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208 pages
Dec 2003
InterVarsity Press

Never Mind the Joneses: Building Core Christian Values in a Way That Fits Your Family

by Tim Stafford

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Parents are besieged with opportunities for their children. Should you enroll Sylvia in gymnastics? or ballet? Latin? or all three? Nobody can decide for you, and no answer is right or wrong. Multiply the decision by a thousand times, though, and it has huge implications.

Even more importantly, how will you raise Sylvia to know subjects for which she cannot enroll? Lots of families produce good gymnasts, good violinists and good students who really have no sense of what it means to love God and to serve other people.

In the urgent confusion of our modern world, parents need a framework for evaluating their choices. Even more, they need an approach that keeps the good from crowding out the best.

This book shows how to put core Christian values at the center of your family life, to make a foundation under sports, music, school and everything else. Core values don’t get taught through a lecture. They are caught, on a day-by-day basis, through activities as much as words. This book will show you how to do that in your family. We willtake one value at a time, for fourteen chapters. We’ll consider values like truthfulness, hard work and family unity. What are you currently doing that teaches this value? How can you emphasize or strengthen it? Do you need to try something new? And what habits do you need to eliminate?

I am not going to give an exact recipe for family life, because I believe strongly that every family should find its own unique approach. Rather, I’ll show you how other families integrate these core values into daily life—lots of different families, in lots of different ways.


“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots.

The other is wings.” I’m not sure who first said that, but the phrase “roots and wings” has been quoted universally—on greeting cards, book jackets and educational programs.

Everybody knows that roots and wings are an unlikely combination.

Wings don’t grow on trees. Nor do roots and wings come together spontaneously in family life. Only with difficulty do parents teach their children responsibility and yet offer them freedom.

At one extreme, some parents become extremely controlling. They have a clearly defined sense of right and wrong, often prompted by the Bible. Knowing what God expects, how can they fail to insist on obedience in their family? And yet their children, even if they are compliant, may not truly accept their parents’ values for their own. If these values aren’t integrated into the inner self of the child, then the values will get dumped in college or in the working world, as soon as the children gain some individual freedom.

At the other extreme are parents who provide few boundaries or guidelines for their children. They want their children to be free to find themselves, free not to copy anybody else. Yet their children often grow up without any real sense of guidance. With no core values, they may fall prey to the easier values of a material culture—money, appearance, status or style. They become not liberated but lost.

The framework of this book provides both roots and wings. Roots come from core values found in Scripture. Add these core values together and you have a portrait of life lived well. Is there a parent who doesn’t want this for his or her children?


The wings of grace come from what I call “family culture.” I’ll explain this idea in more detail later. For the present let me simply say that family culture is the answer to the question, “What makes your family different from every other?” Families have rituals, habits and traditions that mix together in a way that belongs uniquely to them. Each family develops its own style and its own flavor.

You value friendliness? Your family culture will show it. You value simplicity? money? education? extended family? Your family culture expresses your values.

Family culture can flex to fit the people you are. It expresses your creativity and personality. Family culture can be your “wings.”

This book will help you sort through each of fourteen core values and consider how to integrate them in your family culture. I’ll give lots of examples to demonstrate how one value can take many forms, depending on the family. You have lots of possibilities. The important point is, choose one. Or more than one!

The result is a paradox. In one sense, if you claim to be a Christian family, you have the same ambitions as every other Christian family. You don’t need to be creative about values. You already have the God-given best.

Paradoxically, though, the way you live out those values will make you unlike any other family on the face of the earth.

There is a simple explanation for this paradox. It is rooted in the character of God. He loves goodness. He also loves variety. (Look at the universe he made.) Therefore he wants his people to show both.


With deepest concern I want to add that our families need another kind of grace: the grace to forgive ourselves. I hope this kind of grace will show through every line of this book.

A danger lurks in core values. They must be lived with a light touch. That lightness is the touch of grace. A family may have all the right values and live them out with rigor, but if the family lacks grace and forgiveness their home will be oppressive and lifeless. From the outside that may not be obvious. From the inside it will throw up powerful emotional responses.

Our children come into the world capable of great good and equally capable of becoming lost and futile. We can train them toward the light, but they are quite able to choose another way. We would not want our children to be anything but free. Their freedom, however, can break our hearts.

That is why we pray for our children. We know that even if we were perfect parents, our children would need more than our perfection could offer. And we are very far from perfect parents.

I know parents who have done their best and now feel disappointed, worried and sometimes guilty. The parents may feel angry with themselves for failing their children, or angry with the children for failing to live up to the good life they were taught.

“Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20). Anger is futile; only God’s grace and forgiveness has the power to change us for the better. I think that is why the Bible tells us relatively little about how to be an ideal parent—and a great deal about how to live by God’s grace. This book is dedicated to good parenting, and I hope that it will help many families to raise good children. The best parenting, though, comes from our Father in heaven.

    He does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    As a father has compassion on his children,
        so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
    (Psalm 103:10-13)

May such grace penetrate our skins and get all the way into our hearts.