As a youth pastor, I have seen a wide spectrum of parents and their unique parenting strategies. Some have been good. Some have been bad. Some have been down right ugly. Though my own parenting experience is still little (my oldest is almost 3 years old), these observations from years of youth ministry taught me a lot about parenting. A lot about what I want to do as a parent and a lot about what I don’t want to do as a parent.

Here are three bad parenting strategies I observed on multiple occasions.

Parenting by Osmosis

Google defines osmosis as, “the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.” I watched lots of parents act as if their children will “unconsciously assimilate” their own (i.e. the parent’s) love for Jesus. These parents overemphasize the modeling portion of their duty at the neglect of their duty to intentionally teach them about Christ and his call to discipleship. They assume that their Christianity will rub off on their kids naturally.

The problem is that knowledge and love for Christ is not nurtured without intention. Kids fall into holes, not discipleship. To know and love Jesus, there are doctrines that need to be explained (1 Timothy 4:6). There are commandments that need to be taught (Matthew 28:20). There are costs that need to be counted (Luke 14:33). There are lots (lots and lots) of questions that need to be answered and re-answered over and over again. Parenting by osmosis makes the deadly mistake of believing kids drift toward faithfulness when in fact it’s the other way around. Intentionality is key in shepherding kids toward Christ. Without it our children will be adrift in the world’s river, floating whatever direction it takes them.

Parenting by Outsourcing

This is a favorite for many. These parents seem to know enough to understand their children needs some kind of intentional, spiritual shepherding, but instead of taking the responsibility themselves, they send their kids to the youth ministry to get it! They outsource their shepherding responsibility to their church’s youth pastor. Now, youth pastors exist to serve parents and youth and they should be looked to for help, but they should never (read: NEVER) be thought of or used as the primary shepherd of the church’s children. The parents are the primary youth pastors of their kids, not the church’s youth pastor. When parents outsource the shepherding responsibility to the youth pastor, they are choosing to not do what God has commanded them to do.

Not only does outsourcing let parents abdicate their shepherding responsibility, it also causes numerous problems for the children. First, it teaches the child to go to their pastor for any eternal matters since mom and dad have never seen too interested to help. This is unfortunate because a child spends only a few hours a week (maximum) with their youth pastor, but the rest of their time is with or around their parents. Outsourcing teaches kids that those they are around the most won’t help them with matters that are most important. Second, outsourcing tends to transfer a child’s heart away from their parents and toward their youth pastor. For many kids, the youth pastor is the guy who has told them about Jesus, taught them the Scriptures, and answered their tender/sensitive questions. As far as they’ve known, the youth pastor is the one who is able and willing to help them know their Lord; their parents are not. This is especially sad when, after their child comes to know and grow in Christ, the parents start trying to shepherd them and the kid resists since the parents never helped them before. Their allegiance has been given over to the youth pastor. This is sad and can be avoided. Don’t outsource your children because it may outsource their heart.

The parents are the primary youth pastors of their kids, not the church’s youth pastor. When parents outsource the shepherding responsibility to the youth pastor, they are choosing to not do what God has commanded them to do.

Parenting by Overwhelming

This last strategy does the exact opposite of the previous two. Parenting by osmosis and outsourcing abdicate the spiritual shepherding responsibility, but parenting by overwhelming takes it on in a crushing way. This is the parent who makes sure their family devotions never finish under two hours. They make sure that the family goes to every single church event, rain or shine. The rules are heavy and numerous and held with unbending strictness. Every shortcoming is mercilessly punished in the name of excellence and every question is answered with a verse and no explanation or discussion. With good intentions, these parents suffocate the life breath out of their children. The good news of the gospel quickly looses its sense of goodness. Often times, this kind of parenting creates kids who, once they go to college and get a little bit of freedom, dive headfirst into the world and its pleasures because their “obedience” up until that point was nothing more than forced, external restraint. Their behavior was dominated by their parents, but their hearts were never delighted by Christ. Their parents forced them into external submission to Christianity, but never shepherded them into internal adoration of Christ. Once the restraints leave, the true heart is revealed.

These are three pitfalls I have seen over my years as a youth pastor. There are more, no doubt, but there are not less. However, be not in despair! I don’t intend to end here. In a few days, I will post about the best parenting strategies I’ve seen from the numerous godly moms and dads who have gone through our youth ministry.

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