Why "Do What I Say, Not What I Do" Doesn't Work

Doug Sauder
Pastor Doug Sauder shares how the relationships parents model influences the way their children see themselves and the world.

As parents, we can often be focused on coaching our kids and telling them what they should and shouldn’t do when we should be showing them through the way we lead our own lives. By modeling healthy relationships and habits, we can give our children a strong sense of security and identity.

Modeling an Engaging Relationship with God

Before church ever existed, families were the unit that passed on the knowledge of God and established a legacy of faith. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses encouraged the people of Israel: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me . . . take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren.”
Children learn that your relationship with God is real by watching what you do.
Unfortunately, the Israelites didn’t apply these instructions. Consequently, the next generation didn’t know about God’s power and they began to reject Him. Why didn’t their parents take that simple command and apply it? Well, probably because they were busy. Busy working, busy planning, busy building. So busy that the most important thing got overlooked. 

I remember watching my mom in her room reading her bible. I remember seeing my dad on his knees praying. They weren’t doing it for me, they were doing it because they knew that’s where their strength comes from. It showed me early on that their relationship with God was real. Children learn that your relationship with God is real not by what you say, but by watching what you do.

  • What does your relationship with God look like?
  • Do you regularly discuss with your kids about what God is doing in your heart?
  • Why or why not?

Modeling a Healthy Relationship with Your Spouse

The parents’ marriage is the foundation for a child’s security. The nature of your relationship with your spouse will influence how your children see themselves and the world around them. If the relationship is turbulent and volatile, they’ll internalize that sense of instability. Of course, no marriage is perfect. But a healthy relationship between a husband and wife—one with mutual respect and a strong commitment to each other—will show children that even through hard times, they are safe and will overcome. Your marriage is shaping your child’s understanding of the marriage relationship.

  • How do you treat your spouse?
  • How do you talk about them to your kids?
  • What could be better about your relationship?
Your marriage is shaping your child’s understanding of the marriage relationship.

Modeling how to Build Healthy Relationships

The human brain is hardwired for connections. I’m great at doing something with my kids but not connecting. I’ll be home with my three boys for six or seven hours and my wife will come home and ask me, “What did you guys talk about?” And I'll realize that I spent the whole day just trying to keep them alive and entertained while getting things done and I missed opportunities to connect with them. Not once did I look in their eyes and ask, “how are you doing?” I needed to stop for a moment to be all there. Creating unhurried time helps families connect with each other and with God. If we just “do life” with our kids and don’t connect with them, we miss out. 

So, how can we create those opportunities for intentional connections? You have to actively foster space for your family to connect. This is the best tool in your repertoire as a parent: eating meals as a family. Shut off everything around the table—tv, cell phones, social media—and talk with your family. And ask engaging questions!

  • Ask your children, what was the best/worst part of your day?
  • What’s something you would do over if you could this week?
  • What’s something that made you feel excited?

It’s never too late to invest in your relationship with your kids or your spouse! Teach your kids the way in which they should walk by walking it yourself and bringing them along with you. Implementing small changes today can transform your family life in time, leading to a legacy that is pleasing to the Lord and brings glory to Him.


Doug Sauder served as the President of 4KIDS of South Florida and is currently the lead pastor at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. He and his wife have three sons, who each attended CCA.

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