Two Approaches to Influencing the Family

Yesterday was a very full day at Catalyst in Atlanta. The conference officially begins today, so yesterday was full of smaller workshops on a variety of topics. I attended with my daughter, Megan Miller, and my communications director, Lindsey Nobles. Matt Baugher, one of our publishers at Thomas Nelson, joined for the afternoon sessions.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5324412

Photo courtesy of ©

We heard Perry Nobles, Reggie Joiner, a panel discussion with Anne Jackson, Carlos Whittiker, and Jon Acuff, and then Ian Morgan Cron. We also attended a wonderful party for bloggers, hosted by Brad Ruggles.

I took about 10 pages of notes, but I will spare you. It was all good stuff, but I wanted to share my notes from Reggie Joiner’s talk. It had the biggest impact on me.

Reggie is the CEO of The reThink Group, “a team of innovative writers, thinkers, planners, creators, and do-ers who are devoted to influencing those who influence the next generation.” He is the author of Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide [affiliate link]. He is also one of the founders of North Point Community Church, where Andy Stanley is the pastor.

In his talk, he made eight powerful points:

  1. Most of us have been influenced by the church, but all of us have been influenced by the family. As a leader, if you want to influence the church—or any institution—you must start with the family.
  2. Somewhere along the way, we developed a picture of the perfect family and what it should be like. (He held up a picture of a stock photo of the perfect family and noted that it doesn’t really exist.)
  3. If we hold on too tightly to an ideal picture, we set up families to become disillusioned.
  4. God never really gives us an example of an ideal picture of the family in Scripture. They are all broken.
  5. Your calling as a leader should not be to get families to conform to some ideal picture.
  6. There are two different approaches to influencing the family:
    • The ideal picture approach.
    • The better story approach.
  7. Parents don’t need a better picture, they need to be invited into a bigger story. This is the story of restoration and redemption that God is telling through their particular family.
  8. God doesn’t use perfect pictures, he uses broken people.

He then went onto share some thoughts from Deuteronomy 6:4–9. It says:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

This passage is an exhortation to parents and leaders. It is imminently practical. It basically says that if you take the “bigger story approach,” you will:

  1. Imagine the end. It starts with God and ends with God. Sometimes, particularly in tough family situations, there is no real solution. There is only God.
  2. Fight for the heart. This is everything. If you don’t have your children’s hearts, you don’t have anything.
  3. Make it personal. This is not merely a “Sunday faith.” This is an everyday faith. You must teach your children every day in every way.
  4. Create a rhythm. If you are counting on the church to influence your children, they only have about 40 hours a year to do so. However, parents have about 3,000 hours a year to influence their children. Clearly, the church can never do the job parents can do.
  5. Widen the circle. Hebrew parents didn’t try to raise their children alone. They had the help of the entire community. It does take a village. Children who have mentors and coaches outside their family are more likely to be lead healthy and successful lives.

Frankly, this was a complete paradigm shift for me. It offers hope for every family, no matter how broken. I can’t wait to read Reggie’s book.

Question: As a parent, what potential do you see in the better story approach?
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  • Becky Robinson

    This is a very encouraging perspective on the family. Thanks so much for sharing it.
    I really appreciate the reminder that there are no families that fit the "perfect picture" and that God can use us every day in our brokenness to influence our children to follow him.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I found Reggie's message to be so hopeful. Maybe this is how we should evaluate every message: does it create guilt and opporession or does it bring freedom and hope.

  • Thomas Scott

    Great post –
    Isn't this a good reason to put kids in Christian or Catholic schools if you can afford to do so? I find the immersion in Catholic life for my 4 kids here in Nashville helps us tie together our Church involvement, family teaching on keeping God central and what they experience in school. I like that my kids get to pray, worship and learn about scripture and tradition in school.
    It is true that families may not be perfect (far from it) but if the purpose is to teach kids to love unconditionally, aren't they going to have an easier go in a Christian or Catholic school than without? Seems there is already a lot pulling them off the path as it is.

    • LarryWestfall

      Thomas, I agree. I always tell the critics of us sending our kids to a Christian school that at this early stage in their lives they are more easily influenced than they are influencers. I feel so much better knowing that their teachers share in teaching our family values and challenging our children to live as Jesus did.

  • Rocco

    This is not a new idea. Read some of John Eldridge's books (Sacred Romance, Wild at Heart, Waking the Dead). He opens the thought of God's 'Story' and our role in it. A good and important role bestowed on us by Father. As well as the thought of fighting for your heart and the hearts of others.

    Also, a great resource for parents is the book "Loving Your Kids on Purpose" by Danny Silk, a must read for all parents!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for the resource. Another book that really helped us when our kids were small was How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell.

  • Women Living Well

    Excellent post and very true point about ALL of our families being broken in some way. Thanks!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, even the ones that don't look broken!

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  • Teri D. Smith

    Trying to maintain the facade of a perfert family can do a lot of damage to both the children and the parents. I agree with the comment "if you don't have their hearts, you don't have anything." I'd add that the single most important thing to teach your children is to fall in love with Jesus: His beautiful words, acts of grace, self-sacrifice, and on and on.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen. And just to back that up. The single most important thing you can do as a parent is love Jesus. Your children will pick up your values more this way than a 1,000 sermons.

      Someone also told me when I was younger that the most important thing I could do is love my children's mother. That has proven true, too!

  • Fr. James Coles

    Thank you for this post. I think preaching and teaching that there is only one "ideal family" is a temptation that leads to unreasonable comparisons and dissatisfaction. I am all for the "better story."
    The "better story" feels hopeful, possible, rooted in reality and therefore has all the makings of helping us grow closer to Christ. I am looking now for the opportunity to preach this. Thanks again.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love the thought that pastor's would preach this, especially Orthodox pastors. ;-)

  • LarryWestfall

    This is great insight. As a youth pastor I consistently tell parents that they have more opportunity to influence their teenager than I do. But on the flip side many churches that I am aware of do alot to segregate the children and adults in corporate church settings. As a community of believers we should be looking for more ways to do life together and use every opportunity that we can to give adults an opportunity to speak into the lives of our teenagers and children. We could create more opportunites to live a true community experience.

    I cannot speak for others, but for me, this is a difficult task because church life is so compartmentalized by age group with everything taking place at the same time. Everyone is in competition for the same good teachers, mentors, influencers, encouragers, etc… because every time we show up for a corporate gathering we have divided everyone up according to age group. We are in need of a paradigm shift.

    As a parent, I realize all too often that I need the support of others around me that will take the initiative to involve themselves in my children's lives and challenge them to live with Biblical values. It truly does take a village to raise a child.

  • David & Lisa Frisbie


    As family counselors we affirm this post with joy: THANK YOU for getting this message out to leaders in all walks of life. This is a redemptive way of approaching the broken nature of today's experience of family life; this is the theological framework we need to do marriage and family care.

  • @halhunter

    For years our church has used the insights and methods created by Reggie (and others) to minister not to children, but to families. We see our role as helping and equipping parents to fulfill their proper roles as the primary source of spiritual growth for their kids. Of course, parents must be willing to step up and take their place; sadly, not enough do.

    Any church wanting to really make an impact in children's ministry ought to be looking at the reThink approach and material- it makes sense (both common and scriptural), the kids love it, and it works.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'd really like to go to Reggie's full "Think Orange" seminar.

      • @halhunter

        For anyone interested in family ministry, Orange is a must. It helps connect the dots. We don't minister to children and students… we minister to a continuum of age cohorts… we minister to kids and students in the context of their families and other associations. We leverage resources when we are using the same approaches and underlying philosophy of ministry. Well worth your time.

  • davidbmclaughlin

    I highly recommend the book, If Jesus Were A Parent. It is along these lines. I hated the title but LOVED the book. One of the best parenting books i've ever read.

    The thing i really love about this concept is that it fits nicely with a reality i am dealing with with kids with attachment disorder. blogged about it recently. there is healing available.

  • KarlaAkins

    Excellent! This is so true — things begin and end with God. Period. I also like the point that we need other mentors in our kids' lives. That was a mistake we made with our oldest son — he really didn't have enough outside mentors outside of his dad and I. (We homeschooled and are a pastor's family.) Looking back, I wish there would have been more men who would have taken an interest in our son but we just didn't have any in our lives at the time. Still, we did the best we could. He is in God's hands! And God is faithful! Even God, a perfect Father, had children who rebelled. We must remember that our children have their own will and it's by the grace of God they serve Him.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The mentoring concept has been huge in he lives of my own children, who are al grown now.

  • jonathan

    I'm a Children's Pastor and a moderately orange-thinker. I've been teaching the Essence of Family Talk(which are those 5 points) from ReThink for our Child Dedication classes. It's a powerful message, that more people need to hear!

  • Michelle Traudt

    I love the phrase "Sometimes, particularly in tough family situations, there is no real solution. There is only God." That's a great reminder. Sometimes I feel like we look for what God is leading us to do, but sometimes he just wants us to turn to Him and stay there for awhile. Thanks for sharing!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that!

  • patriciazell

    I'm going to comment strictly as the mother of seven children. First, I believe a lot of Christian parents would be amazed and probably horrified if they knew what their teens did behind their backs. Unless we try to wrap our children in cottonwool and lock them in our homes, they are going to be affected by the world in ways that can be destructive. One of my sons, who is now a pastor, called this reality, his "secret life."

    A number of years ago, the Lord centered me on Isaiah 54:11-17 as ground to stand on concerning our children. As He has explained to me over the years, I can be confident that one of the benefits the trials and tribulations that my husband and I have worked through with Him is the promise that our children will be taught of Him and their peace will be great. This is what I stand on–no matter what, God is greater than anything the world can throw at our children and He is teaching them. This is what enables me to look beyond the questionable choices that all of our children have made at one time or another and see God's absolute love working in their lives.

  • ApostleJoseph

    I am amazed with #1, but let's go one more step backward! The Family IS the Church, which makes his talk even more powerful! Sorry my book is not published with you but it does say it all. The Church What is it?

    1.Most of us have been influenced by the church, but all of us have been influenced by the family. As a leader, if you want to influence the church—or any institution—you must start with the family.

  • ClayofCO

    I like the idea of the "better story" and every family having freedom in Christ to find their place in God's story for them. We've loved homeschooling our children so they could be as "out of the box" as God wanted them to be (all artists and creators now). However, I think it is too easy to demonize the idea of the "ideal" for family.

    One of the reasons Christian families are fragmenting at an alarming rate is because the church has NOT held up a biblical ideal toward which to move. As the great theologian Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else." And the family has. The goal is certainly not to achieve or conform to the biblical ideal, or to judge families by it, but rather to be on the path that leads to it. I personally believe there is a biblical ideal of family, and even though few (if any of us) ever reach it, being on the right path that leads toward it will lead to greater blessing in the journey. Pastors can preach the biblical ideal without idealizing it or compromising the reality of ministering to broken families in a broken world. I would argue they must.

    Family was not an afterthought of God, and it is not whatever we want to make of it–it is the heart of God's redemptive plan for all mankind, and the only institution created before the fall. We may all be broken now, and redemption is always the goal, but that is a journey toward an ideal…God's ideal. I would argue with some of Reggies views, but not with his applications, which are great. I just think, ideally of course, the language of this idea needs more thought and nuance.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That's worth thinking about. I definitely agree that we shouldn't use this as an excuse to acquiesce to the status quo.

  • therese

    Nice phrase – better family story approach. Yep.
    Lived it. Wrote it.
    Soon to share it.

  • Cassandra Frear

    Excellent advice.

    After raising our own, I can affirm that these principles are sound and really do work.

  • Jennifer Gerhardt

    It makes parenting personal. I've found with my kids that I'm likely to give up when I think I have to do it the same way my mother did or my best friend does. I'm not my mom. I'm not my friend. And God doesn't want me to be either of them. When I'm encouraged to be me and be the parent God made me to be, I feel empowered. And, too, I realize that the broken parts of me can be leveraged for good-that my failures have uniquely equipped me to gift my girls with wisdom and foresight.

  • Diane Stortz

    The story metaphor extends to rewrites too. Parents with grown children might look back with much regret, but changes made now–especially changes that over time do connect us with our children's hearts–literally write a new ending to the story.