Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 40
Fatherhood dominates my mind, my time, and my interests. This is right and appropriate, but it is also noble and good. That is why my wife and I approach our family with a profound sense of stewardship. We strive to rear our children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord, and we find no greater joy than seeing our children pursue Christ.
Thus, to be a dad is to be a disciple-maker. Intuitively, faithful fathers understand their primary goal is to point their children toward Christ. This one task is more important than producing champion athletes, honor-roll students, or aspiring entrepreneurs. We are called to cultivate children who love and follow Jesus.
Raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord does not just happen. It takes prayer, wisdom, intentionality, and doctrine. Yes, doctrine. Doctrinal formation has staying power. Moral imperatives might offer a quick fix, but doctrinal instruction will last.
As fathers, we tend to focus more on behavior than belief. This is understandable. Misbehavior is easier to recognize than misbelief and, if we are honest, we typically find it more troubling. When our children misbelieve, it is abstract and subjective, hard to sense, and harder to correct. When our children misbehave, it is concrete and objective, easier to detect and correct.
Yet, we are called to go deeper, to steward not only our children’s outward actions but also their inward persons. We are to cultivate not only right actions, but right beliefs. As we focus on the latter, the former will invariably improve. How can fathers best steward their children in this regard? Consider these five actions a faithful father must do:
First, a faithful father knows his Bible. While all the spiritual disciplines are commended, Bible intake is the most foundational and most urgent. It is the indispensable discipline because it informs, fosters, and enables the other disciplines. For example, the Bible teaches one how to intercede, thus informing the discipline of prayer. Not everyone can preach a sermon, lead a Bible study, or persuasively advocate for biblical truth, but every father can and must engage in Bible intake.
Second, faithful fathers place their children under the preached Word. Hearing the Bible is the most basic and common form of Scripture intake. It occurs when one sits under the ministry of the Word, whether preached or taught, received in person or through other mediums. Though the church is not perfect, it ought to be cherished—warts and all—by every member of the congregation, including our children. When your pastor preaches the Word to the gathered congregation, make every effort to have your children in the room.
Third, a faithful father leads in family worship. Family worship simply includes Bible reading, prayer, spiritual reflection and discussion, and perhaps singing. Over the years, we have not been legalistic about it, but we have sought to be consistent. Family worship has been a near constant in the lives of our children, now aged- 12-17. If in doubt, keep it brief and simply read and explain, the best you can, God’s Word to the young ones in your life.
Fourth, a faithful father actively seeks to renew the minds of his children. Renewing the mind is a biblical command and, ever since sin entered the world, it has been a spiritual necessity. Due to the fall, we do not think as we should, nor do our children. When teaching them the Bible, do not just look for the moral of the story, look for the doctrinal truth in the text. Surface the key truth, unpack it in simple terms, and apply it to their lives. Over time, you will be amazed at how biblically and theologically grounded your children will become. In so doing, you will equip them for a lifetime of Christian service. Dad, to accomplish this you may well need to deepen your own doctrinal wells. You cannot pass on what you do not possess. In time, both you and your children will benefit from your doctrinal growth.
Lastly, a faithful father consistently teaches his children the gospel. The gospel is the first truth. It is both primary and essential, and by it, our children will truly see, cherish, and comprehend the fuller body of Christian truth. Share the gospel with your children plainly, passionately, and frequently. Let them know the gospel is not for other people, it is for them. And after they have given their life to Christ, continue to iterate and reiterate the message of the gospel and what it means for them.
Writing an article on fatherhood is a daunting responsibility. I am sure many Christian parents feel the same way I do—awestruck by the opportunity and responsibility that God has entrusted to me. In fact, my wife and I are often asked about building a Christian home and rearing children who grow up to follow Christ. We will be the first to admit that we are far from accomplished. On the contrary, we just keep plugging away, seeking the Lord’s grace in our children’s lives, as in our own.
In the final analysis, all I have written of, and more, takes a father’s time. As a wise man once told me, love is spelled T-I-M-E. As you demonstrate your love for your children through the gift of your time, make sure to prioritize doctrine for them—and for yourself.