Why I failed Revolutionary Parenting.

I’m usually not a prickly person. I don’t argue much because I honestly don’t have a lot to defend. Most of my opinions are moldable and if I read something different than what I believe, it usually causes me to stop and consider for a while. I’m a simmer-er. It takes a few weeks after a read or a discussion for my opinion to be fully formed. And by then, most people don’t care anymore. That means I was never interesting in my college classes. I didn’t raise my hand. It isn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. It’s just that I was always a month late to say the things. By then the rest of the world had moved into the more brilliant places.

That said, I don’t like parenting books. I think it’s because I already have opinions about little people. And they feel pretty set in stone. Now, if my mother wrote a book about parenting, I’m pretty sure I’d read it and totally buy into it. That’s basically because she’s my child development expert. If there’s an amazing toddler game, she already knows how to play it. If there’s a song that goes along with the present situation, she knows it and will break into melody. My mom is great at playing. That’s why I’d agree with her book. She’d tell me to play with my kid. She’d tell me that everything else (How advanced is his speech? Can your three-year-old count to ten in three languages?  Does she sit quietly and not make a scene?) just doesn’t matter that much. Just love your kid and play, she’d say.

My parents raised three children who have all continued to live in the faith passed down to them. According to Revolutionary Parenting, a book by George Barna that I’ve been reading for my mom’s group, we’re “spiritual champions.” That means we’ve (despite our few hiccups along the way) all become adults who are deeply committed to our faith. We are active in our churches. We pray. Our faith affects our lives on a daily basis. In fact, my brother Brooks is a licensed minister who runs an organization that cares for impoverished children. My other brother Jason writes about faith for a living. I…well, I talk about monks a lot.

My parents should know how to raise a “spiritual champion” if anyone does. And, if you asked them what they did to produce the Boyett children, I imagine they’d say, “Well, we ate dinner together and we talked about God at home. We went to church together. Our kids saw us reading our Bibles. We held them to high standards and expected a lot.” Other than that, they’d probably say they had no clue. They prayed a lot. They loved us. They hoped.

Revolutionary Parenting has some good stuff to say about the value of praying for your children, the power of love in the home, the significance of holding up high standards. But, it also says a lot of things that ticked me off. First of all, “spiritual champions”? What kind of term is that? Does that mean I’ve won the spiritual race and I get a gold medal? Because, Mr. Barna, with all due respect, I didn’t get the gold. I learned a long time ago that my attempts to win the spiritual prize were pretty screwed up and God likes me best as an honorable mention.

Secondly, there’s everything else. Barna uses a lot of legitimate research (the Barna Group is a recognized research firm that most often explores matters of faith in America) to discover the secret to raising children who are followers of Jesus. Listen, there are just some things that cannot be explored through “research.” Do you really need to mention that “spiritual champions” are more likely to come from small families? Warning! If you have a lot of kids, they won’t follow Jesus! That kind of stuff just really annoys me.

Barna talks about having a plan, a goal, a mission statement of sorts for the kind of person each child is going to become. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t have a mission statement for August. I have hopes for him. I want him to be kind. I want him to care for the people around him. I want him to feel deeply and love people so deeply that it wounds him. I want him to believe in Jesus because he believes in the story of redemption and reconciliation and renewal. I want him to long for the world’s healing and be active in working toward it.

Is that the same as a mission statement? I guess. But I don’ think it’s what Barna is referring to. I think Barna’s research shows that I should have a spiritual formation plan for my son’s 15th year of life. That I should be intentionally instructing him daily in God’s word according to that plan for his own personal growth. I should be manipulating his relationships to make sure that as a teenager he is not spending time with the wrong kinds of kids.

Look, to an extent, I believe in these things. I want my kid to learn scripture at home. But I want it to come to him organically, because scripture is a part of our lives. I want to pray specifically for the hopes I have for my son in his teenage years. But I don’t think my job is to thrust the scripture passages I think he needs to work on in his face. (Do kids really survive this kind of parenting with their faith intact?) And I certainly don’t think I need to meddle in my child’s friendships. Now, that’s not to say it’s not a parent’s role to intervene in their child’s relationships if they are damaging, but if I understand Barna’s commentary clearly, he has no qualms about a parent’s interest in manipulating who their child hangs out with (a comment here, a nudge there) to make sure that their child is not being influenced negatively. Here’s where I draw my angry line in the sand.

After years of ministering to high school kids who have no background in faith, I know how vital it is that non-believing kids have friendships with believing kids. To deny those relationships is to deny non-believing kids any kind of picture of faith. I’ve seen both kinds of Christian kids: the ones whose parents protected them from the reality of teenage sexuality and self-destruction and alcohol abuse, and the ones whose parents allowed them to live in that world and prayed like crazy that they might thrive as a hope-bearer in a broken place.

I’ve also seen the kinds of adults those kids became. The protected teenagers may still be faithful in the terms of Barna’s research: church-goers, Bible readers, people of prayer. But, most of the time, they are shallow, not at ease in the world, afraid of any other way of thought. The teenagers whose innocence was risked in hopes of their ability to thrive in the relationships they chose for themselves? Their parents bit their nails, paced at night, and watched some of their children leave their faith. However, the ones who survived are the kinds of people I hope my kids will be—sincere, faithful, unafraid of moral stances yet loving, able to articulate why they believe in Jesus because they’ve had to make that choice for themselves in a world that didn’t make it easy.

Will I be a Revolutionary Parent? Does it involve playing and eating dinner with my kids, and possibly singing songs with them? Pacing the floor and praying? Then, yes. That’s in my mission statement.

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