Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Parent with the Real World in Mind

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Published Apr 06, 2010
Parent with the Real World in Mind

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark Matlock's new book, Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Parents Living in the Real World (Zondervan, 2010). 

There's no magic formula you can use to make sure that your kids fare well in this fallen world.  So you don't need to feel guilty if you don't keep up with certain behaviors, such as regular family devotions.  And you don't need to feel shame if your parenting sometimes falls short of what of what it should be, and you find yourself saying or doing something wrong with your kids.

What matters most is for your kids to see you living for Jesus in a real way - simply doing your best to live faithfully.  If you do that, your kids will learn what real faith in action looks like in the midst of the world's sinful realities.  They'll witness the ultimate reality that faith can overcome anything the world throws at them.

Here's how you become real world parents:

Embrace grace.  Rest assured that God loves you and your family just as you are right now.  Rather than worrying about how you are or aren't performing as a parent, draw confidence from the fact that God has forgiven and accepted you, and He loves you deeply and unconditionally.  Decide to respond to God's love for you by loving Him back through living as faithfully as you can.

Consider what story you're telling.  Every day, you're telling your kids a story by the way you live your life, even when you don't speak a word.  What story are you telling your kids about the world, and especially about the way you live with and for God over time?  It's crucial that you're communicating God's worldview to your kids, instead of telling them to believe what the Bible says but then living according to the world's values rather than what God values. 

Ask God to give you His perspective on every part of your life so you can recognize how the world is influencing you in unhealthy ways.  Confess and repent of each way that you've been living the wrong story, and pray for the power you need to live the story God wants you to live.  Love God with all of your heart and invite Him to change you from the inside out.  Then your life will communicate the right story to your kids.

Give your kids what they need to be spiritually healthy.  Let these key parenting values guide you as you raise your kids: setting strong and clear expectations with boundaries, demands, and accountability (while explaining the purpose of those expectations to your kids); expressing emotional warmth and closeness to your kids so they feel loved by you; and allowing your kids to freely express their own ideas (even when they conflict with your own), listening to their ideas respectfully, and letting your kids gradually make more and more of their own decisions.

Let go of broken strategies for competing with the world's story.  Trying to isolate your kids from the real world won't ultimately protect them, because they're destined to grow up and experience it for themselves someday - and need to be prepared to make wise decisions for themselves when encountering harsh realities.  So whenever your kids are exposed to something you wish they weren't, use that opportunity to help them discover how God views the situation.  Attempting to regulate the world's influence on your kids in certain areas - by telling them what they can't do - can create a mindset in your kids where they just follow rules without understanding the big picture of God's story and how it relates to each situation.  Your goal shouldn't be protecting your kids for the sake of keeping them innocent; it should be teaching them how to think about the world's values so they'll be able to turn away from wrong values on their own.  Trying to compartmentalize your family's life - going to church and doing other Christian activities, while allowing your kids to live just the same way as non-Christian kids - will also fail.  Rather than conforming to the world, God calls you and everyone in your family to be transformed by inviting the Holy Spirit to renew your minds regularly.

Define success the way God does.  Think about what your family is really valuing.  In what do you place your hope or put your sense of security?  What do you reward?  What or whom do you admire?  What do you financially support?  Reject the world's definition of success: wisdom, strength, or riches.  Talk and pray together as a family about how you can all more successfully pursue what matters most to God: knowing and loving Him, as well as loving and serving other people.

Demonstrate wisdom.  Ask God to give you a deep, practical understanding of what He is up to in the world so you can walk in His storyline every day and your kids can learn from your good example.

Show your kids how to make great decisions.  Rather than making all of your kids' choices for them or trying to fix their wrong choices and rescue them from the consequences, let them see your own decision-making process and learn how to make great decisions on their own.  Slow down when facing decisions to avoid impulsiveness that can lead to foolish choices.  Gather enough information to make well-informed decisions that take into account various perspectives on each situation.  Question your motives honestly before taking action on decisions you're considering.  Ask God to help you make hard decisions, and use the Bible's principles for guidance in the process.  Then commit your decisions to God, keeping in mind that God Himself is much bigger than any particular decision and can use whatever choices you make to accomplish good purposes.

Fail successfully.  You can fail successfully when you learn from your failures, and your kids learn how to do the same.  Define success in the midst of failure as the ability to continue trusting God even when you fail.

Help your kids see the world's stories through the lens of God's story.  Teach your kids how to think critically about the various stories they encounter through the world's media: movies, TV shows, music, books, the Internet, video games, etc.  Discuss together what ways those stories do or don't fit into what the Bible - God's story - tells them.  When choosing whether or not to allow your kids to consume a particular media story, ask whether or doing so will make it easier for them to sin or to do something good for God.

Encourage your kids to follow wherever God leads them.  Decide to urge your kids to pursue what God wants for them in life - even when that conflicts with what you want for them.  Encourage them to take whatever risks and make whatever sacrifices are necessary for them to follow wherever God leads them, so they can fully play the roles He intends for them in His great story.

April 7, 2010

Adapted from Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Parents Living in the Real World, copyright 2010 by Mark Matlock.  Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich.,   

Mark Matlock has been working with youth pastors, students, and parents for two decades. He's vice president of event content at Youth Specialties and founder of WisdomWorks Ministries and PlanetWisdom.  He's the author of several books, including The Wisdom On series, Living a Life That Matters, and Don't Buy The Lie. Mark lives in Texas with his wife Jade and their two children.  To learn more, visit