A Ministry Pivot and a Change for Good


It's time for a new ministry pivot. Every decade or so, Whole Heart Ministries has taken a new road into a new season and new streams of ministry. With the end of our annual hotel conference ministry this year, we're charting a new course for the road ahead of us in 2018.

It always helps to know where we've been, to get a clearer picture of where we're going. For a quick peek at our past year, visit our "Where We've Been in 2017" page. It's been a year full of event ministry (six in the US, one in the UK), writing ministry (five books released, two more written), and online ministry (blogs, podcasts, and a new "Life with Sally" course site). Phew!

Then click over to the our "Where We're Headed in 2018" page. That's where you'll get a descriptive road map for where we're headed in the year ahead (you can also get a PDF of our year end letter there). It's a refocused plan for more books and resources for parents, new books for children and families, growing existing and launching new online ministries, and international ministry to mothers in the UK. It's more than we can do alone. We'll tell you how you can help as a Whole Heart Partner.

This pivot means we'll be changing for good. In both ways--it a whole new season, and a fresh new vision. And it's all good. We invite you to join us on our continuing journey into God's heart for Christian parenting, motherhood, and the family. After twenty-four years of ministry, we're still "keeping faith in the family," and in your family.

Welcome to the New WholeHeart.org!

This is a year of transitions for Whole Heart Ministries (see our Year-End Letter), so it seemed like a good time to give WholeHeart.org a much-needed upgrade, update, and makeover. We are, in fact, giving all of our ministry websites the same upgrade. We're moving them all from the venerable WordPress platform, to the new-generation Squarespace platform. Not because we need to, but because Squarespace does the kinds of websites we do better, easier, and, well, cooler. SallyClarkson.com was our first conversion, and now WholeHeart.org is the latest. It's all part of our "pivot" after 22 years of ministry to be sure we will continue to reach and minister to Christian parents in the decade ahead.

Click around the new site and let us know what you think. We'll be reviving the Whole Heart Blog now to keep you up to date on Whole Heart Ministries news, alert you to new books and events, and share excerpts from our books and blogs to encourage you as a Christian parent. Be sure to subscribe to the site so you can receive our blog posts in your email inbox. Thanks for being here.

Renew My Heart Getaway 2017

Every mom needs a break now and then. You need a weekend away just for you. A time to be refreshed, revived, and renewed—to fellowship, and to share hearts and lives, with other wholehearted mothers like you. Since 1998, Sally has offered a two-day hotel getaway as a ray of light in the gray of winter for thousands of Christian moms in eight states. In winter of 2017, you’ll find our light shining bright in Colorado, California, Texas, North Carolina, and Oregon.

Sally Clarkson has faithfully championed the mission and ministry of biblical motherhood for over two decades. You will be inspired, encouraged, and renewed by her talks. Her theme this year is Hope Changes Everything — Think Different. Live Different. Make a Difference. The new Renew My Heart Getaway is a personal time of heartfelt messages, personal fellowship, inspirational worship, a luncheon together, book tables, and more. So follow the light this winter. Come to a Renew My Heart Getaway and find the hope that will make you and your home different!

Sarah's List of Recommended Children's Literature

For all of you who requested … here ’tis! And for all of you who didn’t, well, have fun anyway. You can never know about too many good books now can you? I began this list for the talks I did at the Mom Heart Conferences. I tend to talk too quickly in my speeches for people to write everything down, so here is the list in its completed glory:

Picture Books

1. When I Was Young In the Mountains (Cynthia Rylant)
2. When the Relatives Came (Cynthia Rylant)
3. Bunny Bungalow (Cynthia Rylant)
4. Miss Rumphius (Barbara Cooney)
5. Roxaboxen (Barbara Cooney)
6. Only Opal (Barbara Cooney)
7. The Brambly Hedge Series (Jill Barklem)
8. The Boy Who Held Back the Sea (Thomas Locker)
9. The Young Artist (Thomas Locker)
10. Fritz and the Beautiful Horses (Jan Brett)
11. The Bear Who Heard Crying (Natalie Kinsey Warnock)
12. All the Places to Love (Patricia MacLachlan)
13. A Song for Lena (Hilary Horder Hippely)
14. Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)
15. Make Way For the Ducklings (Robert McCloskey)

Children’s Classics

1. Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)
2. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
3. The Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
4. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
5. The Tales of Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
6. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
7. The Anne Series (L.M. Montgomery)
8. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
9. Little Men (Louisa May Alcott)
10. Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
11. Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
12. The Water Babies (Charles Kingsley)
13. The Railway Children (E. Nesbit)
14. The Treasure Seekers (E. Nesbit)
15. Heidi (Johanna Spyri)

Children’s Fiction

1. The Little Britches Series (Ralph Moody)
2. All of A Kind Family (Sydney Taylor)
3. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)
4. The Winter Cottage (Carol Ryrie Brink)
5. Johnny Tremain (Esther Forbes)
6. The Good Master (Kate Seredy)
7. Carry On Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham)
8. Ellen (E.M. Almedingen)
9. Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt)
10. I, Juan de Pareja (Elizabeth Borton de Trevino)
11. The Journeyman (Elizabeth Yates)
12. Escape from Warsaw (Julian Padowicz)
13. The Trumpeter of Krakow (Eric Kelly)
14. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken)
15. Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)

Fairy Tale/Fantasy

1. The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
2. The Princess and the Goblins (George MacDonald)
3. The Princess and the Curdie (George MacDonald)
4. At the Back of the North Wind (George MacDonald)
5. The Light Princess (George MacDonald)
6. The Lost Princess (George MacDonald)
7. Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
8. The Redwall Series (Brian Jacques)
9. Dangerous Journey (John Bunyan)

Faith-Shaped Parenting


Every Christian parent will readily affirm that their children are being raised in a "Christian home."  Probe a little deeper, though, and you'll find that what they really mean is that their children are being raised in a "Christian culture." Let me state what should be obvious, but isn't: Christian activities and interests do not make a home Christian. Let me be more specific: A Christian home is never defined by what the children are doing; it is defined by what the parents are doing. Your child can read the Bible every day, listen only to Christian music, watch only Christian video, read every missionary biography in the library, know a zillion memory verses, and never miss Sunday School or Bible Club, and yet still not live in a Christian home.

Your children cannot do enough to make your home a Christian home. Only you, their parents, can make your home a Christian home. A Christian home, in uncomplicated terms, is one in which the parents purposefully keep Jesus Christ at the center of family life. It is what you to do "bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). You start on the foundation, the rock, of Christ and His Word (Matt. 7:24), but then you must build your Christian home.

We've identified four priorities of Christian home building that we call "faith-shaped parenting." Each builds upon the one before it and supports the one following it: influence (steering your child's soul to listen for God), nurture (shepherding your child's heart to long for God), instruction (strengthening your child's mind to learn for God), and discipleship (shaping your child's heart to live for God).

To build a Christian home, you must first be aware of your divinely-designed influence on your child's soul to turn their hearts to listen to God. Then, you can begin to create a spiritually nurturing environment that makes your children want to know more about God. The next natural step is to begin instructing your children to help them get to know God personally. Finally, you can disciple each of your children to live for Jesus every day. Your faith-shaped parenting will shape the faith of your children.

INFLUENCE: Steering your child's soul to listen for God. Influence is the act of flowing your life into another's. Your child's natural spiritual awareness is open to your influence, but they can turn to others if they don't find what their soul needs from you. You can exercise your spiritual influence simply by acknowledging God to your children, praying with them, talking about Scripture, and filling your home with God-centered books, music, and art.

NURTURE: Shepherding your child's spirit to long for God. Nurture is the act of giving life to someone else. You bring the life of Christ into your home through family devotionals, spiritual traditions in family life and at holidays, and Christian fellowship. It includes developing your child's character by helping them understand the goodness of God and learning to desire that good. Nurture is cultivating the soil of their hearts to be ready to receive God's Word.

INSTRUCTION: Strengthening your child's mind to learn for God. Instruction is more than just passing on information about God; it is the process of "building on" to your child's mental abilities to learn about God. In the words of Yeats, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Your goal is not to indoctrinate your child with Bible truth, but rather to give your child the will and skill to learn, and the desire to keep learning, about God.

DISCIPLESHIP: Shaping your child's heart to live for God. Discipleship is the natural result of influence, nurture, and instruction. If you're doing those, then the next step is to disciple your child--to help them follow and serve Christ. Discipleship is not just about what you do, but what you are--how you follow Christ, walk daily with Him, serve others in His name, and "seek first His kingdom" through personal ministry. Before you disciple, you're a disciple.

There is no biblical "formula" for building a Christian home. It is really just a relational process of loving God and loving your children. That is the essence of faith-shaped parenting--listening to God's Word, walking daily in the power of the Holy Spirit, praying for wisdom, and stepping out in faith. Bringing your children into your daily faith-life with Christ is what will define your home as a Christian home--that you are faithfully influencing, nurturing, instructing, and discipling your children at home for Christ.

Home Education: Learning for God

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7

If you understand the biblical need to nurture and disciple your children at home, to help them long for God and live for Him, then it is a very short step to educating them at home to help them learn for Him. If you have a biblical mandate to influence your child's spirit and heart, it would make no sense that God really meant that you should let someone else influence their mind. God didn't just forget to include school in His biblical family plan; it was not needed because He created the home. It follows that the logical next step is to educate your children at home.

But it is at this point that many families, wanting to do the right thing, choose the wrong way. Rather than trusting that God has designed the home to be a complete living and learning environment, they try to retrofit the institutional classroom model into it. But a home is not a school! God designed the home, man designed the school; they were never meant to fit together. Only in the home, just as God designed it, can you shepherd your children's spirits, shape their hearts, and strengthen their minds all at once. God did not leave anything out of the home that your children would need.

Solomon suggests that connection when he asserts that the "fear of the Lord" is the beginning of knowledge. True learning begins with the spirit and the heart, not just with the mind. A godly mind comes from a godly or God-directed spirit and heart. You cannot separate that relationship. It's clear that Solomon believed that parents were the ones charged with giving children the "wisdom and discipline" that will guide their search for "knowledge." Over and over in the first chapters of Proverbs, Solomon reinforces that relationship by admonishing his son to "treasure my commandments within you" and to "not forget my teaching."

The question, of course, is what should that home education look like. If God designed the home to meet all of a child's developmental needs up to the time when they leave to start a new home, then education should be the natural activity of the Christian home. For many homeschooling families, though, the tyranny of textbooks and the rigid rule of school have stolen the joy of homeschooling. Rather than finding freedom, they are held captive by the impersonal formality and constant demands of structured curricula, enslaved by methods designed for human institutions, not for the home. But it doesn't have to be that way.

In our book, Educating the WholeHearted Child, we share our own journey to making our home a warm, vibrant place where our children would love to learn as freely and as naturally as they love to play. We show you how to use real books and real life to stimulate real learning. Our WholeHearted Learning Model gives you a way to look at everything you do with your children at home. It is a biblical, discipleship-based, commonsense, relational approach to educating your children at home that works. But it's a different way of life.

Building Mental Muscles

It's always hard to switch paradigms, and when all we've known as a culture is the classroom model, switching to a relational, home-centered model of learning can test our confidence. The most common concern is usually whether average parents can do "enough" to really educate their child.  "How will I know if my children know everything they need to know?" That concern does not originate from Scripture, but rather from a culture obsessed with measuring learning. But the truest measure of learning is not what a child knows at any one time relative to what other children know; it is whether or not that child is growing stronger in all of the most important learning skills. We like to call them "mental muscles."

Just as children have varying physical abilities, they also have varying mental abilities. Some children will be naturally stronger than others, but we do not insist on measuring and comparing all children's arm muscles. Neither should we compare and judge all children on the basis of one or two mental muscles. The goal should be to exercise all of a child's mental muscles so they will enter adulthood with a strong mind, with the desire (will) and the ability (skill) to learn whatever is necessary, whatever the situation. Performing well in comparison to other children in an artificial classroom setting is no indication that a child will perform well in real life in comparison to other adults.

The goal of education is not to raise a child who does well on the tests of secular educators, but to raise a child who does well on the tests of real life. When they need to research an issue, they will have the discipline and ability to find and analyze relevant information. When they need to present an argument, they will know how to use language persuasively. When mediating a problem at church, they will know how to apply wisdom and find a creative solution. Knowledge is the natural fruit of growing stronger mental muscles, not the other way around.

And what are the mental muscles? Certainly there are more than the ones we have identified in our book, but we have found seven that we think are critical to mental strength:

  • Habits:  The ability to instinctively act upon common duties or tasks without being told.
  • Appetites:  The ability to discern and desire what is excellent and worthy.
  • Language:  The ability to clearly articulate and communicate ideas and beliefs.
  • Creativity:  The ability to reflect the image and glory of God in all that one does.
  • Curiosity:  The ability to question, to seek out knowledge, and to keep learning.
  • Reason:  The ability to think clearly and logically about ideas, decisions and life.
  • Wisdom:  The ability to apply spiritual insight and discernment in any situation.

So, start with the spirit and the heart, and the mind will follow. And in the end, you will have not only a "well-educated" child, but even better, the confidence that you have raised a wholehearted child.

Home Discipleship: Living for God

"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Discipleship is inseparable from the word of God. Though he doesn't use the term "discipleship" in Deuteronomy 6, Moses describes the process of discipleship within a family. It starts with the parents, with the word of God on their hearts. The simple fact is that you cannot pass on to your children's hearts what is not already on your own heart.

In light of New Testament teaching, discipleship is the process through which one person influences another person to become like Christ. It is a spiritual relationship in which the student (your child) becomes like the teacher (you) (Luke 6:40). In the same way that Paul told others to "imitate me" as he modeled Christ, you are giving your child an example to follow as you "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Just as it was with Moses, the word of God is wisdom and instruction for that relationship

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), that it is not just words on a page. It pierces your child's life physically and spiritually. More than that, though, it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Without the word of God intersecting every area of your life at home and your relationship with your children, you cannot really say that you are discipling your children. Home discipleship is the work of God's Word in your home in and through your family. To be sure the living and active word of God is defining discipleship in your home, do these:

Bible Devotions

It is certainly good if you are committed to a family devotional time. God wants you to set aside time for him every day to read his word, talk, and pray. You need that input to be a living representative of Gods life to your children, and your children need it to be fed spiritually so they can grow into a strong relationship with God. A family devotional time is great, but even better is a family devotional life. If the only real exposure to God's truth your child receives during the day is the few minutes you spend in a devotional time as a family, then there is very little discipleship going on. God's model for families is a devotional life in which God's word is discussed and applied, and God's help is sought, at every point throughout the day and night.

In God's design, if you are devoted to Him, then all time is devotional time. And, as a parent, you are called by God to infect your children with that devotion. That is what He meant in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, that His word is first on your heart, and then passed on to your children's hearts. And God didn't mean that should happen only four times a day--when you sit, walk, lie down, and rise (6:7). That phrase is a Hebrew idiom that means there is no time or place when it shouldn't be happening! It means to do it all the time. Devotion is not just a time, it's a life.

Bible Study

Most parents start off with the right desire for Bible study ("I want my children to know God's Word"), but they inadvertently set the wrong goal ("I need to be sure my children know all about the Bible"). While Bible knowledge is a good thing, the primary purpose of Bible study for your children is not simply to pour knowledge about the Bible into their brains. Spiritual maturity is not measured by how much a person knows about the Bible, but by how well one lives out what he knows. Facts alone will never make a person mature, not even facts about the Bible. When Paul said, "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (1 Corinthians 8:1), he was affirming that knowledge, apart from maturity, can even lead to pride.

God's truth is found primarily in ideas that change lives, such as the law of love, not in bare facts divorced from the ideas that give them meaning. That's why Jesus spoke so often in parables; he wanted his hearers to get the "idea." Your real purpose in teaching your children to study the Bible is to show them that they can acquire wisdom and understanding from God's Word for living a godly life. They need to know that God can speak to them through the words of Scripture. They need to see that God's truth is consistent, reliable, trustworthy, effective, and makes sense. Children can learn the Bible but not love it; but they cannot love the Bible and not learn it!

Because our goal is to instill in our children a heart-deep and lasting love for the word of God, we avoid materials that would turn the "living and active" Bible into a spirit-deadening workbook exercise or academic assignment. We look for the kinds of resources that let us naturally integrate God's Word into every part of our daily lives: family devotions, Bible reading and study, Bible memory, discussions about life and current events, disciplinary instruction, prayers, Scripture songs, history studies, doctrinal discussions, and so on. Just as we try to create a "devotional lifestyle," we also create a "biblical lifestyle" in which the Bible is central to everything we do, everyone we meet, and every decision we make. We want our children see a Bible that intersects and brings meaning to every facet of their young lives.

Biblical Worldview

Finally, we help our children take the step of taking the Bible truths they are hearing, learning and seeing and integrating them into real life ... their life. If we give them a love for God's Word but fail to show them that it makes sense and gives true meaning to their lives, then all we have done is given them a good Bible education. Until it is "living and active" in them, the goal of discipleship is not complete. We help them to see how God's Word has changed history for the better through those who have believed it and lived by its truths and wisdom. We want them to know and understand the great ideas of life from the Bible that have given mankind freedom and dignity. We want them to know the lives of great men and women who have followed the Word. We want them to see the logic and reasonableness of a Christian worldview.

If you start with Bible devotions, Bible study, and a biblical worldview, you will be laying the foundations for a strong Christian life. Walking by faith is difficult enough; trying to walk by faith without a strong biblical foundation is just a recipe for stumbling and struggling. Prepare your children to walk by faith as disciples of Jesus--make sure the Word of God is "living and active" in your home.

Home Nurture: Longing for God

"But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children...just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11-12

Though his words were not spoken directly to parents, Paul left us a portrait of biblical parenthood in his first letter to the Thessalonians that leaves no doubt of his own thoughts on the relationship of parent and child (2:7-12). This is no stark portrait of strict order and demands on a child, but a portrait colored by loving relationship and parental nurture. Look at the words he uses to describe the parents: "gentle... tender... caring... exhorting... encouraging... imploring." These are heartfelt words of relationship and longing for a child.

When we read Paul's words in Ephesians 6:4, however, "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord," we're tempted to think he is suggesting a strict upbringing. What you don't see, though, is that the term he used for "bring up" means to "nurture," to see your child as a living thing that needs to be spiritually fed in order to thrive and grow. It is the same word he used a few verses earlier to describe how a husband is to "nourish" his wife as he would his own body. To "bring up" or nurture your child is to carefully and lovingly tend to the life that you see growing there, to cultivate it as you would a prized plant, making sure it is fed, watered and its soil is properly enriched.

What you might also miss is the contrast of bringing children up "in the Lord" with the Roman idea of bringing them up "in the father." The concept of patria protestas meant that a father had absolute rule over his child's life, even to the point of killing the child with impunity. Paul, in contrast, says Christian parents are to bring up their children "in the Lord," in the principles of love, respect, and dignity taught by Jesus, who affirmed the dignity and faith of little children. This little phrase would likely even offend pious Jews of Paul's day who believed, according to Rabbinical teaching, that children prior to the age of 12 had no standing before the Law.

Paul's attitude toward children was not like that. He knew that a child needed to be nurtured and trained. One way to think about home nurture is as a process of creating an environment and atmosphere in your home that cultivates spiritual life in your child. That happens because of the way your relate to your children, the things you do in your home, and the way you bring the life-giving word of God into your home life. Nurturing your child is a process as intentional as tending a garden.

Tilling Soil, Planting Seeds

Remember the parable of the Sower? The Sower's seed, which is "the word of God," fell fruitlessly on many kinds of ground. But when it fell on "good soil" it bore fruit. Jesus explains to his disciples that the "good soil" is those who have an "honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15). How did they have a good heart that was able to "hold it fast" when the word fell there? I believe, as in the life of Paul's disciple Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14-15), who from childhood knew the word of God, godly parents prepare the soil of their children's hearts. You are training your children's character in order to create "good soil" for the seeds of God's truth so that, when God sows, they can take root and grow in your child's heart.

It is clear from Scripture that the character qualities we want to see in our children--the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22f) which is the character of Christ--are not from us, but from God. It is our role to train our children in the "ways and words" of godliness, to keep them walking on the path of righteousness until God gets hold of their hearts and regenerates them, changing them by His Holy Spirit. When He does they will keep walking in His path because they are already familiar with the lifestyle and language of godly character.

So, we do not "create" their character; rather, we teach and model to them what character is. Our training is cultivation, preparing an "honest and good heart" so the seeds of God's truth, when they fall there, will take root and grow, producing Christ-like character. Though it is not often mentioned, prayer may be our most effective character building tool because discipleship is a spiritual process, not a procedure, and God wants the glory.

Tools for Tending Your Garden

If your child's heart is a garden for God's seeds, it is your responsibility as a parent to prepare that soil. It needs to be kept soft, nourished, and watered. These are some of the tools you can use to nurture your child's spirit so they will long for God.

  • Family Time and Togetherness: Being together will have more influence on your child's spirit than any other factor. As you walk with God, they will learn to walk with God. You cannot tend to their spirits without lots of time spent together. But it needs to be together on several levels;  at home as a faithful family, fellowshipping at church with other faithful families, and ministering to the world as a faithful family. All of the faith goes deep into their soil.
  • Family Traditions: Holidays into which you inject spiritual purpose and meaning are the big traditions your children will remember:  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving. But traditions also include family rituals, storytelling, family nights, patterns of relationship, bedtime habits, seasonal activities, and anything else that creates a spiritual "seed row" in your child's spirit for the things of God.
  • Family Teaching: You cannot nurture your child's spirit without copious amounts of the water of God's Word. Teaching should spill over into every area of your family life, so your children are constantly soaked in truth. Bible reading, devotions, and study bring life to your child's spirit.
  • Family Training: Training is more than just discipline. It is the proactive, positive role you play every day to lead your child to love and serve Christ. As you become a student of your child, understanding their personality and gifts, you nurture him or her by steering them toward God. You train not by rules, but by the guiding ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Nuture is bringing the life of God into your home. It is the first step in creating a Christian home where God is alive and Christ is followed. The term "nurture" sounds like something God has equipped moms to do. But it's also a dad's responsibility. Paul was speaking to fathers when he commanded them to, "[nurture your children] in the training and instruction of the Lord." A godly home starts with spiritual nurture.