God by His will and grace placed His virgin-born Son in the hands of a young carpenter from Nazareth and his teenage wife. Joseph and Mary's country normality give all of us parents hope for raising our children. They, with so little, could raise a child who changed the world. Joseph is painted by the Holy Spirit as caring, careful, committed. Mary is shown with more color. She had a wonderful hunger for God, a precious wonder, and a delight in meditation on His Words (see Luke 1:46-55; 2:19 ). Her crescendo of praise recorded in Luke challenges us to seek the Lord.
How does one mentor a family? God brought Clemmie and me together with the same goals and convictions. He led us to do four things that marked our children positively, and reproduced some of the character priorities and convictions.
1. As parents, we are to be God's model of the living Christ in our world.
He is our standard rather than people. When parents commit their lives to being followers of Jesus, wonderful things can begin to happen. We have a desire to please Jesus and make Him Lord over all of our lives. We want our heart to contain His will and priorities. A daily time for Bible study and prayer fuels the desires of God on our hearts. We slowly begin to change. Praying with one's wife, listening to her, and talking together over Scripture links you together. Children can visualize obedience by the wife's response to her husband. They learn to respect both parents, and then God. Only what parents learn from God's word can be passed on with power to their children. We kept a prayer list for needs of ourselves and others. When the prayer was answered we thanked God. This 20-year log of God's faithfulness is our most important journal.
Biography in scripture becomes a mega learning tool. We read in a few verses or paragraphs the consequences for sin and wrong attitudes. We say “No” and protect our children because we know the consequences for certain actions. As they learn the wonderful rewards for goodness, and the terrible consequences of sin, God gives them personal convictions. A simple study of the word “fool” in Proverbs with our kids, helped them spot fools around them. They chose to not have these fools as friends.
Our purpose was “To know Christ and make Him known.” God gave us a burden for those around us and a lost world. As a family we prayed with maps on the walls. We had missionaries and Godly people for meals in our home regularly. In prayer we opened our hearts for God to release our children to His will. We became willing for them to go anywhere, be anything that gave Him glory. I even prayed, “Lord, if my kids can't bring glory and honor to you, don't let them grow up on earth.” We prayed God to raise up laborers for His harvest. This meant we saw our neighbors with spiritual needs, and diligently focused on winning them to Christ.
Martha and Bruce, our two older children, came to Christ at about seven years of age. They told me of conviction about sin and their needing Jesus personally as their Saviour. We had taught them to use the Wordless Book, one of our simple witnessing tools. I made portable flannelgraph stands they could take and sit on a table, then place the cutouts of the gospel story to be seen by the kids in the neighborhood. They immediately began to witness to their friends in the neighborhood. We prayed for parents, they prayed for kids. They won children to Christ whom I baptized at church.
Modeling Christ meant being honest before the whole family. I confessed attitude sins to those I offended. I asked forgiveness for anger, yelling, name calling, putting down a kid or wife, a judgmental spirit, impatience. These and other sins were named at the supper table, or when God's Spirit brought me to repentance.
Our commitment was to get everything right between us before bedtime. Being open with our kids had it's bonus. They were open to us. They shared their heart attitudes, feelings, and became as open about sin as were we. Bruce would call me long distance while in university and even now, to get things right. We are still accountable to each other. You determine to build your family into God's team. One for all and all for one! My wife, Clemmie, and I are best friends. Martha, Bruce, and Paul all protected each other. We rejoiced when any one of us did something of value. Clemmie had “celebrations” for the accomplishments of each child. We had simple balloons, cards, candles, and a person's favorite food, with a “you are special” red plate put at the place of the one we honored.
Each child, with different personalities and gifts brought home different awards and report cards. We never compared children verbally. We taught them they were special, unique, different, and God made the different gifts and personalities to strengthen our family. We were all His masterpieces. God had given us a Family Team.
2. Mentoring the Family.
“Mentoring is a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God given resources.” As parents we had the wonderful joy of sharing what God had taught us with our children. We used family meal time for positive bonding, where each child could tell what happened at school, share their wishes, contribute to where we spent our vacation, what we gave priority to on the only day I had off. We played board games together and got insights about each child. We gave more time to each kid.
A Master Mother
It is a challenge when you have three kids under six. Shortly after we moved to Tampa as pastor of a fast-growing church, I attended a funeral of a wonderful mother whose daughter was active in our church. At the family dinner given by their church friends, I asked each of the four children what was special about their mom. One daughter said to the other siblings, “As you know, I was Mom's favorite.” The place erupted! Each replied that they were Mom's favorite. I felt I was on the trail of a magnum mother. I learned something I used with all my family. They concluded that one thing their mother did was especially meaningful. They called it the “spot in her heart” routine. Their mom would take each in her lap, touch a spot on her chest and say, “Billy, this is your spot in my heart; I love you more than anyone in the whole world. No one else has your place in my heart,” as she looked into their eyes and hugged them. I went home and put Martha in my lap and said the words; then Bruce, then Paul. Clemmie heard from the kitchen, came in and asked the kids to let her sit in my lap. “Where's my spot, Waylon?” she asked. I used the “Spot” for years. Everyone needs to feel unique to another's heart.
As a family we taught ourselves to touch each other daily in love, and say “I love you” to each person in our family. To make the children feel unique and special we designed activities to take a single child with us. I made dates to take each kid out on Saturday morning for breakfast together from time to time. I listened, as they ate their favorite food and talked constantly to me. I took one to the barber shop, another to the post office, another to the grocery store together.
3. Ministry through the family.
We camped together on vacation in a used tent camper pulled back of the car. Two weeks in the Carolina mountains, mainly at a spot where we dug our own latrine, spread our 10-foot tarp for shelter from the rain to stretch our living space. We five were really packed together in the 6 by 10 foot camper. (There were the raccoons on our roof at night, coon hunting groups that stomped through our land at crazy night hours, noises in the bushes.) We read the Bible and nature stories by the fire; bathed in the cold mountain stream in the warmest part of the day. We assigned each person their “ministry” — we don't do chores! There was blackberry picking, finding flowers for the table, swinging in the hammock given to me in Brazil.
It's critical parents be consistent. We taught that we can't afford a vacation from our Lord. So Sunday church on vacation was standard. If we couldn't find a Baptist one, we went to another. What experiences!
Another time on Sunday, at the highest camp in the Smoky Mountains, a Park Ranger came and said no one could leave the park till fog lifted in the afternoon. We were dressed and ready to go down the mountain to some church. “What shall we do?” I asked the family. Martha said, “Let's make invitations and invite everyone to our camper to sing hymns and praise the Lord.” Bruce said, “I'll take the invitations with Paul to each camp site and invite people.” I planned a short devotional. We all worked and a number of people came to an outdoor amphitheater and took part. Family camping was a fabulous team-building experience.
We witnessed to neighbors, and the kids each led other kids to Christ using the Wordless Book. Martha did baby-sitting with me on some visits, so I could talk with parents undisturbed. The church bus ministry provided a life-changing experience for Martha and Bruce. Working with Godly adults, they were in the homes of needy, lost people and their children each week. It gave them perspective.
Our three kids took part in church bus ministry, visitation, backyard Bible clubs, trips to Mexico and the U.S., youth choirs, handbells, ministry to nursing homes and the needy. We gave church functions priority over school events; they were more controllable and we had a say in what went on and couldn't go on. Still, Bruce played a bit of high school football and knew icy water swimming with a high school team in winter. On his football team Bruce led two African-Americans to Christ that year. He had saved his birthday money to treat all the team to a pizza party, so he could share his personal testimony on neutral ground. Martha was active in clubs and was honored to speak at graduation, as 4th in her class of 650.
4. Mentored by others.
As a single guy I had the hunger to know mighty men of God. This helped me get to know personally A.W. Tozer, Dawson Trotman, Bill Bright, and other pastors and spiritual leaders. We brought “heroes” into our home to influence our kids. Laymen and pastors, missionaries and teachers touched our family for Christ.
Give your kids heroes or the world will fill the walls of their rooms with trash. We always told those visiting our home we wanted them to speak to our kids and encourage them. These people God used to give a consistent testimony that Jesus is Lord. That following Christ pays off with joy and friendships that are deep, and a sense of mission in His will. Martha today is an IMB missionary to university students in Germany. Bruce is pastor of a growing First Baptist Church, Dade City, Florida. Paul, our handicapped son, went to be with the Lord after being used by God for 28 years. He was one of God's supreme channels to teach us needed lessons. Those hard and wonderful years are still in our hearts.