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Gospel vital to parenting, speakers at ERLC conference say

NASHVILLE (BP) — Christian parents need the Gospel and grace-powered effort to rear children faithfully, a capacity crowd heard on the first day of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2017 national conference.

About 1,300 people gathered Thursday (Aug. 24) for “Parenting: Christ-centered Parenting in a Complex World” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The three-day event will conclude Aug. 26.

Parents are powerless without the Gospel, said J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

“The Bible teaches us our kids have more than an information problem,” Greear said in an address based on Psalm 127. “They’ve got a heart problem. They are spiritually dead. Their loves are disordered…. Only the power of God can change that.”

After sharing an illustration contrasting a helium-filled balloon with one that is not, Greear said, “The Gospel is the helium that transforms the heart.”

The wise parent is not seeking just obedience but “a heart that obeys God because it craves God,” he told the audience. “There is no technique that can guarantee the right heart to be developed in our children. That is something that only the new birth can do.”

He said, “It is faith, not technique, that is the most important element in parenting.

God “does not give you success as a parent because you did everything right, but it’s because you hoped in His grace,” Greear said. “The well of His grace never runs dry, never.”

Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., told the crowd, “A grace-driven, Gospel-fueled effort is essential in the war on pornography.”

While filters and warnings “are wise, they are not enough,” he said, adding that Christians need a different approach.

“[A] Gospel-centered approach is the only way to truly have teens who are not resembling the world,” Inserra said, noting that a “Gospel-centered home” creates an environment where a deep respect for women is learned and practiced.

Parenting is about cross bearing, ERLC President Russell Moore said.

“Parenting shows that the only way we can gain our lives is by losing them and the only way we can win is to lose,” Moore told attendees, “so we have the freedom to pour ourselves out for the next generation not because we want everyone to see how successful we were as parents, not because we feel the obligation to always do the right thing but because we love and in that love we have the ability to risk.”

Greear also urged parents to recognize their goal.

“Our kids were given to us for the purpose of sending them into the mission, and that changes how we think about rearing them,” he said.

If Christian parents treat children like furniture or art to be kept in the home instead of arrows to be sent out, they discourage them from discovering God’s plan, Greear said. “The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect children from all harm but to mobilize them for the mission of God.”

John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, pointed to four undercurrents that shape the current culture. Americans, he said, live in an age of: 1) Overwhelming information; 2) unbelievable connectivity and unbelievable loneliness; 3) perpetual adolescence; and 4) loss of identity.

Antidotes exist for these, Stonestreet said, including discernment, relationships and the reality that every person is made in the image of God.

“The most true thing about our cultural moment is the most true thing about any cultural moment, and that is Jesus Christ is risen from the dead,” he said.

Bible teacher and author Nancy Guthrie shared four ways God uses the hard seasons of parenting in Christians’ lives:

— To train them to trust God in new ways.

— To turn their focus toward what really matters.

— To make them desperate for God to do what only He can do.

— To persist in prayer.

“Nothing has put my claim of trusting God to the test quite like parenting,” Guthrie said. While two of her children died after six months because of a rare condition, “it’s trusting God with my living child that I have found so very hard,” she said.

Guthrie told the audience, “Give up fixing, but never stop praying. Give up worrying, but never stop praying. Give up despairing, but never stop praying.”

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly encouraged parents to allow their children to experience failure.

“Give your children the chance to fail … the chance to walk through adversity, and when you do it when they’re young, you can control it,” Daly said. “Love your kids, let them fail … and train them up in the faith.”

Dallas pastor Todd Wagner spoke on overcoming failure as a parent, and singer/songwriter Randall Goodgame shared about saturating children with God’s Word.

The first day of the conference also included two panel discussions, one on talking to children about difficult issues and another on helping children understand sex.