by Dale Jenkins
When people compliment me on my sons, I’ve often said: “I owe that to God and Melanie.” I do that to emphasize that any credit for good goes to God, and that specific props belong to Melanie who’s life long dream was to be a mom and a good one. She can fold her tent now, for she is (though I hope it’s no time soon). But I know that is not entirely true for at least two reasons: One is that I know other specular mom’s who got no help from dad and lost the war for their kids hearts and faith. The other is that, once upon a time, I sat down and tried to determine specifically what I wanted to do with, model in front of, and teach proactively to my kids.
Now please do not think for a heartbeat that in writing this I think we were perfect parents—one of us definitely was not. I made so many dumb mistakes and so often wished I’d known how to do better. I often failed to model Christ in front of my boys and sometimes did not treat them as I should have in protecting, discipling or instructing them. I also know of many great parents who have children who have left the faith—we do not take away the “free moral agency” of our children. Don’t misapply Prov. 22:6; we can teach them right and they go wrong. Melanie and I have two sons who married Christian spouses. They both work with congregations in the greater Nashville area. Philip is 27 and he and his wife Laura (and our only grandchild at this writing, Lucas) work with the Mount Juliet church. Andrew is 25 and he and his wife Kadee work with the Woodson Chapel church. Today, when I speak somewhere and they ask how to introduce me, I tell them, just tell the folks I have two sons who love the Lord. I can’t ask for more than that.
Here are some of the lessons I would want to pass on:
- Remember that each child is different. Give Philip a microphone and an audience, and he’ll teach in as engaging a way as you’ve heard. Put Andrew in front of someone not a Christian and he’ll want to be a Christian before they part ways. They are as different as they can be, but are both useful to the Lord’s cause. Don’t compare or try to make them either like you or like each other. Let them be like Christ (Rom. 15:7; 12:6).
- Remember that your kids are human and young. Don’t expect an 8 or 18 year old to be a mature Christian. My prayer was never that they wouldn’t make mistakes, but that when they did, we would find out about them so that I could correct and instruct. Let your kids fail some, let them lose, let them be mistreated, allow them to be challenged—all of this will help them grow to be more like Christ. And as they do each of these, keep lines open (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
- Build their confidence. As a minister working with a lot of families through the years, one of my habits has been to watch parents. When my boys were small, I watched and tried to learn from parents who had kids who were strong spiritually. I concluded that outside of faith, one of the most important things we could build in our children was a confidence that they could succeed. There will be plenty of times and people who will help them learn that they can fail. You should make them believe they can do well. Believe in them, let them know you believe in them and be proud of them. I’m sure I learned many things from my mom, but the one that always comes to mind first and to the mind of all of us is “Mom’s proud of you.” I want my sons to carry with them the rest of their lives that their dad was proud of them! The confidence that that builds can sustain children and adults through an awfully lot.
- Hug your kids; let them know they are loved. They never need to doubt the love you have for them. This is equally important for young guys and girls. As a dad, you’re going to want your sons to be able to express emotions in life to others around them. The way they learn this is by watching the emotions you express. As a dad of daughters, you need to know that girls are going to seek affection from some source. Better you in an appropriate manner than some young guy with improper motives. Few things are more important than this spoken and shown affection.
- Open your home. We bought a house close to our boys’ school just so they could bring their friends home and we encouraged it. All the time. Any time. They took us up on it. I can remember during “two-a-days” in football, coming in to a house full where I’d have to step over the players sprawled out all over our house just to get inside. But we were thankful. I’m sure some of them lived more at our house than their own. Some of those boys had unbelievable mansions they lived in in Nashville, but they came to our place where they could be boys. They had garage bands, and the foot traffic ruined our carpets—who cares?! It’s just sound and material. It was worth it! At our house, we knew what they were doing, what their friends were like, and their friends often confided in us.
- Love the church. Most of you reading this are probably ministers. You are going to see the “underbelly” of the church, and sometimes it is not pretty. On one hand, don’t let your kids believe there is never a problem or issue. Instead, they need to know the human side of the church—AND see you LOVE it deeply anyway. This is the bride of Christ, this is that for which He shed His blood, this is the redeemed, but at times we don’t act the part. Be respectful of your brothers, especially when you are hurt, and especially by elders. If they don’t learn to understand the authority of elders, they will leave the church hurt and confused. If all they see is your anger when something goes wrong, why would they want any part of that as an adult? Love the church.
- Do right. I’ve remembered mom, now to remember dad. If I learned anything from him it was this. We joked and people laugh about that being his one rule, BUT more than any man I have ever seen he lived it. I hope that my boys will be able to look back on my life and know that while I was human, I always tried to do what was right.
As soon as I close this up I’ll think of much more I’d say but this is a start. And listen, if you are a young parent—it’ll be OK. You’ll survive. Just always strive to put the Lord first and to love your spouse and children. He will bless that.