Church Matters: Why Won’t Johnny Listen to Me?

An open letter to modern-day parents

Your children are out of control. Better stated, it is you who have “lost control” and the kids (using fear tactics, guilt, and emotional manipulation) who are captaining your ship. Devoid of behavioral guardrails and two attentively present parents, you’ve fashioned your household into little more than a media dispensary, where your overly-stimulated children are graduating to the values portrayed by their video heroes.

Anticipating their disregard for your instructions, you add forcefulness to your voice—threatening and repeating, complete with “counting to three” and “This time I REALLY mean it!” But once they figure out you won’t really “throw away ALL the toys” or “never let you watch ANY videos ANYmore,” you have exchanged the integrity of your word for temporary compliance.

The Bible instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6. Did you know the entire book of Proverbs is fundamentally a parenting book? Have you looked at it? Unfortunately, religious institutions have done a poor job of equipping people for godly parenting because that requires taking unpopular stands and purporting ideals and moral absolutes that our “enlightened society” has eschewed.

But you are at a crossroads with your children . . . and you’re set up to fail—unless you make some hard, personally inconvenient, and counter-cultural decisions, and soon.

The following is a partial list of parenting guidelines that every modern parent should seriously consider. Many of them will offend you. But they represent the ideal. To be sure, there will be legitimate exceptions to these ideals, such as the provision of a two-parent home, for example. But the law of the ideal recognizes that the farther we stray from that ideal, the more vulnerable we are.

We’ve become a society which discredits ideals by their exceptions, and so are unable to learn from them.  But they are a real, immovable, and life-changing hope for all who will adopt them.

  1. Establish yourself and your household upon the Word of God—Your children will sooner become who you are than who you tell them to be. Get into a Bible-believing church that teaches and supports godly parenting. Even if you’re not “religious,” you will glean wisdom and establish relationships that will benefit you and your children for a lifetime.
  2. Marry the one you live with (or make babies with)—Stop sleeping around or giving yourself away to those who won’t commit their lives, income, and involvement to you and your current or subsequent babies. No parent should subject their child to planned illegitimacy, right? Legal marriage—and not “love”—is the commitment, and a married, two-parent home is God’s design.
  3. Discover the playpen and high Chair—and take a pack-n-play with you everywhere! Children need to learn to endure boundaries. Artificial confinement teaches this, ensures safety, and allows you (and others) to enjoy the presence of your children. Their boundaries are your liberation.
  4. First-time obedience—Tell a child something once. If they disobey, punish them immediately. Why should the count of “three” be any different than “one”? If they demand, “Why?” before obedience, their response is equivalent to disobedience. If anything, answer to them, “After you obey, I’ll explain it to you.” If they’re merely seeking clarification of your instructions, then it is coming from a compliant heart! First-time obedience needs to become the culture and norm of your home. Don’t fall into the trap of reasoning with a youngster as a precondition of their compliance. Much like basic Christian discipleship, we learn God’s ways not by incessant pursuit of understanding, but by first obeying Him. It is then we learn to think like Him, as well.
  5. Stay-at-home Mom—Yes, I hear the chorus of exceptions! “Father-abandonment,” “unemployed dad,” “sick or disabled father.” In my own family, we have experienced legitimate cases of all of these, which required a mother to work. But can we still acknowledge that it’s not the ideal? I’m counseling that you not intentionally plan your life and parenting according to the notion that daycare can replace mom. It most certainly cannot! Neither can grandma or a babysitter. And the farther we migrate from the ideal—for whatever reason, legitimate or not—the result is still that someone other than you gets to impart their brand of training and morals (or lack thereof) into the foundation of your child. It is an inequity of values to intentionally exchange that unredeemable mommy time with your children in the name of “giving your children more” financially. Moving into a small trailer and driving an old car constitute wiser investments than all the riches and opportunities you’re hoping will compensate for your absence.
  6. Homeschool, if possible—Homeschooling is about moral character, family, and limiting random socialization, NOT education (or winning spelling bees). But studies continue to affirm that the fruit of these initiatives is superior academics, with homeschooled students ranking compositely in the 86th percentile in nationally standardized tests (National Home Education Research Institute’s Progress Report, 2009). Modern curricula with online options and step-by-step teaching guides and tests have made it more feasible than ever for the average family to excel at this, with the per-child cost in many cases averaging under $50/month.
  7. Never demean your child—publicly or privately, with your words or attitudes, or with eye rolling or anger. Your child must never be the recipient of your disrespect, disregard, or cutting words. And never say anything derogatory to another person about them . . . even as a joke. “Hey, do you want to buy a bratty kid?” Your hard truths and corrections can be said with love and rationality. Speaking well of your spouse/partner/ex in front of them (HARD though it may be) will demonstrate moral reserve that will serve them well when it comes to you.

This is a short list, but a good one. Ideals are benchmarks to pursue. Be sure to exhibit grace toward yourself and others through the journey, realizing we never fully attain the ideals we aspire to. If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, just drop me an email. I’d love to be of assistance.

  • Pastor Michael Warner
  • Michael Warner serves as Pastor of Worship & Community at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre. Contact Michael at

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