These days, families seem to be losing touch, and it’s taking a toll on children and parents. Dave Stone, Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has spent years counseling families and showing them practical and realistic ways to maintain a sense of peace and love—both within and beyond the four walls of their homes.
You claim that the “joyful Christian family has become all but extinct.” What factors led to that sad state of affairs? And how can we begin to reclaim our joy?
I would say that the biggest obstacle right now is technology. It has wonderful opportunities for bringing a family closer together, but it has to be monitored and handled carefully. When screens are in the way, intimacy is diminished. Go into a restaurant, and you see everybody with a cellphone out; you see no smiles and little interaction. We’ve come to think, Well, that’s normal. But that’s not what God intended. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
We are a distracted people, so a united, joyful Christian family that does things together and has each other’s back is one of the strongest testimonies we can give to the world. At the heart of joy is a relationship with Christ, and when people are around Christians, they should be able to tell that Jesus is real and joy is possible for those who live for Him.
What can parents do to ensure that their home is one of safety, security, happiness, and balance?
There are three different times during the day that parents should focus on. I call them travel time, dinnertime, and bedtime. Travel time includes going to and from school or practice, but what you are doing is leveraging the time when you have a captive audience. Instead of listening to the radio or letting kids isolate themselves with technology, ask them about their day. The same is true of dinnertime; it gives you a chance to be together and connect more fully over a shared meal.
The third one is bedtime, which is important because when the lights are out and kids are in the safety and security of their own beds, that’s a really good feeling for them. It’s intimate and focused, and good things happen as a result. For instance, when I was a little kid, my parents used to pray with me every night and say, “Oh, Lord, I cannot wait to see how You’re going to use Dave for Your glory.” That’s a great last thought for a kid to have before he falls asleep.
What should parents—especially parents of older children—do to help their kids grow in faith and joy?
First off, parents have to continue to reinforce, “This is what our beliefs are. You’re going to have to decide for yourself and make your faith your own, but here’s why we’ve come to this.” Also, parents have to be the real deal. My experience has been that a kid can sniff out a fraud really quickly. If Mom and Dad act one way when they’re with church friends and a totally different way at home, the child will always choose the easier path. Our carnal nature craves that. So the key, I think, is for Mom and Dad to be genuine in their faith. That increases the likelihood of the young person growing up to make wise, God-honoring choices.
If Mom and Dad act one way with church friends and a different way at home, the child will choose the easier path. Our carnal nature craves that.
Also, older kids have to see us working through difficulties. Otherwise, they’ll never learn how. I can’t tell you how many times I had to walk upstairs at bedtime and sit down with one of my kids and say, “I got frustrated and upset with you, but it wasn’t you. It was really something at work. Will you forgive me?” Those are the times that you model confession and repentance for them. You’re showing them what has to be done with their own sins when they come before the Lord.
Why is playing together as a family important? What does it allow families to achieve that they might not do otherwise?
I love play because, for most families, it’s all about rules and boundaries. So playing together reinforces something different. There are several reasons why this is important. One, it’s uniting. I’d say the same if you would have asked the question, “Why is serving together important?” It’s because I think most families miss out on those two things. Family vacations and days spent working together—the memories that we made in those times are truly priceless. My experience is, when you are on an adventure and you’re playing together as a family, God will honor that time.
How about resting together? Why is that valuable, and how can families best go about establishing a consistent time of rest in their homes?
I used to be an arrogant workaholic. I still struggle. But my family would be upset with me and also with the church if I stayed on that path, so we have really tried to protect a day off. You communicate something to your family when you set aside time to be with them. If you let anything steal away that time, it sends the wrong message to a child.
The other thing that goes even beyond the rest is presence. When you’re home, really be home. There are times when physically you might be there, but if you’re looking at your phone constantly or are so preoccupied that your child has to say something three times before it registers with you, you’ve checked out. You’re doing more harm than good because you’re there but not engaged.
Photography by Josh Meister