Clarifying the Target
About the Guest
How are you molding your children spiritually? Ken Hemphill, former President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks about raising children who are spiritually grounded. Find out what the real key is to raising godly children on today's broadcast.
Ken Hemphill talks about raising children who are spiritually grounded. Find out what the real key is to raising godly children.
Clarifying the Target
Ken: I was sitting out in the vestibule after the service. A young mom came up with a 12-year-old daughter—it looked like—in tow. This mother was just weeping; and she said, "Dr. Hemphill, when you made that last statement about diet, my daughter elbowed me—she says, ‘Mom, every day I can remember, you've asked me, “Did you take your vitamin today?” Not once have you ever asked me “Did you read your Bible this morning?”’”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to look today at what we can do, as moms and dads, to make sure we’re focusing on the right stuff with our children. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, whenever we have the opportunity to talk with parents about what's on their heart—about the things they’re really passionate about for their children—one of the things that always comes to the surface is their children's spiritual lives. Moms and dads want to know that their kids have a relationship with Christ—that they are walking with Jesus. Yet, when you start to probe that a little more deeply and you ask them, "Well, how are you parenting in response to that?” you get some blank looks. Do you know what I mean?
Dennis: I do. You know, it doesn't take a social scientist to look around at the children, as they graduate from high school, and see how many of them are defecting from the faith and no longer attend church.
In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention now tells us that around four out of five of the youth in their churches no longer attend church. Many are defecting from their faith by their freshman year in college.
Dennis: As a parent, you know, there aren't a whole lot of things that need to happen in our children's lives as we launch them. You know, Psalm 127, verse 4, compares children to “arrows in the hand of a warrior.” As a parent, we raise these arrows to be launched / to be sent toward a target.
We have a guest on today's broadcast who is going to help parents clarify the target. He's going to help the archer realize that he or she, as a mom or a dad, is very important in not determining the outcome—because you can't guarantee the kids are going to hit the target—
Dennis: —these arrows have a will and a mind of their own—but parents certainly can aim their arrows in the right direction.
Ken Hemphill joins us on FamilyLife Today. Ken, welcome to the broadcast. This is certainly your heart—for raising kids; isn't it?
Ken: It is, indeed. It's a joy to be with you today. Thank you for the opportunity.
Dennis: Ken is a former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has been a pastor a number of times / written more than 19 books. He and his wife Paula have three adult daughters. He has written a book called Parenting with Kingdom Purpose. This really is about the right target; isn't it, Ken?
Ken: It is. We discovered—and there's a study behind this.
Richard Ross, by the way, was my co-author. Many people recognize the name from True Love Waits, the emphasis on sexual purity until marriage.
There's a study that had come out, related to what teenagers believe. This study pointed to what you just said—and that is that about 70 percent of young people, who grow up in an evangelical home—when they go off to university / when they return from university—they rarely return to the church.
Now, I'm not talking about their home church—I'm talking about the church, anywhere. What they discovered—the disconnect was that their parents were involved in church but church was not involved in their home—if you get the connection here. In fact, they said the greatest at-risk teenager in America was—not the teenager whose parents were atheist or agnostic—but the greatest at-risk teenager was those who were nominal Christians.
Dennis: Yes. You know, I worked with high school students in Dallas, Texas, beginning in 1971, for a couple of years. Then I worked with some in the Front Range of the Rockies and, then, the Great Lakes Region.
Over a period of five years, what I noticed was that very fact—that the kids who were most difficult to catch a fire for Christ and get an intense love for Christ were those children who grew up in what I would call nominal Christian homes, where the parents weren't inflaming their children's hearts with a love for Christ.
Bob: Well; and it's interesting because, when you talk about nominal Christians, you're not just talking about Christmas and Easter Christians; right?
Ken: No, no. Here was the thing that stunned us in this study—and this was a national study—a huge study. When they used "nominal," we oftentimes—if we're church folks—we kind of think about that Easter guy and the maybe once-a-month kind who show up—but they were talking about people that were engaged. They were talking about Sunday school teachers, and deacons, and elders. They were in church but the fact was—church never transitioned to being in home.
The image I've used that people have picked up on is—it's kind of Narnia Christianity—that these kids go to church—they step through a door in a wardrobe somewhere, and they enter "Church World." These kids—they would say, "I believe the Bible is true," but they didn't relate the Bible to real world and real history.
They would see that their parents come home from church—they may, in fact, dissect the pastor on the way home. Now, they've stood at the door and said, "Great sermon"; but on the way home, they've devoured him once again. They get home—the way they treat their kids / the way they treat their business employees—does not connect with anything they heard from the pulpit.
What has happened is—these evangelical teenagers have partitioned life. They go to Narnia—go through the wardrobe / go into this unreal world—then they come back to the rest of the world. So, that's the danger.
Dennis: You know, as I thought about your statistic, and I was reading your book, I thought about another thing that contributes to this as well. The divorce rate today tells us that about six out of every ten children are growing up in the first eighteen years of life with one parent.
Bob: Yes, spending some portion of their life in the first eighteen years with a single parent.
Dennis: Here’s this child, who is stepping through the wardrobe into “Narnia Church”—
Dennis: —but they go home to find the two most important people of their lives, who have given them life and given them the definition of family, breaking the promise that created them in the first place.
And so, with six out of ten children watching their parents dissolve their marriage relationship, it would make sense then that we have a whole generation of young people today who are looking at their parents, going: "How does church relate to you? How does God relate to your promise/your vow?" As a result, I think it's setting a bunch of young people up to give up on their faith at a very, very young age.
Ken: Well, you know, I would certainly agree with that. It's not just those issues, but it is simple issues that parents sometimes—I'm talking about well-meaning Christian parents—don't even realize, for example, just the simple issue of integrity.
They go to church—they hear these sermons about truth, and truth-telling, and the Word of God being true—and then they see their parents, on a regular basis, lie to each other, or to their neighbors, or to their kids—it's this disconnect. I think it's very important to understand that it's the disconnect—it is not that the parents don't take the kids to church / emphasize: “Church is important. We want you to be a Christian. We want you to have Christian values,”—the fact of the matter is—they give lip-service to this, but there is no evidence, for their children's sake, that this is really happening.
When they get down to filing taxes, they're looking for loopholes rather than trying to show the integrity of their life. Their stewardship, for example—they know what the Bible teaches or what is taught from the pulpit—and yet, we go down to statistics—like less than three to four percent of evangelicals tithe their income, in any context. So, they see their parents saying and endorsing one thing and living out another. That's where the disconnect is happening.
Bob: So, when you sit down to address parents on raising children with Kingdom purpose, are you really starting off by saying, "Mom and Dad, we've got to talk about you before we talk about what you do with your children"?
Ken: Well, it is, in fact. Let me give you my definition of why we're here. We are here to advance God's Kingdom, by His power and for His glory. You say, “Where do you get that definition?” Well, I got it out of the benediction of the prayer of Jesus—or the Lord's Prayer—"For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory."
Dennis: Say it again—say that purpose again.
Ken: I think that our purpose here on planet earth is to advance the Kingdom of God, which is His reign and rule over the nations.
Dennis: His agenda.
Ken: His heartbeat/His agenda is that all tribes, tongues, and peoples come to know Him as their rightful King. You see, the concept of the Kingdom—of course, it begins as early as Genesis 1:1. If God's the Creator—He's the King—He is by virtue of that. Yet, we know there was a rebellion in the heavenlies by a usurper king. So, there are two kingdoms in conflict on planet earth. A lot of folks never even get that the whole Bible is written with this basic understanding.
In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham on a faith pilgrimage so that He could bless him so that he becomes a blessing to the nations of the earth. The concept of the Kingdom—while it's implicit there—doesn't come through until Exodus 19, where He talks about "making them a Kingdom of priests”—that God was searching for a people that would embody His name/His character, embrace His mission to the nations, and obey His Word.
This theme just goes all the way through Scripture. You pick it up again in the prayer of Jesus and that our purpose, here on this planet. I think many Christians—myself included, very candidly, for much of my life—we gave lip-service to the fact that we were created for another Kingdom, but we actually live life like it was about this kingdom. That's the tragedy of many parents—that we mean well—but we want our kids to succeed at college—nothing wrong with that. We want them to be good baseball players, or good athletes, or good ballerinas, or good artists—we oftentimes push them in those agendas at the expense of spiritual preparation for the Kingdom to come.
Dennis: Yes; right.
Ken: We are to reign with Him for eternity—that's what Scripture says.
Bob: You've mentioned to me that, when you were speaking on this subject recently, there was a mother in the audience who was really convicted by what you had to say.
Ken: Well, I did. I tried to bring it down to where it's very practical because you can talk about Kingdom—and that seems so ethereal and out there—so I began to ask questions. I said: "Does your son know that his attendance at youth camp is as important as him going to that football camp? Would you choose football camp over Christian retreat? Are you as concerned about your children studying the Word of God in preparation for their small group Bible study on Sunday morning as you are learning their multiplication tables?" Then, I made the final statement—I said, "Do your children know that their spiritual diet is as important to you as their physical diet?" Many parents today are very concerned about eating healthy, as well we should be.
I was sitting out in the vestibule, after the service. A young mom came up with a 12-year-old daughter—it looked like—in tow. This mother was just weeping; and she said, "Dr. Hemphill, when you made that last statement about diet, my daughter elbowed me—she says, ‘Mom, every day I can remember, you've asked me, “Did you take your vitamin today?” Not once have you ever asked me “Did you read your Bible this morning?”’”
Ken: See? A statement had been sent. The parent never meant it—in fact, she was so convicted by it—but she had said, “It’s important that you eat well,” but she didn’t say, “This spiritual food is vital, too.”
This book is never intended—as your program is not—to bring condemnation—but to encourage Christian parents—to say, “If you’ve failed in this area, it’s not too late.”
Dennis: That’s right.
Ken: “It’s not too late.” If nothing else, go home and say to your children, “I’m sorry.”
Less than—the statistics—less than ten percent—I’m talking about of evangelical Christian parents—discuss matters of faith at home.
Ken: I’m talking about just the basics: “What did you study in Bible study this morning? Did you prepare your lesson this week?” Now, we discuss everything else—I mean, the secular world says, “You need to talk with your kids about drugs.” I mean, you know, even the world is bombarding us.
Well, if the most important thing to us is their relationship with Holy God and their involvement in His Kingdom activity—if that's the only Kingdom that matters, which—and again, I think that is one of the things God has done in my life, Dennis, over these past several years is—He's kind of directed me through some of the things I've written myself is to realize how temporal this life is and how long eternity is. You know, if we were designed to reign with Him forever / we're going to be priests with Him forever, the reality is—this is such a short time.
Dennis: It's a dress rehearsal.
Ken: Yes, it's dress rehearsal for the one that's coming. So, yes, it's important. I wanted my children to do well in school, and they did—praise God. I think they took after their mother there, but they all did well in high school and university. My daughters are all serving God, actively, in the church and their husbands are. I thank the Lord for that.
But if I could go back, there would be things I would do differently now. That's what we've tried—Richard Ross and I have tried—to put in the book. It's a very practical kind of thing of about how to do a family altar—very few do it, and we've made it so hard.
Dennis: Yes; but the thing we're talking about here—that we don't want parents to miss—is that it begins with you. You have to have the real disease. Your life—as a husband and a wife / mom and dad—needs to be about God's Kingdom, with a capital “K”—not living for the small “k.”
That means in how you talk in your home—whether you speak respectfully to one another—and how you train your children.
I mean, just the Book of Proverbs—if you just started going through that with your children, before school—just a few verses, or maybe a chapter a week, just to talk about wisdom: “How do you live life according to God's perspective? How do you apply truth to the choices you make, the people you date, the way you speak, the decisions you make and how you go about making them?”—all those—the Bible speaks very clearly to. I think that's what children are rejecting today—is when we go to church and then we don't bring the truth back home with us.
Ken: That's it.
Dennis: And help the children realize—that when they lost their blanket or when they lost their toy: “Let's pray about it.”
Dennis: “God knows where that is. He may not help us find it, but you know what? He cares, and He relates to you with your owie on your knee or your puppy that's hurt.” God cares and, as parents, it's our assignment to pass the baton on to the next generation.
Ken: It is. What you just mentioned—in one of the early chapters, I talk about ten characteristics of a Kingdom-centered parent. The first one is simply a vital relationship with the King—that they're passionate about the King. Their faith is not something they put on, on Sunday morning—that this is real. You know, teenagers, it seems, and children have kind of a radar—they can detect “phony” a mile away.
Ken: You can see it—in this generation—so, when they see it—
So, parents who are passionate about their faith—that means that they have a passion to worship the King—and where you find it’s a rare exception where the parents are not engaged in the spiritual life of a child, both at home and at church. In fact, we have separate chapters on that. How do you get engaged with your child at church? You know, so many times we want to go and hand them off to the youth pastor.
One of the things that we're saying very clearly is that the spiritual and intellectual development of your child is your responsibility—it is not the church's responsibility / it is not even the school's responsibility—it's yours. You're the one God gave these people to.
Bob: You may only be able to answer this in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I don't want to put you on the spot for that.
Dennis: Yes, you do. You like putting him on the spot. [Laughter]
Bob: No. I'm sitting here, thinking: “Alright; 90 percent of the people in America say they believe in God,” right? “Maybe, half of those folks ever go to church”; right? “Of that group—that's going to church—some of them are going to churches that really don't believe the Bible and don't have a Kingdom agenda. But then there is some group of people—and it's probably in the 20 to 30 percent—who are going to churches pretty regularly, where there's a Kingdom agenda. Now, how many of those people—that are going to churches where there's a Kingdom agenda—would you say are people who have a passion for Christ?”
I mean, you visit around and go to churches. As you speak at a typical Southern Baptist Church, are half of those people on fire for Christ?
Ken: Well, if the church growth statisticians are correct—and I used to do this—less than 25 percent of the people, in the average evangelical church, give or do anything through the life of that church to advance its Kingdom agenda.
Dennis: Say that again.
Ken: Less than 25 percent of the members of the average evangelical church give or do anything in the life of that church to advance its Kingdom agenda.
Dennis: So, the question to the listener is: “Right now, are you in the 25 percent or are in you in the 75 percent?”
Ken: That's right. Well, see, I kind of grew up in sports. I played football in high school and college. The illustration that I sometimes give to pastors: "Okay, you're a high school football coach. You've got 60 guys or 80 guys come out for the team. You think it's going to be a great year/a banner year: ‘Man, we've got enough guys to scrimmage.’"
Well, if, on any given game day, only 50 of them show up—or 50 percent, which is the average, you know, enrollment in our Bible study and our attendance—usually 50 percent. We're telling: “The church is doing good. You get 50 percent of those who are on your roll / they are members of your church there, on any given Sunday, you've done great!” So, I've got 80 guys on the squad. Come game time, 40 of them show up.
Dennis: You're not sure which 40 it will be.
Ken: Yes, you're not sure; but, at any rate, I've got 40. I can still two platoon—I can get the kicking team out there, et cetera. So, we get ready for game time. Of that 40, 25 percent—i.e., 10 say, "Well, Coach, we came to play today." The other 30 say: "We just like the uniform. These are good seats. We're right on the front row. We enjoy the seats." So you've got 10 players who are going to participate in the game that day.
Ken: No wonder Christianity is suffering, in America, in terms of our ability to change our culture—to challenge what's going on.
It’s because we have so few evangelicals who are actually engaged, not only in the church, but in the culture itself. We're going to have to challenge this malaise. You're right—we're going to have to fall passionately in love with the King.
Dennis: And what you're saying here, for a parent, is—Christianity cannot be a spectator sport. You've got to be on the field. If you want to impact your children and have a hope/a realistic hope of your children getting their own faith, then they need to, first of all, see you on the playing field, engaged in the game—and we're not talking about just church attendance here.
Dennis: It's an infectious love for Jesus Christ—representing Him, living out the Scriptures, being obedient to the Scriptures, making decisions in light of how this furthers God's Kingdom. That's all of what you talk about in your book about how you become a Kingdom person as well as become a Kingdom parent.
Bob: Well, I think that's the point.
I think we have to pull back and say, “Am I living my life with a Kingdom agenda in front of me?” because you can’t disciple your kids to have a Kingdom mindset if you don’t have that, as a mom or as a dad.
You know, I remember, Dennis, the first time I heard about Dr. Hemphill’s book. It was when some mutual friends of ours, Bill and Pam Mutz, came up to me and said, “This is the best book on parenting I’ve read in a long, long time."
Bob: That’s what prompted us to set up this interview and spend this time, talking about your book. The book is called Parenting with Kingdom Purpose by Ken Hemphill. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order a copy when you go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. When you get there, click the link at the top left corner of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” That will take you right to an area where you’ll see Ken Hemphill’s book; and you can order a copy of it from us, online.
Or you can order by phone. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Get in touch with us and let us know you’d like a copy of the book, Parenting with Kingdom Purpose.
Let me also just take a minute here, Dennis, and say, “Thank you,” to the folks who make FamilyLife Today possible—that’s those of you who get in touch with us, periodically, and let us know that you’re with us—you stand with us in the mission of FamilyLife—to effectively develop godly families. We believe godly marriages/godly families can change the world, one home at a time. That’s what we’re committed to seeking to cultivate, here at FamilyLife Today. We’re grateful for those of you who embrace that goal, as well, and who help support this ministry. Your donations to FamilyLife Today help underwrite the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.
We’d like to say, “Thank you,” this month, when you make a donation, by offering you your choice of one of two books. One of the books is by Scott Stanley. It’s called A Lasting Promise. It’s a great book on how to deal with the common issues that threaten oneness in a marriage relationship—things like conflict or solving problems together / improving communication in marriage. Again, the title is A Lasting Promise.
Or, if you’d prefer, you can select Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily. Either keep that for yourself or pass it on to a family you know who could benefit from Ron’s wisdom, when it comes to blended family issues. You can select either book, as a thank-you gift, when you make a donation today.
Simply go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” and make a online donation. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. Let us know if you would like A Lasting Promise or The Smart Stepfamily book.
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Now, tomorrow, we're going to talk about how churches and families can work together, with a Kingdom agenda in mind, as we seek to raise our children. We’ll talk more about that with our guest, Ken Hemphill, tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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