By Dr. Beverly and Tom Rodgers
We started attending one of the fastest growing churches in our area about the time I got my license in marital and family therapy. I was the first Christian counselor in the area so many of the families started seeing me for help with their kids and teens. The most common problem was rebellion. These kids were basically good kids, they just could not seem to get along with their parents. The more the parents pushed their kids to be like them and follow Christ, the more they pushed away, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. As I looked further, I stumbled onto one of the reasons why.
While the pastor was a charismatic, dynamic, pulpit pounding preacher who attracted large crowds, his message was more about rules than relationship and more about law than grace. In fact, one topic that would get him really fired up was rebellion.
He would not tolerate it in parishioners and encouraged parents not to tolerate it in their children. The problem was everything was seen as rebellion!
If the church board members spoke up, it was rebellion or if an elder had a different opinion, it was rebellion. It was so bad that the church started developing a cultish feel. The problem was that the pastor passed this philosophy on to the church families who focused on stern punishment with their children instead of loving discipline. He actually taught a class to new parents in which he encouraged spanking newborns for not sleeping through the night. Talk about nightmares for both parents and children! Being abused as a child, I could not heed his alarmist warnings to spare the rod and spoil the child. And from the looks of the kids I was seeing in family therapy, over-punishment wasn’t working.
Their lack of effectiveness caused me to set out on a quest for a parenting style that was helpful in not only stopping rebellion, but in capturing a child’s heart for God. I learned that there is a vast difference between punishment and discipline and this difference makes all the difference for children.
Often when Tom and I deal with parents, we see that they try to shape their children’s unhealthy behaviors by focusing too much on punishment. These parents spend most of their time spanking, grounding, or taking away privileges. By the time they come to counseling they have virtually taken away everything from their kids and still their misbehavior is not curtailed. Too much emphasis on punishment can be ineffective and harmful. The objective is to discipline behavior in order to shape it for the Lord, not to punish a child to “teach him or her a lesson.” Discipline is instructive. Punishment is punitive. Too much punishment without loving instruction can provoke your children to wrath and cause them to rebel.
The goal of disciplining your children is to know them so well and love them so much that you find a way to share the ways of the Lord in a language they will understand. In doing this you strive to teach them Christian principles to live by that will be like the air they breathe. They will consciously and unconsciously know God’s ways as well as his great soul-healing love like the back of their hand. Therefore, having a first-hand knowledge of both, for them not to follow godly principles would take an act of their will. In order to do this you have to balance judgment and mercy, especially when the situation calls for both. This is no easy task and needs to be done with God’s supernatural help and guidance.
The context for such help and guidance is that you always focus on what is best for your children in the dynamic of your relationship with them. In other words, you let your discipline always be for the good of your relationship with them and their relationship with God. This will help you to balance judgment and mercy because that, after all, is what has been given to you by the Lord as well.
Our philosophical differences became too great, and eventually we left that church as outcasts and, you guessed it, “rebels.” But the journey it set me on to find a loving and effective plan of parenting was invaluable.