Jenny was protected from every possible danger by her parents. Jenny never broke a bone or bruised her knee because she was not permitted to do activities that might lead to such things. Growing up Jenny was so protected from drugs or alcohol she wasn’t sure she even knew what beer or marijuana even looked like. Most notably Jenny was protected spiritually. Jenny spent virtually every hour growing up in either her home or her church, her mom and dad signed her up for every church activity so long as it wasn’t outreach focused. Jenny was homeschooled at every level and her parents even considered a home school college of sorts. Jenny only knew professing Christians and she was routinely presented with negative caricatures of non-Christians and their worldview. Jenny was raised to think lost people are stupid, dangerous, and constantly out to get her but this facade wouldn’t last. Within months of Jenny enrolling in a community college where she could stay at home after graduating high school, Jenny had changed. Jenny fell for a rebel that was nice to her and before long she was sleeping with him, taking hard drugs with him, and getting money through illegal means so she could get a place with this guy. Jenny is a real person but not actually named Jenny and by God’s grace she now loves Jesus and her kids that she doesn’t shelter. Jenny’s parents are wonderful Christian people and they cared for their daughter through her rebellion but now they know you can’t always protect your kids.
Too many Christian parents for very good reasons let fear define their parenting more than anything else. Home schooling can be very good but many Christians homeschool because they are afraid their kids will become sinners if exposed to other sinners. Church activities can be fantastic but sometimes the calendar becomes far too full of them to keep our kids away from negative influences. Christians can disagree about holidays or magical novels but Christian parents can act like these are more powerful than Gospel celebrations or the book breathed out by God. Fear based parenting is a plight on the church today because though it means well, it’s built upon terrible theology, it’s flatly unbiblical, and it hinders the Gospel.
It’s surprisingly common for outreach-based ministries within a church to morph into just another form of protecting our own. A few years ago I was conversing with a mother with children involved in a ministry that had undergone such a transformation and much to my confusion this mother was grateful for the shift. This mother had come to love this ministry because she felt it was a great way to keep her kids from becoming corrupted and evil through the influence of bad, non-Christian kids. The bad news for this mother is she’s too late. Her kids already were corrupted by sin. Her kids could not be protected from being corrupted because they had corruption and wickedness in them down to their hearts and they like all of us were marked by this corruption from conception in the womb. Psalm 51:5, alongside many other Bible verses, show us every human is a rebel capable of great evil from conception. Lost people don’t have to teach your kids to do evil things. That evil is very much already there. This also means we can’t keep our kids Christian by hiding them from other worldviews because they come pre-packaged as lost pagans and can only become Christians when God gives them the gift of new birth. According to 1 John 2:19 if our kids walk away from Christianity after being exposed to other worldviews they did not lose their Christianity but gave up a fake Christianity. If anything, this is a good thing for their souls. We don’t need to be afraid our truly saved kids will stop being Christians or not grow as Christians because real faith sticks and grows no matter what environment it is in.
The other deeply unbiblical element to fear based parenting is, of course, the deeply unbiblical concept of living in fear. More than 60 times, the Bible commands God’s people not to fear. Few commands even come close to this number. Fear is always a temptation to God’s people but it’s deeply problematic because it is an idolatry of sorts. Fear thinks we can control our fates if only we do this or that thing, it acts as if there is no one out there to keep me or my child safe but me. Trusting God is fundamentally seeing Him as infinitely more powerful than the negative possibilities that go through our mind at night. Trusting God isn’t being foolish, but it does realize God can work mightily even if we have been foolish. Trusting God realizes our parenting decisions are important but nowhere close to as impactful as His sovereignty.
Finally, fear based parenting hinders our Gospel impact. Once our kids know Jesus, the job of every parent is first and foremost to equip their kids and send them out to do the Lord’s work in our lost world. Our kids and youth can be some of the most effective evangelists to their lost classmates or neighbors, but if we fail to let them meet lost people their powerful Gospel message will be kept hidden. If we raise them to fear or hate the lost they will rarely if ever share the Gospel even as adults. Fear based parenting doesn’t only hurt our families, it fails to love the lost who are no more in need of God’s grace than us or our kids.
This month the most controversial holiday in Christian circles comes, Halloween. At Faith Family Church we will not be having any evening activities that night. You as parents might chose to take your child to another church’s Halloween alternative, stay at home with the lights out, enjoy the holiday with limits on scary things, or just go crazy with it all like most people. We are taking the night off to allow you all to make your own decisions in this matter but I encourage you no matter what meditate on the power of our great God rather than getting wrapped up in your parenting fears and perhaps rely on this power to tell your neighbor about God’s grace that night. We don’t know what will happen to our kids when they leave the nest and sheltering them while they are with us doesn’t change that. Instead of living in terror of what will happen when our kids meet the evil world, let’s trust in God who is both powerful to use them in this evil world and fix the evil within their own hearts.