Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Teaching Your Children to Have an Impact

Leslie Basham: God made your children to be different from you. Here’s Pastor Tom Elliff.

Tom Elliff: It’s not our job to make them like us and none of our four children are and none of our grandkids are. They like things that we like but they are not clones or carbon copies. Each of them are very unique and some of them are involved in things that we never even thought about being involved in when they were growing up. I mean good, healthy, solid things, but it’s just their way of doing life.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, July 22.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been talking with Tom and Jeannie Elliff who have been long-time friends and fellow servants of the Lord and have had a significant impact in my own life and ministry. I’ve been so challenged, Tom and Jeannie, as I’ve watched your ministry over the years. I’ve seen your heart for the Lord, your heart for His Word, your love for people. I’ve admired your family and now it’s a privilege to get to talk with you about it. Thank you for joining us on Revive Our Hearts.

Tom: We have enjoyed this and, Nancy, thanks for asking me in an earlier program to talk a little bit about my wife.

Nancy: You seem to enjoy that.

Tom: People don’t ask me. I have to usually bring that up, but thank you for letting me express to her publicly with your audience just how much I love her, how grateful to God I am for this lady that God’s put in my life for all these years.

Nancy: Well, God has given you a sweet marriage and one that has grown, now 40 years of marriage and more in love with each other and more committed to each other than ever. You’re seeing in your lives the fruit of faithfulness and devotion over the long haul. It just strikes me that so many couples and families never to get to reap that sweet harvest because they don’t hang in long enough and pay the price and be intentional enough to see it happen.

You’ve both had the blessing of coming from godly homes. Tom, I’ve heard you talk about your godly legacy.

Tom: The fact that somebody had to make a decision someplace along the way to start such a legacy, which is the hope and the good news for your audience here. No matter what they’ve come out of, they can be the first in line for another generation.

Nancy: And that’s the way it was for my parents who really had not come from a Christian home. There were some Christians in the background, but they started, by God’s grace, a whole new family line when they came to the Lord as young adults and so anyone can start, by God’s grace.

I know that as your children were growing up, there were some practical things you did in your home, some things you communicated to your children, as my parents did in our home, that are now paying off in their lives. For example, I’ve heard you talk about the importance—and this struck me because it was very similar in my own home—of the emphasis you put with your kids on the books that they read. You really felt like that was significant.

Tom: Well, Jeannie and I have always felt that every man is a product—I think I read this someplace—every man is a product of the books he reads and the friends he keeps. I would add to that and the Lord whom he serves and the music to which he listens.

So in our home, as our kids were growing up, they received their allowance from reading biographies of great men and women of faith. We literally to this very day have them by the hundreds. They got a dollar a book. They could be rich or poor. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than for one of our children to pick up a biography and they are available for all ages.

Nancy: Now they have so many of them.

Jeannie: I remember when our daughter Beth, who got into everything she read—she was very much a part of it—she read as about a ten-year-old the autobiography of Helen Keller. She finished the book and fell across her bed and said, “Oh, I wish I could be blind and deaf!” I said, “Oh, Beth, you don’t want to be blind and deaf like Helen.” “But, oh, it was just such a wonderful story.”

Nancy: Your little Anne of Green Gables.

Jeannie: Yes.

Nancy: Okay, how about friends? How did you handle that with them?

Jeannie: Well, it was difficult sometimes being a pastor’s family because we did not want our children to close some other children off that were in the church, but we had to teach them, "You choose your friends wisely. You’re kind to everyone, but you choose your friends wisely and are careful and we have standards that we live by. If those children don’t live by that standard, we can’t be close friends with them. We can still be kind and loving, but we can’t be close friends with them." So that was difficult sometimes.

Nancy: Did any of your children ever gravitate to close friendships that you weren’t comfortable with?

Jeannie: Perhaps, the only issues I can think of were in the teenage years, maybe a boyfriend or something that we were not real happy about. Of course, it was never serious dating or anything but just somebody they were drawn to that we thought no.

Tom: We said, “No, we think not.”

Nancy: Did you explain why?

Jeannie: Oh, yes.

Tom: Yes, sure. We also talked about the fact that there are times in your life when you are obviously a good influence on other people—times and places when that’s appropriate. And there are times when other people have a greater influence on you and so this kind of relationship would be inappropriate.

I think the important thing for our listening audience to realize is that—and I say this as gently as I know how—the time to begin is early, early, early in developing a communication relationship with your children—openness of communication. The end result was a little bit more than we bargained for, Nancy, in that our children then just wanted to involve us.

They loved to involve us. In fact, when they were courting, each one of them when they were courting, I can’t tell you the number of times Jeannie and I would be, we might be back in bed asleep and there would be a little knock at the door.

Nancy: Late at night!

Tom: Yes, late at night, a little knock at the door. “Mom, can Becky and I come in and talk?” or “Mom, can Tony and I come in?” We’d pull the sheets up over our head and they’d come in and sit down in our bedroom and talk. Well, you got to love that. I mean, sort of. You got to love the fact that your kids want to talk to you about what’s going on in their life. They have not shut you out of their life.

So where did that start? That starts very, very, very early—communicating with them. Nancy, one of the best things that ever happened to our family was going on the mission field. We happened to have gone to a country that was under curfew so we couldn’t do a whole lot of driving around late at night. There was no television, so we were just together as a family.

To this day if you ask our eldest kids what they love to do, they want to get in the car together and just drive around and talk. They just want the closeness—the smaller the room—it is the craziest thing in the world. They’ll all get in the kitchen. They just want to be together to visit, which is amazing because they literally are a world apart. Some of our family is clear on the other side of the globe.

So all of a sudden we all got to be a part of each other’s lives. It was a gift from God. I say that because I know there are some moms out there listening especially for whom missions means giving and you like that, and missions means going and since God hasn’t called you to go, you’re not going. But you’re a little bit frightened because missions also means giving up your sons and your daughters to God’s call. It would be a real shame for you to congratulate your child for doing something for a corporation what you would criticize them for doing for Christ.

A kid comes home and says, “Mom, now that I’ve graduated college, I’m going to go down in South America and head up a drilling expedition.” You say, “That’s my son, my brilliant son.” Same kid comes home from camp and says, “Mom, God’s calling me to South America to be a missionary,” and you say, “Are you sure?”

So it’s a matter of giving up as well as going.

Nancy: Do you think there would be fears? I’ve seen that whole thing in parents.

Tom: We fear for our children all the time because some of our children, as you know, are in a part of the world that’s a very, very sensitive area.

Jeannie: Nancy, the Lord had to get my heart. One of the things He did was He gave me a love for the people that they are going to. And when I realized I’m going to get to spend eternity with my daughter, I can give her up for a few years here on this earth.

Nancy: I can remember your saying that to me when I asked you when the second one went to the mission field. How are you doing with this? And I’ve quoted you on this a number of times over the years.

Jeannie: Oh, my goodness, that was a hard moment

Nancy: But it touched me because you settled the issue in your heart by thinking about eternity. This life is so short.

Jeannie: It is.

Nancy: And you said—this touched me too—that you were so thrilled that your children want to have a heart to serve the Lord. That’s what you reared them for.

Tom: Sure.

Jeannie: Exactly. Exactly.

Nancy: And now your children are following that.

Tom: You have to live with eternity in view always. Life is meant to be lived. It cannot be fully enjoyed if you do not keep eternity in view. That’s an important issue.

Nancy: Okay, let me back up to something a little more temporal than eternal, although it all has to be seen in light of eternity. You have three daughters.

Jeannie: Yes.

Nancy: A world system and way of thinking that is so contrary to God’s way of thinking for women on so many fronts. How did you handle the training and development of your daughters in things like, let’s start with modesty.

Tom: You mean as opposed to our son or our three daughters?

Nancy: Your three daughters. Girls in the home. How did you teach them to think and function in a way that really goes counter to the culture?

Tom: Number one, Jeannie and I are very affectionate in front of our kids. We are anyway. And we have been affectionate—I don’t mean inappropriately—but we have been affectionate with our children, with our daughters, for instance. Because people need affection and if you don’t give it to them, they’re going to get it someplace else. So they see us loving each other, and then they knew that we loved them.

Jeannie: Plus, we always said to them, “Okay, you know the love that we have for each other. God has somebody for you and you need to keep yourself in the way you dress.” And this was not a big thing. We all just kind of worked at it together.

Tom: But I would say also we determined that we—even though we were being affectionate and we’re not prudes—were going to be modest at home.

Jeannie: Right.

Tom: I didn’t come to the table improperly dressed. They didn’t come to the table improperly dressed or walk through the house because there are guys and gals that live in this house. So we began to teach them what modesty—appropriate modesty, not prudishness—was all about. That was important.

Nancy: Did you ever have issues with things your girls wanted to wear that you didn’t feel were appropriate?

Jeannie: Oh, yes, a few things in the teenage years that were not—with one or the other that would come up. It was never a big issue. Dress was never a big issue in our home. The style of course that we were not comfortable with, but that was never a real big issue with our children.

Tom: It perhaps is a bigger issue first of all where people are able to afford a lot of different kinds of dress. But I would have to say that those were discussions that we had with our children but not. Nancy, sometimes I think parents only discuss issues with kids when they’re in the middle of a crisis. So when is the time to talk with your daughter about how old she’s going to be before she starts dating, for instance? Well, it’s not the day she turns that age. Or it’s not the day she comes to you and says, “Well, I’m the same age as Sally is and she’s dating.”

No, you start out early in life saying, “I just want to tell you, we’ve got some rules around here. This is what’s going to take place. The guy’s going to come and see me first. By the way, I just want to let you all know he’s not going to take you out unless he comes to see me.” I’ve always really enjoyed that because they’ll say, “I want to take your daughter for a Coke,” and I can ask them how they knew she was thirsty. That sets the tone for the meeting.

But the time to talk about these issues is not at the crisis moment because at that moment they’re all hurt, and they’re defensive, and “Well, it’s tonight. I’ve been asked for tonight and you should have told me beforehand, and I didn’t know.” So you need to talk about these issues as they are growing up. And of course, the oldest one usually takes the brunt of it all and the younger ones learn by listening to you deal with the oldest one.

Nancy: How did you handle entertainment choices in your home?

Jeannie: That was always a little bit difficult—or music. Music probably was an issue that we had to deal with with one or two of . . .

Tom: And with all of our kids we have stood up and walked out of a movie or two that everybody’s said, "This is great for the whole family." You go because you think it’s going to be a family—we don’t go to that many movies anyway. But it’s supposed to be something really wholesome and then ten minutes into it well there’s a bad scene or there’s some bad language. So all of our kids have gone through the experience of standing up, forfeiting the ticket money, and walking out.

We felt like it was important for them to know that we are people of convictions enough that even though it was costly, we were not going to brook compromise in terms of entertainment. It wasn’t worth it. It’s not worth swimming through a septic tank to get a piece of angel food cake on the other side. Entertainment is a whole issue.

Jeannie: It sure is.

Nancy: What role do you see yourselves having in your grandchildren’s lives?

Jeannie: Well, it’s different for each one. One of our grandchildren that lives real close by is over at our house a lot. But each one of them, we talk about looking for teachable moments because you don’t get a lot of time.

Tom: We made the commitment to take each one of them, when they turn 13 or go from 13 to 14, to take them on a mission trip. That’s going to be enjoyable. It really is. We have a couple of grandsons that we’re taking together here in the next few months.

Jeannie: Working with grandchildren is a challenge, and we have to honor their parents’ desires, too. Thankfully all of their parents’ wishes and rules and desires meet with ours and so there’s no conflict.

Tom: Not always though.

Jeannie: Well, not always.

Tom: And if they don’t, that’s none of our business.

Jeannie: That’s right. We really try to instill in the kids we want to obey mom and dad. “I want to do what your mom and dad want to do.” I say that.

Nancy: You’re supporting their parents.

Jeannie: Very supportive of their parents. In fact, when we were raising our own children, if they were in school, their teacher was never maligned in front of them. We were always very supportive of their teachers. They never knew if we were displeased with a teacher.

Nancy: I assume there were times when you felt like the teacher had made a bad call.

Jeannie: Oh, very much. Oh, yes.

Tom: The bottom line, if they caught it at school, they caught it at home.

Jeannie: That’s right.

Tom: And if we wanted to discuss the teacher later on, we would do that among ourselves, but never with our children.

Jeannie: Which taught them to respect the person no matter what because of their position.

Tom: But I do think it’s important that we not be just intrusive. It’s not our job to make them like us. And none of our four children are and none of our grandkids are. They like things that we like, but they are not clones or carbon copies. Each of them is very unique. Some of them are involved in things that we never even thought about being involved in when they were growing up. I mean good, healthy, solid things, but it’s just their way of doing life. Hey, that makes life interesting for us all. That’s what gives us stuff to talk about and pray about.

Jeannie: That’s right.

Nancy: Let’s talk about legacy for just a few moments here. The legacy you’ve received, Tom, Jeannie, from your parents. What stands out to you about it? Why is it important? And what’s the kind of legacy you want to pass on to your children and grandchildren?

Tom: Nancy, legacy is a very important issue. We’re here at this conference talking about legacy. There is a picture on a poster downstairs that shows the very act of passing the baton as you mentioned. Now all of our listeners today are familiar with a relay race, and, of course, life is a race. They’re familiar with passing the baton. Of course, life is passing the baton from one generation to the next.

The most critical moment in a relay race is the passing of the baton because you have two people involved and a very short time to do it. One of those people is very tired. I mean they have given everything. They’re gasping for breath. Their hand is trembling. The important thing for that person to do is not give up too soon.

The other person is full of energy, full of vitality, eager, ready to run. The important thing for that person is not to start too soon because the baton has got to be exchanged between the two of them.

Now, we don’t have much to say about the eagerness and the energy and the vitality of the next generation. They’ve got it. It’s out there. It’s good. I mean praise God for it. But I think our job is not to give up too soon. Make sure that that baton is exchanged and that everything that we have run this race to achieve is in some way passed on to the next generation.

It’s an important issue and I would think that when we talk about legacy, that’s what we’re talking about. The idea is not being famous, but the idea is having impact in someone’s life.

I could take a stick of dynamite, walk out of the parking lot of this conference center, light the fuse, throw the stick of dynamite into the air and it would do everything the stick of dynamite is designed to do—smoke, noise, heat, light. But if you came back in about five minutes, you’d never know it happened. This good Texas wind has blown it away.

But I could go to a rock quarry and I could take the time to strategically drill a hole in just the right spot, take the same stick of dynamite, place it strategically, light the fuse and bring down tons of rock. Now that’s called effectiveness.

The first is success. Smoke, noise, heat, light. That’s success. But I think the legacy we want to pass along is a legacy of effectiveness, impact. We want to make maximum impact for the gospel, for the cause of Christ and for Christian principles, for the home and the lives of our children, and hopefully the lives of our children’s children.

Leslie: That’s Tom Elliff. He and his wife Jeannie have been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss offering hope to tired parents. That conversation wraps up the series Marriage and Family for the Glory of God. We didn’t have time to air the complete conversation, but you can hear longer versions of these programs when you order the series on CD at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Today is also the last day we’re offering John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage, for a donation of any amount. The book will give you a solid biblical basis for understanding marriage. The beauty of the writing will inspire you to love your family, and you’ll find a lot of practical wisdom in these pages.

Ask for This Momentary Marriage when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Our series of practical interviews throughout July continues tomorrow. When a spouse dies, everything changes in just a moment. Hear about the grace available in the midst of loss from women who have experienced it.

Now with a final thought, here’s Nancy.

Nancy: I so appreciate the distinction that Tom and Jeannie Elliff shared today between success and significance. We all face the temptation to pursue success for its own sake and to neglect a life of significance. That distinction has been important to Revive Our Hearts since we’ve contemplated some big ministry opportunities.

The conference we hosted last fall, True Woman ’08, generated a lot of attention. By God’s grace, through much prayer and a lot of hard work by a lot of people, the sold-out True Woman conference was a success. Women started asking for more conferences. Before rushing forward, we wanted to make sure the conference wasn’t just successful, but also significant.

The letters, the blog posts, the comments we still get from the women who attended True Woman ’08 tell us that this was more than just some exciting, emotional event. We’ve been so excited to see women taking the message of True Woman ’08 back to their homes and churches and beginning to live differently as a result.

That’s what we’re hoping for in 2010. After seeking the Lord for what He would have us to do, we’re pleased to announce that there will be three True Woman events next year. We’ll be in Chattanooga next March, then in Indianapolis in September and in Fort Worth in October. That’s all coming up next year—in 2010.

Registration for these three events begins just a couple of weeks from now on August 1 at ReviveOurHearts.com. I hope you’ll plan to be a part of one of these three life-changing conferences and discover the significant design that God has for your life. Again, you can get information or register at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries

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