Blog  /  Grace, Heart of the Home, Parenting  /  The Call of the Wild :: Safe Kids vs. Strong Kids


It’s interesting where bold observations hit you over the head. I was sharing a ride to an airport with a friend named Jeff Fray. Great guy. My age. Raised in the jungles of Africa by his missionary parents. He’s a full-time advocate for strong marriages. In the process of our conversation, he drew a great parallel between animals that exist in the wild and their counterparts who live in captivity.

It got us both thinking about the tension that exists in the hearts of parents of faith who are trying to raise their kids wisely. Do we raise our kids in a way that forces them to learn how to thrive throughout their childhood in the worldly jungle that surrounds them, or do we raise them in the safe confines of an evangelical zoo? The threats of the one option are frightening, while the comforts of the other are tempting. But which one will we choose? The answer to this question is usually determined by two factors.

The first factor is our background. Some of us are inclined toward raising our kids in the evangelical zoo because that’s where we were raised. It’s what we’re used to. Then there are others of us who are inclined to raise our kids there because we spent our childhoods in the midst of the jungle but our parents did little or nothing to protect us from it or prepare us for it. Between running scared through early childhood and the scars from years of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll as teenagers, we figure we’d rather spare our children the kinds of wounds we bear.

The second factor has to do with where we place our focus. If our primary concern is the sexualized culture and the invisible forces of evil that want to have our kids for lunch, the safety of the zoo looks extremely attractive.

Raising kids in the context of our wild culture doesn’t seem to make any sense until you look at the built-in drawbacks of being raised in a zoo. Animals created to thrive in the wild, but instead grow up in the zoo, never get to develop the strengths that give them a fighting chance in the wild. They don’t need to. Daily room service by professional zoo keepers has eliminated their need to know how to hunt. Walls and bars separate them from other species so they remain unskilled at co-existing. Muscles designed to empower them to outrun their natural predators atrophy. They’ve never had to get good at smelling trouble. True, they typically live longer than their counterparts in the wild, but they don’t live in the way they were created to live—free. And if circumstances suddenly thrust them into the middle of the jungle outside their cages, they’d find themselves in serious trouble … fast.

Here’s reality. Ultimately, our children grow up and find themselves in the deepest and darkest parts of the cultural jungle anyway. College. Work. Community. Since it’s a foregone conclusion our children will eventually enter the wild, is there a way to give them a head-start on the competition without throwing them to the hyenas? Of course there is. Grace-based Christian parents do it all the time.

But we might need to do a proper inventory regarding the way we were raised. If we were brought up in comfortable spiritual environments that made few demands on our faith, we need to see them for what they truly are: contexts that factor out the need for God’s active power and presence working in our lives. These are breeding grounds for mediocrity, spiritual indifference, and biblical irrelevance. But what if we grew up in a family configuration where our parents failed to set standards and run interference for us? What if that left us scared and covered with scars? We need to let Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross do its complete work to forgive us, cleanse us from all unrighteousness and empower us to live godly lives in the midst of a Godless culture (1 John 1:9).

We also need to shift our focus from the threats that surround our kids to the God who longs to protect them. Neither they nor we are any match for the world system, but God is. We need to show our kids what faith in God’s power looks like lived out on the front lines of a lost and needy world. They need to see our unflinching confidence in His watchful care and how His grace shows up when we struggle or fail.

God isn’t calling us to raise safe kids; He’s calling us to raise strong ones. And even if we prefer to keep them in the zoo, come age eighteen, most of them find themselves in the jungle whether we like it or not. Protecting them makes sense in the very early years of their childhood, but preparation for real life needs to get a lot of practice well before they head out into the jungle on their own. Our families tend to fare far better when we operate in a context that forces both parents and children to live by faith in the middle of a toxic and hurting world.

And here’s the good news, if we raise spiritually strong kids, God throws in safe ones for free. This requires us to put our faith in the God who has promised to protect us. It’s amazing how safe the wild actually is when the King of kings of the jungle, the Lion of Judah, goes before us and also serves as our rear guard. Because as the Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on the wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31. See also Psalm 91.


For help at equalizing the tension between raising your children either too exposed to the world system or too isolated from it, you might want to read Chapters 5-8 of Why Christian Kids Rebel, by Tim Kimmel.


© Copyright 2008 Dr. Tim Kimmel and Family Matters®

Tim Kimmel

Dr. Tim Kimmel is one of America’s top advocates speaking for the family today. Over the past three decades, Tim has spoken to millions of people throughout the country through the Raising Truly Great Kids Conference, Family Life Weekend to Remember Conferences, radio and TV. In addition to speaking, he has authored several books including best seller Little House On The Freeway and award winning Grace Based Parenting.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Tags: , ,

Related Posts


  1. I agree with your thought, Our families tend to fare far better when we operate in a context that forces both parents and children to live by faith in the middle of a toxic and hurting world.” It proves that God is bigger and stronger and powerful which creates a worldview and charges our faith to believe God for everything, big and small.

  2. Misty Krasawski says:

    May I respectfully suggest that there is a third option? How about we raise strong *and* safe children? They are humans and not animals, after all. Might we look at scripture and the institution of the family instituted by God, and see from the nature of a child that he is best served by strong connections to his family while young (and of course throughout his life) rather than throwing him out into the “jungle” before he’s ready for it? Children who live in the world… Yes, that’s all of them, haha!– seem to me to have plenty of chances to see the jungle and be affected by it, if not directly than certainly second-hand. Being protected, sheltered, educated widely and deeply by a loving, wise parent *and kept safe* is a way better plan for helping them to become as strong as possible.

  3. Laura Judah says:

    I agree! In fact, God had given me some of these very lines last week as I was pondering on why we homeschool! Whatever we do must be motivated by stretching our faith and not running in fear. Our kids desperately need to know this. I struggle to understand the perfect tension between strength and safety, but I must trust that God knows and will give us the grace to know what’s right for each child.
    Thanks for posting!

  4. David says:

    My children are experiencing exactly what this article speaks of. They are learning to safely navigate the jungle around them, with parent-guides at hand to help. They are thriving in a less than “ideal” public school (junior high) environment, where very few of their classmates look like them. But they are respected and even well liked by their peers, as they allow the light of Christ to shine through them.

  5. TS says:

    The analogy leaves one huge aspect of parenting out the picture–progression, immaturity to maturity, etc. Wild vs. Zoo. is two different versions of a permanent situation. A better analogy would be training/bootcamp vs war. One is preparatory for the other. Zoo is not preparatory for the wild, or vice versa. Kids should be sheltered in the home until they are strong enough to not get permanently wounded out in the world. Bad company corrupts, expel the wicked from among you, etc. There needs to be a period of strong sheltering/protection/isolation, with the parent creating “artificial challenges” that they will face in the world, just like training/bootcamp situations do, with the intention of unleashing strong, independent, mature adults out in to overtake the world once they are ready. Obviously this is not an black and white transition, there is a period of gradual, smaller, easier “missions” into the world (to play out the analogy). But this does not happen on day one. There need to be a period of sheltering and formation. This is not the same as a zoo.

  6. Emily says:

    As I consider homeschooling vs public schooling my mind wonders how I can homeschool without protecting my kids from the world. Not all of us who consider homeschooling are doing it for protection from the world, but for quality Christ-centered education that empowers them to be a light for Christ in the world as well as defenders of their faith when necessary. I think a good homeschooling parent will do their best to find other ways their children can be involved in the community and with children outside of school so they learn to walk by faith in the world they live in.

  7. MR says:

    Plenty of kids raised “in the wild” end up making poor decisions and end up wounding themselves or others. Repeated exposure to a secular environment does not guarantee that they know how to resist temptation and shine their lights and choose to do so.

    Nor is there any guarantee that kids who are educated by their parents or in a parochial school are so insulated and isolated that they don’t know how to function “in the real world,” whatever that means. My real world looks much different from my neighbors’ and my pastor’s and my librarian’s. Amazingly enough, we ALL know how to pump gas, order fast food, and balance a checkbook. And we all make different decisions every day because some of us are Christ followers and some are not. :-)

    I think what is most important is that our children see us obeying the Lord, as Christ followers. If He is calling us to something, are we submitting to it in obedience? Do we seek to choose His will over our own?

    I know people, including public school administrators and teachers, who have come to homeschooling kicking and screaming and praying their hearts out, refusing to believe that God really is calling them to quit their jobs and homeschool their children.

    I also know homeschoolers who have wrestled and fasted and prayed for clear direction when they have sensed that God is calling them to send one or all of their kids back to public school.

    God does not want us to make choices for our kids based on fear. We should not send them to public school because we are afraid they’ll be ill-equipped for “real life” otherwise. Nor should be homeschool them because we’re afraid of their little bodies, minds, and souls being accosted and beaten down in the public arena.

    Submission to the Lord’s call on our lives is what is most important in the end. THAT is the life lesson I want my kids to internalize as they walk out of childhood and into adulthood, regardless of who teaches them to read and write and make change and ride a bicycle and give a presentation and memorize the Gettysburg Address and write their name in cursive and dissect a fetal pig.

  8. Emily, I think you’ve hit it right on in your last sentence. As homeschooling parents we need to recognize that a there is more “natural” protection built in to what we do. Our job then becomes seeking extra ways to connect with a larger group of people around us and to make sure we are modelling connection. It’s difficult because being mom and teacher takes so much energy – but I just trust that God is going to show us how to make that happen!

  9. [...] The Call of the Wild:: Save Kids vs. Strong Kids @ Family Matters Blog {I have no idea how to navigate this tension…} [...]

  10. Kendra Fletcher says:

    We’ve homeschooled our passel of kids for 16 years and have struggled with this tension. Now our oldest is an adult and his impact on the young adults around him is the best reason for helping our kids meet the world: he pours the gospel out on the hurting and dying kids around him, trying to find their worth and value in the world. He sees their need and offers them the only One who will ever give them lasting value and worth.

    I wouldn’t trade the time homeschooling has given us to pour out Jesus all over our kids, and I do believe we could do the same thing if our kids were in school, although time would be at a premium. Still, 16 years in, we believe in socialization for the cause of the gospel:

    Why I Believe in Socialization

    Go and send, but fortify them well with the gospel and grace!

  11. love this line!! “We also need to shift our focus from the threats that surround our kids to the God who longs to protect them.”