Modeling Grace to Our Kids
About the Guest
How are your kids doing spiritually? Kara Powell, the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, talks to parents about modeling grace to their kids. Kara, a mother of three, explains that if our faith is only about behaviors-don't drink, don't smoke, don't have sex-then it's no wonder our youth are struggling. Kara reminds us that grace is the heart of the gospel.
Kara PowellDr. Kara E. Powell is an educator, professor, youth minister, author, and speaker. She is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary (see www.fulleryouthinstitute.org). Kara also serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue church in Pasadena, CA. She is the author of many books including Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas t...more
Kara Powell talks to parents about modeling grace to their kids. Kara explains that if our faith is only about behaviors then it’s no wonder our youth are struggling.
Modeling Grace to Our Kids
Bob: You’ve heard the statistics that a lot of young people are leaving the faith when they head off to college. Kara Powell says, “It may be that the faith they are leaving was never the biblical gospel.”
Kara: Too many young people graduate from high school with what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management, which is a gospel that is all about behaviors—a gospel that is some sort of checklist of things we’re supposed to do and not do as followers of Jesus.
So, when young people graduate with that kind of view of the gospel, then, when they fail to live up to that list—and note—I said when they fail / not if they fail—when they fail to live up to that list, they end up running from God and the faith community just when they need both the most.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. If you want your kids to have a faith that sticks, you need to make sure that the faith you’re sharing with them is the real thing.
We’ll talk more about that with Kara Powell today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. A number of years ago, we asked—a big survey—we asked thousands of folks to tell us: “As parents, what are the most critical parenting issues you’re facing? What would you like help with most? Is it sibling rivalry? Is it discipline? Is it bedtimes? Is it…?”—whatever. I remember being surprised that far and away the number one thing parents were saying they wanted help with was spiritual formation in their kids.
Dennis: Right—me too, Bob. I thought, “Surely, the practical issues that parents face today—some of the moral choices that kids are having to find their way around in the culture—but overwhelmingly, this is what they said.”
I am pleased to report to you, as a listener, that we have an expert on the youth culture joining us today—Dr. Kara Powell, who is well-versed in helping you understand where your children are spiritually and how you can help them develop—shall we call it, Bob—a sticky faith?
Bob: That’s a great idea—where did you come up with that?
Dennis: I don’t know! I think from, maybe—maybe, it was from Dr. Powell. Welcome to the broadcast, Kara.
Kara: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: She has written a book called The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. I like the subtitle here—it says, “Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids.” That’s needed today.
Kara and her husband Dave live in Southern California. They’ve been married for
17 years / have three children. Kara gives leadership to the Fuller Youth Institute and is a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary.
One of the things I liked about your book—
—you talked about how there were three sources of surveys that you did. One, you did a survey of 500 students—a second one, you did of parents / a smaller survey of parents—but then, third, you relied on research done by other leaders around the country that really helped you write Sticky Faith. What I would like you to do is take those three sources of research and give us, as parents, some coaching on what you found out from young people, their parents, and also from other researchers around the country.
Bob: What were the big ideas?
Kara: Well, the reason that our team did the Sticky Faith research is we were alarmed by what actually happens to youth group graduates / to high school seniors from great families, like your listeners / from great churches once they graduate from high school. Really good research indicates that almost half of youth group graduates drift from God and the church after high school—almost half. As a mom, and a leader, and a follower of Jesus, I am not satisfied with that.
I am sure that you and your listeners aren’t either.
Dennis: Some of them drift so far away—they never come back to church.
Kara: Yes, absolutely. And a good point there, Dennis, is about half of those who drift do return to the faith—generally, when they get older, get married, and have kids. I celebrate the half that return to the faith.
Bob: But they come back with some scars.
Kara: Exactly—because you think about the significant life choices that are made in those college and emerging adult / young adult years.
Plus, I’m still grieving over the half who drift and never do return to the faith.
Kara: So, that’s why we studied young people and churches / that’s why we integrated other people’s research.
One of the major things that has impacted my own parenting with my 14, 12, and 9-year-olds is that young people have adopted really toxic views of the faith itself. Too many young people graduate from high school with what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management, which is a gospel that is all about behaviors—
—a gospel that is some sort of checklist of things we’re supposed to do and not do, as followers of Jesus. So, when young people graduate with that kind of view of the gospel—
Kara: —then, when they fail to live up to that list—and note that I said when they fail / not if they fail—when they fail to live up to that list, they end up running from God and the faith community just when they need both the most.
Bob: You lay on top of the gospel of sin management what Christian Smith described as moralistic, therapeutic deism, which is kind of an aberrant view of who God is and what our purpose in life is—but it’s one that a lot of kids are growing up, thinking: “There is a God. He loves me. As long as I play by the rules,—
Bob: — “I’ll lead a—I’ll get a happy life out of that.” You put the gospel of sin management over that—it’s no wonder that kids get to college and go, “This is a—this doesn’t work.”
Kara: Absolutely. I’ll be honest—and this is going to sound a little heretical for a theology faculty member to say—
—but if our faith is only about behaviors, no wonder young people are drifting from the faith. I wouldn’t want a faith that is only about behaviors either. The good news is what separates Christianity from ever other religion—is grace. So, at the heart of Sticky Faith and what we long for—for families—is that we recapture what it means to embrace and have our family life be permeated with grace.
Dennis: In Deuteronomy 6, it’s real clear, when God wants to form a nation, He challenges parents to have these words on their hearts first—not on their behaviors but on their hearts, and they shall pass them on—it commands us in Deuteronomy 6—to their children as they’re getting up in the morning, as they’re walking by the way, as they are retiring at night. Christian faith ought to be modeled by parents who have the real disease.
Dennis: We have a group of people in the Bible that are spoken of who were very behaviorally-oriented—
—they are called the Pharisees.
Kara: Exactly! [Laughter]
Dennis: I mean, they kept the law but missed God.
Kara: And that’s not a group we want to aspire to.
Dennis: No, they didn’t have the real disease at all. Parents—their challenge is to avoid turning out pharisaical children—
Dennis: —who are law-keepers but don’t have the love of God in their heart and don’t have a love for God in their heart.
Kara: And Dennis, you are so right. That’s one of the many ways that our research has impacted me personally—not just as a parent / not just as a wife, but as a follower of Jesus. I mean, it’s caused me to hold the mirror to myself and say, “How have I truncated the gospel to also being only about behaviors?”
Now, I do want to say this—because I imagine some folks are wondering: “Well, wait a second! Aren’t behaviors a part of what it means to obey God?” And sure enough, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts in Scripture; but one of the ways that I frame obedience for my kids at home—and when I have a chance to talk with teenagers, and college students, and young adults—
—I try to frame it this way: “Our obedience flows out of our gratitude for God’s grace.”
Kara: Our lives are great big thank-you notes back to God. We’re not trying to obey to make God love us more or like us more. It’s because we are so thankful for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ—that’s what motivates our obedience.
Bob: You know, honestly, I look back on us raising our kids. There is a lot of behavior that you’re trying to correct, day in and day out,—
Bob: —whether it’s complaining, or grumbling, or griping, or sibling rivalry, or just getting them to act civilized.
Kara: Eye rolls / tone of voice—you know it!
Bob: So, it’s easy to see how a parent can get so focused on, “I’ve got to get this behavior dealt with because it’s driving everybody crazy.”
Kara: Yes; yes. And I mean, if you had eaves-dropped in our house—literally, last night, you would have seen some of that. [Laughter] That’s where I want to weave in another important finding from our Sticky Faith research; and that is, the power of warmth in a family.
Probably, in the last six months in our research, what’s impacted me more than anything else: “Is my heart connected to my kids’ hearts?”—and especially when it comes to discipline. One of the rules of thumb that we’ve adopted out of our research is: “Connect before you correct.” I am all for correcting kids for their behaviors / I am all for consequences for kids’ behaviors—especially logical consequences—but I’m always trying to figure out: “What is the belief that is motivating my kid’s behavior?” and “How can I connect with their deepest heart cries, their deepest insecurities, their deepest fears that are often motivating some of that disobedience?”
Bob: For years, we’ve heard people say that, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” You’re just saying that “Connect before you correct,” is—if you’ve got a relationship / and it’s a vibrant, thriving, warm relationship—you can carry correction across that bridge a whole lot easier than if there is no heart-to-heart connection between parents and kids.
Kara: Yes. And especially with our teenaged children—when it comes to the gospel of grace and the power of warmth, I am always looking for opportunities to apologize to my kids. Out of our research, I feel like I’m saying, “I am sorry,” to my kids two to three times a week. Especially when we’re in conflict, normally, there is something that I’ve done wrong—it might be 90 percent them / but it is 10 percent me—how I reacted too quickly / how I flared up. When I can apologize for that 10 percent, especially with our teenagers, it just changes the tone of the conversation. It kindles that warmth.
Dennis: You are hinting at what I want you to unpack. I want you to take the gospel of grace as a subject and let’s coach parents on how to model the gospel of grace with their kids because I think grace can be a religious word for a lot of people in the evangelical community / in the religious community that they think they know what it is—
—but they have a tremendous opportunity to understand what it is as they model this with their children in every-day circumstances with them.
Kara: You know, as a parent, I’m pretty quick to say to my kids that I love them. Out of our research, I’m trying to pair that phrase, “I not only love you, but I really like you.” I want my kids to know that I’m especially fond of them / I’m crazy about them, regardless of what they do.
All too often, we, as parents—we somewhat subtly, or maybe even blatantly, reward our kids for their performance. They grow up thinking: “Oh, as long as I get A’s…” / “As long as I score soccer goals, Dad—or Stepdad—likes me.” So, when our kids come home with report cards, we sit down with them, one at a time, on the couch in the living room. We go over their grades. If they’ve gotten all “A”’s, we go—“Congratulations on getting all ‘A’s!”
Bob: “So proud of you!”
Kara: Well, yes; but what we say is, “Would we feel any differently about you if you got all ‘F’s?”
Our kids are, I think, learning that my husband’s and my love for them and our affection for them—just like God’s love for us isn’t dependent upon what we do—we’re trying to communicate to our kids. In the midst of a culture that’s all about performance, wouldn’t it be great if our homes and our churches were the refuges where it wasn’t about performance but it was simply about acceptance?
Dennis: It may not have affected your feelings about your kids; but if your kids brought home all F’s, the feelings about yourself, as a parent—[Laughter]—no, no! I’m telling you—I think this is where the performance thing kicks in gear.
Kara: That’s for real.
Dennis: What do you say to the parent, who is taking it personally / who is absorbing the F’s of their children and going, “I’m a failure”?
Kara: Well, I think you’ve really highlighted something important already, Dennis, which is we have to think about how our own issues are triggering our responses with our kids—how are our own insecurities / our desire for validation—how is that infecting how we interact with our kids?
The second thing I would say is—one of my favorite theological truths is that all people are created in God’s image—all of us—every child, “F”’s, “A”’s, soccer star, the kid who sits on the bench. What I’m trying to do, as a parent, and what we want to help parents do, in general, is figure out: “How is your kid remarkable?”—I believe every kid is remarkable—and “How do you help your kid with their unique talents shine?”
Dennis: The gospel of grace also steps in when there is an “F”—not for not making the marks at school but an “F” for failure—just: Mom and Dad set a boundary—they make it clear what the expectations are. Maybe, it’s the use of cell phone—how often, how much, where you leave it. Maybe, they step over the boundaries and get over into some sites where they shouldn’t be. Talk with parents, right now, about how you’d coach them around their children not matching up to the standards that are being set for them.
Kara: Well, I’m glad you raised that question because I want to be clear that I think families do need boundaries and that there needs to be consequences when kids cross over those boundaries.
In our family, we do—specifically with technology, we have the amount of time they get. You know, it’s in a contract posted on our kitchen cabinet.
Kara: Yes—the amount of time they get to use their devices per day—
Dennis: Signed?—fingerprints and all? [Laughter]
Kara: Yes, eye-scan—the whole gamut.
Kara: But—no—we want it to be clear, and public, and very overt for everybody. So, with technology, in particular, is a great example and a daily struggle for parents. We’ve been very clear. And when our kids cross over boundaries, we have taken devices—whether it’s for an hour or two or whether it’s for a day.
But I’ll tell you this—out of our research, every once in a while when Dave and I feel like our kids are particularly repentant / particularly open to growth—sometimes, we will say to them: “You know what? This one time—
—“just like God shows us mercy—we are going to show you mercy and grace,” because we want them to connect that to the grace God shows us constantly.
Dennis: And that’s a great illustration of it, by the way. And if you wouldn’t mind, would you take a picture with your cell phone—
Bob: Of that contract?
Dennis: —of that contract—
Kara: You bet!
Dennis: —and would you send it back to me? We’ll post it on our website if it’s okay with you.
Kara: Of course!
Bob: I’ve never forgotten a conversation we had with a guest, here on FamilyLife Today, who said he was concerned that, as parents, what we’re doing is—we’re raising our children, when it comes to failure / when it comes to sin, to be sin avoiders and sin concealers—so: “Stay away from sin. Don’t go near it. And if you do go near it, make sure nobody finds out because, if they found out, you’re in trouble.”
Bob: He said, “What we’ve got to do is—we’ve got to teach our kids how to be sin confessors and sin repenters.”
Bob: And he said: “The way you teach kids to do that is you show them what it looks like—you become sin confessors and repenters.
“They see Mom and Dad confessing sin to one another—or you confessing to the kids: ‘Dad blew it here. Will you forgive me?’” And he said, “Now, with our daughter, when she comes and says: ‘I blew it. Will you forgive me?’ we say, ‘Yes.’ We hug, and we go get ice cream. She recognizes that we celebrate confession and repentance in this family. There may be consequences. It’s not that you avoid any hardness,”—but he said, “We really want her to grow up, seeing: ‘This is a good thing. When I’m honest and I address this, there can be celebration around that.’”
Kara: I’m so glad you said that, Bob—that one of the ways that Sticky Faith has impacted our own family is—every night, at dinner, one of the questions we ask around the table is, “What mistake did you make today?” because we want—and we started this when our youngest was about six years old—because we want to make mistakes something that we talk about quite a bit.
Sometimes, it’s the mistake of overflowing the soap dispenser on the kitchen counter.
But other times, there is actual confession to each other that we need to offer—for tone of voice / anger—whatever it might be. I love that ritual in our family.
Dennis: You go all away around the table, including the parents?
Kara: Oh, yes! Yes; absolutely!
Dennis: Would you be willing to share one that you’ve recently shared at the dinner table?
Kara: Oh, yes; sure. I sound a little bit like a broken record, but probably the most recent one—it wasn’t last night because we had the youth group over last night—but the night before would have been my tone of voice with one of my kids when this child frustrated me. I reacted in a tone of voice that didn’t reflect the mom that I want to be.
Dennis: Just the modeling of that right there—
Dennis: —for a mom—because what mom doesn’t struggle with tone of voice, and what kids don’t notice when Mom or Dad are struggling with the tone of their voice? But what a great picture of repentance—to be able to say it because the kids saw you.
Kara: Yes. And if you were to read a manuscript of what I said to my kids, it was probably okay; but the tone of voice was not. So, that’s what I need to ask for forgiveness for.
And I’ll tell you—like I said, we started this when our youngest was about six. Boy, did she love keeping track of Mom’s mistakes throughout the day!
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Kara: She came to dinner at night, with the four mistakes that I made—
Dennis: “I’ve got a list for you, Mom.”
Kara: —enumerated. So, she was very helpful!
Bob: At the core of all of this, you’ve got to have a mom and dad who, first, really understand the gospel themselves; don’t they?
Bob: They’ve got to not be caught up in some half-baked / half-way to the real gospel—performance-based approach to God’s love and God’s grace themselves.
I run into a lot of moms and dads, who go, “I haven’t had my quiet time today,” and you really wonder, “Do you understand what the gospel is all about?”
Kara: Yes. And you’re sitting with a mom who struggles with falling into behavioral understandings of the gospel. One of the really powerful experiences for me was—one day, I printed out all of Paul’s epistles. I just went through them with a pen, marking the uses of grace and how obedience is connected to grace. That was just so freeing for me to see how Paul wants his readers to marinate—
—yes, in a sense, in our sin; absolutely—but God’s unmerited grace in response to that sin is breathtaking.
Bob: It is.
Dennis: So, Kara, there is a listener, who is a mom or a dad—they are in the throes of raising kids today. This is a tough time to be raising kids. Just out of what we’ve talked about today, I want you to summarize it and just give a charge to parents to stay the course and keep passing on their faith, their love for Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, to their kids.
Kara: Well, the good news for parents, who are struggling with guilt or a feeling of failure, is—as much as we love our kids, God loves our kids even more. Part of why we are passionate about sticky faith is because of Emmanuel who sticks with us. So, as we, as parents, experience that grace in our lives—
Kara: —and our parenting, that’s going to flow over into our relationships with our kids.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: If parents follow everything you say in the book, this guarantees—
Kara: No! Thank you for bringing that up. [Laughter]
Dennis: Because if you had answered, “Yes,” to that, I was calling 60 Minutes. I want them to do an—
Bob: An exposé.
Dennis: Yes—around all your kids. We’ll just see what perfect kids look like in Southern California.
Kara: Right; right. No, and that is the humbling reality—is our research is about correlation / not causation. What we look at is—the more that we tend to talk about / model grace, the more our students will; but there is no formula which, again, causes me, as a parent, to continue to be humble, and prayerful, and all the more desperate for God to guide me and guide our family.
Dennis: There is no formula, but there is a command—it is in Deuteronomy 6, [verses 4-9]: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I command you today, shall be on your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise.
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Write them on the doorpost of your gates that go into your house.”
The point is: “Don’t give up!” You are battling for the soul of the next generation, and you have no idea how important your family is—your child is—to the next generation. They are, indeed, as Neil Postman said, “The living messengers we send to a time we will not see.”
Bob: I really thought you were going to say: “There is no guarantee, but there is a command. And that’s why you should go to FamilyLifeToday.com and get a copy of the book, Sticky Faith, by Kara Powell,”—which is not a command—but it’s a pretty good idea. We’ve got copies of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family with 100 practical, tested ideas for building lasting faith in kids. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy of the book; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—ask for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, during 2016, here at FamilyLife, we are all about anniversaries. I guess you could say, really, throughout the 40-year history of FamilyLife, we’ve been all about anniversaries the whole time. We’re celebrating 40 years of ministry this year, and the reason our ministry exists is so that more couples will have more anniversaries because their marriage is rooted and grounded in the kind of sticky faith we’ve talked about here today.
And there are congratulations in order today for our friends, Royce and Ruth Ammon, who live in Potter, Nebraska. They are celebrating 32 years of marriage today, and they listen to FamilyLife Today on KCMI.
We just want to give a shout-out to the Ammons: “Congratulations on 32 years together!”
We want you to know—it’s your anniversary and, for that matter, all of our anniversaries that FamilyLife Today is all about. We’re here to provide practical biblical help for marriages and families. We want to thank those of you who partner with us to make all of this happen. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. More than 65 percent of the revenue we need to operate this ministry comes from folks like you—either as Legacy Partners or as occasional contributors to the ministry. You make it happen, and we’re grateful for our partnership with you.
If you’d like to make a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your donation.” We’ll send you a CD that has a conversation we had recently with Francis and Lisa Chan about the subject of marriage. We’ll send you a copy of the Chan’s latest book on that subject—it’s called You and Me Forever. It’s our thank-you gift when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone—
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Now, tomorrow, we’ll talk more about a sticky kind of faith in your family and how you make that happen with your kids. Hope you can tune in as we talk more with Kara Powell tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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