Close this search box.

The Gospel-Shaped Parent (Pt.3): Best Practices in Gospel-Shaped Parenting 

By: Paul and Susan Gilbert

Part One, Part Two


When James writes, he shoots pretty straight. I’m not sure parents were his first target, but we are definitely hit when he calls Christians to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). It’s not enough that we merely hear God’s instructions to us about our parenting. We need to put His truths into faithful and fruitful practice as well.

In our first two posts in this series, we talked a lot about parenting principles and parenting priorities. If you want to catch up, you can check them out in the links above. In this last blog installment, we want to leave you with two (that’s right, only two!) parenting categories to pursue as doers, not merely hearers, of the Word. These two practices are found in Mark 4 and can, in fact, be easily applied to any spiritual relationship.

And he (Jesus) said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. Mark 4:26-27

Parents, your child’s heart is the field upon which you want to see the kingdom of God take root. This means that God will call you to be both a Sower and a Sleeper in your children’s lives.


The Sowing Parent

Now, Jesus does not leave us clueless. He reveals the “identities” of the farming metaphors in other verses: the seed is the Word of God (4:14); the soil is a person’s heart (4:15); and the crop is God’s kingdom(4:26, 28) – His rule and reign extended into a person’s heart and life. Applied specifically to parenting, then, who is the sower? Why, you of course – the parent!

It might be an unnerving thing to think about yourself as the principal sower of God’s Word in your child’s life. “I don’t feel equipped; I’m not prepared; I have no seminary training; I hardly know the Word myself” – these are all common fears voiced by parents, and they are completely understandable.

Yet, one of the things that’s so striking about this passage is how little is said about the sower – No mention of special qualifications; no resources needed. John MacArthur makes this point when he reminds us:

…there are no adjectives to describe the sower…the sower is anybody who throws seed…anybody. There are no [special] qualifications for the sower. The sower is simply somebody who throws seed… It really doesn’t matter whether you have a beat-up, tattered burlap seed bag, or a designer seed bag. 

As fellow parents who struggle with feelings of spiritual inadequacy just like you, we find MacArthur’s insights incredibly encouraging. Sometimes, we can become overwhelmed with the many hats we are forced to wear: chief administrators; master organizers; event planners; guidance counselors; and child development experts. It’s exhausting! Yet, our primary job as parents is to be a doer of the Word by faithfully scattering the seed around the soil of our children’s lives and hearts. This seed, quite simply, is the glorious message that God is big, holy, and awesome; that we are loved, but desperate, and sinful; that Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Messiah; and that we are saved by turning to Christ in faith and repentance. Rinse and repeat. Where possible, every day.

Remember, parents: the question is not whether you are a sower. We are all sowers. The issue is what we are sowing into the lives of our children. We can’t have a pulse and NOT sow – human beings are always sowing or planting something into our children’s lives.

In light of that reality, here’s two helpful ways to think about your sowing…

There is proscriptive sowing–those intentional times you create for yourself and your children to engage spiritually: Reading a bible story before bed; sharing a devotional at the dinner table (remember, dinner is a captive audience!); talking about their Sunday school lesson; and praying together before school.

And, then, there is prescriptive sowing–those times that you are engaging spiritually in response to the needs and circumstances of the moment: Helping your children to see the roots of a particular conflict they are experiencing; asking questions that help them explore what’s going on in their hearts and what God’s Word says about it; and taking those serendipitous moments while traveling/talking/engaging media, etc. to contrast the values of God with the values of the world.


The Sleeping Parent 

One of our grandmothers made a banana pudding that was truly the envy of all other pudding-makers of free world. Family members launched missions to discover the secret recipe before Grandma passed away. One lucky soul even managed to secure the secret formula in writing. Yet, no one was ever able to replicate Grandma’s banana pudding bliss. It turns out that there was a whole lot of “art” sprinkled into the pudding that never surfaced in the written recipe.

It’s tempting to think that raising children is a lot like re-creating a banana pudding recipe: just mix in the right amounts and the correct set of ingredients and – Voila!…you bake great, godly, church-going kids. It’s the danger when Christian’s meet ‘formulas’. Take a pinch of proper Education, add a dash of G movies, sprinkle it with a great diet and it produces the next John Piper.

We wish.

In reality, Mark 4 sends us in another direction for thinking about HOW the spiritual seed takes root in our children’s hearts. The formula, Jesus says, is pretty simple: the seed is sown, the seed sleeps until stuff happens, then the seed simply sprouts or grows. We are not really sure how it happens. It just happens.

The word for “sprouts and grows” is the Greek term automatos, which means “by itself.” Jesus is not talking about understanding the scientific and biological processes that results in the growth of life.  It’s much simpler, and far more profound. He’s saying farmers can create the conditions and plant the seed, but they can’t MAKE anything happen. They are powerless to make the seed grow – it does so from other sources outside of us.

It’s not hard to see how this applies to parenting. When it comes to our kids, we don’t create the seed or cause it to take root. We can’t change our child’s heart or make the kingdom of God take root. Only God can do that, which, by the way, is why we DO pray, “Lord, let your kingdom come in the life of my child.”

So, what does this mean for this second category parenting practices? Simply this: We sow hard, then we get a good night’s sleep.  In other words, there is a point where every parent simply needs to just trust God and go to bed. Spiritually speaking, parents must learn to sleep and rest, confident that God will animate the seed and make it grow.



Parents, please remember: Sowing is important, but not decisive. While we can exert much influence over our kids, we can never seize control of their decisions for or against God. This wonderful news liberates us from worry, manipulation, and the weird ways Christian parents can try to paste spiritual fruit on our kids. And let’s be honest: Pasted fruit is not real fruit.

Sow much, sleep well, and trust the promises of God for your kids.  Life becomes better and the gospel grows remarkably precious to your soul.

Paul and Susan Gilbert live in Tallahassee, Florida. They have been married for 25 years and have 4 children. Paul is a pastor at Four Oaks Church in Tallahassee. He can be followed on Twitter: @revgilbert

Share this post