How to Have Successful Parent/Child – Leader/Follower Relationships

Years ago I was running a sports league and ministry for sailors from Great Lakes Naval base when one weekend a boy came down to play who had a really bad attitude and simply would not cooperate with anything that we were trying to do. Because of the type of program we ran, we kept the boys with us the whole weekend. Our family and other families would take the boys into our homes, keep them overnight, providing a sort of home-away-from-home atmosphere, then take them to church on Sunday. We gave them great home cooking and a comfortable place to stay but most of all we tried to show them that we truly cared for and loved them. Virtually all of the boys were very appreciative of our efforts, but this particular weekend this young sailor just did not seem happy at all. Whether it was while playing the sports or in conversation around the table, he would not listen or cooperate. Sunday afternoon I let all the other men go play ball and I asked this fellow to ride with me to the gym. On the way I asked him if he thought it a little unique that a family would bring in sailors to their home like we were doing. He said that it was indeed strange to him.  Then he asked, “What’s the catch?”

I said, “No catch. We just want you to know that we care and appreciate what you are doing for our nation.”

He looked at me and told me a very sad story of abuse done to him by his stepfather. He showed me a large, nasty-looking scar on his arm and elbow, the result of being thrown out of a second story window by his stepfather.  He said to me that no one in his life had ever cared for him or loved him. At this point I said, “We do and God does.” He broke and wept. That young man became what we called a “regular” at our home. When he did not have duty, he came down every weekend for months, ate home cooking, played ball and became part of our family. Never one time after that did I have a problem with his attitude or compliance with rules.  He became a son and a son with a right relationship with his father wants to please his father. Of course, I wasn’t his real father but, as his “adopted” father, he wanted to please me.

In the book of Proverbs we find a passage in chapter 29 that explains why this transformation took place.
Proverbs 29:17-21 says, “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul (vs17). Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (vs.18). A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understand he will not answer (vs. 19). Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him (vs. 20). He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length (vs. 21).”

Note that last verse. This passage may be the greatest passage in the Bible for working with young people. 

Notice what it says in Proverbs 29:17:

  1. A son should be corrected
  2. A son that is corrected will give you rest (give comfort or allow you to live in quiet or peace)
  3. A son corrected will give delight to your soul (to live cheerfully, in pleasure).

Next, look at 29:18. There may seem to be a shift in thought here, but really, there is not.  This entire passage is a counseling passage and this verse is primarily speaking about having a vision for the people that we will be helping and counseling. We must understand that if we, as parents and leaders, want the promises, we have to keep the law. We must follow the commands we are given starting with the command found in Proverbs 29:17 to “correct thy son.” If we don’t have a vision for “our sons” and follow the command we won’t see the desired result.
Next, in Proverbs 29:19, we find an incredible teaching that illustrates why many times those that we are attempting to teach and influence are not receiving what we are trying to give.  Why? Because a servant will not be corrected by words. Even though he understands what we are saying and what we are trying to accomplish, he will not receive it.
Again, Proverbs 29:20 may seem like a change in thought, but it is not. In fact, the man who is “hasty in his words” is the man who verbally tries to get the servant to obey when the scripture clearly says he will not. Failing to heed God’s word is clearly a foolish and intentional act against God’s word.
This leads us to the final verse that we will discuss- Proverbs 29:21, and the real point of this lesson. This verse says, “He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length.”  God is teaching us how to have real, life-changing influence with people, especially young people. God is teaching us how to have real results in our counseling and in necessary correction of those we lead. How? By taking the relationship from a master (employer, counselor, leader)/servant relationship to a father/son relationship. God says that it can be done and, if He is teaching us that it can be done then, it should be done. The key to acquiring this kind of relationship comes from the realization that it will not happen because we, as the leaders, command or demand it, but by long, careful, and loving efforts by us.  “Delicately” is the key word.  When we make the servant a son then we will receive the promise of verse 17. Moreover, God is also telling us that it is not just physical offspring that we can have this relationship with, but anyone with whom we are willing to develop a father/son relationship. And, when we do, the promise is that they will receive our instructions and give rest and delight to our souls.
Now for the final thought.  Just as it is a shame when we fail to develop a father/son relationship with those we counsel and lead and therefore struggle with their followship and compliance, it is more shameful when we allow our relationship to our biological children to be nothing more than a master/servant relationship.  How sad it is when we allow work, play, or the enjoyment of possessions to take up so much of our time that our own children feel like nothing more than servants to us! In my counseling I so often hear a parent say, “I don’t understand. He/she won’t listen to a thing we say”. Remember, a servant will not be corrected by words but a son will receive correction and “give thee rest.”  If we want the results, we must be willing to spend the time.

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