Monday, December 27, 2010

Parachurch & Parenting

Let me begin with a caveat: I used to be obsessed.  I would find every one I could, making sure to be familiar with the latest and greatest.  I would devour every morsel of knowledge and teaching.  I would quote them to friends and recommend them left and right.  I'm talking about parachurch teachings, in the form of books, lectures, conferences. 

I would latch on to a particular teacher and immerse myself in his or her perspective on what it means to follow Christ.  The teachers varied in background and focus and included Neil Anderson, C. Peter Wagner (and his wife, Doris), T.D. Jakes, Floyd McClung, and John Dawson, among others.

I sought out these sources of leadership when I was still a baby Christian.  Young in my faith and years, I was hungry to grow and looking for help to do so.  Unfortunately, I was at a place in my life (college) where I had no stable local church influence and, therefore, no regular source for pastoral covering, leadership and teaching.  I now believe I used these teachers and their books to fill that void.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against parachurch teachers or organization or Christian authors in general.  On the contrary, I know first-hand that they serve a valuable purpose and often stir up the Church in ways that bear excellent fruit.  My problem with the parachurch world is two-fold: I do not think it a Biblical or effective substitute for the local church; and, I, personally, experienced pain when I did what I see many young believers doing around me today. 

I tried to learn about God from books other than the Bible.

I know that sounds over-simplified, but it's the bluntest way to explain what I did.  I was at a time, as a young Christian, when I was laying the foundation for my new life in Christ.  I spent more time in other words rather than in The Word.  As a result, I often became over-zealous, hyper-religious, confused, and stalled on the journey to true faith - a faith that is utterly and completely God-centric (versus angel-and-demon-centric, warfare-focused, evangelistic-obsessed, or any other version that would fit when we put fruit before the Fruit Giver & gifts before the Gift Giver).

I tend to have an excitable personality.  As my mother-in-law pointed out (an observation which I greatly appreciated): I'm one of those people who hears about something and immediately wants to try it.  I invest resources into whatever the new thing is (sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, etc) and become obsessed with it.  For about a day, that is, and then I'm on to the next thing.  This relates to the hyper-emotionalism I wrote about in an earlier post.  I know this about myself, so I know that I have to be careful before I swing in the direction of the next, big thing, even if the next, big thing is legitmately valuable.  Therefore, I actively put my energies into things that last: Jesus, Scripture, relationships and activities/interests that feel solid to me, not easily blown about by the wind.

(Incidentally, it was so hard to remember the names of the teachers I used to obsess over that I actually had to do some research to make sure I was remembering accurately.  As I did, I ran a Google search on "books on spiritual warfare", which used to be a particular interest of mine.  All of the authors of the latest and greatest books were names I did not recognize, save one: Neil Anderson, author of The Bondage Breaker.  It's funny that he's the one who is still around, fifteen years after my obsessive years, for, in my life, his teachings are the ones that bore the most lasting fruit, while many of the others served to merely stir me up emotionally and distract me from the point: Jesus Himself.)

(On another side note: I may not remember the names of the authors and parachurch leaders, but I remember every pastor and priest, every small group leader, every youth minister, college leader, or young adult's minister.  But that's probably a discussion for another time!)

My point?  I'm going to recommend two books, and I wanted you to know that I do not do so lightly.  I don't know that I agree with everything that's said in either, but I think they raise important enough points that they should be read by parents and discussed in light of Biblical Truth.  The books are: Bringing Up Boys & Bringing Up Girls by Dr. James Dobson.

I have come late to the SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) world.  Most of my SAHM friends have been doing it from day one.  I, on the other hand, gained the privilege of staying at home with my children when Gunnar was two-and-a-half and Lilian was eleven months old.  As such, I cherish every second with them.  I feel called to be their primary caregiver; I firmly believe it's the most important job that any mom out there has (and dad as well, but I'm speaking from my own experience). 

How does all of this relate?  It's slightly disjointed, I know, but I'm tieing these things together in this way: when I experienced a headship vacuum I became a little lost along the way.  How much more so when our children are left to fend for themselves, to try to understand Truth without the covering God has given them.  It's our job, not society's, not our culture's, to raise them.  Both of these books have helped me (and my husband) to think through ways to intentionally and proactively raise our children, and to be aware of the world in which we are raising them.  There are many other ways to engage that process, of course.  This is just one I have found immensely provocative and helpful, so I wanted to pass it on.  If you've read either of them or start them in the weeks to come, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

One last thought before I conclude: the impetus for this post comes from something I read in Bringing Up Girls today. 

"Children are a gift from God, ans we are stewards of their welfare.  Training up our daughters in this sense implies helping them to navigate the cultural mindfields that lie in their paths - teaching them eternal values, talents, and perspectives.  It means instilling within them an appreciation for truthfulness, trustworthiness, self-discipline, self-control, gneerosity, and sweetness of spirit." (Chapter I)

When I came across the words "self-discipline" and "self-control" I said a quick, silent prayer: "oh Lord Jesus, please help me teach my son these things" (my daughter too, of course, but I was particularly thinking about my ants-in-his-pants son).  I prayed it out of exasperation and with little faith, not really believing he could actually learn not to touch everything in sight (he's a tinkerer). 

As I prayed, I saw a picture of my own heart.  I realized that my desire was for him to learn these things once; I had the attitude (hidden to me until that moment) that if I could just get these character traits instilled in him, I'd be done.  I could let out a big "whew" and move on.  When I realized that that was actually want I wanted, what I was secretly hoping for, I laughed at myself.  As if, I wanted to say.  Parenting is not that simple, I'm learning, and we humans aren't wired that way.  We have to learn things over and over again.  That's why "love is patient"; that's why God is the best parenting model.  He never gives up on us and kindly re-teaches us lessons we've learned a thousand times before.

So, to bring us back to my original point: I'm thankful that there are parenting books out there to help us for the long haul; but I know that the most important parenting book is the Bible, and the most important model is God Himself.  Lord, have mercy on us all!

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today.  So glad to be back.  Check out the links of the ladies who contribute - you won't be sorry!


  1. You know, I have stayed away from most parenting books, but after reading your background with the parachurch books and knowing how much you seek out Jesus and His word, I am a bit more inclined to pick it up. At least I'll only have to buy one of them! :)

  2. Excellent book referrals Jenny, I have used many Dobson books throughout my life for parenting, marriage and just trying to be a good person. He has an insight into our lives and many times Brett and I felt he was writing just for us! Glad you are so committed to raising your children with a Godly gift you can give them!!

  3. I use to get caught up with reading books about the Word and Christianity than I spent in the Word. Then I pondered why in the world I felt like I was still such a baby Christian who knew so little....a friend gently told me because I was not hooked into the true source of Word. His Word. It revolutionized my heart and my life. Great reminders in this post!

  4. As a new Christian I was intimidated by the Bible. I struggled to understand it (actually, I just wrote about struggling with scripture today!). I struggled with application, and like you I went to all of these other books for support, and then wondered why I wasn't growing.

  5. It's our job, not society's, not our culture's, to raise them....this hit home with me Jenny! Sobering...for me - to begin focusing on what I do vs. what I say really matters.
    Kids really do pickup on our doing..and imitating that. :) so relate to your devouring books vs. Bible. I agree...great reminders!

  6. I can relate to this..I have SO many books, but have also found each and every answer we need is in the Bible. Those books do have their places, though. It's so nice to hear from someone who has been there/done that.

  7. I am soooooo the same way. Easily excitable, I always want to try the latest and greatest and end up overwhelmed with too many things that I can't put my full focus into any of them and end up dumping all of them, LOL! Loved this post, and holding true to my easy excitability, I want to go get those books!

  8. AMEN! I too as a new Christian found the parachurchs' teachings and ran with them - all without looking at my Bible. It was too easy to have someone else tell me what to think and how to be a Christian that I forgot to ask God what a Christian should look like. Thank you God for BSF. There I had to read and study the word, like I never had before. By learning Homelitics I was able to study scripture on my own and discern what God was telling me. These things I didn't learn out of a book telling me how to live. I learned and continue to learn more about myself and my walk through the Word.

    PS: I read Bringing Up Girls and was amazed. Now to just get reading Bringing Up Boys.