The 4 Worst Habits of a Spiritually Absent Parent

I’ve been in the workforce for about 30 years now- my first job was at Hardee’s in Peachtree City Georgia and now I’m an Associate Minister in Worthington Minnesota. I’ve worked for several companies in various roles and in that 30+ years, I’ve worked for “absent bosses”. Some of those bosses were literally physically absent- never in the store (when I worked at Best Buy) or the office, while others were physically present, they were practically gone- holed up in some corner or always “too busy” to engage those they worked for or even customers. This presents all sorts of issues for both those they work with and for, as well as those they are called to lead.

A few months ago, I stumbled across an article from LinkedIn called, The 4 Worst Habits of an Absent Boss that really put some words to what I’ve felt over the years. About a week ago, my wife was telling me that she had been thinking about that article and how it applied to parenting, especially the role of parents as it relates to passing on the Christian faith to their children. Here’s our take- The 4 Worst Habits of a Spiritually Absent Parent:

  1. Spiritually Absent Parents are Irresponsible. Because these parents are unaware of the most important thing to find meaning in, they chase meaning in every other thing. Without a definitive and guiding principle (make disciples) they try anything and everything and are always convinced that they’re not doing enough. There are literally dozens of balls in the air, with each having the same level of importance and each requiring the same level of commitment.
  2. Spiritually Absent Parents are Unresponsive. Because of everything taking place and going on around them, they can’t make a commitment beyond the short term. Like author Barry Schwartz states in his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, the sheer amount of things to choose from paralyzes parents, so they choose what they think is best, regardless of whether or not it is actually best. Often, what proves to be “best” is what gives them (or their kids) accolades, so they continue in that “best”.

    “Failure’s hard, but success is more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever”- Po Bronson.

  3. Spiritually Absent Parents are Indifferent. Because they are not connected spiritually with their kids, they have no way to offer true feedback (or give scriptural advice) to them. If they are not growing spiritually, this is a double-whammy because they would then have no basis to speak into the lives of their kids from a credibility standpoint. There is an assumption of “I’m ok, you’re ok” which is NOT the Christian way.
  4. Spiritually Absent Parents are Spontaneous. One week they’ll go to church, the next they won’t. A parent might offer up an attempt to disciple, but because there is not consistent framework or context for these random bits of whimsical advice (see point 1), they just make no sense. Beyond that, these spontaneous sayings reduce the Bible, or Jesus, to that of a sage, with scripture verses being a Christian version of “no pain, no gain.”

Is this you? Romans 12:3 tells the believer, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given you.”

To paraphrase RC Sproul Jr- the key to happy parenting is the key to a happy anything- repent and believe the Gospel.

Don’t be like the rich young ruler- he was convicted by Jesus and then simply went away sad, “because he had great wealth.” Sadness and repentance are NOT the same thing.

Perhaps you’ve got a great deal of “investment” in the wrong things. I’m on a mission to equip, teach and lead parents to take greater ownership of the spiritual development of their children and families. Because of this, I’d love to talk with you and share what it looks like to be a “Spiritually Present Parent.” It won’t be easy, and it may not be fun.

But, you know what they say…

“No pain, no gain.”


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The Gospel According to Groundhog Day, 2

I love the movie Groundhog Day. For the longest time, I simply viewed it as a Bill Murray classic, but as I’ve watched and re-watched it, I’ve discovered that it is filled with meaning.

The gist: Phil Connors (Murray) is a television weatherman sent yearly to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to participate in their annual Groundhog Day festivities. An unexpected storm comes in and Phil and his news crew are forced to stay overnight, and by stay overnight, Phil is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over and over and (you get the picture). Throughout the course of the film, Phil is on an existential journey and is forced to deal with real questions about meaning, purpose, relationships, joy and pleasure.

Tuesday night, I again watched a portion of the film- just about 30 minutes of it. It was towards the end, when Phil was elaborately constructing his day- asking questions and memorizing answers in the attempt to manipulate the perfect day so that he might escape. With the passing of every “day” and as each day got longer and longer, Phil had more to fake and orchestrate in order to get to the next point.

There’s a scene where Phil and Rita make a snowman and are “attacked” by kids throwing snowballs, as they fight back, Phil and Rita fall to the ground and they kiss. Like the other “days” that day also fails and Phil again finds himself back at that same moment- building the snowman and again falling with Rita but this time, it’s canned and Phil is clearly setting the moment up. Rita (and we) notice. Phil becomes more and more frantic, completely anxiety-ridden as he seeks “the perfect day” so that he might escape the mess that he has both found himself in and created.

As I lay in bed that night, I realized that I am often like Phil Connors:

  • I spend time trying to orchestrate my relationship with God and others. I think, “If I can just do ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’, then ‘d’ will happen.
  • I frequently move from thing to experience and back again as I try to make sense of what is happening around me.
  • As things don’t go my way, as they don’t go the way I think they ought to, my anxiety simply rises and I become frantic, unreasonable, and unrealistic. My expectation set goes out of control.

According to the article that I linked to at the beginning, we see Phil endure just 34 days, but the original script had him enduring 10,000 years worth of Groundhog Days.

Spoiler Alert: Phil eventually comes to the end of himself, and it is in this end that he finds both meaning and redemption.

While I can manipulate people (and try to manipulate God), I cannot orchestrate true and godly meaning from false relationships with man or God.

While I can find temporary meaning in things and experiences, I will eventually be let down by them.

While I can be frantic and anxious, Jesus says, “Peace. Be Still.”

In the same way, it is only by coming to the end of myself, what Jesus calls, “death to self”, that I find meaning and redemption.

Paradoxically, this death leads to life. May I die, and soon.


Here’s my original “Gospel According to Groundhog Day” post.

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My friend Daren

I’ll never forget the first time that I met Daren Mitchell. About 8 years ago, a friend and I were serving as Deans for high school week at North East Iowa Christian Service Camp.
Most of the Mitchell family: Kyla, Kristi, Daren, Linden, and Jared (seated).
Daren was new to the area and this was his first visit to camp. Hannah (my friend) and I were near the dining hall when up walks Daren.
He didn’t introduce himself.
He didn’t say, “Hi”.
We didn’t give each other the super-secret youth ministry handshake.
He simply asked, “Where are all the parents?”
I asked him what he meant by that and then Daren started up with some mumbo-jumbo about “parents being the spiritual leaders in the home, and how those parents should be serving as staff at camps and other youth and church events and how the church should be equipping parents to….blah, blah, blah”…and on and on he went.
The only emotion I felt was fury. Well, and some rage. And, I was offended.
And, I actually considered punching him in the face.
As Hannah and I talked later, we just couldn’t believe this guy. (I won’t share with you what I called Daren- but he knows).
Some time passed and a few months later I had the honor of riding in a car with Daren to a statewide youth minister’s meeting where I heard Daren’s heart for parents, families, children, the church, and most importantly, Jesus.
Then, I began to examine the fruit of the ministry that I was a part of. And…
Daren was right.
Daren is right.
Ultimately, it’s Daren’s fault (Jesus’, actually- but you get the point) that I pursue ministry, equip parents and desire to see the church grow in the biblical way that I’m chasing down.
I share all of this because of the incredible way that the Mitchell family has modeled Jesus to me, my family, and a great many others over the years.
And, because they greatly covet your prayers.
Several years ago, Jared was diagnosed with cancer and well, it’s never really gone away. They’ve gone through all of the treatments they can, and they’re just done. They wait for an end that is sure to come.
As I’ve talked with Daren over the years, they’ve clung to the hope and victory that only Christ brings.
Another friend posted Psalm 62:2 yesterday:
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken

Because of this hope and promise, this end is only an end.

The end is something much better, because this end is a beginning.

I hear a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

Please join me and my family, along with thousands of others, in praying with and for the Mitchell family. And remember… the end is glorious.

[Edit]- here‘s a post from several years ago when they were a year-ish in to Jared’s cancer.




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What lies beneath?

About 5 weeks ago, before it snowed, John 3 and I went into the backyard and pulled some dead plants out of our planters and set them in the grass. The plan was to go back out the next day, throw the stalks into waste bags and get rid of them (Sunday NFL ended up being way more important).

Over the last several weeks it’s snowed, and now those dead plants lie covered up by the beautiful Winter Wonderland that is our yard, only marred by rabbit trails. In a few months the snow will melt and those dead plants will re-appear, their ugliness available for all to see.

This reminds me of 1 Timothy 5:24:

Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgement. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later.

The entire context of Paul’s letters to Timothy are that Timothy is to be on the lookout for false teachers within the church.

Like the dead and rotting plants sitting on top of the grass, some of the false teachers will be obvious.

But other false teachers are harder so see– covered by a beautiful exterior, gifted and gregarious, attractive and engaging, they lie in wait, to be revealed in the inevitable warmth of Spring- the arrival of new life.

In Romans 8:19, Paul describes this arrival:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

The snow always melts. What is underneath is always revealed. And it is here that we find the warning for all.

The snow will melt and all will be revealed. The things we’ve covered up. The things we’ve stifled. The things we’ve tucked away. The things we hope no one will see. The things we’ve convinced ourselves do not exist.

The day will indeed come, and is already coming, when the snow will melt and the very fiber of our beings will be revealed for who, and what, we really are.

We can hide “who we are” from ourselves and from others. But the snow is melting friend.

And God knows what lies beneath.

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At the Door

“Wolves wait at your door
For your permission
Slyly you invite them
On one condition
They prepare a feast
From your provisions
Of root and wild beast
For you to eat
They took your money and ate your kids
And they had their way with your wife a little bit
While you wept on the porch
With your head in your hands
Cursing taxes and the government”- David Bazan, Wolves at the Door

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves”- Jesus, in Matthew 7:15.

“I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following”- Paul, in Acts 20:29-30.

“Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead”- Paul to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:1-2.

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Who are you looking for?

What are you expecting to find when you go off and look for Jesus?

According to Screwtape (The Screwtape Letters, letter 23), Satan’s goal is to help us see Jesus as a construct, an idea, a concept, not a “Creator adored by its creature” but a “distinguished character approved by a judicious historian”.

In Luke 24, we read about the Sunday following the crucifixion. When the “women” (Mary Magdalene, Mary- mother of Jesus, Joanna, Mary-mother of James and a few others) went looking for Jesus in the tomb, they were indeed looking for simply a dead man. A “great” man, perhaps, but a man nonetheless. They were looking for a construct.

What they found was an empty tomb. After being told by two angels that Jesus had risen as promised, they returned to the remaining apostles, who refused to believe what they had heard.

Except for Peter. Peter ran to the tomb, looked in and saw the empty burial strips. He returned home, “wondering what had happened”.

Are you like the women? Shocked that Jesus had kept his word and had risen?
Are you like the Apostles? Disbelieving?
Are you like Peter? Running to the tomb to see for yourself, and then wondering where He might be?

What are you expecting to find when you go off and look for Jesus?

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What are you building?

My message earlier this week at Worthington Christian Church was, “It Takes 20 Years to Build a Temple” based on 2 Chronicles 1-8. The takeaway was: “work now for the inheritance to come” (1 Chronicles 28:8 from last week’s message). Here are the 4 questions from the end of the message to help us consider if we are planning for the inheritance:

1- What is God calling you to “look like” spiritually in 20 years? Parents, what is your hope for your kids in 20 years spiritually? As a body of believers, what is God vision for us in 20 years?

2- How much of what we’re doing TODAY is going to to get us to that point in 20 years? Are we busy with the important stuff, or are we merely being busy-bodies?

3- What do we need to do differently, to add, to be purposeful and intentional in being where God is calling us to be in 20 years?

4- What needs to be ejected, cut and removed from our lives? What are we doing right now that in 20 years will simply not matter? What might we look back upon and say, “Wow, what a colossal waste of time, treasure, and talent that was!”?

Living and working now for the benefit of those to come after us is not feel-good, pay-it-forward morality. It is the way of the faithful follower of Christ.

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