Can parents lead their children to be effective and influential Christians?

I’m not going to surprise any of my regular readers by stating that I believe that fathers should lead their children to pursue advanced degrees and to reach high positions of influence. I think it is the man’s job to survey the world, to decide where the battles are being fought, to encourage his children to be the best in every academic discipline, to push them to take on difficult practical tasks, to assess their strengths and weaknesses as they progress (not their likes and dislikes), and to push them towards success in areas where the battles are being fought and where they have talent.

So, for example, if I had a child, here are some areas I would steer him/her toward:

  • cosmology, to study the Big Bang and fine-tuning arguments
  • software engineering, to make tons of money and not have to conform to teacher’s expectations
  • philosophy, because that’s what William Lane Craig, Jay Richards and Stephen C. Meyer did
  • New Testament, because that’s what Gary Habermas, N.T. Wright, and Ben Witherington did
  • economics, as long as they went to Hillsdale/Grove City, then George Mason, because they could go on to politics
  • law, as long as they went to Hillsdale/Grove City, then George Mason, because they could go on to politics
  • biochemistry, because intelligent design is all bound up with the origin of life chemistry – but this is risky
  • paleontology, because the Cambrian explosion is an excellent apologetic argument – but this is very risky
  • dentist, because you can make a ton of money, and it’s not regulated
  • veterinarian, because you can make a ton of money, and it’s not regulated
  • mathematics professor, because you can influence children, but not be turfed out for your religion/politics
  • medical physics, you can make a ton of money and no risk of being discriminated against
  • bioinformatics, combine software engineering and biochemistry – but this is somewhat risky
  • social scientist working on social issues like marriage and parenting and social policy, but this is pretty risky

I want to lead my future children towards academic excellence and effective professions where they can exert an influence. I would do this by using things like rules, standards, accountability, and moral boundaries. I would teach my children to learn to sacrifice their happiness to love God more effectively. I would encourage them to take risks, work hard, be enterprising, and to earn and save money.

I’ve been practicing all of this over the years on my male and female friends. I encourage them to go back to school, get advanced degrees, bring in good speakers to church and universities, show debates, read good apologetics and economics books, earn and save money, etc. The consensus view , among men and women who I’ve challenged, is that all this hard work is not much fun, but that they loved the feeling of being confident in their faith, and that they loved having a worldview that was comprehensive – integrating science, politics, history, economics, philosophy, foreign policy, etc. And they felt that it made them feel closer to God because they liked having the experience of defending him.

Although the leading seems to work really well on friends, but as soon as you try it on girl friends, they get really mad. And they don’t think that it’s a good parenting style either. Some women say that children are random, that every child is as effective as any other, and that parents have to make children happy just as they are, or the children will rebel against high expectations and hard work, and become atheists. And worst of all, some women think that children need to be protected from the expectations, boundaries and standards of their own fathers. This is a father’s worst nightmare, and, along with fiscal liberalism and social liberalism, it disqualifies a woman from being marriageable. Women need to not only be comfortable with men leading the family through goal-directed parenting, but they need to encourage the men to be men.

So some women think that male parenting is bad for children, and doesn’t work to produce effect Christian kids.

But is it true?

Well consider two children of famous Christian apologists.

First, Lee Strobel’s son:

Kyle Strobel is a speaker, writer, and a practitioner of spiritual formation and community transformation. His main focus is on discipleship, spiritual formation, and creating a community of disciples who do the same. He has done masters work in Philosophy of Religion as well as New Testament. After doing further masters work in Spiritual Formation, Kyle has started his Ph.D in theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in order to help integrate the often divorced spheres of theology and spirituality.

Kyle has focused his ministry on developing and equipping people to live a Jesus way of life, which is also the subtitle to his book Metamorpha: Jesus as a way of life(Baker, April 2007). Kyle and his wife Kelli live in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Second, Josh McDowell’s son:

Head of the Bible Department at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools, where he teaches the courses on Philosophy, Theology, and Apologetics. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Sean received the “Educator of the Year” for San Juan Capistrano, California in 2008. His apologetics training was awarded Exemplary Status by the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists.

I’ve talked to Greg Koukl, and he is amazingly intense and thoughtful about how he is raising his kids. I asked him this personally. He has a plan. He’s put a lot of thought into it. I’m sure his wife supports him leading the children. Apologists are good at persuading other people, and that is exactly what you do with your friends… and with your children. If you are tough on your friends, and that works, then you can be sure that being tough on the kids will work too.

If I have children in the future, I will have to pull money away from the ministries and scholars and conferences that I like to sponsor. My friends will not be receiving gifts and books and lectures and debates. I will have a lot less time for writing and relationships with atheists and co-worker debates. I’ll have to work for many years more at a boring job to pay for stuff that’s just normal every day stuff. If I have to do all that, then I would like to see that my wife is prepared to raise children, is supportive and understanding of what men do in a family, and focused on serving God effectively. And I would like to see her value the fact that a man has demonstrated his ability to lead by building up his friends over the long-term into effective and influential Christians – by giving them time and money and setting high expectations and monitoring their progress. Women should not be afraid of men who have a track record of leading other people to be effective and influential. In fact, they should value it. What they should not value is moral relativism, postmodernism, epistemic relativism, a lack of long term mentoring relationships, ignorance, laziness, cowardice and submission to peer pressure. Men are not hairy women. And fathers are not mothers. And fathers should lead the family. And wives should support them, and take their leadership seriously and help them.

27 thoughts on “Can parents lead their children to be effective and influential Christians?”

  1. Very good post WK. If I could add anything to your last paragraph it would be:

    “Women, don’t value men like Dan Connor and Ray Barone.”


  2. Can parents lead their children to be effective and influential Christians?

    I’m not going to surprise any of my regular readers by stating that I believe that fathers should lead their children to pursue advanced degrees and to reach high positions of influence.

    I’m only asking a question because I’m curious. I believe that the Bible is quite clear that fathers (not mothers) are responsible for raising their children. I believe that fathers today are letting their kids down. I believe that children desperately need loving, dedicated fathers who will drive them to be what God wants them to be while their mothers nurture them. I’m very much in agreement with you. But I have to ask. Is it your belief that “to be effective and influential Christians” requires “advanced degrees” and “high positions of influence”?

    I am of the opinion that God uses people in all sorts of places. He needs less educated people to reach less educated people. He needs highly educated people to reach highly educated people. I can see that there is an apologetic battlefield that needs warriors, but it is my opinion that the biggest field of conflict is the vast middle ground, the 75% of America who self-identify as “Christians” but don’t believe in Christianity and don’t believe in absolute truth and don’t know Christ. They don’t need apologists, advanced degrees, or high positions of influence. They need someone to come alongside, someone with the Holy Spirit at work, to share the love of Christ and the Word of God and the truth in terms they understand. But, hey, that’s just me. You?


    1. Stan, two points. First, my concern is that mothers are blocking fathers from exercising leadership. And secondly, if people are born int he United States with all of these advantages, they need to push as hard as they can to rise to a position of influence. Like I said, I cried on the pages of the textbook when I learned calculus. But I didn’t care about crying – I wanted to have money to spend on Christian events.


      1. Look, is the father available or not? If he is just plain available to the child, the mom can only do so much to block any influence he has, leadership or otherwise, if in fact she really is actively trying to block him or if that’s just another excuse to not be involved with the child.

        I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard that WANT the father involved somehow, but HE is the one dropping the ball in every way among both married and single mothers.

        This, “mom blocking leadership” attitude is rather misplaced and a gross misdiagnosis of the problem. It’s another, blame the woman, blame the mother scheme letting men off the hook. “It’s the woman Thou gavest me…”

        Nice try, but way off target.

        This is another reason I hate CBMW teaching because it causes men to always assume that the woman is trying to usurp authority and to imagine blocking that most likely doesn’t exist except in the minds of men.


        1. I think women need to ask for this sort of shepherding behavior during the courtship. I have all my minions write reference letters for me. These are some famous guys who I have mentored for over 10 years from university days. I blog about some of them. If you want, I can send you a sample. They rave about my long-term mentoring to the courting candidate and that’s her way of seeing what kind of Dad I would be on paper. Then of course I shepherd her along through the courtship to give her a practical demonstration.


          1. Men are not called to shepherd their wives.

            I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be flexible and be able to submit in many situations in order to get along and partner with their husband in the important task raising children.

            But I am saying that it goes both ways.

            Men also need to be flexible and both keep in mind the common goal. Hopefully one they agreed on before they got married and had children.

            Men are not shepherds to their wives. You will find that no where in the Bible. Nor is the man called to be the high priest of the home. Jesus is the High Priest and we are all priests, male and female, unto God.

            The woman has responsiblity to her children whether her husband feels like delegating or not.
            She is responsible because of her God-given authority of being their mother.

            Why men need the notion that they ‘delegate’ what God has already given mothers, I’ll never know.

            Oh, yes, I know. It’s part of the curse.
            God warned Eve that, even though she will turn to her husband, he will use her turning towards him to rule over her and think he has all the authority and she has only what he delegates.


  3. stan: “I’m only asking a question because I’m curious. I believe that the Bible is quite clear that fathers (not mothers) are responsible for raising their children.”

    If you mean this the way it comes across, then why the push to get men into careers and away from the home and women away from careers and into the home?

    This makes no sense.

    It is not just the father’s responsibility to raise children.
    The mother is just as responsible. The reason there is extra instruction for the fathers is because they are the ones who are more likely to abandon the child.
    Moms abandond too, but not at near the rate of the father.


    1. Well, this is why I really struggle with men. Basically, in the days when men worked at home, they could do their leading. Now that they work outside of the home, they have to delegate to the wife. And yet the Christian men are so shallow in the way that they pick women. I have a friend who is a girl who e-mails me amazing e-mails about the way that she is able to coax men (men who she is not interested in romantically) to learn apologetics. I got one this morning from her where this guy was reading William Lane Craig essays and starting to get into apologetics. This is exactrly what men should be looking for so that they can delegate the most important job – the raising of the new William Lane Craig and Michele Bachmann – to someone qualified. Basically, he works with her during the courting and marriage and then she trains the kids. You pick a woman with good character and with intelligence for the job. But men are thinking that someone you can read a woman’s capabilities in her looks – it’s wrong.


    2. First, if you disagree that fathers are responsible, disagree from Scripture. That is, if the Bible holds fathers responsible, then disagree with the Bible, not with fathers (or me).

      Second, “responsible” means “responsible”, not “directly acting all the time as the sole influence”. The biblical hierarchy of a family is Christ -> Husband -> Wife -> Child. Wives are to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord”. So the father is to be responsible but not always “directly acting”. The mother is responsible as well, under her husband’s and Christ’s direction.

      Moms, by the way, are abandoning their kids at a horribly alarming rate these days. They seem to be in competition with failed fathers.


      1. The quote about “submitting to your husbands as to the Lord” puts a condition on the wife’s submission: it’s to a husband who is spiritually infallible (“as the Lord”).

        As sinners, this pretty much disqualifies all of you, right? All, except those as pure as Christ, that is. Christ, who always served others, Christ, who was, himself, single. Whose mother conceived him by being submissive to God–not to her husband.

        Not that any of you seem to pay attention to those small details.


        1. McS, it doesn’t say “if they’re like the Lord”, but “as to the Lord”. i.e. Submit to your husband, as you would submit to the Lord. Semantics matter and we don’t get to decide what they are.

          That is possibly the most counter-intuitive argument against submission that I’ve ever heard. You’re implying that Paul is making a snarky comment about only submitting to your husband if he’s perfect, as if Paul’s some sort of proto-feminist with a gender axe to grind. How ridiculous.


  4. You don’t have to be in a position of intellectual influence to do great things for the kingsom of God. It takes all kinds. Artists included. Its not all about apologetics, though that does have its important place.


  5. I think the issue here is not so much expectations, but what sort of expectations:

    Even though I am a guy, I would agree with your “stereotype woman” that expectations are bad insofar as they are expectations to perform up to a certain level rather than to use what God has given to its full capacity, or expectations to please men rather than God.

    Your children should not grow up fearing their dad more than God. It’s easy to train a child to be smart. I’m Asian, and I see that all the time. It’s a lot harder to train a child to be sold out for God in everything he does, intellectual, artistic, or otherwise.


  6. I agree with Casey too. While there is no excuse for intellectual laziness, we shouldn’t assume that the only way to do great things for the kingdom of God is to attain great credentials in the world of men.

    While Paul did great things for the kingdom of God with his great faith and intellect, so did uneducated men like Peter, James, and John.


    1. Everyone is going to be held to account for the talents they get, and how much they used them. I was born in a wealthy country. My parents were not. Less is expected of them. More is expected of me. It does no good to the Lord to explain why he is getting a crap ROI from me because my talents are for playing video games, although, in truth, I am pretty good at video games. He isn’t going to give a crap about what I like or what I am good at. To be his friend, is to be effective for him. Who cares if it makes me feel bad? Jesus wept. Jesus wept blood. He learned obedience through suffering.

      Not saying I’m going to make my kids cry over calculus, like I did, but I will sacrifice my time to personally tutor them in calculus. They will not drop out of calculus. They will get As in calculus. I will not consult with them about whether ballet is as effective for God as calculus. I will make that decision. And my wife will back my judgment about what is and is not effective, whether she agrees or not, based on her knowledge of what I know and what she knows I have done with mentoring others.


      1. “I will not consult with them”…?

        So you’re not going to use reason and logic to appeal to them? What happened to the value of apologetics? If your view is reasonable, then you should be able to at least hear their point of view. Sure, as their father you would get final say over what education, etc you are going to be paying for. But an “I will not even listen to you” attitude is not going to help your child see that the views you espouse (including the most important one, Chritianity) are reasonable things. And there will come a time when your children are no longer under your authority, when they need to be motivated internally to do good and be godly and to hold onto Christian faith.

        Look at this post from Nancy Pearcey:

        Another teen who is exploring alternative worldviews says his parents’ response is to denounce them: “You can’t prove that! You have no evidence.” As he tells me, “I need my parents to think ideas through with me, not just judge them.”

        When parents and leaders react to questions by shaming or blaming, they may well drive their teens away. Both of my students have recently announced that they no longer consider themselves Christians.

        They have become “leavers.”


        The researchers concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

        This is the danger of “not consulting” and just autocratically putting out a decree, refusing to even hear the child. This is true in all areas.


      2. A different era, Wintery. My father tells the story of when he enrolled in college out of high school. He wanted to camp and fish, so he enrolled in classes to become a forest ranger. When his father looked at his schedule (a week or two into the semester), he asked, “Where’s the math? Where’s the physics? Where’s the engineering? Go change your schedule.” My father didn’t balk. He was raised to obey his father and he did what he was told.

        As a result, my father became an engineer, retired at 55 with a comfortable pension, and has spent the last 25 years enjoying camping and fishing to his heart’s content.

        Today, of course, the parent needs to consult with the child and make choices that the child will like. I’m not against consulting with the child — working with their strengths isn’t a bad thing — but I am against letting children make the choices over what the parent thinks is best.


  7. I am curious what you mean by, “not have to conform to teacher’s expectations” and why that is specific to software engineering.

    I am also curious what you mean by certain paths being “risky”. Risky monetarily? Potential for impact? etc?


  8. In answer to your question “Can Parents lead their children to be effective and influential Christians”…probably.
    A better question is “Should parents lead their children to be effective and influential Christians”?
    A solemn warning is given in Matthew 7:21-23. “Many will say…we have done wonderful works in thy name, and Jesus will say to them I never knew you, depart from me”. How fearful.
    Who is judge of effectiveness and influence? Men/women of this world, Christian Philosophers, sinners.
    The God of Heaven has purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity (Hab 1:13), so Holy He cant even look on sin. So holy, the angels in Heaven veil their faces in His presence. Yet we have the audacity to think we can impress Him with our learning and intellect? He only looks to the finished work of Christ. Christ who lives to make intercession for us. God sees the sacrifice His beloved Son made and for His sake alone we are accepted.
    Christ did everything needed for salvation of souls, and people are utterly deluded if they think that anything they “do” makes us in any way righteous, more accepted or less sinful. “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Is 64:6). Faith in Him, and Grace to live according to the Law of God and by the Word of God is all I need, and He has told me His Grace is sufficient for me.
    I have an influencial responsible, God glorifying career for which I rely on His mercy and grace daily to be able to do it, (and no, its not on your list of worthy careers).
    I doubt my simple attitude to faith is going to impress or influence except perhaps, the people who think I’m “different” and ask me about my faith. If God blesses what I say to them, then blessed be His glorious name.
    Its interesting that when Jesus said “Come unto me and I will give you rest” He also says in the same statement “I thank thee O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt 11:25-28).
    I am happy to be one of those babes: an unwise, undeserving wretched sinner, who is safe for eternity. I give thanks to God for my beloved parents who did not influence my career choice, but simply taught me by their example of a Godly life, the truth.
    By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9)


    1. Thanks for writing that Dina. I’m sure a lot of people will agree with you. I could not disagree with you more.

      You last comment is here, in case anyone wants to read it:

      And if you could comment on this post, I would be very happy:

      If you have time and an interest in the topic.


    2. Dina, I think you’ve missed the point of this post. Nobody’s advocating a works-based approach to salvation or thinking we can “impress” God with our deeds. The question is about how parents who have brought their children up in the Lord can train them in obedience in their choice of vocation.


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