How many times have you seen a post on social media from a parent, or maybe yourself, that says “my whole world” in reference to a child or children? What are we teaching our children when we place them in a role of such importance? To be clear, children are very important, but are we inadvertently teaching our children the prosperity gospel when we make them our “whole world?” To answer this question we must first understand what the prosperity gospel is. Chap Bettis, executive director of The Apollos Project, has written an article for The Gospel Coalition called 3 Ways You Might Be Teaching Your Kids the Prosperity Gospel. Bettis defines the message of the prosperity gospel like this:
“God’s desire for every Christian is that they be healthy, wealthy, and happy. We simply name what we want and God’s hand will move to give it to us.”
It sounds nice doesn’t it…perfect health, plenty of money, and of course happiness that comes from a God who gives you whatever you want whenever you want. According to this theology, if you name it you can claim it from God. This makes God sound like nothing more than a glorified candy dispenser. Bettis, like many other Christians, believes this prosperity message is deceiving millions of people in America and across the globe, and now it is infiltrating well-meaning parenting.
Bettis clarifies that these prosperity-sharing parents are in fact loving parents who care genuinely about their children and their children’s faith. Not only are these parents loving, most of them attend gospel-centered churches. At home; however, they are sending a different message to their children. As parents, grandparents, and caretakers how can we tell if we’ve been unintentionally sharing a false message of faith with our children? Bettis provides 3 diagnostic questions we can ask ourselves.
1. Is your life completely centered around your children?
As Bettis points out, “The prosperity gospel teaches we are the center of the universe and God is here for our happiness. The biblical truth, however, is while God’s love overflows for his people, we are made for him. He, not us, is the center.” We may not be teaching our children that we’re the center of the universe, but we may be teaching our children that they’re the center of the universe… We want our children to feel loved and to have what they need, but are we focusing our entire lives on them? What we need to do is love our children in truth; Bettis explains what that means:
“And a core truth is that kids are cherished members of our family but not the center. We train them to love and honor others, including their parents. Gospel-centered parenting leads us to call our children out of their natural self-orientation to a sacrificial love for God and others.”
Everything in our culture teaches children to be self-centered, will we teach them something different?
2. When you prioritize in your child’s life, are you prioritizing on the material things?
What is the greatest gift God can give us? Is it material items and things we ask for as the prosperity gospel suggests, or is it God himself and his presence with us? Bettis advises parents to,
“Stop and take a look at your family activities. Listen to what you are excited about. There’s certainly nothing wrong with relishing the game-winning home run or the latest electronic device. Just make certain you’re even more excited about the gospel at work in and around you. Choose priorities to give your child the best advantage possible—a godly church and a unified home. Pray that your parental love will be coupled with the wisdom to discern what’s best for them (Phil. 1:9-10).”
I know a pastor whose daughters do not participate in after-school sports because they would miss church events. This father knows what a busy schedule with no time for God will do to his children, and he knows what missing church for sports or other activities will teach his children. It’s a hard decision to make because we want our kids to excel in any activity they’re involved in, but what if we taught our children that church was even more important than a sports game? We should make clear to our children that church is not a legalistic activity that we should check off of a list, but rather an amazing opportunity we have to worship in God’s presence with the body of Christ. If we go down the route of legalism to enforce faith, we’re just teaching our children a different false gospel.
3. Are you shielding your children from experiencing life’s trials?
Most parents want to protect their child from harm; they cannot bear the thought of their child being hurt emotionally or physically. Whether it’s a bully at school, being left out of a sleepover, or getting hurt in a sports game, parents will try to protect their children to the best of their ability sometimes even over-involving themselves. Bettis expounds,
“When we never allow our children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior, we are subtly preaching a different gospel. And when we refuse to give proper, corrective discipline, we are acting differently than our heavenly Father: ‘The Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’ (Heb. 12:6).”
If you would like nothing more than to bubble wrap your child’s life, you may have found the area you need to work on. As hard as it is to watch others suffer, especially children, momentary trials can provide invaluable wisdom that may not be attained any other way. The Bible never teaches that growth and sanctification will be easy, and our children should know that from the beginning.
Bettis admonishes parents with a final statement,
“You love your children and you love the true gospel. Don’t undermine it by teaching them something false during the week. Remind them that even as we enjoy God’s world, his best gift is himself. And because you’re called to reflect the heavenly Father, you will correct and discipline them in love. Their souls might depend on it.”
Will you make your children the center of your world and theirs, or will you show them the world as God created it that he is indeed the center no matter where we try to place him.
To read Chap Bettis’ article in its entirety please visit TheGospelCoalition.org.
For further reading on the prosperity gospel, please see:
John Oliver Unmasks the Corruption of the Prosperity Gospel
An African Prophet Standing Against the Prosperity Gospel
Don’t Let the Prosperity Gospel Message Fool You
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com
Publication date: October 5, 2015