Why “Be Good/Feel Good” is No Good

We have said that the chief goal of parenting should be to make disciples of children. Unfortunately, most churches and parents have set a low bar (the wrong bar) for what it means to be a disciple. In more cases than we realize, discipleship has been reduced to adherence to a moral code. Well-intentioned people come away from church with a sense that maturity as a Christian is about keeping the rules and that the goal of the Christian life is merely to be happy.

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A major study was conducted of youth a few years ago called the National Study of Youth and Religion. A recent book written out of that study is Kenda Creasy Dean’s outstanding work, Almost Christian. Based on the research, Dean observes that the drift of teens away from faith is a result of a counterfeit faith that teaches kids that the goal of Christianity is to be good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length until one of those things goes wrong. The punch line, if you will, in the book is the fact that kids see faith this way exactly because that’s the way their parents are modeling faith!

Sadly, be good/feel good theology is the American dream for our kids. We want them to feel good and be good. In fact, I believe that the prevailing church culture has unintentionally taught parents that this is the goal of Christianity. When we have a goal other than God’s glory we really are saying we believe that the Gospel is a means to an end and not the end. In other words, church culture communicates that we should share the gospel with kids in order for them to be good and feel good. That’s nothing more than moralism. And it breeds nothing more that idolatrous consumerism of religious goods and services. Be good/feel good theology is idolatry. It keeps man at the center of his universe and leaves Jesus merely as the means to one’s happiness and satisfaction.

Jesus’ call to discipleship in Luke 9:23-25 is radically different than a be good/feel good message. The Gospel calls people to come and die to the idols of self, consumerism, and behaviorism. Gospel-centered theology places God at the center of the universe with Jesus as the sent Son of God who paid the penalty for our inability to be good.

The goal of discipleship for parents is not to make kids feel good and be good. Rather, the goal is to orient our children toward the Gospel. That’s the goal of parenting in general. As William Farley states in Gospel-Powered Parenting, “Parenting has not succeeded until God’s worldview has conquered a child’s heart” (43).

So, how do we teach our kids to have a Gospel-oriented life? First, we as parents need to examine our own lives. Do we see the Gospel as a means to the end of moralism and prosperity? Or do we see the Gospel as the chief end, that is, to bring God glory by embracing the sacrificial death of His Son on our behalf and proclaiming that story of redemption to everyone we encounter?

There’s a lot more to unpack on this topic, so this post may have generated more questions than answers. I assure you there will be more to come! Leave your comments to help us all journey together toward an understanding of God’s best for making disciples of our kids!