NASHVILLE, TN (BP) – Christian parents must seek to be what they want their children to become, a sellout audience was told during the final two days of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's 2017 national conference. A diverse collection of speakers -- including a United States senator, a filmmaker, storytellers, songwriters, as well as pastors and authors -- addressed about 1,300 attendees at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The three-day event -- titled "Parenting: Christ-centered Parenting in a Complex World" -- concluded Aug. 26.
Longtime pastor and author Crawford Loritts told the crowd Aug. 25 whatever he wants his children to be they have to see in him. "They have to see me moving aggressively toward" that goal, he said. "At the end of the day, the thing that's going to shape your future, shape your family, help your child to make it home before dark spiritually are callouses on your knees with an open Bible and a walk before God," said Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Ga. "That must never be forsaken. That has got to be the centerpiece of what we're really, really all about."
Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin said in an address on rearing an "alien child" -- a phrase based on I Peter 2:11 -- the bottom line is: "The only reliable way to raise an alien child is to be an alien parent. "Just think about this, before your child ever learns to read a Bible, they will read you," she said. The "alien parent" is not concerned with what other parents think; they are concerned with what God thinks, Wilkin said. "Alien parents trade the fear of man for the life-giving fear" of God.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said parents are going to feel guilty about the lack of time with their children in an age when work is normally separated from home. "You're always going to feel guilty, because we're going to fail as parents," he told attendees Aug. 26. "So one thing to do is to flee to Christ. ... They're ultimately His kids, and we're trying to steward them." In an in-person interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, Sasse addressed themes in his new book The Vanishing American Adult.
Sasse described the concept of adolescence -- the "greenhouse phase" from about 18 months to four years after reaching puberty -- as "basically a pretty good thing." He said, however, "Perpetual adolescence is a disastrous thing where you never end that middle state. "Adolescence is a means to an end. It's not a destination," Sasse told Moore and the audience. Sasse said the practice by churches of "generational segregation" in corporate worship is problematic. "The reality is that we should recognize that we live across generations and ultimately we're going to be in a dependent state again unless the Lord returns prior," he said. "We live in a world where we are going to decline and we should love our neighbor, and we should start doing that now."
The Aug. 25 evening session focused on artists Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible and other books; singer/songwriter/author Andrew Peterson; and Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and "What's in the Bible?" Lloyd-Jones told Moore in an in-person interview she wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible because she wanted children to know God loves them. "We're part of an incredible, real-life fairy tale," she said.
"Storytelling is often the most effective way to ambush us. "Really, the most beautiful characters in the Bible are the ones who turn and repent. And we love them because we see ourselves in them." Lloyd-Jones encouraged the audience to tell children the truth even about scary things. "Tell it in an age-appropriate way, but don't shy away from it," she said. "Unless you tell them the truth, it's more terrifying to them. "Our job is not so much to protect children as to equip them."
Peterson told his story of being captivated by fantasy novels as a boy until an experience when he was 19 transformed him and he became "wide awake to God's presence." "What I was looking for all along had found me," he said. "This beautiful, broken world that had been hidden in plain sight my whole life suddenly ambushed me." "I believe the Lord used those books to pique my desire for another world, to exercise the muscle of my imagination ... and even to comfort a little kid," Peterson told attendees.
"I think the trick to captivating your child's imagination with the beauty of the Gospel is to show them that the Gospel matters at all and it matters in every corner of the universe," he said. "That doesn't mean that we shouldn't exercise discernment. It does mean that Christ is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." After he spoke, Peterson sang a song he had finished writing only a couple of days before on the preeminence of Christ based on Col. 1.
After the end of Veggie Tales, Vischer said he looked back and wondered, "Am I persuading kids to behave Christianly without giving them Christianity? I realized to help kids I needed to go deeper." The DVD series "What's in the Bible?" came as a result. He encouraged parents at the conference and watching by live stream to tell kids the whole story about the Bible so they can build a "spiritual foundation for a moral imagination."
"The world today is trying to decorate a tree with morals without a tree," Vischer said. "The world is hanging morals in the air and hoping they'll just stay there somehow. We still have the tree to hang morality on. "The world desperately needs us to keep telling our story, the story of God who made you special and loves you very much, who has a plan, a plan of salvation, a plan of redemption, who's calling us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We can change the world because we are the ones with the story."
Dennis Rainey, longtime president of FamilyLife, offered from his own experience four Gospel lessons for parents:
"Model and pass on the truth about God and your experience of God.
"Pass on the good news about how Jesus came to rescue us from the wrath of God from hell.
"Model and teach your children to love God and to love others.
"Transmit a vision for their mission."
"Your home is an embassy of the King of kings and Lord of lords," Rainey said. "The world we're operating in is not our home. The embassy you're from represents the place that is home. And so you're raising emissaries; you're raising dignitaries; you're raising children who are to be ambassadors to their generation."
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told attendees "a strong marriage empowers us to be strong parents." "When you love your mate well, you are loving your children well," he said. "And your children first see love and understand what it is by watching the way you love one another."
Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC's executive vice president, said in remarks based on Eph. 6:10-13 parents must give their children "a purpose to pursue," "an identity to embrace" and "a battle to fight." "One of the best ways we can lead our children in the battle is by modeling what it means to fight the good fight of faith in our home," he said. "We're not just seeking to tell our kids they need to engage in spiritual warfare. We're saying, 'Watch me, because I'm going to show you what it looks like.'"
On Aug. 25-26, the conference included panel discussions during the plenary sessions, as well as breakout sessions on a variety of topics Aug. 25. One of those breakout sessions -- on sexual orientation and gender identity -- was greeted by a group of about 50 demonstrators from the pro-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender organization Faith in America, which is seeking to persuade churches to change their viewpoint about the biblical teaching on the issues. The group gathered outside the room where the session was held and sang "Amazing Grace" as part of its peaceful demonstration.
The ERLC's 2018 national conference is scheduled Oct. 11-13 in Dallas. With the theme of "The Cross-shaped Family," the event will feature such speakers as Bible teacher Beth Moore, Nashville pastor Ray Ortlund, as well as Moore and Wilkin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.