I’ve been on staff at Watermark Community Church working with students (grades 6-12) for 18 years. In that time, I have observed hundreds of students navigate adolescence and grow into adults; the oldest “students” I’ve worked with are now in their thirties. Many of them thrive after graduation. Their faith continues to grow, they remain connected to the body of Christ, and they contribute in amazing ways to the Kingdom of God. Others…not so much.
Because of my experience working with students, I occasionally have parents approach me for advice. Seeking to reverse-engineer what other successful parents have done, they ask me some form of this question: “What do the healthiest Watermark Students graduates have in common?”
My answer is rather simple. I don’t have to overwhelm them with a hundred things they have to do before their child turns 18. In fact, there is really just one thing that I’ve seen make all the difference. In my experience as a minister to students, the single most powerful predictor of healthy kids is that they have at least one parent who is being personally transformed by God.
That’s it. It’s not a parenting tip or trick. It’s not about being more or less involved in activities, and it’s not about any specific characteristic of the kids themselves. If you want your child to grow into a healthy adult, it starts with being someone who is fully submitted to God.
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Believe it or not, kids are watching their parents and imitating their faith. Your kids are considering the outcome of your way of life and mimicking your patterns of behavior. If your faith is transforming your life day after day, the chances are excellent that the faith of your children will follow suit.
So what does that look like? How can you become that type of parent? Here are three characteristics of a parent who is being personally transformed by God:
Your kids need you to live in the light (1 John 1:7-9). Don’t try to falsely convince them that you are perfect (1 John 1:8); they need to know you (like them, and like everyone) have sinned and continue to struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). They need to know that you confess, repent, and are forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Sin is hard to talk about. But, when we allow our children to see our sinful nature and how God forgives us, we are helping them see their own sin and how God forgives them. Authenticity also bridges the gap between us and our children and allows them to see us and connect with us in a very real way. Honesty about our brokenness makes us, as the parents, seem less threatening and condemning. It opens a line of communication. It allows us to share the goodness of God in a personal way.
Do you want your kids to stay pure (Psalm 119:9)? To find their path in life (Psalm 119:105)? To tell right from wrong, and be equipped to do good (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
God’s Word is the key to all of these things.
However, they probably won’t read and apply God’s Word if they don’t see you doing it first. You are the example they follow, and you get to set the standard for what a typical day looks like. Does your day include time in the Word? Do you consistently talk with your kids about what you are learning (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), and does it impact how you go about your day?
The Bible is not the only provision God has given us for wisdom and guidance; He has also given us each other. God’s Word makes it abundantly clear that believers are to live in community with each other; to love one another (John 13:34), bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), meet together to encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25), and many other “one anothers” in Scripture. We are to be connected to each other like the parts of one body, and use our unique gifts to serve the body as a whole (Romans 12:4-8).
If you want your kids to have friends they can count on, who will lead them into wisdom rather than mischief, you have to model that for them. They need to see that you prioritize belonging to a body of believers and are willing to humbly listen to wise counsel. And they need to see you serving faithfully before they choose to be selfless themselves.
When parents are personally transformed by God in a way that shows up in these three areas, their kids tend to turn out well. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee—godly parents can still have a prodigal child—but it’s the best predictor that I’ve seen. And it’s never too late or too early to start. If you don’t have children yet, you should make it a habit now; and if your kids are already grown, you still have a big influence on their lives. Plus, regardless of whether you are a parent or not, these are the things that should mark any follower of Christ. Imitate Christ and invite others to imitate you (1 Corinthians 11:1).