Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids About Gender

Guest Post by Jared Kennedy

My favorite scene in Toy Story takes place at the Dinoco Station. Woody and Buzz fight, and their squabble sends them falling out of the minivan onto the concrete. The argument goes on for a moment when, suddenly, Woody stops. He looks up and watches in horror as Andy and his mom drive away. Woody chases after the car for a few steps. “Doesn’t he realize I’m not there?” he shouts, “I’m lost. Oh, I’m a lost toy!” Woody experiences deep anguish, because he knows who he is.

You see, the toys in the world of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story movies want nothing more than to bring joy to their owners. They want to love and be loved by their kid. After all, Woody’s kid Andy wrote his name in permanent marker under his shoe. Toys like Woody live for playtime. They revel in it. It’s what they’re created for. But, for a toy like Woody, being lost or replaced is your greatest fear. The older and more worn out a toy gets, the more danger there is of being donated, discarded and sent to a trash heap, or just stored in the attic forgotten. And getting left behind at a gas station is close to the worst that can happen.

Buzz Lightyear’s reaction fascinates me in this scene. He doesn’t understand the importance of catching up with Andy. He doesn't understand the great tragedy of being lost. Buzz thinks he’s a real spaceman having an adventure on an uncharted planet; he doesn’t know he’s a toy. What Buzz can’t see is that he’s more lost than he knows.

We are just like the toys in those movies. They’re lost without Andy, and we’re lost without God. God made us as his children—to love and be loved by him. We're his cherished sons and daughters. God made us his representatives. We bear his name. It's etched on our very souls. If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we were made or how he made us, we’re as delusional as Buzz.

So, how did God make us? Right at the beginning, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…male and female" (Gen. 1:26-27). These verses show us that the biological differences between men and women are a fundamental part of God’s design—a part of who we are and a part of the essence of God’s image. God made us to live in community with one another so we can image forth the kind of relational life the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally shared. While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men
-with their complimentary differences-to get a complete picture of God’s loving character.

Let’s take it one step further. God didn’t just create men and women to be together, reflecting his glory. He also created men and women to work together, accomplishing his purposes. Just like the cowboy and the (eventually self-aware) spaceman must work together to get back to Andy, men and women must work together to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). As Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup observe:

By creating them as male and female, God invested their bodies with strengths and weaknesses that would bind them together in mutual dependence as they fulfilled the Creation Mandate. The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable. The man’s body would be unable to bear life, but his physical strength would allow him to protect and provide... The differences between them were not an end in themselves… They were the means by which they would together cultivate the good bounty of the earth and their own bodies. Together they would rule and reign over the new creation as King and Queen.

God’s in the business of gifting his children so they can use those gifts for his glory through loving and serving others. Our biological sex is one of the first of these gifts.

For young men, this means parents should prepare them to live as servant-leaders—to take initiative, work to cultivate good, and fight to protect what’s true:

1.     Take Initiative. Think about how God commissioned Adam—before the Fall—to live as a servant-leader. God sent Adam to name all the beasts (Gen. 2:19-20). He names Adam as head and representative of the human family (Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:22). We see this confirmed in the order of creation (Gen. 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:13). But ultimately Adam failed (Gen. 3:6). Only Christ truly shows what it means to lovingly serve as head by humbly considering others as greater than himself (Phil. 2:3-8).

If we’re going to raise young men to serve as faithful covenant heads of families and churches, we must teach them to serve sacrificially. When a cup spills at the dinner table, boys shouldn’t wait for mom (or his sisters) to grab a paper towel. Teach boys to jump up and move toward the problem with eager humility (Prov. 3:27). This is important. We must show young men that taking initiative doesn’t require always being in charge. Even when they enter a headship role as husbands or fathers, leadership should look like Spirit-empowered service (Eph. 5:23; John 13).

2.     Work for Good. A man’s physical strength allows him to provide for his family. He was created with an orientation toward work. Genesis tells us the Lord formed Adam from the ground (2:7), and then he placed the man in the garden “to work [the ground] and take care of it” (2:15). If a husband or father refuses to work and provide for his family, this is tantamount to denying the faith (1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8). A lazy man fails to steward the strong body God gave him for the others in his care (Prov. 12:24). He fails to conform his life to Christ, who sacrificed his own body for our sakes.

Teach sons to cultivate their bodies, minds, and relationships—not for selfish gain, but for the sake of God and others.

If a young man doesn’t love God, he’ll work with the wrong goals in mind (Gen. 4:19-24; 11:1-9). We can teach young men to get a job and start investing early—not so they’ll be millionaires by forty but instead to learn the character and skill necessary to provide for a family. Boys need dads and other older men to model service in church and community. They need to see men working with humility for the sake of justice and mercy (Micah 6:8).

3.     Fight to Protect. Finally, our goal should be to raise young men with self-control, who will use their physical and emotional strength to protect others. Some men fail to control their strong emotions and become foolish hotheads (Prov. 14:16-17). Others take it to the next level, using their physical strength for violence and abuse (Gen. 4:1-16). Adam neglected his strength. He should have spoken up to protect his wife from the serpent’s lies (Gen. 3:6). But in Adam’s failure, we receive the promise of one who would finally fight and crush Satan (Gen. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:25).

We have an opportunity to participate in Christ’s victory when we fight for what is good and true (Rom. 16:19). Throughout the Scripture, we’re given examples of men who use their strength to protect others. Abraham went to war to save Lot. David fought again and again to save Israel. Not all our sons will learn to wrestle or do martial arts, but they can all learn to speak up and fight for what is good.

Just as we prepare young men to be servant leaders, we should call young women to live in conformity with Christ’s character as influential helpers and nurturers:

1.     Give Help and Influence. When God made the woman for Adam as his wife, he created “a helper suitable for him,” because it wasn’t good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). A few verses later, we see the woman who was “taken from Adam” (Gen. 2:22). This is parallel to the man who was taken from the ground and called to work it (Gen 2:7). In the context of marriage, the woman’s orientation is toward her husband—to give him her help and influence.

This is a unique way women image forth God’s character as help and salvation for his people (Ps. 33:20, Ps. 70:5; Ex. 18:4). It should inspire every woman and humble every prideful man to see that every major era of biblical history begins with a woman. (Eve—Gen. 3; Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter—Ex. 2; Hannah—1 Sam. 1; Mary and Elizabeth—Luke 1). Notice that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t give birth to Moses, but through him she brought deliverance to the Hebrew people. Her compassion gave her saving influence (Ex. 2:6).

The woman was made as co-ruler with the man (Gen. 1:26); there’s shared authority in that statement. But often
times influence accomplishes more than authority ever could—both for good and evil (Prov. 8-9; 31:10-31). Eve didn’t need to flex her muscles or get political to influence Adam to eat the fruit. She simply gave it to him. Her actions had destructive power. Teach your daughters their actions and words have influence (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:1-5). Then teach them to ask, “Is what I do and say a help or a hindrance to others? Do I think about how I can help and serve, or do I only consider how I want to be served?”

2.     Nurture and Empower Others. After the Fall, God named the woman Eve, mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). This was a grace. The man and woman received the wages for sin but not yet fully; the woman’s body could still give life. This is a great gift. A woman’s body is designed to incubate and sustain a baby’s life from conception to birth. Her milk alone can sustain her newborn for the first part of the baby’s life.

Not every woman will become a wife or mother,
but every one of our daughters can provide life-giving care for others. Paul instructs every woman in the church to develop others (Titus 2:3-5). We see examples of this in Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos (Acts 18:26—her name is listed first before her husband!), in Philip’s prophet daughters (Acts 21:8), and in Timothy’s grandmother Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Such women model what it means to nurture and empower others in the faith.

I hope I’ve been abundantly clear. Young men and women don’t need to “be more of a man” or “more of a woman.” Like Buzz Lightyear, they simply need to know who they are—who they’ve been created to be. Then, we can teach them to live a Christian life in accordance with this identity. Manhood and womanhood are not status levels to be achieved. Our gender flows from our biology. It’s a gift to receive and steward in love and service to others. As both sexes grow in maturity and transform into Christ’s likeness, the integration of their body and soul will ensure they are more fully formed as men and women.