We’ve received multiple requests for the incredible teaching content around families that Bill Hybels, Heather Larson, and Steve Carter discussed this past January.
Below are the edited transcripts of the "Ask Bill" weekend. For full video content go to willowcreek.tv here!
Steve: You started Willow when you were 22, and you would talk about family matters in the mid-70s. Now it's 2018, and we're once again talking about family matters. What have you seen change in families in our church over these past four decades?
Bill: The greatest change I've seen is the pace of life. When I think back to 1975 versus 2018, it seems like we're over-revved in family lives these days. Most of the time, both parents are working that wasn't true forty-some years ago; social media, kid’s athletics, different after-school curriculum opportunities. I mean, all of it just makes us operate at warp speed now, and I don't recall it being quite that frenetic back in the in the 70s.
Steve: We have a number of single people in our church, and there was a number of questions that came in, and there are some singles in their 20s, some singled because of divorce, some singled because of a loss of a loved one. What advice would you give, because there are some single people who say, “Man, 50 percent of people are getting divorced. I don't want to be in a marriage,” and others do. What advice would you give to both sets?
Bill: Statistically, psychologists, sociologists would say that it's in the high 90 percent that all singles would like to get married. They might get discouraged along the way and decide that their parents had a broken marriage, and they can't find the right person, but most single people would rather be with a partner. So, what I try or have tried to do over the years is ask each single person to search their soul, and to actually come to terms with, “How much of a priority am I going to make finding the love of my life?” Now, a good friend of mine and yours is Henry Cloud, and Dr. Cloud says, routinely, to single people, “If you would like to find a lifelong mate, you better start dating.” And he says, “You’ve got to get your numbers up. You’ve got to date a lot, because if you date a lot, then you're going to learn the kind of person you don't want to be with, you're going learn about yourself, and you might come across a person who you do want to be with.” Then there are other single people who, when they look deep in their soul, they say, “You know what? That's just not that much of a priority for me anymore.” And they lean into the church, they get into a small group, they get on a serving team, they get all in involved stuff at work, and they can live a fantastic, completely satisfied, fulfilled lives as singles, and many of my single friends say, “Don't feel sorry for us. I mean, man, we’ve never dumped diapers. We don't have to do half the stuff that you do.” 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul says something pretty stretching. He says, “Why don't some of you single people consider making the choice not to get married, so that you can give more hours of your one and only life to moving ahead the purposes of God in this world.” Paul threw that challenge out. Now, I've been waiting for Steve to preach on that verse, and he just won't preach on it. But someday he will, and we'll see how the singles respond to that one.
Heather: We got a question from another single in our church who said, “Doesn't everyone live together before marriage these days? It seems that's just normal. Is that okay?”
Bill: Let's turn to the Scriptures again. God's Word is very clear that sexual relations should happen inside a marriage between a man and a woman, and only in that context. So, that means all the rest of people who do not fit in that category should be celibate, should be pure, sexually pure. So, if two people are heading toward marriage, and they move in together, there's probably going to be sexual relationships involved in that, and so that would be forbidden by Scripture. But what I'd like to do when I read prohibitions in Scripture, I like to see if there's corroborating wisdom that would make sense on an earthly level, and so I've done quite a bit of reading on this and here's what some sociologists would say, well the stats first. If you move in, and if you have a live-in relationship before you get married, there's between a 28 and 33 percent greater likelihood that you'll get divorced than people who wait to live with each other until after they get married. Then you say, “What might the reason behind that increased likelihood of divorced be for those who move in with each other before they're married?” One of the leading thoughts on this is, if you if you decide to move in with each other, and then the relationship hits a speed bump, if you weren't living with each other, it's quite common for dating couples to say, "Hey, let's take a two-week break. Let's just have a cooling-off period. Let's take a month off and think about this.” Well, if you've already moved in together, who's going to move where? So, what you tend to do is you say, “Well, we can't really break up for a little while to get our heads together to rebuild this relationship.” So you don't actually solve the problem, the speed bump. You just stay living together. Here's another thought that's a little problematic. Usually in a move-in situation, before there's the decision to get married, there's one person who really wishes that the marriage would happen soon, and then the other person is saying, “I'm not ready yet.” That puts tremendous pressure on that relationship, tremendous pressure. Sooner or later, someone's going to say, “Hey, you know, if this isn't going to wind up in a marriage, I think I might move out.” Then quite often, they say, “Oh, don't move out. I'll just get married,” and that sets up a bad dynamic on the wedding day, too, you see? So it's more complicated than you think. I still think God's wisdom on this is the best wisdom. Stay pure, live apart, and then build that relationship until you're ready to make that commitment, then get engaged, then get married, then set up house.
Heather: We had someone who wrote in and said, “What does a grandparent do if they don't agree with the way their kids are parenting? How do you handle that?”
Bill: You keep your mouth shut. There can be a lot of hurt feelings, because when grandparents are always bringing correction, or in ways that are different from the way that the actual parents are raising the kids, that's incendiary territory right there. We try to give them quite a bit of independence.
Steve: I love this question that came in. “I'm the parent of four beautiful, incredible kids, all of whom are wired so uniquely. What advice would you give in how to best parent/discipline kids in a way that is consistent and fair, but also appropriate to the personalities of each child?”
Bill: The old school of parenting used to be if you have three or four kids, you treat them all alike. You train them up all the same way. You give them all the same discipline. You give them all the same privileges and all that. Terrible idea. These kids are so different one from the other. So I've been pleading with parents, every kid is a one-off. One-on-one time with each child is absolutely essential. Find their motivated abilities early. Some kids are athletes. Some are musicians. Some are a blend. Play to their strengths. Discipline them differently. Hug them differently. Pray with them differently. Every kid is a one-off.
Heather: You and Lynn have been married almost 45 years now. Someone wrote in and wanted to know, “Can you tell us your favorite decade of marriage so far?”
Bill: I would actually say that the current decade we're in is our best. We've learned a lot about each other. We know each other's causes, and we're wildly supportive of each other's causes, and we have so much fun with our kids and grandkids.
Steve: I feel like you have done a great job, you and Lynn, at feeding that adventurous spirit, and that risk-taking. How did you do that?
Bill: One of the greatest gifts that my father gave to me was the gift of self-confidence, and he put me in enough situations, and he said, “You're smart, Billy, and you're talented. You can figure this out.” I think when you expect kids, when you urge kids, to figure stuff out, and you don't hover, and the first time that they get a little discouraged, you don't say, “Oh, that's okay.” “No, no. Keep trying. Figure it out.” Self-confidence builds from within. You develop grit. You develop determination, the confidence to say, “I can face the unknown, and with God's help, and with a little effort, I can figure out a way.” The world does not revolve around them, and I think the sooner that you can teach responsibility, chores, consequences, these kinds of things, you give a huge gift to those kids.
Heather: If you could have your kids and grandkids memorize one Bible verse, what would it be?
Bill: What I most want my kids to understand, my grandkids, is the Gospel, and the single verse that made the Gospel clear to me was Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to God's mercy." He saved us through what Christ did, you see. Now I'm probably going to have to make them memorize that.
Steve: I love this question that came in. “My parents are approaching 80. How do we best honor them as they need more and more help, yet rarely ask for it? The parent/child relationships are changing rapidly, and we are in uncharted waters navigating tough decisions? What advice would you offer?”
Bill: The Scriptures are clear on this one. It says we need to honor our mothers and fathers. We need to honor them. High functioning families divvy up the responsibilities of what is the honorable thing to do. A general rule, though, is you would want your kids to be there for you if you were in the bed, and we need to be the kinds of sons and daughters that are there for our parents to honor them appropriately.
Steve: You've made space, you and Lynne, for both of your callings to have almost equal priority and equal blessing. Speak to that, because I know there are a number of people who need that kind of wisdom.
Bill: The Bible teaches 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, other places, that all of us have spiritual gifts. All of us, male, female, every culture, diversity, everybody has spiritual gifts. When you identify your spiritual gift, and you put them into play, usually God will fire you up about where to use that spiritual gift. So, if that's the case, when you get into a marriage, I should care every bit as much about Lynne being able to use her spiritual gifts as she should care about me being able to use my spiritual gifts. Now we have to negotiate how do we make a marriage work, and a family work, insofar as we both get to use our spiritual gifts. The problem comes when someone sublimates their giftings, their passions, their callings, and says, “You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to be the silent hero, and I'm going to support your giftedness.” I've seen that attempted many times, and it usually results in low-grade resentment. To those of you who are putting down your spiritual gift saying that you're supporting someone else, I think you've got some growing to do. And whatever spouse allows their own gifting and calling to be the only big deal in the marriage, meet me out at the pole barn. I want to give you a Bible study because that's not a very cool thing to do in a marriage. If you love your spouse, you want your spouse's giftedness and their ministry to reach the zenith of your spouse's potential, and even if they're not taking it seriously, help them, cheer them on, and try to get them to do, to become all that God wants them to become. You get a marriage where both partners are cheering on each other's giftedness, that's going to be a pretty happy marriage.
Heather: How can someone instill a love of Scripture into their kids and grandkids? How does someone help their kids love the Bible?
Bill: That's an increasing problem, primarily because of the amount of time that young children are spending in front of screens these days. If you're spending six hours a day with entertainment-oriented screen time, then how do you ever find additional time to get the God part into that little brain? Where does the Christian music come in? Where does the Gospel come in? Where does where the Scripture come in? And so, like with Shauna and Aaron, they have boundaries with screen time. They're very strict about when the boys can have screen time and when they can't have screen time, and then in non-screen time, they do other activities which include Bible reading, and singing together. Parents and grandparents, we have to offset that and use every single opportunity that we have to build spiritual thoughts, and worship thoughts, and gratitude thoughts into the lives of these young people, and we’ve got to make sure that they're a part of Promiseland. It is so critical for kids to have a regular rhythm of children's ministry; Elevate, Impact. With all that these kids are getting from social media, and all that screen time, we’ve got to play it really hard on the other side to balance out what a kid puts in his head, in his heart, and many years from now you'll be really glad that you fought. You'll be glad that you fought for the spiritual health of your child if you enter this effort that we're all trying to enter.
Steve: For four decades you have been so faithful as a pastor, as a leader, and if you were to fast-forward 20, 30 years, what would your hope for what to be true of Willow families to be?
Bill: Well, one reason that I'm very glad that you guys are representing the future of our church is I love the ages and the stages of life that you're in, because you both have young kids, and therefore, you will fight more than a gray-haired old man is going to fight for the story of young families. So, I'm hoping that as you guys bring this back to center stage, and parents and grandparents get behind what you're going to do with this emphasis on fighting for every Willow family, I'm hoping 20 years from now we'll see an entire generation of high-functioning, God-centered, ridiculously loving families that benefited from this emphasis that God has put so heavy on both of your hearts. So, I'm praying that it'll be the best era ever for Willow families.