The Family Game Plan

I discovered a spiritual truth, of all places, in the comic strip “Peanuts.” A disappointed Charlie Brown finds himself sitting on top of the baseball mound after a game muttering these words, “One hundred and forty to nothing… I just don’t understand it … and we were so sincere.” We want what is best for our children, but sincerity alone doesn’t guarantee success. A loving home increases the chances that our children will have a positive relationship with God, but we must have a plan to develop that relationship. As author Chuck Swindoll writes, “The church seldom resurrects what the home puts to death.”‘


My oldest son Eric and I enjoy the sport of rock climbing. We understand successful climbing depends on a good plan. In fact, the climber’s motto is “You must stay on route.” One weekend Eric and I decided to forge our own route up a particular cliff. Eric said, “Okay, Dad, let’s go up the dihedral, traverse right fifteen feet, down-climb ten feet over this ledge and set up Station One. Then we’ll go up the second pitch to the 5.7-5.8 hard crack to the top.” That’s exactly what we did, for climbers never divert from their plans unless they plan the diversion. They stay with their game plan, establishing anchors, protection, care, confidence, assurance, trust, and commitment. That ensures success, or as climbers call it, “flash” or “redpoint.”

It’s been said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That certainly holds true for the family. Goals are not accomplished by hoping, by osmosis, by mental assent, or even sincerity. Why then do many parents believe their children will develop life principles in these ways? There must be an evaluated, calculated, self-determined plan for the eternal destiny of our children’s lives. We must develop a family plan and not get off route.

Billy Sunday, the great evangelist of a past generation, spoke these last words to his wife: “Ma, the tragedy of my life is that although I’ve led thousands of people to Jesus Christ, my own sons are not saved.” One of his sons became an atheist and died an alcoholic not because his father was insincere or ungodly, but because he didn’t devote enough time to his family. My family is so important to me that years ago I developed a “family game plan” so such a thing wouldn’t happen.

What do you want for your children? Have you and your spouse discussed this question? A survey asked parents to list five traits they wanted their children to possess. The results were that sixty-three percent wanted their kids to have a sense of responsibility, forty-nine percent said good manners, forty-five percent said tolerance, thirty-six percent said a meaningful faith, and twenty-nine percent said a sense of independence. My wife and I decided to make our own list of the traits we want our two sons to possess:

Godliness. We want them to know and obey God. I’ve explained to them their obedience to their mother and me is a prelude to obeying God. If they will obey us, it will be much easier for them to obey God.

Honesty. Satan is called the father of lies. (See John 8:44.) If we call ourselves Christians, honesty and truthfulness must be a part of our character.

Responsibility. I want my sons to be responsible in life. That includes taking responsibility for the choices they make, right or wrong, without passing the buck.

A positive attitude. After church one evening, my son Adam said, “Dad, you sure did preach long.” I thought about that a moment, then asked him to be more positive in his statement. He responded, “Dad, I’m positive you preached long.” That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but as I thought about the episode, it made me realize for my children to have a positive attitude in life they need to see it in me.

A positive self-image. Few things are more important than a healthy self-image, and few things are more disgusting than an over-healthy one. When we truly understand our position in Christ there’s little danger that it will be too low or too high. When balanced, our self-image will carry us through the rough places in life.

What is your plan of attack? If you haven’t made one, write down five traits you want to see developed in your children. Then sit down with your children and talk about them. That’s developing a game plan. Mertan Strommen said, “A committed, intrinsic Christian faith is best communicated by adults who are not only accurate in their empathetic relationships, but also gospel oriented in their faith. In other words, openness and perceptiveness with respect to one’s children are highly associated with a similar religious faith in young people.”


Time. How do you spell love? T-I-M-E. Our children are young only once, and that’s when they need us most! Moses told Jewish parents to seize every opportunity to convey God’s laws and precepts to their youngsters: when they sat down together when they walked together before they went to bed, and when they got up in the morning. If a tidy house is more important than having fun with our kids, perhaps our priorities are out of balance. If gaining and maintaining a high standard of living leaves no time for nurturing, maybe the cost is too high. Today’s fast pace, the pressure to succeed, and the lure of materialism conspire to sap us of the emotional energy needed to build relationships with our children. “If I can’t spend a quantity of time, then I’ll spend quality time” has been a convenient slogan for busy parents. But our kids need more of our time. We should make a conscious decision to make time with them a high priority.

Living our convictions. A study showed if both mother and father attend church regularly seventy-two percent of the children remain faithful to God; fifty-five percent if only the father attends regularly; fifteen percent if only the mother attends regularly; and six percent if neither attend regularly. Notice the tremendous response when the father faithfully attends church. Dr. James Dobson stated, “If America is going to survive, it will be because husbands and fathers begin to put their families at the highest level of priorities and reserve something of their time, effort, and energy for leadership within their own homes.” Our lives must be consistent before our children.

Unconditional love. In the Psalms, David lovingly praised God for His long-suffering attitude toward persistent rebellion. In Hosea, God reiterates His unconditional love by using the example of a prophet who married a harlot and faithfully loved her despite her repeated adultery.

I talked with a young man who grew up being loved if he did well. He said he knew the words to say and the way to act to his benefit, but in the long run, he rebelled. Our children should receive worth by birth. Unconditional love will provide security and help ward off rebellion. Do we love our children because of performance, behavior, career choices, potential, or need? Or do we love them because they’re ours, with no strings attached? They can answer those questions quickly and accurately, even if we can’t. God loves us unconditionally; we owe it to our kids to do the same.

Training. Training is more than teaching. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Webster defines train as: “To mold the character, instruct by exercise, drill, to make obedient, put or point in an exact direction, or, to prepare for a contest.” Also, notice the result of training with discipline. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (NASB).

A game plan plays a vital role in the training of our children. One of the best activities in our family has been our father-son getaways. When they reached ages 5-6, 11-12, 15-16, and 18-19, I would take each son on a trip. They provided opportunities for serious conversation and for the pleasure of being together.

When Eric was eleven years old we took a trip to Yosemite Valley. We backpacked up Mist Trail to Little Yosemite Valley, pitched our tent by a stream, and enjoyed the night under the stars. The next day we hiked to the top of Half Dome. As we sat looking out over the valley, we talked about issues relevant to Eric. We discussed girls, sex, future goals, and, ultimately, his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was a great day, but it didn’t happen by chance.

When Adam was twelve we found our way to Burney Falls State Park. We prepared to camp under a full moon and listened to the crickets sing. We sat on a log with a cold drink and had “one of those talks.” Once again, the trip didn’t happen by chance. I planned it for the purpose of “training my child.”

Right now would be a good time to plan a special trip with your kids. It could be a camping trip, a trip to see a ball game, a father/daughter date. Plan it around your interests, but plan it. Whatever it costs in money, time, and effort, it’s the best investment you can make.

Respect. Someone has said that the toughest thing about raising kids is convincing them who has seniority. We can’t abdicate our authority, but we can and should show respect to our kids. We do so by recognizing that children are not carbon copies of one other. We must allow them to be individuals.

We must also respect their opinions even when they differ from ours. It’s okay to say no, and sometimes it’s imperative that we do so. But we shouldn’t deny them the privilege of having and expressing their own opinion.

Finally, we all have pressures in life, but we can’t be so shortsighted as to think our kids don’t have them as well. We need to respect the difficulties they face and make ourselves available to them. If we aren’t there to ease the pressures they go through, they’ll find ways of their own, perhaps through alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

Our children will grow up with or without a game plan, but how successfully depends on how much we choose to invest in them.

The Reverend Larry Rust is the senior pastor of Susanville Assembly of God and creator of Time Net Management a pastoral time management program. He has been in pastoral ministry for twenty years. A gifted speaker he is a graduate of Bethany College where he majored in Biblical Studies.

He and his wife Hilda have two sons: Eric and Adam.