The Power of Parents

Maybe it’s the stage of life that I’m in or the people that I hang out with or the things that I work on in the church or even just my personal bent, but I can’t stop thinking about families and how parents impact their kids’ faith. And by kids, I’m thinking primarily of those that are still living at home which usually means infants to 18.

As this blog has noted in the past, Christian Smith’s excellent and reliable research indicates that the number one factor in determining whether a child’s faith will last through college and into adulthood is their parents’ faith. The big question is, “However imperfectly, do the parents walk with God and talk about faith issues with their kids?” If the answer to that question is yes, there is a far greater likelihood that those kids will have a real, meaningful, lifetime faith in Christ.

We all know that when it comes to our kids, more is caught than taught. So as important as teaching our kids about God is, the life we live in front of them is at least equally important. There’s nothing that turns kids off quicker than a parent who pretends to be something they aren’t.

I came across a couple of stories this week that grabbed my attention. The first story emphasizes the power of a parent’s example and the second one focuses on the priority of parenting.

Timothy Dalrymple, who is currently an editor with, was interviewed by Marvin Olasky in World. Back in college at Stanford, Dalyrymple was the NCAA’s top-ranked gymnast until a broken neck ended his career. In God’s providence, that disaster opened up opportunities for him to deepen his faith and also earn a Ph.D. at Harvard.

While lying on his back, looking up at the ceiling, Timothy had plenty of time to think.
He says that even as a child “I had a philosophical bent and spent a lot of time thinking about all sorts of ultimate questions, especially the question of whether there is some sort of existence beyond death. I don’t know which one I found more terrifying, that there would be some existence or that there would not.”

Yet, when asked what helped him to grow in his faith, philosophical questions gave way to a personal relationship and example.

“The example of my father,” Dalrymple replied, “not only a pastor but a genuinely loving, faithful, righteous person, helped. I saw in his life something undeniably true that I couldn’t explain away.”

This son was won to Christ by the Christlike example of his father. Here’s the second story, but this one is from the father’s perspective.

Joe Gibbs was a legendary coach of the Washington Redskins winning three Super Bowl titles. After abruptly retiring in 1992, a reporter asked him why he was calling it quits when he seemed to be on top of his game. Gibbs response was inspiring and convicting. He said he went home one evening after one of his normal 12-14 hour days and decided to go kiss his boys good night. He went into their rooms only to discover that they had become men, and he had missed it!

Joe Gibbs leaned a lesson that far too many parents learn only after it is too late. You only get one chance to raise your kids. When they are born a clock starts ticking and while there are days that it seems like the clock is stuck, the reality is that it is always moving ahead. And there is nothing you can do to slow it down. As parents we must invest in our kids faith, while we have the opportunity.

The oldest of my four kids turns 16 this month. The independence that comes with being able to drive means that he will be spending more time out of the house than he has in the past 15 years. My daughter is just a year behind him. Sure, I’m thankful that I won’t have to spend all my time being a taxi service but I’m also sad because I won’t have as much time with them. The truth is that I really enjoy being around them. This is a reminder to me to take advantage of the time that I have with them and not put it off.

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