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How to Raise a Little Pharisee

Prior to moving to our existing neighborhood, we lived in a small townhouse about 20 miles west. We lived there for eight years and had great relationships with our neighbors. There was something about the physical closeness of our homes that fostered a closeness among the neighbors.

I had thought that neighborliness was a dead art until I moved here. We enjoyed some rich, deep, wonderful relationships with a very diverse group of neighbors. We raised our kids together, borrowed each other’s baking goods, and experienced tragedy together. So when we moved, it was bittersweet. We had to leave people we had genuinely come to love.

Despite this sense of community, few of our neighbors were what you’d consider committed evangelical Christians. And so as our children grew, we had to navigate the tension of being “in this world” but not “of this world.” There were contexts we avoided — particularly some parties that we felt would not be good for us or for our children. And yet we always struggled with articulating this, because we didn’t want to come off as judgmental. I think we did OK, but we always wondered.

I’m telling this story because it was this context (and our current context as a family in a new neighborhood) that constantly provoked Angela and me to wrestle with raising our children with values (on the one hand) and teaching them to love people and make a difference in the world (on the other hand).

I think there is a real danger, especially among conservative evangelicals, to fall off the horse on one side or the other. Most of us are aware of the danger of too much immersion in the culture that can negatively influence our kids away from God. That’s a substantial fear (real and imagined) that has motivated much of what we do in the church. It’s a concern worth having. As parents, we’re the curators of what influences the young minds God has entrusted us.

But it’s the other danger, a more subtle danger, that worries me most as a parent. I’m afraid that if I’m not careful, I may raise up little Pharisees, who so imbibe the values I teach that they use them as a cudgel with which to judge others. We have to be careful about doing this.

I think there are three areas where this is a real danger.

I want to discuss them and how keeping the gospel narrative front and center can help keep us balanced:

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s the Senior Vice-President of Communications for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), and a regular contributor to several leading publications, including Christianity Today, USA Today, The Gospel Coalition, and others. He is the bestselling author of several books, including The Characters of Christmas, The Dignity Revolution, and A Way With Words. Dan is a teaching pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee and lives with his wife and four children in the Nashville area.