Adapting Your Parenting Style to the Child

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (ESV) 7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

I’m a father, a grandfather, and I’ve been a pastor for over thirty-one years. So, I’ve thought a lot about parenting and I’ve received a lot of questions about it from others throughout the years. Questions like:

  • “How and when should I discipline my child?”
  • “How old should they be for being potty trained?”
  • “When is my child old enough to confess faith in Christ?”
  • “What about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?”
  • “How can I be sure that they are saved?”
  • “What do I do about my rebellious teen?”
  • “How do address my adult child?”

In answering these questions, we have God’s Word as our guide, but we must also take into account the child’s level of maturity. Have you noticed that every child is unique? No two are the same. And as they grow, they change. So the parenting style that seemed effective when they were small, doesn’t work when they’re older. These differences require different parenting styles. 

Parenting is affected by your child’s age (maturity), ability (mental and physical) and their heart (will). As children grow to maturity, their mental understanding moves from thinking in concrete ways to more abstract thought. So, our parenting style must adapt to the child. In addition, what works with one child may not work with another. So, we must seek to understand and know them. The chart above offers a helpful way of seeing how children progress in their spiritual formation and mental development based on their age.

Looking at the way the apostle Paul ministered to the Thessalonians, that he was like a “mother” (7) and a “father” (11) to them, shows how Paul adapted his “parenting style” to fit where these new believers were in their spiritual journey. Notice the three verbs he used in verse 12 to describe how he led them. He said that he “exhorted, encouraged, and charged” them to follow after the Lord. Each verb reveals a different mentoring or parenting style that shows how to adapt your parenting style to your child.


First, the verb “exhorted” (Greek: “parakalountes“) means to beseech, to admonish, or exhort. Literally, it means “calling alongside.” In other words, it means to “show and tell.” When is this parenting style most needed? When your children are young. 

A helpful model for illustrating this is found in Ron Campbell’s book,  Situational Parenting. Look at this diagram I adapted from the book. I have added my thoughts in red. The “S1” situation, when the child is between the ages 0-6, calls for this “exhorting” style. This style is high guidance, high authority and directive. A parent’s job at this age is to show and tell them what to do and how to respond. This is not the time to be offering choices and explaining reasons. This is the time to teach obedience and for them to learn in concrete ways the rules of living under your authority.


The second verb Paul used to describe his parenting style was “encouraged” (Greek: “paramutheomai”). It means to comfort, encourage, console, or admonish. This is another “para” (“alongside”) word, so it’s very relational. But instead of a “come alongside to see and do as I say,” it is more of a “you can do it and I’m right here with you” style. This moves the parent from a directing role into a coaching role where the child is willing, but is still developing the skill-sets to do things well. 

Notice the shift from “guiding and directing” in S1 to “explaining and persuading” in S2. Children in the 7-12 age group are moving from concrete to more abstract thinking. When the parent has done a good job using the “show and tell” style in the early years, parenting the child in the “S2” ages 7-12 season can be one of the most encouraging and joyful seasons of parenting. It is also the most critical time spiritually for most children. For they are the most receptive and open to the gospel in this season of life. Most people who come to faith in Christ made the decision during this phase of life.


The third verb Paul used to describe his parenting style was “charged” (Greek: “martureō). It means to bear witness, to testify, to charge. Paul used this final style to prepare those he had discipled to go and live in a “manner worthy of God” as he had taught and modeled to them.

The “charge and send” parenting style is the one that parents should hope to use in the child’s teenage years. This is the season when the parent should be able to slowly transition from using an authoritative style to one of influence. This is the season when you’ve already taught them how to ride a bike, you’ve already gone out riding with them and taught them about safety and the rules of the road. Now it’s time to let them ride out of your sight without you riding alongside them. It’s the time to slowly give them more and more freedom, while still maintaining final authority.

Parents often make themselves and their teens miserable during this phase because they use the skill set from S1 instead of S3 here. They do this usually because they were too lax in the early years and now they try to make up for it. Ideally, this should be the years that they are releasing them. Like a countdown to a launch. 

This is the phase when I used to say to my teenage children as they were leaving on a date or going out with friends, “Remember who you are and whose you are!” 

“Yes Dad.” They’d reply.

“So, say it.” I’d answer.

“I’m a child of God. And I belong to God.” They’d say as the hurried to leave.

“And don’t you ever forget it!” I’d shout as they departed.


This is the final phase of parenting and it never really ends. If parents are faithful to raise up their children in the Lord, actively doing the hard work of fathering and mothering, then their children eventually become more like friends. And the children view their parents as mentors and honor them all the days of their life.

In this phase, the parent must learn to release their adult children to the Lord. They must withhold unsolicited advice, learning to wait for their children to ask for help. In this season, parents must learn to direct their care to the Lord in prayer and to let the Lord direct their children’s and their grandchildren’s steps. This is the season when the parent no longer leads by authority, but by influence.

5 reasons our church looks like a game show this week…

“Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” – Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23 (NLT)

‘But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”‘ – Jesus, Luke 18:16 (ESV)

If you come to our church this week, or for that matter, you just drive by the building, you’ll see some pretty unusual features added to our windows and interior. Our church looks like a game show!


Yep. We’ve made some temporary modifications to make our building look like a game show set. Not only that, but we’re dressing the part, and we’ve even written songs and lessons and designed crafts and activities around the game show theme.


Let me give you five reasons:

  1. Because kids today love watching game shows and especially love being able to participate in them. We know that our members will bring their kids to any kind of VBS type event  just because we offer it. But we wanted to do something that would cause kids in the city, that don’t normally go to church, to beg their parents to bring them. As the apostle Paul taught, we are trying to find “common ground” with unreached families in our city in order to share the gospel with them.
  2. Because kids are the most open to the gospel. That’s why Jesus instructed His disciples not to do anything to “hinder” kids from coming to Him. We’re making our church kid-friendly because we want to give them the gospel in a way that they can understand.
  3. Because when we reach kids, we also reach their parents. One of the main reasons that people begin attending church is because one of their children starts asking “God-questions.” You know, stuff like: “Who made the world? What happens when you die? Who is Jesus?” Parents often need help with these kinds of questions. We want to be there to help.
  4. Because the future growth of our church is in our children and family ministries. God has trusted us with young families with lots of kids. We want to be good stewards of that trust. So, our annual KidzFest outreach is one way that we “lean in” to this trust that God has given us.
  5. Because we want to teach kids about the Good News that is found in Jesus Christ and because kids matter to God.

So, there’s five reasons that we’re looking and dressing like a game show this week. It’s why over 100 adult volunteers have been singing, teaching, playing and serving all week. It’s why we planned and worked for months beforehand to prepare. We want kids to come to Jesus.

So, put your “game face” on and join us this coming Sunday to hear what our children have learned and the decisions they have made at KidzFest 2023!

4 Key Areas of Discipleship

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 18:19-20 ESV).

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NIV).

The command to “go and make disciples” is not just for pastors and missionaries, it’s for every believer. This commission is to all who would call themselves Christ-followers. It’s the Great Commission, and one of the main purposes of the Church.

As a church, we want Eastgate to be like a discipleship “factory.” A widget factory is concerned about production, how many widgets they’re making, but they’re also focused on quality control. They want each widget to meet certain minimum specs. Likewise, Eastgate’s “disciple-making factory” is concerned about both quantity and quality. We want to grow both deep and wide.

Desiring to grow “deep” disciples, there are four areas in which we endeavor to lead and feed our flock. These four key areas are similar to the four ways that Jesus grew in Luke 2:52. Our four areas or four “B”s of discipleship are (not necessarily in this order):

  • Believing – Jesus grew in wisdom, in what He knew. We desire to lead people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We desire to teach the whole Bible. We want our members to be biblically literate and trained in good doctrine. We have ten essentials or foundations of the faith that we seek unity of belief on.
  • Behaving – Jesus grew in stature. He grew physically. We desire that our members grow in physical disciplines and self-control. We teach believers about financial stewardship, parenting, marriage and other life-skills. We teach them about the spiritual disciplines, like how to have a daily quiet time, about Bible study, witnessing, worship, prayer, fasting, sacrificial giving and more.
  • Becoming – Jesus grew in favor with God. He grew spiritually. We desire that our members grow spiritually too. This is about the inner life, one’s character. We believe that the nine character traits of the fruit of the Spirit, like “love, joy, peace…” and so on, found in Galatians 5:22-23 are good indicators of growing in the character of Jesus. Adding the trait of “hope,” we seek to train members to yield to the Lord and grow in these ten character traits.
  • Belonging – Jesus grew in favor with men. He grew socially. We desire to lead believers to have assurance of salvation, so that they know that they belong to God and to God’s family. We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ who have a growing Heart for God, Heart for each other, and Heart for our World. We want Eastgate to live as the family of God.

As a church we desire to build disciples that are growing in these four areas to be more like Jesus, but admittedly, we can only offer these things. To reword an old cliche, “we can lead our sheep to water, but we can’t make them drink.” As individuals, we have to take personal responsibility for our own discipleship. The church can only offer an environment for growth. We each have to personally desire this growth.

Do you want to grow more like Jesus? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities for growth that your church offers? Are you yielding to God’s work in you?

How’s your discipleship?

4 Devotions of Life Changing Small Groups

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV).

We’re not a church with small groups. We’re a church of small groups. Our church started in my living room with seven people. So, we’ve considered small groups to be one of the keys to fulfilling our calling to make disciples from day one.

As our church has grown in attendance, we have continually launched more small groups, or “community groups,” as we call them. Over 75% of our weekend services attenders are involved in one of our community groups. We recognize the importance of growing big and small at the same time, so as our weekend attendance grows, we launch more groups. And we strive to keep our church calendar uncluttered to make it easier for members to follow the the weekly rhythm of meeting together in the “temple courts and from house to house” (Acts 2:46, 5:42).

But the real secret to our life-changing small groups are the four devotions of the first century church found in Acts 2:42. The Scripture says that they were devoted to 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread and 4) the prayers. So, we decided to base our community group ministry on these same four commitments.

1. A Shared Faith (“The apostle’s teaching”). All of our groups study the sermon from that previous weekend. We plan our sermons a year in advance to make sure that we offer a balanced diet of expositional studies through books of the Bible, topical sermon series that address current needs, such as biblical parenting, marriage, and financial stewardship, and other sermon series that our teaching team prayerfully prepares to meet the unique needs or our flock. Our desire is that the community groups would help move the weekly sermon from head to heart, as members discuss and apply the Scripture to their lives. Our teaching team writes weekly community group discussion guides to help facilitate the shepherding of these groups. Having the whole church essentially studying the same Scripture every week is also a powerful unifier, which leads to the second commitment…

2. A Shared Family (“the fellowship”). The commitment to meet together weekly in one another’s homes creates a more family-like environment. The shared hospitality of sitting knee to knee with a beverage and Bible in hand makes for a more relational experience. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. This word could also be translated communion or participation. And that’s the key to this second commitment, we want people to actively participate in discussion and application of the Word of God to their lives. We’ve learned that people are better discipled in circles, than in rows. These groups help facilitate life on life discipleship.

3. A Shared Food (“the breaking of bread”). Sharing a meal together and regularly remembering the Lord’s Supper together is the third commitment. We train our community group shepherds to plan a weekly meeting that lasts around two hours. The first hour is to be devoted to fellowship and food, and the second hour to Bible study and prayer. There’s just something about eating together that breaks down barriers and enhances the sense of family.

4. A Shared Focus (“the prayers”). Praying together is the fourth commitment. We encourage our groups to keep this in balance with the other three commitments. We want our groups praying real and transparent prayers together. This takes time and trust. We’ve found that breaking up into men’s and women’s groups for prayer time often enhances the trust factor. Men and women are different. And they often have different prayer and communication habits. The key here is to be creative. Sometimes they might pray all together, sometimes in pairs or triplets, and sometimes according to gender.

When we first launch a new community group, we have them study Acts 2:42 together for the first four weeks before joining the rest of the church in studying the sermon. We’ve written a new group launch guide for this. We also encourage the group to appoint champions for each of the four commitments during the launch. The group shepherd will champion the apostle’s teaching, but will also name an apprentice. Then, they are to ask for volunteers to champion the other three commitments. So, each group has a fellowship champion, who keeps members informed of meeting times/places, birthdays and anniversaries; a food champion, who organizes the weekly meals; and a prayer champion, who records the prayer requests and keeps the group informed concerning the group’s prayer list.

By basing our small group ministry on the four commitments of the first century church, we have seen wonderful and miraculous life change in the members of our church. It is not always easy to stay committed to these four devotions. There is always a temptation to add or subtract or to emphasize one over the other. Sometimes it is like herding cats trying to convince people of the efficacy of this approach. But it has been our experience that when we steadfastly commit ourselves to these four devotions and keep them in balance, life change happens!

This is an edited version of my article from August 25, 2016.


“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” – Mark 15:37 (ESV)

On this Good Friday let us meditate upon the seven last words of Jesus from the cross:

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
  2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
  3. “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26).
  4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34).
  5. “I thirst” (John 19:28).
  6. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
  7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

These seven last words are like seven diamonds on a necklace, each perfect in color, clarity and cut, but varying in caret. They hang in three groups, three sayings each in the first and last group and one saying of greatest weight hanging prominently in the middle. 

In the first group of three, Jesus expressed his concern for those surrounding the cross. To the Jewish leaders who had condemned Him and the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him, He said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” To the thief hanging on the cross next to Him, He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And to His mother He said, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple John, “Behold, your mother!”

In the last group of three, He expressed His determination to accomplish His purpose, saying:  “I thirst,” and “It is finished,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

In the middle, He cried out in despair as He experienced the weight of sin fall on Him and separation from His Father, so that He called on Him as God, saying: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Notice that Jesus’ last statement from the cross before He died was similar to His first. Like bookends to His seven last words, these two are prayers and in both, He addressed them to His Father, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” 

This last saying is like a child’s prayer, a cry for reunion. The Son is ready to go home to His Father. “Father, I’m ready to come home!” He cried. “Come and get Me, Abba!”

In 2017, we preached a seven week sermon series entitled, “SEVEN WORDS: A Study of Christ’s Seven Last Words.” If you’d like to watch those seven sermons, you can click on the link above. In preparation for our series, we worked to verify the last sayings of Christ, discover which gospels reported them, and place them in the best chronological order. Here is a link to a PDF of the chart that we made: “A STUDY OF THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS.” You really should take a look at this chart because it will help orient you to the way the four gospels together give us a fuller picture of Christ’s last words from the cross.

The great British expositor, C. H. Spurgeon has said on this subject, “There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom.”

Yet, we would invite you to join us this day, as we endeavor to try and fathom them, diving deep into these seven last words of Jesus to meditate on their meaning.

Ask the Pastor – 1/26/23

Pastor Gary Combs answers questions from people doing the One Year Bible readings in Genesis. Is there extra-biblical record of Joseph in Egypt? Who was the Pharaoh during Joseph’s time? And is there a contradiction between Genesis 10:5 “each with his own language” and Genesis 11:1 “the whole earth had one language?”


“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” – Romans 12:11-12 (ESV)

I’m writing this blog on my annual study retreat. I usually try to find a place at the beach or in the mountains the last week of the year, where I can eliminate distractions and focus on hearing from God. I’m thankful for an understanding wife and an understanding church that allows me this time to rest, reflect and recharge. I’ve found such times to be one of the keys to a sustainable ministry, so that I don’t become “slothful in zeal,” especially as I get older. I don’t want to burnout, nor become lukewarm. I want to stay red hot for Jesus until He calls me home!

I think there are at least five keys to sustainable ministry:

1. Take time to refuel spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be fervent in spirit.” The word “fervent”means “to burn, to be hot, to be zealous.” He wrote to Timothy, who was apparently struggling with a season of timidity in his ministry, that he should, “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). We must take responsibility for our own spiritual zeal. Retreat to advance. Take time to refuel your spirit.

2. Remember that you’re not the savior. There’s only one Savior. That’s Jesus. He’s God and you’re not. Stop trying to save everyone. Only Jesus saves. As Paul said, “Serve the Lord.” You’re a servant, not the savior. The real motive underneath our desire to “save” everyone is probably suspect anyway. Isn’t it that we are people-pleasers? We want people to like us. So, we rush around answering every email, text message and phone call, not wanting to disappoint anyone. Be the Lord’s servant. Let Him be the Savior.

3. Anchor your joy in gospel hope. Hope is like a rope. It is not some flimsy wish that prompts us to say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain.” No, gospel hope is substantial. It is like a rope anchored on one end to the resurrection of Christ and passing through the veil of heaven where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father until His soon return. If we set our hopes on temporal things, we will nearly always be disappointed.  Even when we focus on ministry success (whatever that means), then our joy is attached to whether we achieve that success. This leads to a driven, joyless, roller coaster life of ups and downs. As Paul said, “Rejoice in hope.” Anchor your joy in gospel hope, not temporal things!

4. Persevere through times of pain. There will be times of tribulation. They come without warning. We are tempted to feel that such times will never end. Yet, every season has a beginning, middle and end. Don’t give up! Paul wrote, “Be patient in tribulation.” The other temptation when faced with pain is avoidance. How can we avoid the pain? What if we quit or turn back? Will that stop the pain?

This past year our family experienced an unexpected loss. My baby brother, Donnie, had a massive stroke and died at the young age of fifty-three. Our family stood holding hands around his hospital bed as he breathed his last. The acute sorrow and pain at losing him so suddenly was terrible, but we did not hide from it. We faced it with our eyes wide open and our hearts clinging to our faith in Jesus. Now we carry with us a lingering grief. Yet, we do not sorrow without hope. For we have confidence in Christ Jesus that we will soon be reunited. Until then, we patiently persevere, not avoiding nor denying our pain, but giving it to Jesus. Giving it to Him, we exchange it for His unconquerable joy!

5. Pray more, strive less. Ministry seems to attract “Type A” people, those who are driven to succeed in everything. Yet, ministry also seems custom designed to break those same people. As one older pastor counseled a younger church planter who was just starting out, “You will suffer.” But this suffering shouldn’t drive us to quit, it should drive us to our knees. Praying is especially hard for those same Type A people. Sure, they pray, but then they feel that it’s up to them to accomplish the results through hard work. But what if the most effective way to work is by being “constant in prayer?” This is the hard lesson that those who would have a sustainable ministry must learn. Pray more and strive less.

Sustainable ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. May those that follow the above five keys continue to burn with zeal until the end of life’s race.

Ask the Pastor – 12/8/22

Pastor Gary Combs answers various Bible questions that have come to him via the church’s “Ask the Pastor.” This segment addresses questions like, “Will there be Levitical priests offering sacrifices again?” “Were the 12 disciples also members of the 12 tribes?” “Was Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar?”

ASK THE PASTOR – 8/25/22

Pastor Gary Combs responds to a recent question about his sermon from Ephesians 6:1-4 on children honoring their father and mother. Specifically, the question was: “How should adult children honor physically, verbally, and/or mentally abusive parents?”

He also responds to a question about the instruction concerning women and head covering from the One Year Bible reading for 1 Corinthians 11:13-16.