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As I squeezed by the woman in the aisle seat, it was apparent that she was extremely agitated. I assumed she had a phobia about flying. I attempted to reassure her. “Flying?” she responded, “I wish that was the problem. No, my problem is a teenage daughter who is certifiable. She is immature, self- centered, no self-discipline, won’t lift a finger to help around the house…” She rolled her eyes and summed up her tirade with, “you won’t understand until you have a teenager.”

“I don’t have a teenager,” I responded, “I have four teenagers.” The exasperated woman sat bolt upright, made a few comments it would be inappropriate to repeat and finished with a question. “How can you just sit there calmly and expect me to believe you have four teenagers? No way, you can’t have four teenagers.”

After trading pictures and talking about children, it became apparent to me that this woman’s concept of child rearing was very different from Ginny’s and my own. She seemed to think her TV was the primary device for raising her daughter until the young lady began sneaking out at night and experimenting with smoking, alcohol and other forms of adult-type entertainments. At that point, the mother told her daughter “No daughter of mine is going to do the things you are doing.” She could not understand why her daughter, who had been having it her way for 14 years, didn’t suddenly become a model, moral, celibate, studious and helpful daughter.

Raising Children is Hard Work

Now, I will be the first one to admit that raising children to be mature, capable, moral, net-contributors to society and church, who understanding God’s plan for man, is not a 12 step program. Some of the best parents I know have problem children. And some really lousy parents have model children.

Raising children is the most critical undertaking entrusted to unprepared, unlicensed, immature, inexperienced humans!

I used to think grandparents should raise children. Then Ginny and I became grandparents. We know a lot more about raising children than we did as parents. But we don’t have the stamina necessary to endure repetitive noises, questions and whining. (By the way, our 20th grandchild is on the way).

Here is the meat of the issue. Jesus told us to make “Disciples.” Our children are our greatest opportunity and our first responsibility in obeying that commission. Good child rearing is also the best model for missions.

Raising children and doing missions commences with great authority over the lives of our “children-sciples.” But it is normal and necessary that our oversight decreases and that their responsibility and authority increases over time.

At first, we tie our shoes and then we tie their shoes. Then, we tie our shoes and teach them to tie their shoes. Finally, they tie their shoes and then they tie our shoes.

We should progress from:

  1. Paternalism (we are in charge. Our disciples watch us and participate) to –

  2. Partnership (we share authority and responsibility with our disciples) to –

  3. Participation (we pass authority to our disciples but stay involved) and finally, to –

  4. Push-off (we give our disciples a final encouragement and a blessing and then we leave, permanently)

Missions & Parenting Parallels

Parents and missionaries are like scaffolding. Scaffolding is intended to be temporary. It should never be too tightly affixed to the structure it is being used to build. It is supposed to be removed as soon as the building can stand on its own. Then it is removed so as not to be in the way of the finishing operation.

Paul gives us a good example of this process in his first letter to the Corinthian church. He writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT).

I was surprised to realize that Paul left his Corinthian disciples when, by his own description, they were immature. It is possible for us to either leave our disciples too soon or wait too long. It is extremely difficult to get the timing just right. I suggest you err on the ‘too soon’ side. Paul seemed to do that.

As you send your “children-sciples” off to school, remember, they are not really yours. They are just lent to you for a long-short time. They finally belong to their real Father. Our role is to train them and equip them to fulfill God’s plan for their lives.

My mom coined a very pertinent thought/prayer – “Lord, prepare us for what you have prepared for us!”



Have you read Steve’s book The Great OmissionThe book is a powerful call for the inclusion of indigenous believers in the Great Commission. Steve shares how current missions strategies have unwittingly harmed the indigenous church and kept millions of believers from fulfilling their roles in God’s Kingdom—and millions of others from hearing the Good News.

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  • Theresa Angeletti says:

    Thank you so much Steve! Your wisdom and experience is so needful for today! I only wish I had known this 30 years ago!! God bless you and Ginny! You are always in our prayers!

  • Tom and Karen McKechnie says:

    Thank you, Steve, for your wisdom and discernment.
    I love your perspective that as grandparents Karen and I have some experience but not the stamina. We always say we were great parents until we had children then we relied on a great deal of prayer.
    Blessings and love to your family,
    Tom and Karen