child training family grace

You Cannot Bind Their Hearts to Christ

November 5, 2010

You cannot bind the hearts of your children to Christ. Thinking you can becomes not merely a heavy burden on your shoulders, but an impossible burden. (Not to mention the grievous burden and weight it likely places upon your children.)

Over the past several weeks, I have listened to some audio lessons focusing on young mothering for a Sunday School series. In the course of the series, this statement made an appearance on several handouts. (Though two of the lessons in this series have been removed from the church website, the statement is still highlighted on a handout currently available here (Week 6)):

Our job as a Mom is to unbind the HEARTS  of our children from  foolishness and bind them to the HEART of the Lord Jesus Christ. ~to Make HEART Disciples  for Jesus Christ.

So why do I even highlight this? Because this is a GOSPEL issue.

How so?

It turns the focus away from Christ, and on to self.

First, this type of parenting is looking to something other than Christ (more specifically, in addition to) for a child’s salvation. It places the weight of the child’s outcome on the shoulders of the parents, and to some degree on the systematic, ritual use of a paddle (alluded to in the statement, specified in the lessons). But the Bible doesn’t do either.

It minimizes true Biblical teaching by elevating personal application.

Second, the teaching that I’ve heard in these lessons (not just specifically the statement highlighted above) elevates their applications of Scripture to that of creedal truth, and states that any alternatives to their very specific applications are directly opposed to Scripture. This is a dangerous place to go. Although application is important, in the end it is just…application. It is not canonized truth. It is not dogma. It is application. Application elevated as dogma denigrates that which truly is.

It teaches that God’s mercy is something that we must earn.

Third, another subtheme (and even direct quote) I hear is,  “The Lord is very merciful, if we do what we know is right, and we really do our best, if we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scriptures.”  (begins at 2:24, 10-24-2010, Lesson 8; currently removed) But my friends, that is not mercy. Anytime we attach “if” to receiving mercy, it ceases to be mercy.

It is easy to forget that parenting, much like going to the nations to make disciples, is an act of faith. It is not a contract with God where God says if you do this, then your children will turn out how you want. (Keep in mind that Proverbs are proverbs; not promises.) There is no such guarantee. I do what I do with my children because God tells me to, not because doing so guarantees a certain outcome. I do so in obedience and in faith. But I can only see my children from a human perspective; I cannot see their hearts as God can.

Why else bring do I this up? Well, when you believe that you are responsible for your children’s salvation, you will act accordingly.

You become a police officer, instead of an instructor. You conflate discipline and punishment. You become a perfectionist in your parenting. You place adult-size standards on child-size bodies and minds. (For example, a young parent is taught that a temper tantrum must always be met with a spanking. So, ever on the lookout, the well-meaning parent is determined to squelch that sign of manipulation, defiance, and selfishness as soon as it rears its ugly head in their beautiful child. They spank and spank until one, the other, or both can go no more. Then they learn that their 16-month-old had an ear infection. It was simply his way of attempting to deal with the pain. It was childishness, not foolishness. But the young parent was never offered that as a possibility, and so never questioned if something might be wrong with something other than his heart/will.)

Here’s an example from Sally Clarkson of what it sometimes looks like (this is similar to what I’ve heard from those who say, “we only spank for direct defiance, but are still doing it all day!”):

One mom said she was having to spank her child 6-8 times a day for not washing her hands before meals (found out the child was 2 1/2 years old!) I told her, “If you want her to like washing her hands, every time before you go to eat, you pick her up in your arms, take her to the sink and gently rub her hands with soap and sing a washing, rubbing, making hands clean and smell good song and then you kiss the hands and gently put the child in her high chair and she will want to wash her hands the rest of her life– and it will bring a good memory!”
The rest of her article mentioned above is an excellent resource for moms to help understand various needs of young children.
And another from Clay Clarkson, in Heartfelt Discipline (87):
“It always breaks my heart to see a strict mother harshly correcting an obviously exhausted young child. Both mother and child are being pushed to their limits, and as the situation worsens, the mother demands that the tired child behave immediately or face sure punishment. She offers no sympathy at all. I want to go pick up the child, speak softly to him, and comfort him. He doesn’t need discipline [punishment]; he needs a nap.”
And in a specific case where my husband and I observed this, the mother knew and even stated that her child was tired. But her conscience was trained to believe that she must still spank, simply because he was fussing.
Or, as Pastor Bob Bixby shares here about a related formula-based parenting series, “It turns every skirmish of the will into Armegeddon [sic].”
And of course, there is the recent headline that is the ultimate tragedy of believing you must punish until broken: the death of Lydia Schatz.
I have had the unfortunate privilege of seeing this type of parenting in action (and not just with those who attend this church, but also with others who subscribe to this type of teaching), but I want to be clear that I am not accusing all those who are in this class of practicing this type of parenting. Nor am I wishing to lift myself up as a source for parenting advice. My heart in sharing this is to point out the subtle teaching that leads away from Christ, and to remind myself and anyone who would read here, that “The Gospel is the Environment for Parenting.
Parenting is hard work no matter which route you take. Our flesh gravitates toward seeking out a formula, because we do want the best for our children; we do want to ensure a good ending to our parenting story. Formula-based parenting appeals to us because it usually promises something we desperately want. But we cannot see the full picture, be it good or bad. It is certainly my prayer that God will bind the hearts of my children to Christ; and I will labor and toil to nurture and instruct them in God’s Word. But it is the Spirit of God who transforms them. It’s not earned by my parenting, their behavior, or even my prayers. Just as every other aspect of our life must be Gospel-centered, so must our parenting.


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  • Kim Guilliams November 6, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Wow, Keren, this is so true. I am praying that the Lord teaches me grace-based parenting. It’s such a different concept from the one I was taught until just a few years ago. As I learn to relish God’s grace toward me, I am learning what it means to show grace to my son.

  • Elisabeth Moody November 6, 2010 at 11:40 am


    Thank you for posting such gospel-centered thoughts on parenting. I have been, and am being, encouraged in my walk with God, and in my new walk as a mom, by your example.


  • Alicia November 6, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    This is a well-written post, Keren. If only we could learn to live as children of God, hearing His voice and following his direction instead of always being on the lookout for a formula to follow we could avoid a lot of trouble. I hated Babywise as soon as I read it. It did have some helpful information (mostly relating to balancing breast feeding and solids) but I got the distinct impression that parental selfishness was being promoted by calling a child’s communication and needs selfishness. Bob Bixby’s article was spot-on.

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  • Hannah Goodman November 7, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Wow. Yes, yes, yes, to everything you wrote.

    Browsing around your blog, I realise that you and I have a lot in common, not the least that we went to school together–I think we were even dorm-mates once, or hall-mates. We didn’t really know each other back then (probably a good thing, since I was a total dork/idiot who lived very much for the vain glory of my peers, and failing at that, became rather bitter for a while after graduation). Praise God, grace abounded even back then, and thank Him, I have the eyes to see it now.

    Anyway, it’s funny, in an ironic way, how things change and we grow and turn into people we would not have imagined ten years ago, isn’t it? My thoughts and beliefs on parenting (as well as theology and the practical application of the same) are completely different than what I was raised to believe. I cringe when I think of the advice I freely and stupidly handed out in years past, before I was even a parent myself. This growth is good and a greater recognition and reliance on Grace is even better.

    Thanks for writing this post. I’ll be passing it around. 🙂

  • Dulce November 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you so much.

  • Sarah November 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Beautiful Post. So well written and so appropriate. It breaks my heart when I see parents behaving as you described, or when I feel like I’m expected to behave as you described. I look forward to reading more of our blog.

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  • TG November 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    This is so encouraging to me. . . I have it bookmarked for my “mommy encouragement files.” Thank you for the reminded to look to Jesus, look to the Gospel, lean into the Lord. . .

  • amy November 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    great thoughts. thank you!!

  • Karen Butler November 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Amen to everything you write here. My heart sunk as I read and remembered,this was my past paradigm–it was my job as a parent to bind their hearts, not the Holy Spirit’s. What an anxiety producing burden–and what a relief to give it all up to Christ, and trust in the ‘power of the indestructible life’ that is in them if they claim Him as their Savior.

    I tell a little of my story here, how I had to give up spanking my little daughter, who was struggling even at eighteen months with the serious mental health issues of which she was later diagnosed–she would tantrum for hours. I was also processing grief in this article for Lydia Schatz, as my dearest friend just at that time had been seeking to adopt two little girls from that very orphanage in Liberia.

  • Christie November 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Amen and Amen!

    • The Four Görnandts November 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm

      I’m not going to get into this (yeah right), but just want to say that I have been greatly blessed and strengthened through such series that are being criticized. Although he can be very sweet and loving, our 3 yr. old also has times that have literally brought me to tears because he was so disobedient (no ear aches, sickness, tiredness – just outright disobedience – complete with “NO!” stomping of foot and disobedient action.) I struggled with absolute frustration – at times didn’t even know where to start with him. Long story short, I listened to some of those child-training classes from a previous year and was so encouraged – not to go and beat the living daylights out my child, but to seek to be a godly mommy. Not to strive to look somewhere other than Christ, but to rest on Christ, the Word, as the basis of my “mommying”. Not to try to earn mercy, but to look to God for mercy on me and my children. There were lots of practical tips, like the hand-washing one – stuff about “choosing your battles”, etc.

      I have not yet listened to this year’s series that you are criticizing, but Keren, as you, I know most of the women personally who teach them. They are sweet, godly women whose heart is only to be a small help to young mommies like you and I. My heart went out to one of these women one year teaching the class. She was nervous. She had spent many many hours preparing the lesson, and according to her testimony, didn’t feel qualified to be teaching it. She had once been a little mommy too, just taking it a day at a time with her babies, like you and I trying to follow God’s way. Like you and I, at times making mistakes, sinning as a parent. I know I’m not saying anything new, and although there were some points I agreed with on your blog, I got the impression that you got a whole lot of negative from the lessons and not a lot of positive. Although I haven’t heard them, I’m sure there are things here and there in the lessons that I too might not 100% see eye-to-eye on with the lady teaching it, but accusing such classes as being a cause of child abuse, turning away from Christ, minimizing true Biblical teaching, teaching that God’s mercy is something we must earn, and bringing parents to believe that they are responsible for their children’s salvation – well, wow. Never would have gotten anything like that out of the ones I heard…

      I’m not getting into the spanking thing. We’ve all heard both sides, and my tired mommy brain isn’t going to be able to state it in some new-fangled way that sets everybody straight on the issue. 🙂 Just wanted to mention my concerns on what came across as pretty harsh criticism of the parenting classes.

      Just my 2 cents. 🙂

      • Meredith November 10, 2010 at 1:42 am

        I just wanted to say how helpful this article was for me. I have heard teaching like this and just glossed over it. Hopefully if they gave practical examples I picked up on it. But I think that statement about “your job” makes it really clear as to what is being taught.

  • sally Clarkson November 11, 2010 at 8:01 am

    So blessed to read such a great post and honored to be referred to! Clay’s book, “Heartfelt Discipline” will be coming out in a new version, we hope, in January. Hope to get it into the hands of more parents so they can understand the ways of grace and training in parenting. God bless you-excellent writing!

  • Laura November 12, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I have heard all of these Sunday School lessons—several of them more than once—and they have been very helpful for me personally as I teach my children and seek to love them and minister to them according to God’s word. That said, there are issues in your posts, two of which I would like to address.
    You state that this quote: “Our job as a Mom is to unbind the HEARTS of our children from foolishness and bind them to the HEART of the Lord Jesus Christ. ~to Make HEART Disciples for Jesus Christ” appeared on “several” handouts. I checked through the handouts a couple of times and that quote appeared at the beginning of only TWO handouts, both taught/led by the same teacher. As you know, there is generally a different teacher each week, so this is by no means the over-arching theme of the class (the first occurrence wasn’t even until the 6th week). The Scripture says that “Foolishness is BOUND UP in the heard of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15. This is what the teacher is referring to and GOD has given us this responsibility, not in and of our selves, but through His enabling.
    Second, you quote: “The Lord is very merciful, if we do what we know is right, and we really do our best, if we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scriptures.” I listened to this portion of the lesson again, and the correct quote is: “The Lord is very merciful. If we do what we know is right, and we really do our best; we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scripture, He will overrule our failures.” There are two definite sentences there and you didn’t even finish the second sentence. He will overrule when we fail. I’d call that mercy! If you are going to quote someone, then you need to quote them correctly. If you are going to publicly malign your sisters in Christ before the whole world (which is unbiblical anyway) then at least don’t use their words deceitfully.
    There are other issues in your post, but what I sincerely hope is that your readers will listen to the lessons with an open mind and see that what you say they contain is not the truth. I wholeheartedly agree that we all need to be reminded frequently that performance-based parenting is wrong, even though our flesh finds it easier to subscribe to, and that Christ is the only one who can do a work in our children’s hearts.

    • Hannah Goodman November 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

      I don’t usually answer to other people’s comments in other people’s blogs, but this one had been sitting gnawing at my mind for a while now and I thought I’d say something.

      Laura, let me address a few things you said in your commenting post: you said that you hope readers will have an open mind when they listen to this parenting series. I have to call you out on that! We as Christians are NOT caled to have “open minds.” In fact, we are called to wise and discerning, comparing what we hear with Scripture. It seems to me that Keren has done that.

      Your post does no such thing–you actually weave in a few cruel insults to Keren’s person, which are completely unfounded (and lest you claim that Keren did the same, let me point out that she never calls the speakers names or calls them liars–she’s examining their teaching and comparing them with what she knows to be true from Scripture. She doesn’t even mention the teachers’ names, because it’s all about the message, not the messanger.)

      You say that Keren is unbiblical in pointing out these errors in a public setting (you said it was “for the whole world”), but THAT is an unbiblical concept. Think about it, if calling out public Biblical error is something that must only be done in private, then the Apostle Paul’s ministry was a complete sham, since he spent a TON of time doing that. The passage of Scripture that you think says we must keep all disagreement quiet doesn’t say what you think it means–it doesn’t apply to puplic preaching and teaching. Things like this should be swept under a rug.

      (Also, let me inform you that, according to your statements, you have sinned. You say it’s unbiblical to “publicaly malign you sisters in Christ,” yet you do it in your post when you call Keren a liar. You say that you hope her readers will realize that what she says is not the truth. That’s calling her a liar. Why is it, according to your Biblical standards, that it’s not okay for Keren to publicaly make her concerns and findings known, but it IS okay for you to call her a Scripture-violator in return? That’s a double standard, Laura.)

      Look, the whole parenting issue is a touchy one amongst Christians. It is. And Keren has been careful not to name names or point accusing fingers, which is something I hugely appreciate. She’s focusing on the words, the message. You accuse her of some awful things, and your criticisms are very nit-picky (come on–she used the word “several” instead of “a couple,” and she didn’t quote two sentences instead of one, and that makes her a fraud? Really?) Even if I disagreed with Keren’s conclusions, which, in this case I don’t, I’d cheer, because she’s gone to the Scriptures for her answers. We should all do that.

      • Good Grief November 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm

        Hannah. I understand you are trying to defend your friend, but I don’t think you really thought carefully through your response.

        An open mind is needed when listening to the lessons. Not a blank slate as you are implying, but I’m sure what Laura meant was a mind that has not pre-judged the lesson based on what Keren said.

        For Laura to address a public post, publicly is not hypocritical. I don’t think she attacked Keren, but tried to corrected Keren’s mis-statements. What is hypocritical is to intentionally malign other others under the guise of being more biblical. Keren said/implied that these teachers believe and teach certain things. Laura is pointing out they are not teaching what Keren said.

        Also, Keren did misquote (apparently intentionally) what the teachers said/wrote. That is not a cruel insult to correct her for it. It is a lie to intentionally mislead. Now, it is possible that Keren didn’t intentionally misquote, but judging on the overall post, I would seriously doubt that. To quote what she did so specifically would indicate she was listening to the lesson and knew there was more to the sentence.

        As for the Apostle Paul, He did not write to the Galatians and tell them all about how sinful the church in Corinth was. You seem to forget that the books of the NT were letters written to churches/individuals. He addresses the Corinthian Church’s sin with them and not the whole world. Had Keren addressed her concerns to the teacher/church then she would have done right. But again, I doubt she has done that judging from what I have read, and it’s not that she couldn’t. She knows all these people as she attended this church for quite some time.

        Laura did not sin. Keren misquoted these people with the intention of making people believe something about them that is not true. That is a lie. Laura just corrected these wrong statements but did not misrepresent what Keren said. That is a major difference.

        In your final paragraph say, “ And Keren has been careful not to name names or point accusing fingers, which is something I hugely appreciate.” Come-on, this statement is completely false and really discredits you. She has named names and pointed fingers by linking to the church’s website. How much more blatant can you get? That is like saying “Socialism is wrong” and linking to the President of the United States website. Did I name him specifically in my sentence? No, but you have no doubt who I am referring to. Now if that statement were not true, I would have just publicly maligned Obama, which is exactly what it appears Keren has intended. And that is sinful.

        A true friend would not cheer this.

        Ephesians 4:15

    • Rachel November 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      Keren heard the quote:

      [quote]“The Lord is very merciful, if we do what we know is right, and we really do our best, if we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scriptures.[/quote]

      Laura’s statement:
      [quote]I listened to this portion of the lesson again, and the correct quote is: “The Lord is very merciful. If we do what we know is right, and we really do our best; we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scripture, He will overrule our failures.” There are two definite sentences there and you didn’t even finish the second sentence.[/quote]

      I believe that Keren’s quote makes more sense than the way Laura heard it. First of all, Keren listed the time as a reference in her post (so she listened more than once and referred to it as she wrote her entry). This encourages the notion that she is earnest in her account and not seeking to mislead her readers.

      Second, the disputed, second “if” may not be clear on the audio, but the sentence structure suggests that a second “if” would be there. The structure most likely is two if-statements with a qualifier for each if-statement (“and we really do our best” and “and we are not disobedient to the Scripture” are the qualifiers).

      Third, the way that Laura heard/interpreted the audio creates an incomplete sentence in front of the semi-colon. This is important because that “if” at the beginning of the sentence means ONE of the surrounding clauses is dependent upon the if-statement. So, either “the Lord is very merciful” only IF we do what is right and do our best, OR “He will overrule our failures” only IF we do what is right and do our best. Either way, Keren’s point is made: Anytime we attach “if” to receiving mercy, it ceases to be mercy. Either way, our right behavior determines God’s behavior… which I hope we can all acknowledge is unthinkable.

  • Christy Zachs November 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Wow, ladies.

    First, I am not sure what this has to do with Keren’s personal character. If you read the comment earlier on in this thread, it appears that Hannah doesn’t even know Keren personally, just crossed paths before. So she is defending what is coming across here, not just a friend.

    I know that it is personally helpful for me, when reading a blog, to have links to what is being said. If what she said was untrue, it actually would have been better for her to not link to anything at all. In fact, I actually heard these messages before reading this, so I came to the conclusion that something far more harmful was being done that what I read here.

    And you say she used to attend this church? Well, why is she not there any longer? Maybe she was force to leave under bad circumstances. Or maybe they left because they were saddened by what was teaching. Or maybe no one knows. But doesn’t the fact that they were there and are no longer make you wonder if it would have actually not been a good thing for her to try to contact these teacher? And maybe she DID contact the teacher?

    I recently heard about some messages that the Pastor there preached about music. In fact, I listened to the sermon online myself. (There were links to it on facebook.) He publicly played songs that he said were sinful, and called the singers sinful. Did he contact those writers first?

    But beyond that, these messages were publicly available! I even saw others posting them on Facebook, both good and bad in their conclusions about them. And if she really wanted to point out the error in them, there’s a lot more that she could have included. I saw others dissecting these messages online in various places, and her estimation of these messages were actually quite kind, given what was being taught.

    ” ‎”In our day we do have to be careful about bruises, and causing welts when our children have to be in nurseries. . .” Minnick


    “”You are the God ordained heart surgeon.” Minnick

    There was a lot more to be said, and maybe someone else who has these things written down will comment here, too. But this church has a reputation for majoring on the tiny things and hurting people as they do.

    I, too, am not sure what the problem that you are bringing up is, Laura. The fact that that statement appeared at all should be a problem. And according to you it appeared twice? I often interpret several as anything two or more. What is your definition?

    And the quote you corrected still seems to say the same thing to me. God will overlook your failures if you’re trying hard enough? Not buying it.

    No one pointed out specific speakers here. There is one president, but there were multiple speakers. She didn’t even say they were sinning. I hope they aren’t teaching this type of thing on purpose, but maybe they are unaware of how harmful this type of teaching can be.

    The post here seems to speak the truth, but I don’t see in love in the ones I am responding to.

  • Karen Butler November 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    “The Lord is very merciful. If we do what we know is right, and we really do our best; we are not ignorant of the Scriptures and we are not disobedient to the Scripture, He will overrule our failures.”

    We do indeed serve a compassionate and merciful God, who is gracious to us in our sin and failure, but this does not mean we will escape the consequences of our sin and failure. I speak as one who has endured the agony of a runaway child, among other heartaches. God has mercifully restored our wayward children back to our hearts and home, but there was no overlooking by Him here, only the most painful chastisement that it is possible for a parent to endure.

    I speak openly about these things only to serve as a warning to other parents trapped in the anxiety producing models of parenting that make them the Saviour of their child’s soul. What a relief it is to begin to trust in the sovereignty of the Father instead of having to control every variable in their lives and respond to every discipline issue with a rote application of the rod. But we learned this trust only after very painful and expensive (spiritual, emotional and financial) consequences. Two of ours needed therapeutic boarding schools. We needed marraige counseling ourselves, to fully strengthen the sorely-tried bonds.

    Mark Gregston of Heartlight ministries, a Christian Boarding school for troubled teens, says one third of his population are kids of divorce, one third were adopted. The remaining third, he said, “are Baptist.”

    He is not indicting a denomination, (and my husband and I are about to join a SBC, so neither am I) he is simply stating poignantly what the writer of this blog is trying to say–it is grace-filled, Holy Spirit dependent parenting we need to get back to. Back to the Gospel lived out in our hearts, modeled in our homes with joy and winsomeness.

    It is His faithful presence that draws our childrens hearts to their only hope. To Him alone belongs the glory.

  • Laura November 22, 2010 at 9:36 am


    When I sat down to reply to your post November 12, my intent was only to present truth that I could corroborate through items in my possession (namely handouts and audio files), not to rebuke you or to even discuss things that are a matter of opinion or interpretation. Unfortunately, as I neared the end of my thoughts, I allowed my focus to stray and my flesh to present itself. I was reading in Matthew 18 a few nights ago and was convicted regarding my handling of the situation, and so I write now to ask your forgiveness. What I wanted to express could have been done without rebuking you, as that is a matter about which I should have found a way to contact you personally if I wanted to discuss it. I truly am sorry.

  • Erika May 5, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Wow, Keren. I am so sad that some people reading here don’t see the tragic danger of what is going on here. And if anyone is interested, the “missing lesson” that has since been removed from that church’s website can be listened to here:

    I respect you for not calling this church out by name, but I think that would have been highly appropriate as a warning to readers. This pastor of the church is often respected within his own little circles, and seems to have a way with words. I recently read a post elsewhere with some very concerning teachings coming from his pulpit. You may wish to check it out if you haven’t seen it already. 🙁 Just because a man can speak slowly, intellectually, and pedantically does not mean he is a holy man. Beware, readers and defenders, beware.