Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Do you want to grow God's Kingdom? Bill Elliff says one way parents can start is right inside their homes.

Bill Elliff: Raising children is discipleship. God has given me this extraordinary privilege. It's a reward, the Bible says, and a blessing, to have my first church within the walls of my own home.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Monday, July 2, 2018.  

Every parent can use advice from those further down the road than they are. Today we'll get some godly wisdom on raising children from a pastor and his wife with a lot of experience (as they've raised their eight kids).

Here's Nancy to get the conversation started.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We're in the studio again today with Bill and Holly Elliff—longtime friends of mine and no strangers to our Revive Our Hearts audience. Bill and Holly, I just appreciate so much how you've been willing to open up your lives and let people see how God's Word and His Spirit make a difference and can impact their lives.

Thanks for sharing with Revive Our Hearts today.

Holly Elliff: We're glad to be here.

Bill: It's our joy. 

Nancy: We've talked in the past about marriage and insights God's given you on marriage, but I know a lot of people also have questions about parenting. 

Bill: So do we! (laughter)

Nancy: No, you guys are the experts on parenting, right? That's what I heard.

Bill: Oh, good.

Nancy: You've got it all figured out. 

Holly: Oh, my. We just know how to run to the Lord.

Bill: I need to write a book and pay for all these children.

Nancy: All these children would be, for those who don't know, how many?

Holly: We have eight. We have four girls and four boys.

Nancy: I think you just had four children when we first met, and they were little. I can remember your oldest girls, taking them on outings when they were kind of middle school age—gangly like all middle school girls are, insecure and boy-crazy. 

Holly: And they are now both mothers of three . . .

Nancy:. . . godly young women. Where does the time go, and how do you get from there to here? You'd be the first to say that there's no formula, right?

Bill: No. There were a lot of bumps along the way and a lot of fun, a lot of joy and a lot of heartache, and a lot of 3 a.m. conversations. 

Nancy: And mess, sometimes.

Bill: Absolutely.

Holly: A lot of prayer, a lot of running to the Word, and saying to the Lord, "I have no idea what to do with this child!"

Nancy: When you got married, did you plan to have eight children? Did you talk about that before you got married?

Bill: We did talk about it. I had names (which we've used none of those).

Holly: Back in high school Billy had names that he used to slide across the desk to me. I don't know why in the world we were naming children in tenth grade.

Nancy: Not a good idea.

Bill: No, I wouldn't recommend that to your listeners or their kids.

Holly: But when we got married, in college, we had a plan, and the Lord, years later, changed that plan.

Nancy: What was your plan?

Bill: We both came from families of four children, so we both thought that was the deal, so we would have four kids.

Nancy: Perfect number. . . which today is a lot by the standards of many. 

Bill: Huge. 

Holly: We got married. I got on birth control. I don't remember ever really praying about that, thinking about that. I hadn't done any research on it. It was the thing to do.

Nancy: But you were poor; Bill was in school.

Holly: It wasn't even about that we were poor and in school. It was just, you get married and you get on birth control. That's what you did in 1973. That was the norm. So it wasn't even intentional enough to say, "We're poor, and we're in school."

Bill: And after our fourth child, we loved our kids so much, and it was so much fun, that we started asking the question, "Now, why did we make that decision?" It was a man who had ten kids who pushed a Bible across the table at me and said, "Why don't you study this about that area?"

That really challenged our thinking to go to the Lord and let the Word of God decide that. After a while God really revealed . . .

Holly: A little longer for me than it was for Billy, to make that decision . . .

Bill: . . . that we need to let the Lord be in charge of this. We let Him tell us about buying a car, so why could we not trust Him in this arena? The result has been the last four of our kids, and I can't think of a one of those I want to throw back. They're human lives, and we would not have had them if we had gone the normal route. The Lord interrupted that, and here we are today.

Holly: We're really grateful that He changed our plan! 

Nancy: I have been around you at times when your children were all younger and were all there, and there is a lot of commotion with eight children. I'm the oldest of seven, so I know a little bit about that—not as a mother, but as a sibling. Were there ever moments when you thought, There is no way I can handle this!

Bill: You mean more than like, every day?

Nancy: You're glad now. Were you always glad?

Holly: There were a lot of moments when I thought, I don't know how to handle this! I don't think there were moments where I wanted to undo it. Even in the crazy moments, I was still very aware that this was right where I needed to be.

Bill: All our kids sing. We were going down the road one day in the car on a long trip with a Suburban and two kids in the way back.

Nancy: In the luggage compartment. 

Bill: Yes, I used to pull a trailer on long trips, and I would put the luggage back in that. Then I'd tell the kids, "If you act up, I'm going to put you in the trailer and the luggage in the car!" Anyway, we were going down the road on this long trip. 

Nancy: Just tell our listeners you wouldn't have done that, really.

Bill: I wouldn't? Yes, that's right.

Holly: He would not have put the kids in the trailer. That would have been illegal!

Nancy: I just don't want to answer the letters. 

Bill: On this particular day we were going down the road, and all eight of my children were singing different songs in different keys at the same time. I looked over at my wife and I said, "I am going to lose my mind." And she looked at me—I'll never forget this—and she said, "Honey, just tune it out."

And I've reminded her of that many times since then. I've said often, "Honey, just tune this out."

Holly: And you do. You tune out a lot of things, but it's been an adventure. It's crazy!

Nancy: What's been the most rewarding part about parenting so far?

Bill: I think, for me, seeing our adult children now walking with the Lord, training their children. It's so cool to see them in their twenties and now in their thirties. They're now going through the things we remember as adults and as a couple that the Lord took us through.

We're able to counsel them and to help them, and they're getting it. They're coming through; they're serving the Lord. So, "I have no other greater joy than this, than to see my children walking in the truth," John said. My greatest moment is when all the kids are home and we're sitting around the table and we're laughing. 

Holly: We're talking and singing, whatever. One night at dinner, recently, somebody started this thing of seeing who could sing the highest note. So we had about, I don't know, fourteen of us in the dining room (kids, in-laws), and it was loud. There were kids running around all over the house. And they start seeing who can stand up and sing the highest note. By the time we went around the table trying to see who could sing the highest note, a few people were about to pass out from trying so hard, and we were all just rolling! I was thinking, This is crazy!

Bill: And then there were the three hours in the car on a trip where, in sheer desperation . . .

Holly: This is on the thirty-two hour trip to Wyoming. 

Bill:. . . we took a cookbook and sang in different international accents, recipes. That went on for about two hours.

Holly: So the rules were to pass the cookbook around, choose a recipe, and sing it in some other foreign tongue/dialect the best you can. That was pretty funny.

Nancy: I've called and had one of your sons answer the phone in one of those accents, as if he were a pizza shop. Yes, I've heard this.

Holly: So, quiet is not really an applicable term for our home. I'm grateful.

Bill: Well, and I think with a lot of kids, you've got to be willing to take that risk. Honestly, you've got to be willing to say, "We will embrace the craziness, we will embrace the unpredictability of life with a lot of kids. I think that's even with two kids, even with one child.

Nancy: It's just embracing life.

Holly: And the tethers of kids. I mean, kids tether you in a lot of directions.

Nancy: As in confining?

Holly: As in . . . I don't want to think of the crazy elephant tied by the chain trying to get loose. 

Bill: You don't get to do what you want to do all the time. 

Holly: You don't have the freedom that you might have otherwise, but in the same way those tethers grow you. I remember one time a guy came to our church, and he was speaking about discipleship and developing streams of relationship. He said that everybody needed twelve streams of relationship in their life to really be productively discipling.

And I remember saying to him, "So what do you do if you already have like fourteen streams of relationship, just in your family?" He did not have an answer for me. He wasn't sure what to tell me. But one of my favorite things about raising children is that very thing—the wealth of relationships, the diversity of personalities.

They're all different, and they're all unique. I have a different relationship with each child. As you watch them grow up, it's fun. There are moments it's not fun, but over the course of their life, it is amazing to watch God grow them up into who they are going to be, and it's amazing to get to watch that develop.

I love it, at about fifteen to eighteen months, when you start seeing the personality of that child and who they're going to be, and it doesn't stop. They keep growing and changing and developing, and that doesn't end. So, the rest of your life you have a rich context of relationship that challenges your heart, drives you to the Lord, but connects you to your children in a way that is precious.

Bill: I think that if you don't understand that raising children is discipleship, you're in trouble. If you think that this is about me only, and if you don't understand that God has given me this extraordinary privilege . . . It's a reward and a blessing, the Bible says, to have my first church within the walls of my own home.

Nancy: And Holly, how many moms have come to us over the years and said, "I really want to have a ministry."

Holly: Right, young moms.

Nancy: When they think "ministry," they're looking at what I do or what you're doing in this season of life. What do you say to them?

Holly: Right. They want something beyond being tethered to their children at that moment.

Nancy: They want to write books or teach Bible studies.

Holly: Lots of times I say something that my mother-in-law, Jewel, said to me when I had three kids, I think. I was frustrated because I saw things that needed to be done in the church, and I knew that I could maybe fit in to some of those places. 

She said to me, "Holly, you have to be careful. Because right now, you've got three little kids, and nobody else can parent your children, but somebody else could do some of those other things. If you'll just wait, you will have a platform for ministry as your kids grow up that will equip you to do whatever God calls you to do."

It was not said in a preachy way, and it was something I did not immediately, necessarily, want to hear, but it was very true.

Nancy: And God is giving you, now, at a season of life when your children are nearly out of the nest, so many rich opportunities to impact lives outside of your home, and a lot of that is through your children.

Holly: Well, and it's experiencing God's grace in the midst of a variety of situations that I would not have had if I had walked away from that post to pursue something else. I don't think those years would have been there.

Bill: One time in our church, Nancy, we were going through a real tough church discipline issue. I was complaining to my brother (I was talking to him on the phone), I was whining about it because, "Everything was going so great. Why do we have to deal with this?"

He said to me, "Bill, this isn't an intrusion to pastoring; this is pastoring." Wherever anybody is in life—whether they're single, whether they have one child, eight children, whether they're a senior adult—all these things in your life (your kids, your finances, your responsibilities), those are not an intrusion to life, that is life. And that is ministry!

That is where we experience the grace of God; that's where the rubber meets the road; that's where we find God and experience Him and then are able to communicate God to other people. If I have some ethereal theory about the Lord and I want to have some big ministry and tell everybody about that, it's not nearly as meaningful as me saying, "Well, you know what? I've been right where you are. Let me tell you how I have found God's answer to that problem." And we can go there together. There's grace there.

Nancy: You've been the laboratory of life, and you've seen God prove His faithfulness. You've seen Him give you wisdom and grace, and then you know how to share that with others as a result.

Bill: Absolutely. Amen.

Nancy: Bill, you talked about discipling your children. I know there are a lot of books on childrearing, parenting, things to do, things not to do. But you don't hear so much about discipling your children. What do you mean? What's the goal? What's the vision there?

Bill: Well, I have often said, "If I can find a man who has discipled his children, he can disciple anybody. Everything that you think about in terms of, "How could I mentor somebody to lovingly and skillfully help them become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ?"

Nancy: Let's talk about what that looks like when you've got eight children who are still in the home—little ones up to teenagers—and you're just trying to keep your heads above water. How are you finding time to disciple? Are you taking an hour a day and saying, "This is discipleship time?"

Bill: Well, it's not finding time, it's discipling with every moment, so you think of it that way.

Holly: Right.

Bill: So you think of breakfast with intentionality. You think of the moment when your kid comes down, and he's got a big problem at school. This is a discipling moment. This is where they're going to learn that God is real at school. So you're seizing every teachable moment.

I think intentionality is critical. I think becoming a student of each child is critical. Holly mentioned that all of our kids are different. If you try to disciple all of them the same way . . . "We're all going to sit down at the table, and we're all going to learn these ten things" . . . that's good for some things. But you've got to know your child.

Jesus knew Peter, He knew James, He knew John. He knew that to say one thing to Peter would hurt John or would be too much for John. He could look at John and disciple him. We've got to do the same with our kids. We've got to know their hearts and we've got to keep their hearts, and that's a whole process.

Holly: We've homeschooled for many, many years now, until our kids have gotten older. And I can remember, all of our kids were home. My eighteen-month-old son was walking around with a notebook and a pencil in his hand. Now, he had no idea how to do school, but everybody else in our house had books and pencils, so that was a good thing he wanted to be in on even though he didn't understand it yet.

So, to me, discipleship is exactly that. There's almost a positive peer pressure when your older kids assume that, "When we encounter a problem, we're going to go to God's Word to find answers; we're going to talk about it." I grew up in a house where there wasn't a lot of conversation about life issues. But in our house we started teaching our kids really early, when you're struggling with something, you talk. Now there are days we have regretted that practice . . .

Bill: . . . nights when we have regretted that practice

Holly: . . . at two o'clock in the morning conversations. But I wouldn't trade that for anything, because if you teach your children when they're young to start talking about what's going on in their heart, then at fifteen they're not going in their room and slamming the door and clamming up. It's a pattern in their life that has already been instilled, and it's critical when they hit difficult years.

Bill: Nancy, you know Holly. My wife is a pit-bulldog when it comes to hanging on to her kids until we get to the end of the issue—far more than me. I mean, I fade at about ten-thirty. And Holly will stay up until two or three o'clock with our kids (and I have, too, at times). The interesting thing is (and I think parents listening need to really hear this), most of the significant decisions have come in the last thirty minutes of that conversation.

So you're talking for hours. The normal pattern for most parents is, "Well, we're going to talk ten minutes about this. I'm going to tell you what I believe, and that's it." You've lost your child's heart. You haven't heard their heart. You haven't worked through the issue. You haven't prayed through it together. You haven't challenged them to go to the Word and let the Bible be the final authority. You haven't pushed them to faith. That takes time.

Nancy: What makes your children willing to talk? I've seen this in your kids, but I also know a lot of teenagers . . .

Bill: I don't think at times they have been willing. I think their mama wouldn't give up. Honestly!

Nancy: So, how do you tell them, "You are going to talk"?

Holly: There are moments they just don't want to talk, and I'll say, "You know what? You just take some time. I'm going to go do this, and I'll be back in ten minutes." If they have to sit there long enough . . . (And they're not just sitting, they're pondering. We use the word "ponder" a lot.) "I want you to think about what's going on in your heart, if you don't know yet. You think about it for a few minutes, and I'll be back."

But then you have to come back!

Nancy: And you're not just dealing with behaviors then.

Holly: It's not about rules; it's about relationship. If you have built a relationship based on trust with them from the time they're little, they know they can come to you. They know they can share their heart. They know you're not going to . .  . Nobody is perfect in this. There are moments when you're so tired, you don't want to hear from anybody else, or you've used up all your words for the day.

But those are moments when you just go to the Lord and say, "Lord, just help me to listen. I don't even have to talk right now. Just give me the ability to listen." And that's a gift. It's part of God's grace for that moment. I have listened to conversations that . . .

My daughter, one time, spent fifteen minutes describing to me the roach in her dorm room and how she could get up there to kill it—it was on the ceiling. That was at about two-thirty in the morning. There are moments when you don't really want to have a conversation or listen, but it is a lifestyle.

And it's such a lifestyle that your kids don't even realize it is built into them over the course of years of pursuing that as a value. Girls, if you've got little kids out there, you start now. Don't put them in a corner when they get into trouble and tell them to sit there and be still and be quiet without addressing the problem.

It's so much more valuable to get them face to face and say, "Let's talk through this." My kids, sometimes, if they weren't ready to talk, would be handed a piece of paper and a pencil. I would say to them, "Okay, you write down five things that are a problem here. What's the problem? Identify the problem." Because, if we can identify the problem, then we know God has a solution.

Sometimes it's just identifying the problem. Sometimes it's knowing that child well enough to know that, if I take her to Sonic and buy her a milkshake, she will tell me everything in her heart. So, it's finding a key for that child, because they're different. You have to have a key that opens the door to that child's heart and mind, and sometimes that only comes through time with them.

Bill: I think a prime example of this, even with our little children, is in the issue of just discipline over years. Here's a behavior, so we're going to have a talk, and we're going to have a spanking, maybe, if it comes to that. Well, do you view that as a moment of punishment to try to control the behavior, or do you say, "This is a moment where we can experience the Lord together." That takes longer. I just promise you, it takes longer to do, but it pays off big time fifteen years later.

Nancy: And what you're really doing as parents is, by God's grace, reflecting to your children the father heart of God, how He deals with us. And thankfully, we have, and parents have, a Father who parents them as they parent their children.

I don't have children of my own, but I love the children of my friends. I want to just encourage you, parents, that you're not in this alone. God has grace for you, for that season, for those particular children and their particular bents. Part of parenting is not just parenting your children, but it's God parenting you, getting your heart as well. 

Holly: He's growing us up as we grow our kids.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Bill and Holly Elliff about building God's kingdom by parenting the next generation. Do you ever see the lostness of our world and wonder what can be done about it? One thing that can be done is to start right in our own homes.

Bill and Holly Elliff believe that when parents invest in their children, and that pattern gets repeated in home after home, the results will be felt on a large scale. We can see big changes in the world as parents are purposeful in their own homes. The Elliffs write about this in a booklet called Turning the Tide. They'll give you some thought-provoking ideas to consider about surrendering your family to Christ.

We'd like to send you the booklet Turning the Tide when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. In July, donations to the ministry typically decrease, so your gift will be a big help this month. Ask for Turning the Tide when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Do you ever feel like it's impossible to have an influence on your teenagers, like their friends have such an influence that you want to give up? Bill and Holly will remind you how big an influence you can continue to have, even when it doesn't feel like it.

I hope you'll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you grow God's Kingdom. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.