PASTORS, HUSBANDS, AND FATHERS
Written by Doug Ponder on December 13, 2012
Absentee Husbands and Fathers
There’s a common stereotype about pastors’ kids that rings true more often than not. So often, pastor’s kids are the worst behaved of the lot. (Of course, this isn’t true in every case—that’s why it’s a stereotype.) Still, common experience testifies that many children who grow up in the homes of pastors often do rebel and go their own way later in life. Why does this happen? Whose fault is this?
If we look at the Scriptural teachings on the behavior of children, we’d find the parents own a great deal of the blame for this situation. In fact, fathers get the lion’s share of the blame. This isn’t because moms don’t have an important role in shaping their children—they do! Rather, it’s because God has designed the role of the husband/father in the family to demonstrate something about the way God relates to his own children. So imagine praying, “Our Father in heaven” when you grew up with a dad wasn’t who in the picture, or a dad who was around without really being there at all. Worse still, imagine having a dad who spends all of his time trying to help others see the beauty of Jesus but fails to do the same with his own children. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a common one. That’s why even in churches where the importance of being a faithful husband and dependable father are affirmed, pastors often think and act in ways that make a mockery of our true Father in heaven. Thus they inadvertently communicate to their families (and to the families in their churches) that God is the kind of Father who neglects his own children because he is “busy” elsewhere.
What the Lord Wants, What the Church Needs
If Paul the apostle was right in his warning, what the church especially needs is pastors who are model husbands and fathers, showing what it looks like for men to love their families well. “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
Of course, many fathers know this verse by heart, but they may have little idea what this should like in their day-to-day lives. Thus, they continue to talk about the value of being loving husbands and fathers, all the while their family life is bitter, broken, and hard-hearted. The way forward, out of this family-wrecking mess, is found in the gospel and the new perspective it gives us on ourselves and others.
If we want to be faithful fathers and dads, here’s what we need:
1. We need a passion for the gospel, which is the single greatest factor in making all men better husband and fathers (whether they are pastors or not). This is because understanding Christ’s love for you, a selfish sinner, will provide both the desire and the ability to love the other selfish sinners in your life (your spouse, your children, etc.).
2. We need a biblical picture of what it looks like to be a husband. If you want to know what it looks like to be a husband, look to the example of Christ toward his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Jesus laid down his life to rescue and sanctify his bride, whom he cherished beyond measure. In a similar way, husbands are called to “love their wives as Christ loved the church,” making them tough toward enemies without, and tender toward the family within.
3. We need a biblical picture of what it looks like to be a father. If you want to know what it looks like to be a godly Father, look to the example of your Father in heaven (Heb. 12:5-11). He is not harsh with his people, but is slow to anger and abounding in mercy (Num. 14:12). At the same time, our Father in heaven disciplines his children, not in anger but in love (Heb. 12:6). All of this is done for our good, so that we may grow in holiness and righteousness (Heb. 12:11). In practical terms, this means husbands are called to repent of laziness, carelessness, and selfishness. They are called to work hard, not just to provide food for their families (1 Tim. 5:8), but to work hard at ordering the home and leading their families into a life of godliness.
4. We need a biblical understanding of rest (Sabbath). The biblical patterns of work and rest are laid down for us in the rhythms of creation itself: we have a seven day week patterned after God’s six days of work and his one day of “rest” (Gen. 2:3-4). There are two ways to get this principle wrong. First, some men are workaholics. They work seven days a week in search of more power, more acceptance, or more money, neglecting to spend time with their families except on holidays and very rare occasions. This is not the biblical pattern for rest. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are men who rest all the time. When they come home from work, they rest until it’s time to go to bed. When the weekend rolls around, they rest some more. In fact, more of their time is spent resting instead of working. This isn’t the biblical pattern for rest either. What we need are dads who work from the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, six days a week. The work we’re talking about isn’t just work at the office; in fact, much of a husband/father’s work should be done at home, helping around the house and leading his family in loving Jesus and serving their neighbors. When you live like that, you’ll be ready for a day of rest—a day when you and your family can relax together, have fun together, and spend time celebrating the good news of Jesus together.
Practicing these truths will help every husband/dad be a better “pastor” (shepherd) in his family, just as it will help every pastor be a better husband and dad in his home.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.