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Aiming low

Christian parents’ goals for kids are as timid and flabby as those of their secular counterparts


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This is the sixth in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. In the April 30, 2005, issue of WORLD, Joel considered what Christian parenting ­priorities would mean for the rising generation.

If it’s a depressing fact that American parents tend to be way too casual and lenient in setting goals for the rearing of their children, get ready for much worse news: Evangelical Christians are statistically almost indistinguishable on many aspects of that same assignment.

That’s according to a poll from the Barna Group. Barna’s recent survey focuses on what kinds of goals parents are setting for their children—not on how well they’re doing achieving those goals, but just describing the goals themselves. Even on that front, Christians come across as timid and flabby.

It may not be surprising, for example, to find that many American parents (4 out of 10) say that a good education is the main goal they are pursuing for their children. You wouldn’t really expect mainstream parents to echo the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy,” he said, “than to know that my children walk in truth.” But wouldn’t you expect that committed Christians might state the goals they have for their children in a faith-­centered way? Barna says we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We look pretty much like our secular counterparts.

Overall, Barna notes, “The qualities born again parents say an effective parent must possess, the outcomes they hope to facilitate in the lives of their children, and the media monitoring process in the household were indistinguishable from the approach taken by parents who are not born again.”

There is an exception to that pattern, including both good and bad news. The good news is that Christian parents are twice as likely as their secular counterparts to teach their children that there are moral absolutes in life that ought to be observed. The bad news is that only 60 percent of born-again parents take such a position!

Such relativism is evident as well in the casual response to the question: How will you measure success in the raising of your children? Fewer than 3 out of 10 said the real-life fruit of their efforts would be the determining factor. Instead, by a 2-to-1 margin, respondents said they’d simply consider whether they’d done the best they could regardless of the outcome. The Barna report didn’t indicate if the same folks would be so forgiving toward surgeons, car mechanics, stockbrokers, and ­airline pilots who take the same approach.

Indeed, “discipline” and “toughness” were hardly dominant in the characteristics respondents describe as most important to effective child rearing:

  • Patience: 36 percent
  • Demonstration of love: 32 percent
  • Being understanding: 22 percent
  • Enforcing discipline: 22 percent
  • Significant faith commitment: 20 percent
  • Good communication skills: 17 percent
  • Being compassionate: 14 percent
  • Knowing how to listen: 12 percent
  • Being intelligent: 11 percent

“Being a praying person” got a measly 4 percent score, while “having integrity or good character” got just 1 percent.

“Soft” goals may well be more palatable than “hard” ones, but they will also prove in the end to be the vulnerable underbelly of our culture. It’s bad enough to be concerned about the current population of our country. It gets painfully worse when you consider how much softer the next generation might well be.

Thankfully, that’s hardly the end of the story. God often, in acts of incredible forbearance and goodness, decides to “show mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.”

But wouldn’t you think that people who have tasted that mercy for themselves would list as a primary goal for their children that very same experience? The fact that they don’t makes you wonder how real their own experience of God’s goodness has really been.


Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.

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