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“You can say anything, but kids will copy what you do”

The other day I watched a young mother talking with some friends and behind her, unbekownst to her, her young daughter was watching her and imitating her hand gestures. I don’t think anyone but me saw it and I almost laughed out loud but I realized that this little one wasn’t trying to be rude or making fun of her mom; she was learning. My bet is that in a few years, this little girl will be having conversations of her own and her little hands will be flying around as she talks just like her mom.

Recently the New York Times posted an article that was about how to raise young men who respect women and the pull quote they used for the article was from a sociologist who said, “You can say anything but kids will copy what you do” (Dan Clawson, University of Massachusetts).

I don’t think we can overemphasize this enough.


To put it in perspective first consider this: The single most powerful influence in a child’s life is by far their parents/caregivers.  

Second, consider this: One of the greatest indicators of church retention of young people is the existence of caring intergenerational relationships between adults and youth.

Finally, we read this from Paul: Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 4:15-17a)

Paul compares himself to a father, a parent, and tells the church in Corinth to imitate him as children do their parents and then, to seal the deal, sends his spiritual son Timothy, who has learned how to imitate his “way of life” to the people of Corinth so they can learn how to imitate as well.

Another word we use in Christian circles is discipleship. 

Now let’s bring this full circle.  Sociologists say that what we say doesn’t matter as much as what we do. As parents and Christian adults in the church we have powerful influence over our kids and youth just by being present in their life. And our church “father” Paul has exampled for us that we should be telling our children to imitate us.

So my question is… are we worthy of being imitated?

I wish you could see how long I had to pause and sit and reflect on this question. I wish you would stop for a second and do the same.

Are our actions and reactions, our way of communicating and listening, our relationship with Christ and the church, worthy of being imitated by our children?

I’ve had some adults tell me that they don’t want children with the adults on Sunday morning because kids don’t get anything out of the sermon. But the sermon is only one very small part of church!  There is so much to imitate at that time. They are watching us.

In fact my husband pointed out this morning that in the early church, imitation was intricately woven into the traditions even more so at the time than the Bible. What we call the Bible today were letters from church leaders to the growing church back then. But the actions, thing like communion, the laying on of hands, baptism…all of these things were taught to and imitated by the church as a means of active participation in the faith.

So the bigger question is, if the children aren’t engaged with the service, why?  

What are they watching?  Are we engaged?  Or are we texting, tweeting, or posting?  Are we listening to the sermon, worshiping with the enthusiasm, praying at the altar?  Are we giving them something worthwhile to imitate?

At home, do we read the Bible and talk about the Lord? Do we pray? Do we serve? Do we worship?  Do we give them something to imitate that will sustain them when they are in need?

When we “walk along the road”, are we engaging with our world and our community? Do we pray for those in need?  Do we reach out physically and financially and do we do it in a way that our children can see? What are our reactions to the our neighbors, to the news, to disasters and to blessings?  What do we get excited about?  What do we get angry about?

All of these things matter.

All of these things are discipleship. All of these things will be imitated. We can say anything but our kids will copy what we do.

For, as Paul says later on, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be savedAnd you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1)

The reality is this: We are being imitated.

That is simply how this works. One generation to another.

The challenge is this: To be something worth imitating.

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About this Blog


Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

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