Shepherding a Child’s Heart | Book Review

As every biblical counselor knows, the heart is the wellspring of life. That is a point author Tedd Tripp makes early and often in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

In seeking to provide parents with a guide to childrearing based on biblical principles, Tripp makes it clear that true heart change—not just behavior modification—must be the goal of every parent. When the heart is engaged, the child comes to understand God’s standard, how far he or she falls from that standard and, ultimately, his or her need for Christ.

“When we miss the heart,” Tripp writes, “we miss the glory of God.” He then proceeds, through 19 chapters, to explain to his readers the biblical foundation and tools necessary to shepherd a child’s heart. Each chapter concludes with questions designed to help the reader apply what he or she has learned.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section identifies the goal of parenting and the methods described in God’s Word to accomplish this important task. The second half offers helpful guidance in applying those methods to three specific stages of development: infancy, childhood, and the teenage years.

The process starts, though, with parents understanding the nature and extent of their authority as shepherds.

“God calls you to be an authority in your child’s life,” Tripp writes. “You have the authority to act on behalf of God.” But Tripp cautions that this God-given authority comes with restrictions. “You may not try to shape the lives of your children as pleases you,” he writes, “but as pleases [God].” Doing so requires focusing on what Tripp calls “shaping influences”—the child’s makeup and life experiences—and his or her “Godward orientation.” He defines the latter with a question: “Does the child respond to God by faith or does he or she suppress the truth in unrighteousness, worshipping the creation instead of the creator?”

“Whatever the shaping influences of life,” Tripp writes, “it is the child’s Godward orientation that determines [the child’s] response to those shaping influences.”

Along the way, the author offers insightful examples from his experience as a father, pastor, counselor, and school administrator to illustrate how to impact both the shaping influences and the child’s Godward orientation.

Helping a child develop a sound Godward orientation requires using the proper biblical methods and rejecting the substitute methods popular in our culture today. Foremost on the list of biblical methods are communication and the rod (spanking).

Communication, Tripp writes, must be multifaceted and should include encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer. The author also covers the importance and biblical basis of the rod, which is an oft-frowned-upon method of discipline in today’s society. But Tripp points out that the use of the rod is an act of faith on the part of the parents because God has mandated its use. As Proverbs 23:14 says, “If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”

However, the rod is to be used judiciously and only to underscore the importance of obedience to God, “thus rescuing the child from his foolishness and death.” The rod is never to be applied in anger and must always be used in conjunction with loving communication. In the second half of his book Tripp gives specific guidance on administering timely, measured, and controlled discipline to specific age groups.

The ultimate goal in shepherding a child’s heart is to see the young person come to know God. The child needs to learn that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” Tripp writes.

Although Shepherding a Child’s Heart is written with parents and children in mind, the biblical truths it expounds are applicable to counselees of all ages, making it a worthwhile read for anyone involved in biblical counseling.

Helpful quotes

1. “You [parents] exercise authority as God’s agent. You may not direct your children for your own agenda or convenience.”

2. “Parenting is shepherding the hearts of your children in the ways of God’s wisdom.”

3. “We cannot be indifferent to methodology. Biblically, the method is as important as the objectives.”

4. “Shepherding the heart … means helping them understand themselves, God’s work, the ways of God, how sin works in the human heart, and how the gospel comes to them at the most profound levels of human need.”

Kevin Brown
Kevin spent 37 years working in sports journalism. He is a certified biblical counselor who serves in the counseling ministry at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, Washington. He and his wife, Gladys, have been married 39 years and have three grown children.
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