Benefits of Family Covenant Parenting
As I bring these series of messages on Family Covenant Parenting to a close I wasn’t to look at the covenant blessings that can result in the lives of your children. So what can you expect to see in your children as you seek to apply the family covenant to your own parenting? Lets start with commitment. As children see their parents fulfill promises and provide for their needs, they experience the blessings of good health and well-being. Of course, health and well-being also come from parents following the entire Family Covenant and all that it entails. All the sides and levels work together as parents look to God as the ultimate role model for everything they do.
As we have already seen, this philosophy of Christian parenting seek to emphasize the importance of modeling, in that it is based on the way God serves as a role model for parents. When parents model God’s behavior, they in turn become role models for their children. Once this principle is understood, a whole new vision is opened up for the impact you can have on your children. For example, when children see us as their parents provide for them, they see us model what it means to be a servant. We can actively teach our children that we provide for them because of our unconditional commitment to them. And we can explain to our children how God, as the ultimate servant, stimulates our heart motivation to provide for them.
When children experience us making promises and fulfilling them, they begin to comprehend the meaning of faithfulness. We can use this experience to teach our children what it means to be faithful to promises and the importance of sharing with others. We can point our children to God as the ultimate example of what it means to be faithful.
Finally, as children experience their parents acting faithfully out of commitment, they develop an attitude of trust toward us. This can be another true-to-life teaching opportunity for us. You can teach your children how trust develops as you make commitments and live up to them through promise and provision. God can be seen as the model of the one who can always be trusted.
This kind of exciting opportunity presents itself with each of the covenant principles. As children experience the grace and love of their parents, they come to understand what love is, what it means to be forgiven, accepted, and loved. They also develop a greater sense of intimacy with their parents. Again, you can use this to show that God is the ultimate source of love and grace and the way He models this in His actions toward us. This can become a great opportunity for leading your children to accept Christ as their savior, when they see that the cross is the greatest act of God’s love for them.
Under the principle of law, children come to experience a number of blessings that accompany the parental actions of teaching and discipline. They come to understand the difference between right and wrong, develop respect for authority, and experience both security and freedom. As you model righteous behavior, teach God’s law to your children, and discipline them when appropriate, you are able to mold your children and help them to make wise decisions.
Another advantage for parents in directing your children’s attention to God as the ultimate law-giver is that you can help them sort out the moral confusion in our society. As the Bible has been removed as our standard for right and wrong, even Christians may question whether there are moral absolutes. This can be an overwhelming problem for the young person trying to determine right from wrong. By affirming God’s rightful place as the law-giver and using Him as a model, you can provide your children with answer to the questions most asked today in regard to morality: Who says your morals are correct, and who is to say a certain action is right or wrong for this situation?
This is especially important for your children in the teen years. It is during this time that your child is seeking to put together his or her own worldview, values, and philosophy of life. The questions of “who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose in life” are confronted in a more meaningful way. The world is like a supermarket of ideas and values, and they are taking a shopping cart and walking along the aisles deciding what they will make as their own, and what they will leave on the shelf. Without God at the enter of their life, they will have no authority to guide them, and without the Bible, they will have no filter with which to evaluate what should go into their cart, and what should be left on the shelf.
There are tremendous possibilities for you to use the Family Covenant to nurture the kind of children that every Christian parent hopes their child will become. They key is understanding how to use God as a role model as we come to know Him through His word. In reality, this opens up the entire Bible to be used as your guide, not just the book of Proverbs or certain key verses that are proof-texted for specific applications.
One example cited earlier was God’s response to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 (a passage not normally used for parenting). Let’s consider another situation faced by many of us in parenting, rebellion. Christian parents usually think of passages concerning the discipline of children or Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. While these passages are very helpful, I believe the Bible has even more to say when you think of God as our parental role model.
A passage that speaks to this concern is Jeremiah 31. Let’s see what kind of father God is to His children when they have rebelled against Him. We see here that no matter how far God’s children have strayed, His love for them remains unchanged and is everlasting (v. 1-2). God draws His children to Himself with nothing other than lovingkindness (v.3). We see God’s willingness to help rebuild the shattered lives of His children to establish productive lives again (v.4-6). As the people have seen their need to repent and return, God does whatever He can to lead them back (v.9).
I see a lot of rich insight here for parents who are dealing with rebellious children and seeking to establish a healthy relationship with them. This passage is set in the context of Israel’s exile due to their sin against God. God was not a permissive parent who let His children do whatever they wanted. God punished them by allowing them to be conquered and sent into exile (similar to the “tough love” concept today).
This passage teaches parents that they should never totally abandon their children. We should seek to draw them back not with material wealth or possessions, but with our lovingkindness toward them. In drawing them back, we should not make them dependent on us for their needs, but help them to become self-sufficient.
There is another interesting application of this passage to our role as parents, especially those who are experiencing the heartache of a teenager in rebellion. These verses reveal that you can be the best parent in the world, and do everything right, and still have a child who strays from the path. There could be no more perfect parent than God. And yet His adopted children strayed from Him because of
Practical Benefits of the Family Covenant
The first benefit I want to highlight is the Family Covenant’s biblical basis and the Godward focus it provides. God is at the pinnacle, not self-actualization, self-esteem, or some other ungodly concept. Since the Family Covenant is rooted in the Scriptures and begins with God’s example as our heavenly Father, its strategy is inherently biblical. It gives you as a parent access to the power of our omnipotent God as His Word as you face the challenges of parenting in today’s world. Inherent in the Family Covenant’s design is the fact that it draws parents closer to God. He is the focus, not the latest theory on how to be an effective parent. The Family Covenant places God in His rightful place as the powerful Father and role model for parents and children. As parents come to rely on Him and to follow His example in their parenting, it can actually bring you and your spouse closer together as a couple.
This biblical basis provides answers to the inevitable “why” questions you face as a parent. Children often ask why Mom or Dad are acting in an certain way, sometimes as a challenge when you are doing something your child does not like. The Family Covenant provides an answer. The parental action occurs because it is motivated by one of the three Covenant Principles, which in turn are based on God as a role model. You can explain this to your children, pointing them to God as the ultimate authority for all you do. It also helps your children to see how you are attempting to submit to God in your own life. This will need to be kept more basic for younger children by simply referring the child to God (“This is what God says Mommy and Daddy are to do”), and more detailed explanations can be given as your child grows older.
One of the major problems children have in their own pursuit of God comes when parents tell them to follow the Lord, but fail to do so themselves. The Family Covenant emphasizes to you the parent that you should live out your faith within your family, not just within the walls of the church for an hour or two a week. This can provide an important check for parents. When your child asks his “why” question, it may be that you are not acting properly . The Family Covenant can help you to see whether you are doing the right thing and/or are motivated by the right attitude. The simplicity of the Family Covenant helps harried parents to remember the basis for godly parenting.
A Plan for Effective Parenting
A second benefit of the Family Covenant is its plan or strategy on how to parent effectively. When my wife and I were first married, just about every gift we received or purchase we made, from the car to the toaster, came with an owner’s manual. After we bought our first child from the hospital, I asked the nurse where the owner’s manual was located. She laughed and wished me luck as she waved goodbye.
The Family Covenant provides a starting point for you as you work with your spouse on the issues and decisions related to parenting. Child-rearing can be a source of major conflict between parents. One spouse says the other is too lenient, while the other says their partner is too strict. This model is not a cure-all for conflict over child-rearing, but it gives parents a basis from which to develop their views.
In secular and Christian counseling today, various theories become popular for a time until the next new theory comes on the scene. Many are based on secular ideas that are made to seemingly fit the Bible. For a short time they seem to become the answer for all the known problems in the world. In contrast, the Family Covenant points you to the unchanging God as the answer for your problems and keeps you on course.
The Family Covenant gives you three fundamental principles and six basic actions to remember when making decisions in regard to your children. This limited focus helps to clarify God’s expectations for you in an age of information overload. Since the Family Covenant is not based on rigid rules for parents to follow, it offers flexibility for parents to tailor the principles to the needs of your individual child. God has made each child unique, and you cannot force them into an arbitrary mold.
A third benefit is the Family Covenant’s stress on the need for balance in parenting. There are times when you emphasize certain parenting principles and actions and neglect others. This can put the family out of balance and create problems as the children mature.
I have noticed that parents tend to fall into three broad categories: parents who spoil their children, parents who are too controlling, and parents who are too permissive. I believe that these three styles of parenting are actually corruptions of one of the three covenant principles – commitment, law, and love – identified in the Family Covenant. Satan is a master deceiver, and one of the ways he does this is to distort the truth of God. He takes a truth and modifies it just enough to create problems, but not so much that it doesn’t see plausible.
As a parent you can make any one of the three covenant principles into an idol to be served. If you turn commitment into an idol you may demand too much loyalty to be family or blur proper family boundaries. If you overemphasize law you can become very controlling of your children. You basically bow to the idol of control. You would rather make a rule that keeps things quiet and running smoothly than deal with the child on a more fundamental level. If you make love an idol, you may be longing so much to be loved that you will not do enough to discipline or limit your child.
Each of these idols must be confronted. Each of the covenant principles are not an end in themselves, but lead us to God as the ultimate source of commitment, love, and law. These principles are only effective as they bring us to God. You need to look within your heart and seek out why you are turning one of these principles into an idol. What is your motivation to over emphasize commitment, love, or law? Let’s take a look more closely as how these three “idol” parenting styles can be expressed and dealt with on a functional level.
Commitment and the Spoiling Parent
Parents who spoil tend to provide everything their child could want. They have difficulty saying no, whether in the supermarket check-out line when the child wants candy or at home when the child sees the latest new toy on television. This leads to a child who is spoiled, self-centered, and self-indulgent.
The Family Covenant suggests that this parent has idolized the covenant principle of commitment. This is seen on the parental action level with an over-emphasis on providing. Rather than having a child who understands what it means to share and to be a servant, the parent has a child who expects the world to revolve around himself. He wants to have his desires satisfied at the expense of everything else.
Part of the solution to this problem is to look at the balance in God’s approach to His spiritual children. In doing so you see the need to balance commitment, love and law. For example, the principle of law means that there must be limits in a child’s life based on God’s standard of righteousness. And there are times when the principle of love would indicate that the most loving thing I can do for my child is to say no.
Law and the Controlling Parent
The second style of problem parenting I see is the controlling parent. These parents are legalistic in their application of law; they turn law into an idol. They have an emphasis on rules and what they define as order. Grey areas become black and white. Some parents can be harsh in their punishment, while others can be controlling, but in a loving way. Parents who tend to overload this aspect of parenting often have punishments and rules that are not age-appropriate for their child.
The results in the children are often anger and rebellion. Or the children may internalize this problem and become compulsive. Children often become angry at what they see as manipulation and a lack of freedom to be themselves. They also rebel about things simply because their parents have made rules about it. Granted, there needs to be law in the home, and children will always test the limits parents set. But the problem is in the way parents apply the law in their family.
The first problem is that the controlling parent sets up so many rules the child feels closed in on every side. The second problem is the motivation for the rules. They are often established to maintain the parent’s desire for control, rather than serve the child’s well-being and need for protection. As a result, the child often not only tests the boundaries but attempts to overthrow them outright, especially when he or she becomes a teenager.
It is essential to see the importance of keeping love in balance with law. Here it is important to ask yourself what is really important to the safety and well-being of your child, and what are matters of personal taste and convenience. What are issues of willful defiance, and what are issues of childish responsibility? Parents need to choose the important battles and make their stand there.
I also think that Family Covenant parenting is helpful for parents with a tendency to be controlling because there are not a lot of sharply defined rules for them to follow.
Controlling parents can put such an emphasis on rules that they often miss the purpose behind the rules. If you find yourself struggling in this area, let me encourage you to read Matthew 15 where Jesus deals with the Pharisees over the issue of the law. Jesus points out that their rules, while often well-intentioned, miss the heart of the matter, that sin derives from the heart. How can you reach your child’s heart so that they will be able to think for themselves and not need your rules to guide their behavior?
Love and the Permissive Parent
A third type of parent who I encounter is the permissive parent. This parent places a lot of stress on love and grace to the point of idolatry—whatever Johnny wants to do, that’s okay. There are very few rules, and the rules that do exist are frequently bent. What a rule is broken, little or no punishment is given out. While children of permissive parents may feel a lot of love and acceptance, there are obvious problems here. First and foremost is who is in charge, you the parent, or your child! If you follow this unbalanced path, you will often have children who are undisciplined and out of control.
The law side of the Family Covenant is a helpful corrective here. Parents need to understand that law leads to freedom and security for the child, not repression. The Scriptures become a powerful ally here as we use God as our example. God gave His law out of love for us, as part of His covenant of grace. Sometimes the most loving think you can do for your child is to say no. This what we find in God’s relationship to His children. God disciplines us out of His love for us, as we see in passages like Hebrews 12:5-11.
Reaching Your Child’s Heart
Earlier I mentioned the importance of not just dealing with your child’s behavior, but getting below the surface to reaching them on the level of their heart. Now that you have a basic understanding of the Family Covenant, how does it help you accomplish this goal? As a biblical counselor, I place great emphasis on reaching the heart of the people I help. This concern is rooted in the Scriptures, which also make this a priority (Matt.15:16-19). So what, exactly, is the heart? The Bible uses the word heart to refer not only to the physical organ that beats in our chest, but as a metaphor for everything you are on the inside, the core of who you are, your hopes, your dreams, you likes, your dislikes, what makes you tick. In Proverbs 4:23 we are told, “Above all else, guard your heart, it is the wellspring of your life.” An intriguing aspect of this concern is found in Jeremiah 17:9-10 where God says that the heart is desperately wicked, that no person can understand it, and that God is the only one who can make sense of it. This presents Christian parents with a seemingly impossible challenge!
This challenge can be overcome with God’s help. I believe the Family Covenant can be used to help us accomplish this goal because it is rooted in God’s understanding of the human heart and His response to its needs. God’s answer is not found in secular psychology theorizing on human needs. In fact, as Jeremiah points out, these human approaches will ultimately fail because no person can figure out the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9).
When you consider how to meet the needs and problems of your child’s heart, the only person who can answer this question is God. What does God say is the fundamental need of a person’s heart? Is it self-esteem or finding the inner child? No, children need to know God and be reconciled to Him by eliminating the problem of sin.
How did God respond to this need? Did he give us a 12 step program? Did He mandate a prescription for Prozac or Ritalin? Did He carve Maslow’s pyramid of needs into tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai? No, He established His covenant of grace, and within that over-arching covenant, He entered into covenant relationships with those He Himself chose. He took us from being enemies to being children.
Now comes the nitty gritty question of identifying and meeting the needs of your child’s heart. Since only God knows the true need of our hearts, how did He seek to meet them? He met them for both parents and children by entering into a covenant relationship with us, and by establishing the covenant principles of commitment, love, and law. These principles provide a key to unlocking the door to understanding the heart. We need to know deep within our hearts the commitment of the Father to His children. We need to know the steadfast and generous love of the Lord. We need how to conduct ourselves in that relationship (law).
How do you make these things happen in your relationship to your children? Follow the example God gives you through the parental actions which flow out of these principles. Base your parenting on the fundamental principles of commitment, love and law and consistently practice the parental actions that flow from these principles. In short, as God is a “covenant keeper” with His children, be a “covenant keeper” with yours. As you follow the Family Covenant, understand that ultimately God must touch your children’s hearts directly through the power of the gospel and the covenant relationship He provides.
The Key to Successful Parenting
Here is where I should be telling you that Family Covenant parenting will revolutionize your home, providing you year of trouble free parenting. Perhaps this is where you hoped I would outline the eight secrets to successful parenting based on the Family Covenant. Actually I want to make this point, that the Family Covenant, in and of itself, is absolutely worthless. It is no guarantee of anything. It will make no difference in your life, or in the lives of your children.
The Family Covenant is nothing more than one man’s way of organizing what the Biel teaches about the family. Since God is the center of this approach, He is he one who will revolutionize your parenting, and your life. This model is only a tool, and like any tool, it is only as good as the person who uses it. It will “work” only as you allow the Lord Himself to work in and through you and your family.
The entire basis of Family Covenant parenting is the conviction that God serves as the ultimate role model on how to be a good parent. As I have noted, the Scriptures teach that the cause of all behavior is found in the heart (Mark 7). Since God is the only who can understand the human heart (Jeremiah 17), only He can show us how to respond to its deepest needs. If you as a parent want to reach the heart of your child, your only hope is to follow God’s example and rely on God’s activity. This conviction drives everything else that I will now say about how to use the Family Covenant. Don’t absolutize it or make it more than it really is. Use it to drive you to your knees, to God’s Word, and to God Himself.
So what do you think of Family Covenant Parenting? Does this help to replace that missing “owner’s manual” that was supposed to be attached to that first diaper in the hospital? Please send me your comments and questions! You can do this through the contact tab on our web site.