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Encouraging Parents with Unbelieving Children

Truth In Love 377

Is it the parents' fault if their children are unsaved? How can we encourage parents who have wayward children?

Aug 22, 2022

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me, Dr. Stuart Scott. He teaches in the graduate program of biblical counseling at the Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California. He’s had over 40 years of experience in counseling and pastoral ministry, and he’s the membership director here at ACBC and is also a fellow of our organization. Many of you have been supervised by Dr. Scott. Stuart’s an author, and he’s also married to his wife, Zondra. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. Stuart, I’m so grateful that you’ve come to help us talk about this topic. So, welcome back again to the podcast. 

Stuart Scott: Thank you, Dale. It’s wonderful to be here and even to address this topic, that’s a very sensitive one to a lot of parents.

Dale Johnson: It is very sensitive, Stuart, and it’s difficult to think through sometimes. I tell people often when I’m talking about parenting, parenting is not like a vending machine. You don’t do certain things, press a certain button and out come what you want, right? So, you can put in your money, you can press E5 and out come M&M’s, and that’s how vending machine works. Parenting doesn’t work like that. 

Stuart Scott: Now, you might want to repeat that again because as young parents, this is what we were thinking. You just follow this paint-by-numbers approach and the different material and parenting and you get the product. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and sometimes, honestly, I think we set false expectations where we want to be faithful to God. And we sort of have this expectation that God owes us something in return, and so, I really want us to deal with this because, you know, and now that we have older kids who are teenagers. One who’s about to leave home and go to college. I mean, we’ve certainly seen the full gamut of this and I want us to settle some fears. Calm some fears, encourage parents to stay the course, to keep the faith, and to press on with their responsibilities before a holy God. But then, also entrust these results to the Lord.

So, I want to start in a place that helps to settle some of these fears I think, because we make a lot of mistakes, I don’t know about you, but if we were confessing a lot of the mistakes that my wife and I have made, and me being chief among those, my goodness, we could be here all day. And that causes us in some ways to start asking the question, is it my fault that my kid turns out a certain way? All right. So, is it the fault of the parents if their children are unsaved or unbelieving? 

Stuart Scott: Well, there is nothing that is heavier on a parent’s heart than the salvation of their children. I mean that’s their greatest goal and their greatest desire, not a goal, but a desire, as goals are achievable. You can’t make it happen, so, it’s the greatest desire and it brings the greatest grief. The apostle Paul wrote about his desire for his kinsmen to be saved and in Romans chapter 9, he says, “I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” He said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed.” I would lose my salvation and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers. If he could trade his salvation, take their hell and give them his salvation. I mean, that’s a prayer that after he just dealt with all of the beauties of salvation in chapters 1 through 8. A deep anguish and it is there on the heart of every parent, but they’re born lost. You know, Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” There’s no one that’s born a believer, and so, all are lost. So, it’s not the fault of the parent if they have a lost children, that’s the way they come. And there’s no promise. Even in Romans 9, there’s no promise that God is obligated to save all of the children that Christian parents have. He has mercy on whom he has mercy, He has compassion on whom He has compassion. He’s a God who delights in saving. He does save children, but for parents, it’s not their fault that their child is unbelieving. They sometimes think and have been told that if they end up unsaved, when they leave the home, it was the parent’s fault. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s difficult and especially if you’re the one who’s enduring that reality. But it does beg the question, it starts to make you as a parent contemplate, look back, and be reminded, and even condemned of all the failures that you contributed. And listen, I do think there’s a reality in which can we contribute to the veil that’s already over the child’s face, absolutely. I think we can contribute.

The Bible makes clear that we have a strong influence. If you just look at the Commandments, for example, they’re is strong influence on the parents and our responsibilities in the social order that God has given in the influence that He’s provided that we have an influence on our children. But the point that you make theologically is that they are born into sin. Can we contribute to that? Of course. But we have to be cautious and very careful about how we think through this, and many, many parents with children who are just leaving the home or maybe, their teenage children are children who have been gone for a long time and they’ve been wayward. Parents will ask, “Is it my fault? What did I do or not do that’s causing my child to remain unsaved?” So, let’s ask that question, “Is it the fault of parents if the children do not get saved?”

Stuart Scott: No, it’s never going to be the fault of a parent. A parent can’t save them, but as you clearly brought out, can parents be negligent? Can they be provoking? Can they be a poor witness to their children? Yes, but the unbelief that the child has is their own. John chapter 3. It’s their own, and so is Ezekiel 18. Everyone’s responsible for their own sin. And parents aren’t to be blamed for their children’s sin, and children aren’t to be blamed for their parents and everyone is responsible for their own choices, their own sin, that is Ezekiel 18.

It was the proverb of the day to blame shift onto parents. So, Freud didn’t come up with that. That was going on way back even in the Old Testament. So, the parents aren’t to be blamed if the child is unsaved because God didn’t get it wrong. If they are elect, if God has chosen them before the foundation of the world, He’s going to save them, all that the father has given will come to the Lord in John 6 and John 10. He will save them if He so chooses to do that. But as you mentioned, they can make it may be even more of a turn-off on the children’s part if they don’t see Christ clearly, or they didn’t hear the instruction clearly or receive discipline clearly because of the parents. But I think for a lot of parents, if they’re honest, they would say, if the Lord did save my child, it was probably in spite of me, maybe not always because of me. But we’re just told to be faithful to instruct in the ways of the Lord, we’re told to be faithful and disciplining them in the sight of the Lord. That’s what the Lord calls us to. He doesn’t call us to save them. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, we have to be cautious and careful to think what’s the motivation God has given us to do these things. The motivation is not pragmatic, it’s not Lord, I’m doing this, so, that I will get something in return, right? Lord, I’m doing this to be faithful to you. So, my service here is to you in the way in which I raise my child and I think that’s critical.

You also bring up the point. You said it even several times already, that it begins to question our view of salvation, and how we think about who gives life. It’s God who gives life. We have to trust him in that and so, we can say very clearly it’s not our “fault” as we think through that now. But it begs the question of what are some of the hurdles that parents need to face and maybe even get over relative to this question.

Stuart Scott: In the church, there are many. One, just theology. You know, good doctrine, you have to keep coming back to, “What does Scripture say?” Because left to my own thinking, I can still just drift back into “if I had just done this different, my son would come to know the Lord, my daughter would come to the Lord.” You know, every parent will keep going to different things that they’ve done, if we don’t think, counseling is theological, it’s so important of doctrine matters. So, good theology on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. So, you hold the child responsible for the choices that they’re making, and unbelief towards God, and loving their sin, loving darkness more than they love light in John chapter 3.

Yeah, one of the hurdles is just the deep anguish that parents have to deal with, day in and day out. Every time they think about their child and things that they taught them, and now their child is choosing to go in a different direction, just anguish and it has different effects. Sometimes they just leave the home and they’re gone. Sometimes they’re around the home, sometimes they’re living in the home, it can be almost a daily anguish of going to the Lord for hope, going to the Lord, as Paul said, “he was sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And that is a good place, a great passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 6, where I’m sorrowful, but I’m always rejoicing. That helps parents put their hope and joy in the Lord.

And I think one of the hurdles for some in the church is those in ministry with the translation of Titus 1:6 where you have to have believing children, rather than the more preferred, I say preferred more, I think accurate grammatically theologically as they just have to be well managed, as 1 Peter 3 points out. And I think just the approval of other people. That’s a hurdle of how they’re viewing you in the church. Did you fail? And I think, for any parent, if they have, wherever they can remember things they’ve done wrong, make sure that they deal with their child with that, just go confess it. Children are often forgiving if you just go and remove the log out of your own eye. If they bring up something and say, “Well, you know, you did this and it was awful.” You go, “Well, it was awful. Please forgive me.” So, it doesn’t have to be, you know, a defensive thing. It’s just they only caught that. There were a whole lot more that I understand. So, it’s just having the posture of, you want to be blameless, and whenever they do bring up anything that was hurtful to them or sin against them, you just confess it. Ask God for forgiveness, ask them for forgiveness. Hopefully, they’ll grant it, but maybe they won’t, but you did what was right.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, you bring up two points that I want to make sure that we circle back to. The first one, I think about in relation to my own parenting is you know, we’ve sought diligently to teach and train our kids in the ways of the Lord. And those things are important never to neglect those things. But some of the most profound teaching for us has been when we failed and we have to go to our children in humility, and it shows that we’re on an equal playing field before a holy God. And some of the most profound teaching I think for them is we’re showing them that we fail and that they’re going to do the same, but there’s a way home, and you’re teaching them that idea. That there’s a way home, plus you’re being obedient to the Lord in ways you’ve sinned against your child and you’re modeling some of that I think in a helpful way.

Now, the second thing that you talked about is, that you sort of alluded to this. And I don’t want to pass by this. We sort of build this expectation that something’s wrong with me. I failed in some way, and listen, the church contributes to that. Can we just be honest? There are ways in which sometimes we feel that pressure in the church, that well, it seems like everybody else’s kids are making good decisions, and they’re running the path of honoring to the Lord and that seems really fun, but my kids aren’t doing that. What’s wrong with me? And sometimes the church can contribute to that. So, talk about some of the ways that churches sort of add to the discouragement of parents who have wayward children. 

Stuart Scott: Yeah, I think when they retreat away from the parents, when the church leadership or even people, they move away from them almost like a shunning of sorts that can go on in a church, where they’re removed out of leadership. They could be removed out of teaching, out of any kind of upfront ministry, as if you’re unqualified now because you have a child, who says, I don’t want the things of God right now. They’re just not interested, but the parents are being faithful. They’re trying to deal with the children. So, when you have leadership and church people who kind of move away as if you’re unclean as a parent, it sends a big message across that maybe we should just either look for a different church, or we’re just unusable for the Lord. And that’s so unfortunate. We rejoice with those who rejoice. We need to weep with those who weep. If they don’t call on them for anything, it’s like you almost don’t exist and they may not be intentional about it, you know, like they’re intending to move away from you, they just move away. They don’t want their kids around your kids. You’re just not looked upon anymore as useful at the time if you have a child that has left home or left past sized in some way, even though as parents you’re really trying to do your very best.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, it’s interesting how they’re sort of an assumption of insidious behavior that we assume and that’s not necessarily true. And certainly, we don’t want to excuse if there’s been parental behavior that’s been untoward and sinful. That’s definitely not what you’re talking about here, but yeah, you see this happening.

Now, one of the things I want to draw back to, I’m thinking of Ephesians 4, when elders of the church are called to equip us saints for the work of the ministry. And this is certainly one of those. So, when you think about parents ministering to their wayward children, what are some of the ways that the church can equip, and encourage parents who have wayward children? 

Stuart Scott: Well, there are different means that can be used. I mean, the Scripture would be the first and foremost. One verse that really helped me. There have been actually a couple here is Isaiah 1 verse 2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.” I’m going, I don’t, I can’t find any fault in parenting, God’s parenting that here, he understands, you know, he understands loving them, faithfully caring for them, instructing them, giving them the law, and yet they rebelled and they were held responsible, but don’t put the fault at God’s feet on that. And as you said, if they did, human parents sin, they needed to deal with that appropriately. I think praying for them. Praying for the parents’ understanding, they need support and help. Not to move away from them. Encourage them to maybe even have some outside, objective help.

I mean, when we were parents and went through a situation with one of our children saying they were unsaved, we invited a few elders to come to interview them, interview us. I mean, we want to know if they’re doing something, help us. And they did, they interviewed our children. They interviewed us each together separately. Of all people, I want to know, I don’t want to keep doing something, so that’s another way that I think can be encouraging to parents to allow someone else to come in. Just encouraging them to persevere when you see him at church. You just rejoice with those who rejoice when a child comes to know Christ and follow him, and we’re going to weep with those who weep, just be really sensitive, looking at the Bible, and saying I don’t find any perfect family in here in the Scripture. It’s just parents who sought to persevere and realizing that the Lord says His ear is not too heavy, He can’t hear and His arm not too short He can’t save. 

Dale Johnson: That’s right. I think about this and I’ll finish with this. And as I say this, I want you to get ready to give us some recommendations on some books. We need to meditate on this a little bit more. We need to think about this a little bit more, that might not be our personal experience, but we’re in fellowship with people who that’s their experience and we need to be sensitive. One of the things I try to tell parents that I think is very critical when we think in Scripture. Jeremiah 6, when the leaders of Israel did not teach the Word. They didn’t feed the sheep well. One of the things that he says, as a result of that, is that the people did not blush neither were they ashamed. And when I think of parenting, one of our primary roles is to make sure that children understand what they are guilty for before God.

One of the things the Freudian system does is try to remove all guilt. One of our jobs is to teach them the Scriptures in such a way where they understand the Commandments, that way they can understand the depth of forgiveness of Christ. So, I’m wanting to, people ask me, “Do you teach your kids to commandments?” Yes. Absolutely. Because I want a wall of the Commandments to be raised around their sinful heart that when they get to the world and the flesh and the fulfillment of that, I want them to sense proper and healthy guilt before God. Because that’s the thing that now helps him to see a deep need of the gospel and the beauty of the Gospel. Now, am I in charge of them responding? Am I in charge of awakening their hearts? No, but we have a responsibility to be faithful to the Lord and entrust him and that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word. And that’s a part of what you’re talking about here, and that doesn’t change whether they’re wayward or not. And so, we continue that ministry and encouragement trusting in this God who gives life the Bible says.

Now, I want to give you a chance to give a couple of recommendations that can be a good ministry to people out there, as we think about ministering to those who have wayward children, or if we find ourselves in a situation where that’s our life right now. 

Stuart Scott: It seems as if a majority of people that I’ve met who have a wayward child and unbelieving child, especially as in the adult stage later teens, they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t bring it up. They don’t talk about it. So, when they hear me bring up the subject, they come and they talk and they want help. I have four pages of front and back single-spaced of names of families that I just pray for. It’s just a lot out there. So, I put together a 31-day devotional book soon to come out with P&R, encouraging parents just one day after another, to encourage them to press on, to be faithful.

But some other books that have been helpful, one is called “Come Back, Barbara” by John Miller, and as a pastor his daughter wayward and it’s a discussion. It’s really interesting. God saved her eventually, but chapter-by-chapter of her journey and the parents’ journey, and it is so encouraging. It’s one of those tear-jerking kind of books, but praise God! God saw fit to save her, she’s serving the Lord, now. Another book is called “From Heartbroken to Hopeful.” It’s one of our ACBC counselors, Shirley Elliott, she has remarried now, her husband died. And now, she has remarried. I think her name, last name is Smith if I’m not mistaken, but Shirley Elliott called “From Heartbroken to Hopeful” and how loving a wayward child and still seeking to love her daughter. A new book just came out. Margy Tripp. Tedd’s wife wrote a book called, “It’s Not Too Late: Restoring Broken Relationships with Teenage and Adult Children.” Just some real practical helps to try to humble yourself. See what might be in the way. Pray for them. Just some real practical help. Those are a few recommendations.

Dale Johnson: Stuart, this is great. I really appreciate us speaking in this world, you in particular. And I hope this is an encouragement to those of you who have children who are wayward or unbelieving and that you would cling to the hope of the gospel. And I pray for us in the church that we would see this as a great ministry, where we weep with those who are weeping, this is heartbreaking, difficult stuff. And we have to cling to the Lord in moments like this for our hope. Thank you, brother. Appreciate it!

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