred” or too “secular”; and that the difference between the “sacred” and the “secular” is merely a label created by man. In God’ economy, He calls different people to take on different roles in the Body of Christ; some to be teachers, to be lawyers, and yet others to be pastors and missionaries. There is no job that is greater or lesser. All are called; the only difference is where you are called to serve God.

From the day our children came home to us, we were very clear that both of them are God’s gift to us; and that we would be prepared for them to go wherever God has called them to go. Given how our kids came to be part of our family, we have always been inspired by Hannah and her response to the child God gave to her. In 1 Samuel 1:26-28 Hannah brought Samuel to the temple and dedicated him to God, saying that “As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” Since our children were younger we have been praying to God, and dedicating them both to Him. We desire for both of them to serve God wherever He calls them to go, whether it is in our presence or far away from us. That, I believe, is the heart of spiritual parenting with the perspective of mission spirituality; for parents to acknowledge that our children never truly “belong” to us. All that we have, including our kids, ultimately belongs to God; and all that we have, including our children, are intended for His glory.
All that we have, including our children, belongs to God. And our
key role as parents is to guide our kids to glorify God in all that they choose to do. 
Spiritual Parenting Across the Ages

Many centuries have come and gone since the early days when the Church first came to develop a notion of what Christian spirituality comprises; from the days of Acts when believers first came together after the departure of their teacher and mentor Jesus, to the present day when believers congregate in different denominations and worship God through different methods and in different community sizes. Much has changed; technology has ensured that. There was a time when the Word of God was copied by hand one scroll at a time, and when only highly educated individuals had access to the teachings of God. Today, the Bible can be found on every smart phone on the planet, and Internet sermons provide easy access to believers who do not wish to meet in a local church to listen to God’s Word. Yet despite the numerous changes experienced across time, there are things that have remained the same throughout the ages - the Word of God and the souls of men. As parents, it is our responsibility to raise our children to treasure these two quintessential elements. We need to always impart God’s truth to our kids; and to help them understand that it is God’s desire for the salvation of the world. Therein lies the essence of spiritual parenting.

The first part of my paper discusses why it is beneficial to view Christian spirituality from an integrated perspective. You can read more here.

References

Barlow, F. (1976). William Carey: Missionary-Evangelist. In Barlow, F. Profiles in Evangelism. Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey1.html.


Chapman, G. & Campbell, R. (2012) The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.


Gallagher, R. L. (2012). Mission from the Inside Out: An Analysis of the Role of Spirituality and Mission from Selected Protestant Missiological “Writings” from 1940-2000. Retrieved from http://www.wheaton.edu/~/media/Files/Graduate-School/Degrees/Intercultural-Studies/Gallagher-homepage/Articles/Mission_From_Inside_Out.pdf.


Kraft, M. (2000). Spiritual Conflict and the Mission of the Church: Contextualization. Nairobi: Lausanne Movement. Retrieved from https://www.lausanne.org/content/contextualization.


Lang, D. (2016a). Lecture: Communal/Social/Familial Aspect of Spirituality.


Lang, D. (2016b). Lecture: Missions/Evangelism & Spirituality.


Ma, W. & Ross, K. R. (Eds.) (2013). Mission Spirituality and Authentic Discipleship. Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series, 14. Retrieved from http://www.ocms.ac.uk/regnum/downloads/Mission_Spirituality_and_Authentic_Discipleship-final-WM.pdf.


Mulholland Jr., M. R. (2016). Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Scorgie, G. C. & Reimer, K. S. (2011). Spirituality in Community. In Scorgie, G. G., Chan, S., Smith, G. T. & Smith III, J. D. (Eds.). Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. (77-83). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


Sittser, G. L. (2007). Water from a Deep Well. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Solomon, R. (2011). Contextual Spirituality. In Scorgie, G. G., Chan, S., Smith, G. T. & Smith III, J. D. (Eds.). Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. (205-10). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree, it is parents responsibility to teach kids about the Word of God and the souls of men. Good work.

    ReplyDelete