“Thanks to my research related to child development and spiritual growth, I have become convinced that the spiritual war occurring in individuals lives is pretty much won or lost by age thirteen.” (Revolutionary Parenting: Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions, p. xvi)
George Barna is known as the eminent pollster of American spirituality and the church. When it comes to understanding the current state of societal beliefs, he’s compelling to read because much of his conclusions are based on original research done by his Barna Research Group. Still, I wasn’t convinced a statistician would make a good parenting guru.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and was personally challenged by it in many ways.
Barna has spent years studying why children who have been raised in the church are leaving it as young adults. For both church leaders and parents this is distressing. Why are children leaving the faith? What can parents do to keep them?
Drawing on data from his past research, in this book he focuses on those who were raised in the church and have stayed. He conducted many personal interviews with young Christians—both with them and their parents. His purpose was to find essential steps their parents took to shape the spiritual lives of their kids.
Drawing on this research, the cover of the book promises to show parents how to raise your kids to “become spiritual champions.”
If you are looking for a Bible study on parenting, this is not the book for you. Much of the book could be called “biblical,” but only in the sense that it inadvertently teaches some biblical principles. It is not an exegetical work taking parents back to the Bible.
Some reviewers probably will find this disturbing because it gives readers the impression that parents should be “research-driven” in their parenting methods rather than Word-driven. I came away with a different impression, however. Barna’s approach to researching “what works” was informed by his own Christian presuppositions, a point he makes very clear early in the book. Moreover, I found his overall message and methods very sound. After Barna’s extensive research, interviewing, and analysis, his report summarizes and confirms principles that have been embedded in the pages of Scripture for 2000 years. In this sense, Barna’s book really serves as a powerful apologetic of Biblical parenting. It reminded me somewhat of the Proverbs, presenting parents not with “formulas” for success, but rather collecting time-tested experiences and wisdom from generations past.
I was somewhat disappointed that more of the survey data was not fully reported in the book.
Also, I won’t say I agree with everything Barna expresses. Because the book is driven by the data he collected, he gives the impression that there is was no consensus on how to discipline your children, therefore no “right” way to do it. I think the Scriptures offer a little more guidance than this. Plus, being so data-driven, the book leaves some impression that good parenting always results in gospel-centered kids, leaving little room for the sovereign work of God.
7 Things I Learned
1. I can’t impart what I don’t have. I’ve heard it said, “You can teach what you know, but your reproduce what you are.” Revolutionary Parenting brought this principle out in living color. This book challenges parents to not just teach, but show their children what total commitment to God looks like. Barna reminds parents that children who continue in the faith are those who saw real worship modeled before their eyes. This leaves a lasting impression on them.
Parents who seamlessly integrate their faith with their everyday life, who can see all of life through a spiritual lens, can much more naturally train their children to do the same.
2. Be vision-oriented. Barna encourages parents, “Own a detailed vision of what your child will blossom into as an adult.” This vision should be character-oriented: a vision for their child’s heart, not just their behavior. This vision includes the development of spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, and Bible study.
100% of the parents Barna interviewed said the most important focus of their child raising was the development of godly character, as opposed to honing their skills or teaching information.
Having a vision for a child’s character naturally involves a desire to see your children be saved, but according to Barna, revolutionary parents don’t make “evangelizing” their child the goal. Rather, they disciple their children and allow their children’s faith to shape over time.
Having a clear vision is what helps parents to stay on course in their parenting goals. They don’t become easily discouraged because they know they have a long-term vision: they know the effects of their parenting may not be seen for years. They aren’t easily distracted. Guided by their vision they set goals and benchmarks of spiritual development for their children.
3. Nothing replaces lots of time together. Barna challenges the paradigm of “quality time” (just planning special times together). Revolutionary parents intentionally spend large quantities of time with their child, often spending 90 to 120 minutes every day in engaging verbal dialogue with their children. They listen a lot. They drive discussion (dialogue, not monologue). They make time with their children the “default mode” of life. And as a result they build an enduring relationship with their kids, built on love and trust.
Barna summarizes, “Your impact on your childrens’ lives is proportional to the depth of the relationship you have fostered with them.” Revolutionary parents have this attitude: being a parent is my real job; my paid work is just an addendum to life.
4. Most character training happens in the day-to-day conversations. Revolutionary parents know how to train in the moment. They are always looking for ways to integrate God-talk into daily life. They are looking to show their children how the Bible speaks to the day-to-day matters of life. Good parents aren’t afraid of being repetitive with their life lessons. They have family conversations that bring faith into their shared lives. They are “in the trench” active with their children.
“Child rearing,” says Barna, “is the art of handling the unexpected without losing sight of the ultimate goal.”
5. Children must have rules and norms. Barna doesn’t give solid guidelines about discipline issues (spankings, time-out, groundings, etc.) but he does stress the importance of children growing up in a predictable environment where norms are established and rules are firm. Children need clear guidelines, not freedom. For parents, the key is consistency, both in stating rules and giving consequences for disobedience. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Barna emphasizes the importance of establishing standards with your children, that is, by involving them in the process of rule-making. Children need to not only be clear on the rules, they also need to be told the rationale behind them. Revolutionary parents explain how their family’s rules are in line with their values. This goes for behavioral standards, media limits, curfews, chores, choosing friends, and spiritual disciplines.
Based on his research, Barna believes the best parents are those who know how to balance parental authority with genuine warmth. A revolutionary parent does not try to be their child’s “best friend” but rather an authoritative coach. When you discipline, do it with dignity.
6. Children must have formal training. While Barna doesn’t give parents a recipe for family devotions, he does believe revolutionary parents are intentional about training their children in the ways of God. “God-time” should be God-honoring, prayerful, and worshipful. Good parents teach their children how to pray and how to understand the Bible. They also intentionally teach their children about other worldviews and, as they get older, how to think critically about God, their world, themselves, and other perspectives. Lastly, revolutionary parents also make serving the community together a part of their family’s identity.
7. Prayer is vital. This is indispensable. Good parents know only God can really change their children’s hearts. They pray regularly for them. They fast for them.
. . . .
I believe this book is valuable precisely because of the research that went into it. In the endless sea of parenting literature it stands out simply because it is well-researched. It will give parents a real sense that it is possible to raise real spiritual champions for the kingdom of God.