My role as husband and father are my first and primary responsibilities as a disciple of Jesus. He commands me to love my wife and train up my kids in the Lord (Ephesians 5-6), and He requires that I manage my household well as a prerequisite for spiritual leadership in the church (1 Timothy 3). My wife and kids are my first church, and if I am not leading them well, I am being disobedient to God and must rearrange my priorities in life and ministry. Here are my reflections on how to effectively lead my family spiritually in 2013:
Step 1: Model. My first responsibility to my wife and kids is to model a life that I want them to follow (see 1 Corinthians 11:1). Of highest importance is maintaining my love for God, so that I minister to them and to others out of the overflow of relationship with the Lord. They need to see me pursue Christ daily through time in his Word and talking with Him in prayer. They also need to see my commitment to grace by the way I freely confess my sins and repent of my mistakes. I need to model for them a life of character and integrity, so that the person they see behind closed doors matches the person they see in front of the congregation. I also need to model for them a rhythm of missional and ministry commitments, so that they see me sharing the gospel with others and serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. Basically, I am called to live out a life of Christian commitment that shows my family what it means to submit to Jesus as Lord.
Step 2: Instruction. My second responsibility to my wife and kids is to teach them the ways of God (Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 127) so that they know who God is and what He asks of us. This includes formal teaching (when I read the Bible or Christian books to them or with them) and informal teaching (when I speak into their lives as we do life together). The instruction for our kids needs to cover general areas that they all need AND cover specific areas that they need as individual children. Everyone in my family needs instruction in the nature and character of God, His commands, and the grace of the gospel. But each of my kids has different needs at different phases in their development, and part of my responsibility as their spiritual shepherd is to be in tune with their specific needs. In my instruction, I need to make sure that I am teaching them the basics of the faith and teaching them to establish their own relationship with the Lord (so that they are not dependent on me).
Step #3: Involvement. As important as modeling a strong faith in Christ and teaching right instruction is being involved in the daily lives of my kids. Families don’t just need a distant father who swoops in to give direction from time to time. They need quality time and quantity of time. The quantity of time does two things for our kids: one, it shows them that their activities are important to us, and two, it provides opportunity for quality time. So much of parenting is simply being present at the right moment AND paying attention for opportunities to teach. I hope to be involved in my children’s activities without becoming a parent whose whole life and identity is found in the accomplishments of their kids. This involves incredible wisdom and discernment.
I have specific action items under each step, but they are specific to my family.
What does spiritual leadership look like for you at home?
One of the joys of parenthood is seeing your children move from the stage of complete dependence on you for everything to taking the first steps of independence. When they first arrive on the scene, your kids need your help to do everything. But slowly, they pick up some skills. One of the greatest is when they move beyond the need for you to feed them every bite in every meal. No more baby-food spread all over their face, all over their shirt, and all over the high-chair. They start using their fingers and then figure out spoons and forks and before you know it, they scarf down a whole meal before you can even sit down to eat. They grow up!
In the spiritual-life, a similar transition is necessary before those who are babies in the faith can become mature. When you are early in your Christian-life, you need to be fed by others. They explain the Bible to you, teach you about the things of God, and demonstrate the ways of Christ in their life for you. You go to church on Sunday morning and the pastor opens the Scriptures and teaches them to you, and you are fed – you grow. But soon you realize that this is not enough. If you simply rely on other to feed you, you never move beyond the baby-phase of the Christian life. You have to start self-feeding – opening the Word on your own – reading it, listening to God’s Spirit, responding in obedience and faith to what He says.
Every mature Christian that I have talked to over the years can tell you the time in their spiritual journey when they transitioned from dependence on others to feed them to learning how to feed themselves. When I ask, they can remember that moment because it was one of the most significant transitions in their personal growth. I pray for each one of us to make the transition from baby-food to steak and from the feeding hand of our parent to eating at the adult table.
11We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.
I woke up my oldest son Kade at 6:45am this morning and told him to get dressed. I was taking him with me to Starbucks from some early morning discipleship and tasty hot-chocolate. Kade is 7 years old, starting to excel in his reading, and at the perfect age for his dad to make the intentional investment of time and training into his life. He was dressed, shoes on, face washed, and standing at the door in 10 minutes. We sat down at the table at Starbucks at 7:00am, his eyes wide with excitement at the prospect of the giant blueberry muffin on the table. My heart was full of love at the sight of the joy of my oldest son. How did he get to be this old so quickly?
We talked about prayer this morning. I asked him to help me write in my journal as we talked to God – praising Him for the fact (as Kade said) that “He is more powerful than anyone else.” We confessed our lack of kindness to others with our words (Kade mentioned how he picks on his siblings, but I wasn’t completely sure that I didn’t see a grin on his face). Kade read to me the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 after complaining that the passage was “way to long for him to read by himself.” He made it through, however, and he really got it. We talked about how we could be a good neighbor to others since Jesus had been a good neighbor to us.
I brought with us the letter we received in the mail this week from our Compassion child, Jose Luis from Peru. Jose Luis is a little guy, and his tutor had written to us on his behalf, including a picture that Jose had drawn of a rainbow. I talked to Kade about how Jose Luis is our neighbor even though he lives in Peru. I talked about how we were obeying the words of Jesus by helping care for this little boy on the other side of the earth. And I asked Kade to help me write Jose Luis a letter on the Compassion letterhead. We told him all about our family, the sports we play, and the hot summer we’ve been enduring. After that, I took Kade home where he got ready for the rest of his day.
Why do I tell you this story? Partly to share what God is teaching me about the priority of making disciples of my own children. But also partly to share with you the joy of being a dad. Kade is not a perfect son, and I am a not a perfect father. But he is growing into an awesome kid, and I am growing into a grateful father.
I have been developing an introduction to Christianity study called ABOUT this semester. The study grew out of a desire to disciple one of my neighbors who is a new Christian in the basics of the faith. He was not coming from a religious background and needed foundational teaching on the Bible, the faith, and a personal walk with God.
I wrote the study to get him familiar with the Bible (session #1), teach him basic Christian theology (sessions #2-8), teach him how to grow, live in community, and be on mission (sessions #9-11), and how to live in light of Christ’s return (session #12). Each session includes two to three pages of teaching (to be done in one-on-one discipleship) about the topic (with Scriptures printed in the study) and one page of homework. The homework simply asks the student to read five passages about that week’s topic and make observations.
I’ve now uploaded all 12 sessions to this website along with an appendix that explains the key differences between evangelical theology and those taught by other faith-systems. All of the sessions are free to download under the resources tab at the top of the blog. I hope that these studies are useful to you in introducing others to the Christian faith and discipling new believers.
Soli Deo Gloria.