Families rise and fall on the leadership of parents. One important factor in the health and success of a family is the character of the father. Dads play a critical role in the spiritual formation and moral development of their children. Moms play many critical roles as well, and single moms have to find ways to engender deep convictions and character in the absence of a consistent father figure, but this blog post is targeting the father’s role.
Christian parenting is both the easiest and hardest type of leadership. Let me explain. It is easy because we have someone to imitate, we have a compelling message, and we have opportunities to be equipped and empowered to lead well. It is hard because we are still fallen creatures; many of us have not had good role models, and then there are our three arch enemies the devil, the flesh, and the world.
I want to share five secrets to success for fathers to be effective in loving and leading their families:
- Love Christ more than your family (Revelation 2:4)
This may seem a bit paradoxical at first. We hear “Put family first!”, or “Give your family your best, not your leftovers!” Most of us would agree that sounds and seems right, but most of us would admit we are failing at any consistent attempts to do that. The consistency comes when your spiritual disciplines become habits. When you give God the worship due Him first you get everything else in the right priority. Make your marriage or your kids the idol of your life and you will eventually fail miserably.
- Love your wives like Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33)
If you admonish a husband to love his wife like Christ loved the church, the inevitable question is, “How am I supposed to do that?” Such a great question! The answer lies in how Christ loves His bride, the church. This is so important for parenting because in an intact family you will never be a better parent than you are a spouse. The kids are watching. So, we as men need to love well, and it needs to start with our wives. Here are a few things to help you as you let Christ lead you as you lead your wife:
- Serve her: A godly man goes home to go to work not put his feet up – think second shift!
- Cherish her: Notice her, listen to her, and affirm her! Thank God out loud for her regularly.
- Edify her: Encourage her in the Word, tell others how you see Christ forming in her!
- Love your kids enough to say, “No!” (Proverbs 13:24)
Maybe in your family your kids are so compliant you never feel home is a warzone, but for those of us that have both times of war and times of peace, I hope this will help you. Fathers need to have a backbone of spiritually filled resolve. Let’s face it, many nights your kids will have worn your wife out with endless requests or even demands by the time you come home. When you walk through the door, fight the temptation to check out and to only engage when it’s escalating or your wife is exasperated. I will often check in on the phone on the way home to get a gauge on what I am walking into. This helps me to prepare and it helps my wife to feel heard and appreciated for holding down the fort. I have actually pulled over to pray so I don’t enter the house in a way that provokes my kids and discourages my wife. Then when I get home I will say something like, “I got this babe, go relax.” I then engage my kids with questions, not accusations. If they have had trouble taking no for an answer, or showing honor, I will reinforce my wife’s position or try to bring conviction and repentance where the sin of selfishness or rebellion has reared up. Trying to be popular or patronizing is always a temptation for me BUT love never compromises truth or grace. Help them to see how that “no” is for a better “yes.”
- Love them enough to say, “Yes!” (1 Thessalonians 2: 11)
I took my youngest daughter on a daddy daughter retreat earlier this year. One day the task was to say yes as much as possible to your daughter. “Daddy, do you want to go canoeing?” “Yes.” “Daddy, do you want to catch frogs?” “Yes.” “Daddy, do you want to dance?” “Yes.” “Daddy, do you like my bows in my hair?” “Yes.” Not, “Yeah…” not “in a minute…” not “maybe later” but “yes.” I loved it and so did she. She had my undivided attention and I was there to do what she wanted, with little thought of what I preferred. At one point she said, “Dad, we have been doing what I want all day, what do you want to do?” That was a spiritual moment for me. I was reminded that God lavishes His grace upon us and grace can bring us to tear, and finally we turn to Him and say God I want to do what you want me to do. Father’s should look for the easy yes, and then stretch into the inconvenient yes; not to enable or spoil their kids but so when you say “No.” they understand it is to protect them and when you say, “Yes.” it is because it is a joy to give yourself, your time, and good gifts to your kids.
- Love wisdom enough to pursue it daily (Proverbs 2:1-15)
The book of Proverbs makes one thing very clear over and over again: wisdom is to be pursued over any earthly treasure. Kids need wise counsel. They need a father who is in the Word daily. I started by saying that Christian leadership is both easy and hard. If you are man of the Word, you know that Christ is the model, the gospel is our compelling message, the Word equips us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us. That kind of wisdom is not available anywhere but in the Bible! If you are anything like me, you know this: as soon as I neglect the Word, I soon suffer from spiritual myopia and amnesia. I begin to walk about blind and forgetful of who God is and who I am becoming in Christ. Time in the Word every day is the remedy! Men, do not neglect the word of God. Read it early, recited it often, speaks it in engaging ways to your kids, and give them a hunger for it. Pray it over your wife. Meditate upon it in your heart.
As I think about my role as a father, I want to grow by loving God more deliberately, loving my wife more expressively, and find ways to love my kids more in the balance of truth and grace. I hope you will join me in leading in love as we follow Christ together in 2016.
Dr. Garrett Higbee