Let Mom Handle the Spiritual
The Man's Role of Spiritual Leadership in the Home
Men are intended to lead the spiritual way in the home, but it seems to fall more naturally on the wives and mothers who do so much to raise the children.
There are logical reasons why it is hard for men to assert spiritual leadership on the home front.
The worst thing a wife can do is to chide or prod her husband to be more of a spiritual leader in the home. She needs to help him in other supportive ways.
Not long ago we attended the funeral of a spiritual giant, who had passed away after a long and fruitful life of ministry. As one tribute after another was given to this man of God, the topic of his early spiritual formation was repeated over and over. You guessed it, it was his mother who had the most powerful influence on his life in his tender, growing-up years. When you hear story after story like this, you can't help but ask yourself, "Where was Dad?" Is he some kind of an absent jerk who just doesn't care about spiritual things related to his children? Or are the issues deeper? Why is it that so often Mom is left to handle the spiritual stuff for the family?
How many times have I let Donna take the spiritual lead in our home, because I come home tired or I have been away on a business trip. Since she just seems to be more aggressive in wanting the kids influenced with spiritual input, I just let her keep taking the lead. I know it is not ideal, but sometimes I just don't have the energy to do what I should.
THANK GOD FOR MOMS AND GRANDMOTHERS
Several years ago we watched an in-depth interview by David Frost of Billy Graham on public television. It was an unusual interview because Billy Graham allowed David Frost to ask anything he wanted, no holds barred, for an intensive and thorough two-hour interview. Among the comments that had the most profound effect on us as we listened were his comments about the spiritual impact he regretted the most as he looked back over his life. Without hesitation, Dr. Graham commented that his deepest regret was that he had not spent more time with his children. He spoke of the godliness of Ruth Graham, who had raised the children while Billy was out reaching the world through his evangelistic crusades. No one would fault Billy Graham for the marvelous work he was done, but it was a moving reminder to hear him look back on his life and regret that he had not been more active in the spiritual upbringing of his children.
How many people do you know who attribute their spiritual upbringing to a godly mother or grandmother? We have known many. It is the pattern, but it is not ideal. Actually this common approach of husbands undermines the spiritual moorings of children, who need strong signals of spiritual leadership from their dads. The father's spiritual input is crucial for the development of children. But it is the mothers who tend to be more involved in raising the children and can end up filling the vacuum of spiritual leadership. This seems to hold true of mothers whether they "stay-at-home" or work outside the house.
When it comes to spiritual tributes given by children to their parents, it seems that nine times out of ten it is Mom who gets the adulation. If a person has grown up in a Christian home and you ask that person who had the greatest spiritual influence on him or her, isn't it amazing how often that person refers back to his or her mother? For a number of important reasons, which we will explore in this chapter,
moms seem to be the ones who end up having the most spiritual input in the lives of the children during their formative years.
TOP TEN TIP
Seize the moment!
Make the time, and tune into teachable moments with your kids. Share your heart! Be sure you tell your kids your testimony, and explain why you choose to do what you do (go to church, not go certain places, etc.) Be sure to pray together with your kids about their problems, or particularly tough situations. And ask them to pray for you for specific needs or requests you have as well.
THE BEST OF INTENTIONS
I, Hans, consider myself an average spiritual father. In fact, I've been to Bible college and seminary, and perhaps might be considered by many to have "above average" spiritual potency. And, of course, I am totally committed to the nurture and admonition of my children in the things of the Spirit. However, our family falls into the same trap that many other Christian homes fall into, where it seems as if Mom has the most spiritual impact on the children. How do I know? Just ask our four children Mark, Jeremy, Andrew, and Cambria.
If you were to ask our children why they believe what they do, how they have formulated their spiritual outlook on life in terms of who has influenced them the most, and where they get their spiritual data, I have no question in my mind that they would say they got it from their mom. I want to be the spiritual leader in the home, but there are a number of practical reasons that seem to fight against it.
You know things get bad when your eight-year-old second grader goes digging through the cabinet, pulls out the family devotional Bible, and brings it to you saying, "Dad, could we please read another story
tonight?" Talk about being put in my place! Or take my second-grade daughter, who usually begs me in the evenings when I tuck her into bed to pray with her. Confession is good for the soul, and thus I offer you this transparency.
The fact is that by the time I have put in my day of work, come home, and dealt with all of the things related to taking care of the house, taking care of bills, dinnertime talk and eating, fixing whatever is broken, going through the mail, and helping with homework, I am exhausted by the time the kids are ready for bed. There are those things that I know I should do, but they often wage war against that which I have the energy to do. What I should do is read books to them, tell them stories, pray with them, and have in-depth conversations discovering how their day went.
With our four children you can imagine that it can take quite awhile going from room to room and child to child through that long process I call our upstairs hallway where they all sleep, our dormitory, and walking up and down that hall fulfilling their needs is one of life's biggest challenges. It would really be nice to also have a few moments with Donna to try to keep that relationship nurtured and alive. Yet a man often feels that he has little or no time to himself.
Mature Christian fathers know that they should be the spiritual leaders in their home. I know that, and my counterparts know that. But in reality, so many things fight against the best of intentions. Some of the big reasons are:
Fatigue Never underestimate the fatigue factor. We leave for work early in the morning, put in a hard day slugging it out at the office, pouring our energy into our life's work, and usually come home tired, fatigued, and at least ready for some relaxation. The best word that I can find to describe my feelings when I get home in the evening is "disengagement." I am engaged all day aggressively pursuing my work, and just wanting to have some downtime to do nothing. I never live the
"My Three Sons" type of evening with slippers, the easy chair, and the evening paper. But I would be dishonest if I said I wouldn't love it once in a while.
Distraction Another thing that is difficult for a working man to do is to change gears from what he has been consumed with all day at his workplace to the issues that are raging about on the home front. It is hard to turn off the things that you thought about all day, and to turn on family life when you walk through the door at home. Years ago I had a professor in seminary who mentioned that every day when he went home from teaching, he had tried to leave his troubles at the roadside by a certain bridge, which he passed on the way home. He would throw his troubles over the bridge and pick them up on his way back to work the next morning. It is a good illustration of what we should try to do to shift gears from the distraction of work to the needs of our spouse and children at home. But the fact of the matter is, it is difficult to make that shift.
Despair As Erma Bombeck said, "Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving." Many of us Dads feel downright guilty and despondent by our lack of spiritual leadership in the home. You don't have to tell us that we're not doing what we should do . . . we know it all too well. And the worst thing a wife can do is to chide or prod her husband to be more of a spiritual leader in the home. She needs to help him in other ways we will get to in a moment. When I talk to fellow fathers, there seems to be the common feeling among most of them that they are failures at doing all that they should do to be the spiritual leaders in their homes. A despair can set in that makes you give up even trying.
Inadequacy Along with feelings of despair is the complementary sense of inadequacy. Most of us don't feel that we are all that spiritually
tuned up to be the great devotion leader, prayer warrior, and spiritual giant in the home. We have our own struggles, and after the hard day at work, we simply find little or no reserve from which to draw spiritual strength for our family. At times I ask my children to take the lead in family devotions and they love it!
Absence For many dads, they are just downright absent when Mom is not. Just as with the illustration of Billy Graham, as much as he wanted to be a strong influence in his home and to be a spiritual leader, he was just away from home too much to be that for his children. In my line of work I travel often and will be away for days at a time. So Donna is left at home to be the one who is always there on a regular basis, day in and day out, to care for the needs of the children. She is the one who is there to consistently understand their needs, to pray for them, and to talk with them when spiritual issues come up. When I do return home from a trip, it takes me several days to get reacclimated to family life. It is impossible for me to immediately pick up the mantle of leadership the moment I walk in the door. In fact, that itself is a cause of friction between us, as Donna is ready for me to get home so that she can be relieved of the total weight of family responsibility.
FATHERS AS SPIRITUAL LEADERS
So where do we get the idea anyway that it is up to the dads to be the spiritual leaders in the home? We begin in Scripture with the whole foundation of the Old Testament and the Jewish home, where the father was actually the teacher of the children. Public school and classroom outside of the home is actually a modern invention. Historically the parents, and particularly the fathers, were very much involved in training the children to prepare them for life.
Of course, the classic New Testament verse is found in Ephesians 6:4, where we read, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them
up in the training and instruction of the Lord." When Paul wrote these words to fathers, he no doubt had the Old Testament in view as a backdrop to this admonition. Paul states very clearly that it is the father's responsibility to bring up his children in the "training and instruction of the Lord." The Bible Knowledge Commentary magnifies the meaning of verse 4: "Fathers are addressed because they represent the governmental head of the family on whom rests the responsibility of child discipline." The commentary goes on to explain that the meaning of "do not exasperate" is "do not provoke to anger." This can be done to our children by "unreasonable demands, petty rules, or favoritism. Such actions cause children to become discouraged." Then the passage goes on: "Instead, fathers are to bring them up, that is rear or nourish them ('provide for physical and spiritual needs') in the training ('child discipline,' including directing and correcting; 'training in righteousness' and God's 'discipline' of believers) and instruction of the Lord" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord/Zuck, p. 642).
Men, we need to take very seriously our role as protector of our home in the spiritual realm as well! Are you using biblical discernment in what movies, magazines, and other influences you are exposing yourself to?
Are you doing the same with your family in the choices you allow them to make in music, video games, the Internet, and other activities? Jim Logan, an excellent family counselor, gives powerful warning to dads about this issue in his book, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground.
First, Logan points the finger squarely at Dad: "God put a father in the home to be the protector of that home, to shield his wife and children from destructive influences. What we as fathers allow to come into our homes will either have a positive or negative effect on our families. God wants a father to be very sensitive to this so that the atmosphere of his home is conducive to raising children who love Christ and desire to follow Him." Jesus spoke of this principle when He said, "In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house" (Mark 3:27).
In Jim Logan's work with many troubled teens, he has found that "In order to spoil a home, Satan has to attack and bind the father, the 'strong man,' and then go after his family." So when he is counseling a troubled child or teen, he first must find out what shape the father's spiritual life is in! Therefore, be sure your own life and mind are pure and right with God. Live and lead your home by the power and love of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-26). Jim also points out that a child may still choose to willfully rebel against a godly father and mother because of his or her own free will, but the principle is nevertheless crucial and valuable to practice (Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, Jim Logan, pp. 121-22).
Let's take a moment to look at some Old Testament admonitions for the father to be involved in the spiritual upbringing of his children:
Father Abraham: God Himself said to Abraham, "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him" (Genesis 18:19). We
see a direct cause-effect relationship between Abraham's responsibility in directing his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord and the resultant blessing and promise, which the Lord had given to Abraham and his descendants. This promised blessing is a gift we give our children (and grandchildren) as we live godly lives and train our children in godliness! Psalm 103:17 "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children."
Ten Commandments: In accordance with the Ten Commandments, the guarantee that generations to follow would love the Lord their God was dependent upon the fathers' passing down to their children an understanding and a love for the law of God. Deuteronomy 6:6-7: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." It is clear from the context that this admonition goes directly to the elders and fathers of Israel.
Solomon's wisdom: Finally, in the classic text from the book of Proverbs, which were the words of wisdom of Solomon to the fathers Israel, we find: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). What could be more obvious than this admonition for a father to be actively involved in the process of training the child in the ways of God?
It's just not fair to your wife and to your children's mother to have her carry the spiritual ball in your home. It is also not fair to the kids to expect Mom to be the spiritual anchor in your home.
The dangers of relying on Mom to handle the spiritual stuff include:
Kids won't have a strong example of God as their Heavenly Father.
Dad getting away with avoiding his God-given responsibility.
Putting too much pressure on Mom that God never intended.
Providing a bad example for sons and daughters who will grow up one day to be parents themselves.
HERO HUSBANDS WE KNOW
I, Donna, look back on my childhood with great joy and some awe at my parents. My father was a busy pastor. In the first thirteen years of my life, our church grew from a group of 50 to over 600 members. My mom, also involved in music and ministry as a pastor's wife, was a full-time homemaker. She carried much of the weight of raising three daughters. She knew how to let go, though. She instinctively knew the importance of allowing her girls to be very close to their daddy. We all were. Although each of us felt unconditionally loved and treasured by our dad, we all knew that he loved us equally.
The close relationship we had with him started when we were very young. I remember the story my parents would tell of the time when my older sister, Rhonda, was a "tow-headed" toddler. Dad was closed away in a room at the front of our house and deep in study for his sermon. Rhonda was busy playing, but she kept trying to interrupt Daddy to try to get him to play with her. With some frustration, he tried to tell her he must be left alone to work. With her simple "babytalk" words, Rhonda said, "I just want to be with you, Daddy." Wisely, Dad set aside his work for a short time to take Rhonda in his arms and "be with her" for just a few minutes. That was all she needed, and she was off, blonde curls bouncing behind her.
Unlike so many other pastors' kids, or "PK's" for short, we all grew up loving the ministry. We all loved our church and felt a part of what our parents were doing. We truly were at the church, which was adjacent to our home,
every time the doors were opened. Our church was home. We loved it, and all of the people were our extended family.
We had our daily devotions after supper as a family. Usually Dad would read a Bible story and ask us question to see how well we had listened. Then we would pray together. Our home was always open to others. We had missionaries, families, and those in need in our home on a weekly basis. Dad and Mom lived the same whether visitors were there or not. The Lord was the center of our lives, and serving Him was the outpouring of our love for Him. No artificial "because you are the pastor's kids" laws were laid on us. Any rules or behavior expectations were always well explained (and demonstrated to us). The bottom line was always that we are believers, and our lives belong to the Lord. He is the reason for all of our choices and actions.
Life in our home was always busy. Dad traveled a few weeks a year to speak at meetings in other churches. The phone would daily ring off the hook with calls from church members and people around the world with questions or problems. My dad was the consummate pastor with great gifts in counseling
and prayer. Dad always called on each person from our church who was in the hospital, no matter how many hospitals he would have to drive to. Then there were always evening board meetings, but Mom rarely complained. She made it a point to find great joy in the ministry herself, and she refused to allow a negative attitude toward Dad's busyness spill over in anger at her lot as a pastor's wife.
Much of my dad's spiritual leadership to us occurred in the natural daily happenings of our lives. He was very strong in disciplining us! It was, however, always tempered by his unshakable love and acceptance of us. We knew the boundaries, and Dad was always extra creative in discipline if we overstepped a boundary in relationship to honoring the Lord. The most painful and powerful one I remember was when I was about ten or eleven. My sister, Rhonda, and cousin, Jan, were both older than I. Since our home, the church parsonage, was right next door to our church, we would often go over to the church gym to play or ride bikes around all of the sidewalks. One sunny afternoon, we were in the church sanctuary "hopping" pews! It was great fun, racing from pew to pew using the pews as hurdles. But then Dad walked in. Boy were we in trouble! Our punishment for such wanton disregard for the holiness of our place of worship was to have us pull all of the weeds bordering our whole church parking lot the rest of that summer day. Each of us was given a section to pull. Since we had to show our own pile to him, we spent the day basically alone with our thoughts and worked far away from one another, each working hard. Never again did any of us consider misusing our place of worship.
As we grew into our teen years, our relationship with our dad became even more important. I respect mom so much for having the wisdom and maturity to let us be closer to our dad than we were to her at times. Those early foundational years of his spiritual leadership and open relationship were key! We had always known that no matter how busy Dad was, we came first. Our weekly family nights and yearly vacations
had further given us time to build a strong foundational relationship with our parents.
The security we felt in our father's love and openness of sharing carried over into the rocky teen years. When I struggled with a relationship with a boyfriend or the temptations thrown at any teenager, I could talk to Dad. Unlike most of my friends, I didn't have the desire or need to turn to cigarettes, beer, marijuana, or sex to find happiness. When I was down, I knew I could turn to my parents and to the Lord, who gave me all I needed. My friends were dumbfounded! Why not just one puff? Why not just one drink? It was obvious they did it to feel a high, to feel better . . . but I felt just great without it. Yet even in those times when I could be in a period of rebellion and not close to the Lord or to my parents, Dad did it right. Sometimes he'd just say a simple, "Gettin' kinda cocky, young lady." Coming from him, those words would cut through quickly. But more often Dad would just entrust me to the Lord in prayer. Neither he nor Mom would say anything to me directly. They would simply pray about my rebellious spirit. Inevitably, the Lord would use other means or just convict me by His Spirit, and I'd repent. Then when I'd go to tell my parents of my renewed joy and confess my rebellion, I'd be shocked that not only had they known I had been in rebellion, but also they had trusted God enough to leave the work to Him. Now that's powerful and showed me even more vividly the reality of our faith.
I remember not long after Hans and I were married, Amy Grant came out with her song, "Just Like My Father's Eyes." I so understood that song and cherished those words, also wanting people to see the love of God in my eyes. Recently, I heard a wonderful message where the speaker asked us all to do something unusual. He asked us to picture in our minds the Lord's arms. He illustrated many ways we might picture them. Many would picture them closed in front in a position of retribution or disapproval. Some would picture them open in a welcoming way.
My immediate picture to my surprise was of my own father's arms enfolded around me in a loving, safe, accepting, secure embrace. Wow! That's certainly a beautiful example of spiritual leadership that works. Though not perfect, it created in me an image of our Lord as a God of love as my own Heavenly Father who loves me ... "Just like my father's arms!"
First, from the example of Donna's own father, here are some hints on how to be a good spiritual leader in your home:
Pray! Above all, my dad is a man of prayer! He and Mom prayed for each one of us and our future mates even before our births. Every problem was prayed about, every need brought to God.
Listen! From the time your children are young, give them your undivided attention. This should be on a regular basis so they feel you truly care. I still treasure the breakfasts "out with Daddy" I had with him alone, and I continue to enjoy those rare occasions we can be together.
Put your family first. Learn how to set aside your work to leave it at the office to build a relationship with them. That will build important memories for each child.
Love them unconditionally. Encourage your children to be who God wants them to be. Ask the Lord to show you the special needs of each child, and then be creative in leading them to grow.
Live what you believe! That does not mean you have to be perfect. Just be willing to walk according to God's Word, and ask forgiveness from your kids or wife if you blow it by your words or actions. Then start over anew!
Seize the moment! Make the time, and tune into those teachable moments with your kids. Share your heart! Be sure you tell your kids your testimony, and explain why you choose to do what you do (go to church, not go to certain places, etc). Be sure to pray together with your kids about their problem or situation. And ask them to pray for you for specific needs or requests you have as well.
Take time alone with each child to focus on them. Talk through with your spouse each of your visions of the needs and gifts of each child, and get alone with each one on a regular basis. Hans schedules one or two of his trips a year to include our children. He will be taking our twelve-year-old, Jeremy, with him to Brazil this summer.
We don't claim to have mastered the male spiritual leadership issue in our home. However, Donna and I have worked together to provide solutions so that we can attempt to raise our children in the right atmosphere. Some of the other practices that we follow, which we would pass on to you for your consideration, are:
1. For Fathers:
Lower your expectations and do what you can do.
Think bite-size pieces: Start with having family devotions, maybe just three times a week. Use a creative devotional book to help you, and pray together. Then come up with a list of annual minimal goals for what you would like to do with the children to provide spiritual influence.
Be honest with your children about your struggles, and ask them for their input.
Make this area a part of your accountability group.
Beg, borrow, and steal any good ideas you can find from other fathers who seem to make this work.
2. For Mothers:
Learn to back off. Work at allowing your husband the freedom and room to lead.
Learn to back up. Pray for your husband, for the Lord to help him lead spiritually, and remember to support him when he does take the initiative.
When you both fail, not if you fail, get back up and give it another try. Don't feel defeated. Starting over is always better than giving up.
Chapter Five || Table of Contents