Is it possible to have a teen in your home graduating from high school, leaving your nest with:

  • A desire to serve the Lord wherever God has him/her in life?
  • A soft, pliable heart that responds Biblically to the authorities placed over him?
  • A selfless world-view that seeks to de-escalate self and escalate others?

Not only do I think this is possible – I have seen it happen in many families.  And God willing, in ours also.  But like anything worthwhile in life, the end goal doesn’t just magically appear.  You need to start with the end in mind as you’re work from the beginning.

Parents – can I ask you a couple of questions?  Do you want:

  • Kids that whine when you tell them to do something?
  • Kids that have to be badgered to obey?
  • Kids that throw tantrums when they don’t get their own way?

Hopefully you answered “No” to all three of those.  Well, you can do something about it.  It begins with knowing what acceptable behavior looks like with your child.  It begins with setting a standard for compliance that 99% of the time must be followed without wavering. And when you consistently follow the standard, you get results.  Guaranteed.

But, following the standard requires a certain tenacity in parental shepherding that seems to be lacking these days.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that today’s parents lack tenacity, it’s just that we can lack tenacity in life for the most important things (like our marriages, like parenting, etc.).  Unless you’re willing to train your kids like you’re willing to train for that 5k, your kids will end up whining, rarely obeying the first time and growing up with horrible attitudes.

Wow – not that we’ve got that out of the way…don’t be discouraged!  My wife and I faced plenty of rough spots when it came to parenting – times where we were both ready to pull each other’s hair out.  But with some readjustments and coaching, getting on track with parental shepherding is possible and will bear good fruit!

Here’s the parenting grid that we used for raising our kids (all of these are not original with us – we’ve had great coaching from some amazing couples over the years). These are 4 obedience principles that children need to be taught early.  Teach your kids these principles in the form of a question/answer.  You ask the question, they give the answer that follows.

WHY Do We Obey? Because God says to.

God has put people in charge of us for a reason: to help us, to give us direction in life; to protect us from harm, to teach us.  We are to respond correctly to authority because this how God has set up life.  God is to be obeyed in this area of life.  To reject God’s teaching is sin.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1-3 (NIV)

WHO Do We Obey? We obey our authorities.

God has put people over us as our authorities: Parents (Eph. 6:1,2), Teachers, Baby-sitters, Police, etc.  Whenever we’re under a designated authority, we should obey that authority like we are obeying God (unless the authority is not following God’s Word).

Kids need to know that when a non-parental authority is present in an authority role (i.e. a babysitter), that authority is to be obeyed.  This has to be reinforced and taught.  Authorities are to be respected, and not treated like you would a buddy or a brother or sister.

Kids need to know they are not in charge.  Kids need to know that you as their parent call the shots, not them.  Kids need to know that regardless of how they’re thinking and feeling you will be obeyed.

HOW do we obey? With a happy heart.

This isn’t so much obeying with a smile on your face (although there’s definitely a place for that), this is about obeying from the heart.  This is about obeying in joyful, obedient submission.  This is about rejecting outward conformity and being on board with Mom and Dad’s instruction from the heart.

There are plenty of Scriptures that talk about obedience from the heart.  Here’s one of them:

“But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.” Romans 6:17 (NIV).

Kids need to be taught that grumpy, angry or disgruntled obedience is not God-honoring obedience coming from the heart.  This type of obedience, left unchecked, results in legalism.  Kids need to know that this type of obedience will not be tolerated and will be disciplined.

WHEN do we obey? The first time every time.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1 (NIV).

Obedience is this: when a clear, non-negotiable directive is given, it is executed “without challenge, excuse or delay” (Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart).  What does that mean?  It means when you tell your child what to do, they do it immediately with zero resistance.  Sounds almost too good to be true, right?  It’s not too good to be true.  Again, I have seen Biblical obedience take place with many kids in many families.  First steps in making this a reality?

  1. Pay attention to what your kids are saying and doing when you give them instruction. It can be easy to do: you give an instruction and you don’t watch your kids to see how they respond.  When you are giving direction – you must make eye contact with your child.  Watch closely to answers, actions and attitudes.
  2. Consistency. Yes, there are days when you will feel like you’re discipling every day.  Yes, it becomes wearisome.  Yes, you will want to give up.  But like any worthwhile pursuit in life (remember that 5k analogy?) you don’t get results without hard work and tenaciousness.

Ways you will see NOT obeying the first time, every time:

  • Being told to come to the dinner table, and you don’t hear little feet running.
  • Being told to turn off the TV, and it doesn’t get turned off.
  • Being told to eat the vegetables and they just get stared at.


Yes, parenting is hard work – but who is that kid you want to raise?  What exactly do you want your child to become?  Do you want to have a teen one day that:

  • Desires to serve the Lord wherever God has him/her in life?
  • Has a soft, pliable heart that responds Biblically to the authorities placed over him?
  • Has a selfless world-view that seeks to de-escalate self and escalate others?

Then the work to achieve that happens early (no later than 1 years old) with starting to follow the above principles. Put the phone down, turn the TV off, brew up another pot of coffee and kick your parenting into high-gear!  With God’s strength and the Scriptures to guide you, you can be the parent in your heart that you know God wants you to be.

Scott Foreman is the Executive Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.  He has been active in full-time vocational ministry for almost 20 years as a Camp Director, Radio Host, Missionary and now Pastor.  You can follow him here at The Ministry Dad, and also on Twitter: @scottdforeman.


  1. At this point, I can say that both our boys desire to serve the Lord, have soft hearts, and are given to service over self. My prayer for them has always been that above all, they have a heart that follows close after God. I’ve told both of them, I want to be right behind the Shepherd, nipping at His heels. Not because I want to be first, but because if I fall back, I may lose my focus on Him and get distracted. I’ve told both boys I would give up my place right behind the Shepherd, if it means they will walk closer to Him.
    That said, Daniel, as an RA, was disgusted with the attitudes of some of the guys in his dorm, towards authority, towards their classes, dorm jobs, etc. He asked us how we taught those responsibilities. I told him “We beat the tar out of you until you did it the first time.” Seriously, we taught them personal discipline (you WILL make your bed every day) and first time obedience. While they are still sinners saved by grace and from time to time fall into sin like we all do, they understand the consequences of same and do what it takes to confess it and make it right. As you know, both our boys are very different, but we are very proud of both of them for the young men they are becoming. They have a respect for our experience in life, and often come to us asking opinions and seeking wisdom. FYI, Sam is now 22 and Daniel is 20.

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