Helping Your Children Love Jesus More
About the Guest
Are you worried your children won't turn out right? Then maybe you're worried about the wrong thing. Today, Barry St. Clair, founder of Reach Out Youth Solutions, calls parents to focus less on their children's achievements and more on their children’s love for Jesus. Barry gives parents practical ways to build into the next generation and to help their kids answer the question "Who Am I?" by pointing them back to God.
Barry St. ClairBarry St. Clair, founder and president of Reach Out Youth Solutions, has trained youth leaders, parents and students in thirty countries for over three decades. His marriage to his first wife, Carol lasted twenty-eight years when she unexpectedly died. He then experienced life as a single parent for a while before he married Lawanna. Together they blended a family and became grandparents.
Are you worried your children won’t turn out right?
Helping Your Children Love Jesus More
Barry: The problem is that at the core level most parents have never identified what is really at the heart of what their parenting purpose is. Therefore as a result of that all of these things that are the normal day-to-day life things don’t get impacted by that core purpose. So, it’s just stuff that’s going on out here with no real connector at the core.
This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 7. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about what is at the heart – what is the very core of our assignment as parents.
Bob: Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. If I took you back to elementary school – you remember when the teacher taught you the three things necessary to make a fire – do you remember this?
Dennis: I don’t – elementary school was a painful experience for me. I’ve been trying to erase it from my psyche.
Bob: Well, let’s see if you can pull them up right now okay? The three things if you want to build a fire.
Dennis: You have to have oxygen.
Bob: Oxygen is one – that’s correct.
Bob: Fuel is number two.
Dennis: And then you have to have fire – you have to have spark!
Bob: You’ve got to have spark, or heat in order. So, it’s oxygen, fuel, and spark. We’re going to see if we can light a little fire under some parents today, and we brought the fuel to do it. Right?
Dennis: Bob, you are brilliant!
Bob: How about that?
Dennis: You are brilliant.
Bob: Thank you very much!
Dennis: The name of this book is Parent Fuel by Dr. Barry St. Clair, and he joins us on the broadcast today. Barry- welcome!
Barry: I’m glad to be here Bob. That was amazing!
Bob: Thank you – high five right there – thank you!
Dennis: Now for many of our listeners they’re going to know Barry around youth ministry, and working with high school, junior high students which he’s been doing since 1976. He’s helped youth in over 30 countries around the world. I think some of the more interesting things about Barry however, probably aren’t known to our audience. He has run the Boston Marathon.
Bob: Oh my goodness!
Dennis: Now, what was your time?
Barry: Two hours and 56 minutes!
Dennis: Seriously – you broke three hours?
Bob: High five again on that! Way to go!
Dennis: How old were you when you did that?
Barry: I was about 40.
Bob: That’s pretty stout.
Barry: I couldn’t break eight hours now!
Dennis: Pretty impressive – pretty impressive! He has played college basketball, and started to work with youth not long after graduation as I did as well. Barry stuck with it, and not only worked with youth right out of college but also founded The National Network of Youth Ministries which is a group of about 80 different organizations that have really banded together to help youth pastors all across the country. He’s now formed a new ministry called: Reach Out Youth Solutions, which is all about equipping parents, and churches, and youth, and helping the next generation thrive spiritually.
He and his wife Lawanna live near Atlanta, Georgia. The thing you need to know about Barry that is unique as a parent he has been a parent of a nuclear family as we know it with his first wife who he was married to for 28 years until her death. You had four children.
Dennis: Then you were a single parent after that for a couple of years, and then married Lawanna so you have a blended family. So, you’ve experienced really all forms of being a parent right?
Barry: I would have never invited that into my life in my wildest dreams. I thought when I married Carol that was it, we’d live together forever – it didn’t happen that way in God’s providence. Then I had the amazing experience of being a single Dad, and then the very complicating experience of blending a family. Now we have a total of nine kids, nine grandkids, and two more on the way, so soon to be 11 grandchildren.
Dennis: Your book is really just chock full of practical ways parents can build into the next generation, but one of the things I found as a great big idea just to get into it a bit is: You say parents today are asking the wrong question. It’s not about helping your child succeed, so what is the right question?
Barry: Most parents are asking how do I help my kids turn out right? That’s a performance, and achievement question that leads kids toward external motivation. What we are really looking for–the right question is: How do I help my children love Jesus more? This is an internal motivation question. So, when you climb up the ladder over here on the achievement– performance ladder what you get is kids that are insecure, building their self image on other people’s approval, and those kinds of things.
When you are over here with your ladder against the right wall asking the right question, the result is that kids know that they are embraced by God, they have a sense of their own identity, and with that sense of identity they have a compassion, and ability to love both God, and the people around them.
Bob: You know it’s a pretty amazing eighth grader though who can stop, and say my motivation is really to love Jesus as much as I can in every way that I can, because the eighth grade environment is all one about acceptance, or rejection, fitting in, or not fitting in, figuring out who you are.
I mean as kids are going through adolescence, all of this stuff is swirling around in their brain: To stop and say well loving Jesus, that’s what really matters most to me, and all the other kids at school are going to say, well that makes you weird and outside the group, and not fitting in that’s a hard place for a 14 year old to be.
Barry: It is a very hard place for any kid to be – while they are in adolescence from 12 to 20, or beyond. But I think the key issue there is the issue of identity. In fact I would say as a youth leader over these 30 years, the number one question that we’re trying to help kids answer is: Who am I?
Once that’s established, then that identity is built, and kids know they’re loved, they know their parents are around them to support them, and encourage them, they know that they have some security in that. They know who they are in Christ. They can build a foundation on that. Even though as an eighth grader they may be getting some abuse from the outside, or not know what to say in response to that, or whatever, they still have that core identity that’s going to carry them through, and get them past all the nicks that they’re going to get from people around them.
Dennis: To Bob’s point though – the eighth grader – it’s going to take him a few years to get it regardless. You’re really pressing the parent to know what the right question is, know how to answer the question, and equip them to be able to do that.
Barry: If the parent doesn’t understand what the right question is certainly kids are not going to understand what the right question is. So, it’s incumbent on the parents to really enter into that with their own kids knowing what their own parenting agenda is going to be, what their parenting purpose is, what their vision is for parenting, and those kinds of things.
Bob: Do you think most parents today have the wrong question on their lips or the wrong objective on their minds?
Barry: I don’t want to say most parents. I’m not sure what the percentage would be, but in my experience in interacting with parents, most of them are asking the achievement question. Most of them are not asking the how do I help my kids love Jesus more question – which is the internal, spiritual formation question. Even if they’re asking that question, most of them don’t know what to do in response to it.
Dennis: You know, I just reflect back on our parenting years we took sixth through adolescents, and having the right questions.
Barry: And you survived!
Dennis: I did – I did! I wondered at points if we were going do that by the way, because honestly they were the most challenging years of all of parenting. I mean you’re fighting the culture, you’re fighting peer pressure, you’re fighting as you said, their own insecurity. In the process, you’re trying to help them answer this question internally, and yet as parents you have your own stuff going on.
You have your own marriage you’re trying to make effective, and make successful, and make it work the way God designed it. Yet parents, and you mentioned this in your book – parents have what you call black holes, failures, just things that they step into all the time as they’re attempting to raise their children.
Share with our listeners just a few of the mistakes that parents make, and don’t take a long time on them, because I think we’re aware that we’re not doing it, but I think there’s some instruction here. I think parents do a lot of beating themselves up.
Barry: Yes, and they feel guilty about it, and as a result of that they get paralyzed in their ability then to say, I know what my purpose is. I know what I’ve done in the past. I know I’m not a perfect parent. At the same time I have to move toward that purpose, and leave the guilt behind. I think that’s a huge challenge for parents.
Most parents have not given thought to their parenting purpose. They’re doing the carpool run here, go there – especially if you have adolescent kids, you’re trying to now figure out how do we deal with all the cultural stuff, and the music, and the drugs, and the boyfriend, and all this, without ever really having that sort of central core value—that central core purpose that would drive you there.
Dennis: You’re really talking about not playing defense, but knowing where you’re going, and how you’re going to take your child there. To that point I would have to say a lot of parenting feels very defensive. You know, around dating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, movies, dress – I mean it’s just coming at you.
Barry: George Barna points out in his book that parents are in a place where really because of that they’re desperate, they lack confidence, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, and they turn their parenting responsibilities over to others. Which then removes them from the equation in terms of raising up as he calls them spiritual champions. I think that’s a very good point to make because what we want to do is be right in the middle of helping our kids become spiritually mature as opposed to removing ourselves from that mix.
Bob: I’m just reflecting as you’re talking, because I’m still in the thick of this with kids at home. I’m thinking a lot of my parenting – you described it as defensive. Well, one of my jobs is to protect my kids. That kind of goes with the territory – maybe it’s not the primary job, but if I’m not doing that then they’re either getting physically harmed, or emotionally harmed – spiritually harmed. So, I feel like I have to be a protector.
Then, I want them to get a good education, get a good job, get married: Kind of the normal societal stuff. You’re not saying that those are things that we need to push off the table, and ignore?
Barry: No, you can’t push those things off the table. That’s a part of life and doing life. The problem is that at the core level most parents have never identified what is really at the heart of what their parenting purpose is. Therefore, as a result of that, all of these things that are the normal day-to-day life things don’t get impacted by that core purpose. So, it’s just stuff that’s going on out here with no real connector at the core.
Bob: Does the Bible give us a specific purpose?
Barry: No question about it! You go over to Deuteronomy 6, and Moses is giving this electrifying speech to about a million people at the end of his life saying the most important thing he has ever said, and he says, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
Then he says, “These commands that you’ve heard today impress these on your children.” In other words they have to be a part of your life before they can be a part of their lives. Then he says, “When you talk, when you walk, when you sit around the house, and so forth, talk about this stuff 24-7.”
So, really the whole point of the parent fuel experience here is that we help parents; we equip parents to love God with all their hearts, and to lead their kids to do the same. So, the parenting purpose then would be as a parent I’m going to enter in to this passionate pursuit of following Jesus, and I’m going to let that be the driving core force of my life.
Bob: So, if I’m a parent, and I’m thinking okay that’s my North star, I want to do that with my kids so I’m going to make sure that I take them to Sunday school, that I have them in Awana, that we’re memorizing some verses, and we’re doing bedtime prayers. I’m reading them Bible stories – am I covering it? Am I doing the stuff I need to be doing if I’m doing that with that as my North Star?
Barry: Those things are nice, but those things are not the heart of it because when you get past all those activities, and those kinds of things there’s more to it than that. There’s a deeper thing that has to happen with your kids in terms of being a bridge – a relational bridge. Then we move toward understanding our kid’s hearts, and helping them understand their own hearts, and then helping them to connect with God.
So that I take really as a parent – I’m saying, “If I love God with all my heart, then I’m willing to accept my responsibility, and the privilege of entering into the spiritual formation of my children.” That’s going to be the primary core thing – it’s not the only thing but everything else around it is affected when I make that choice to say, “I’m going to love God with all my heart.”
Dennis: Those activities Bob was talking about may be a part of helping create a heart transplant where you’re giving them all the nutrients, and the ingredients to grow that heart, so their heart singularly devotes itself to God. Right?
Barry: When you’re entering into this whole world of parenting: As a lot of people who are listening they’re right there – we need all the help we can get! So, Awana is a really good thing, and Sunday school is a really good thing – so we want to build this sort of – the way I describe it is a net underneath, and around our family. But, the net is not the core – the core is the family. The net around it is the supporting structures that help us to build an environment around our family that helps us to get there.
Dennis: If the parents don’t have the real disease it’s going to be very difficult to make that heart transplant from my heart to their heart. Not that you can guarantee that they’re going to necessarily accept your heart transplant.
Bob: Yes, but if you don’t have the real disease you’re not contagious, and if you’re not contagious nobody’s going to catch it from you, right?
Barry: When you do that with your kids – when you don’t have that disease then you actually – all the studies show that you are doing more harm than if you didn’t even make a profession toward that. If you just weren’t even going to church on a Sunday morning, and living in another way the rest of the week.
Bob: Hypocrisy is worse than just living authentically before your kids.
Dennis: It’s especially a word that for this generation of young people who are coming up out of the church – it’s a big deal to them. They want authenticity.
Barry: Authenticity – that’s the word!
Dennis: The interesting thing is it’s not just this new generation that’s coming up right now. I remember working with youth in Dallas, Texas in 1971, and I remember the young people who were surrounded by all the religious trappings. It was like someone had taken a syringe, and given them an inoculation against the real disease. They couldn’t get it!
The kids who were in the secular schools who were mixing it up with their friends who weren’t followers of Christ, and weren’t committed to going to church those kids had to hammer out their faith in the midst of a hostile environment. In fact it made such an impression on me, that as Barbara and I started out our marriage together we started talking about kids.
We talked about how did we want to raise our children? We want to give them a war footing where their heart grows in the midst of hostility. Now, that might not be how God leads every parent. But, for us based on what we saw having worked with youth, we felt like it was important to equip our kids to live out that life in the midst of that culture.
Barry: Authentically, and that’s the key. What you just said there a moment ago. If there’s not authenticity than not of that even makes any sense. So, when you think about it really though, it’s not just that kids in this culture want authenticity. It’s God Himself that wants authenticity. You know the sacrifice acceptable to the Lord is a broken spirit, and a broken and contrite heart He won’t despise. When you look at that, He wants me to come to Him in honesty.
Really, for parents – I found this over, and over again, I absolutely hate this, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to ask my kids forgiveness for something I’ve done wrong. I never enjoy doing that ever, but what it brought was an admission that I am an imperfect parent, and that I didn’t handle this particular situation correctly, and that I was wrong, and I’m willing to take responsibility for that – that was authentic!
Now, to illustrate that for you: Just even the other day there were some things that God had shown me about myself in terms of the way I’d responded to my son when over these last 10 years in this whole blending in the family thing. I was really in humility and tears laying this out before my son, and my daughter-in-law, and through tears saying to them, “I am so sorry – I regret so much for the way this has hurt you, and the way that impacted you, and I take responsibility for that, and I ask your forgiveness for it.” My son got off the chair walked over to this Dad with a tear running down his face, wrapped his arms around me, and just hugged me, and cried.
Dennis: That’s authentic parenting right there, because it’s heart to heart, being real, and you know whether we like it or not, some of our most authentic moments come when we admit our errors, and when we ask as you did for forgiveness. That’s humility, that’s a broken, and contrite heart, and it’s clear in the Bible God blesses that, and He blesses those relationships, too.
Bob: I think there are a couple of questions for reflection that come out of our conversation so far. We’ve talked about whether you have the real disease, and I think for a parent to stop, and ask this question: If somebody went to my kids, and said: What matters most to your mom, and dad? Would your kids say: That’s easy. God matters most to my mom and dad. That’s the most important thing – that’s easy - I don’t even have to think about that!
Or, would your kids have to think? Would that even be on the list they’d come up with? If it’s not the first thing that would come out of their mouth, then maybe you need to pull back, and say: What am I modeling for my kids? What are they seeing around my house? Then secondly, is teaching kids to love God what’s really front and center of my agenda as I raise my kids?
Dennis: Then, really taking both of those evaluations, and saying so, what? So, what am I going to do different? Am I just going to acknowledge it, and feel ashamed, feel guilty, and feel underperformance myself, and feel like a failure as a parent?
Or, am I going to recalibrate, and establish a fresh North Star – a fresh purpose, and define that with my spouse, and begin to practically work that out in your relationship with your children, around the values of your family, around your schedule, around how you order your lives, and begin to reflect a heart that really does love God, and is passing that heart on to your children.
Bob: This is where a mom, and a dad can come together. Maybe get a book like the book that Barry’s written: Parent Fuel, or you actually have an entire video curriculum for small groups or for churches to use. Get a small group – get another group of parents together, go through the video curriculum together, and it helps get you on the same page: It at least gets you talking about the choices you’re going to make so that as you said: You’re in sync on this as parents.
We have copies of Barry’s book in our FamilyLife Today resource center. There’s also information about the small group curriculum that is available as well. Again it’s called Parent Fuel, and if you go to FamilyLifeToday.com the information you need about Barry’s book, and about the video curriculum can be found there.
You can also call toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY - 1-800 F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word TODAY.
I just want to mention, I know Dennis: You and Barbara really took a hard look at the parenting challenges that exist in the teen years, and wrote a book called: Parenting Today’s Adolescent that was designed to help all of us as parents navigate those challenging waters. We have that book in our FamilyLife Today resource center as well.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about any of these resources, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team will be happy to help you with whatever resources you need, and make arrangements to get those sent to you.
While we are on the subject of parenting, Dennis you and I had a conversation a number of months ago with our friend Tim Kimmel about the whole issue of parenting—really looking at it globally— understanding what our assignment is as parents, and understanding how parenting, and grace intersect. Of course that conversation was recorded! We have a two CD set called: Grace Based Parenting, and this month we want to make those two CD’s available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.
We are listener supported. Your donations keep us on this station, and on our network of stations all across the country. They help underwrite the production, and syndication costs associated with this program. Again this month if you’re able to make a donation of any amount, we want you to feel free to request a copy of the CD series: Grace Based Parenting.
If you’re donating online at FamilyLifeToday.com type the word “PARENT” in the key code box, and we’ll know to send you these CD’s. If you make your donation by phone: 1-800-FLTODAY is the number.
After you’ve made your donation, just mention that you’d like the CD’s on parenting we were talking about. Our team will know what you’re talking about, and we’ll be happy to send them to you. Let me just say: Thanks for your financial support of this ministry. We do appreciate your partnership with us.
Now tomorrow we’re going to be back to talk more about some of the unique challenges we face as parents, and we’re going to talk about a particular challenge that Barry faced when unexpectedly he found himself a single parent. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. We will 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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