Consensus Parenting

Christ is risen!

During this Pascha season we begin, liturgically, reading from the Book of Acts. This New Testament book reads like an adventure story: the first century Church, the excitement of Pentecost, the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The other day I spent time reading Acts 15, which is often titled The Council in Jerusalem. The chapter forms the foundation of Church governance and how issues are discussed and decisions are made. The dispute that the council of Apostles faced was the protocol for becoming a Christian, specifically, how a Jewish person enters the Church community.

The issue was resolved by consensus, in a collegial format, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This format for decision-making has been the standard in the Orthodox Church for two thousand years. Note that the model illustrated in Acts 15 did not emphasize unilateral power, coercion, or manipulation in resolving the dilemma at hand.

What struck me as I read this passage is how the tone of Acts 15 is consistent with the wisdom offered by Jesus in the Gospel narratives. Following the institution of the Mystical Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He implored them to be servants, to not exert their position of power over others in a spirit of self-interest but rather to use their influence for the greater good.

After re-reading Acts 15, it occurred to me that the model expressed by the Apostles might be applied within the family unit. Here are some questions for parents’ reflection:

 What parenting style do we practice in our homes?

 Do we lead our families by exerting power and influence over our children in an authoritarian manner?

 Do we allow for the input of all the family members in issues both trivial and important?

 How do we understand and apply the God-given gift of free-will within the family dynamic?

 Do we pray to God for guidance as a couple or family, when faced with difficult decisions?

Certainly, parents carry the burden of responsibility for the decisions, consequences, and overall well-being of the family. But do we welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in the process? Do we offerr easonable choices to even the youngest members of our family, allowing them to discern the risks and rewards of their decisions in the short run and the long term? By allowing this latitude, children learn to make both self-determining and inter-dependent decisions that lead to a higher level of maturity. Of course, parents should retain veto power when needed, but it should be used judiciously. Even the “hard lines” that must be drawn at times can be explained calmly and in humble submission to our heavenly Father’s authority.

An autocratic style of parenting frequently leads to rebelliousness or insecurity in our children. Alternatively, when we model mutual respect to each member of our family, we show honor of, and trust in, the image of God in each. We equip our children with confidence in the God who dwells in community in a manner consistent in the approach laid out for us by the Lord and his Apostles. This leads to improved communication and sound decision-making that pleases everyone in the home.

“….For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…..” (Acts 15:28)


Fr. Alexander Goussetis serves as the Director of the Center for Family Care.