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Dads, is Family Discipleship on Your Calendar?

Christian dads, everything we do should be marked with intentionality—even how we take dominion over our schedules.

Using data analysis, our smartphones and smartwatches can monitor all kinds of details of our lives: our health, our money, our media consumption, and more. My phone often informs me about my schedule. “You have a full day tomorrow that starts early,” it says.

TimeSpent is an app that goes further. Inspired by the late Peter Drucker, who coached leaders to “know thy time,” it helps users complete the exercise Drucker recommended of keeping a log of their time in order to determine what they are doing over the course of 24-hour time periods.

What would such a tool show about your life? What would it indicate about your work, your exercise, or your leisure time? More importantly, what would it indicate about your life as a Christian dad?

Paul speaks directly to Christian dads in his letter to the Ephesians: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Logging The Right Kind of Time

If you were to log your time, what would your schedule say about your attention to this verse? What data would accumulate in your log from time spent disciplining your children in a corrective way, taking your children to church, or intentional family discipleship?

Faithfulness as a Christian father isn’t measured in a specific quantity of hours logged, but our schedules are a reflection of what’s important to us. In The Family Ministry Field Guide, Timothy Paul Jones describes a survey he conducted of Christian parents. He found a large majority understand their responsibility to raise their children in the instruction of the Lord, but they find it difficult to make time to do it intentionally such as through family Bible reading, worship, and prayer.

It’s not that parents are unable to bring their intentions to bear on their schedules. An analysis of time logs for many Christian parents would reveal that many family aspirations related to education, music, and sports somehow make the jump from intention to committed time. This is significant because much of what fills up our schedule as parents tends to be what can be described as secondary parenting goals.

Dr. Jeremy Pierre, a counseling professor at Southern Seminary, explains that an unspoken goal of many parents is “to maximize opportunities for the highest quality education and vocational training.” This leads them to fill up their schedules with sports, music lessons, and other related activities for their children. Pierre recognizes that while such a goal can be important to fulfilling a parent’s mission, it has to be seen as secondary to those primary, mission-critical goals that if not met will result in mission failure.

One of the mission critical, primary goals Pierre identifies for dads, based on Scripture, is to “demonstrate personal commitment to, and enjoyment of, the gospel of Jesus Christ in front of children, instructing them carefully in it.” That’s a well-articulated goal. Notice it’s not about punching a clock and knocking out family discipleship activities—it’s about instruction that grows out of a love for the gospel.

Dads who love baseball and hope to pass along a love of the game to their kids don’t settle for just watching baseball games on TV with their kids, or occasionally playing catch in the backyard. They talk about it naturally in various settings. They sign their kids up for T-ball and everything that follows it. Some even go the significant expense and effort of supporting their children in traveling baseball teams. A dad’s love for the game of baseball will be obvious in his schedule, even to the point of pushing beyond resistance from his kids or enduring the demands of regular practice and games.

Our kids are smarter than any app that analyzes schedules. They quickly discern what we love and what we want them to love based on how we spend our time. Children benefit greatly from hearing Sunday school lessons and sermons from teachers and preachers who love the gospel. But they are also watching to see if you love the gospel and if you want them to love it.

Faithfulness is Key

You don’t have to be qualified to teach or preach in order to demonstrate love for the gospel to your kids. In fact, Paul doesn’t include any qualifications for dads the way he does for elders and deacons when it comes to instruction in the Lord. You can do this.

Much of your faithfulness will come in the form of regularly taking your children to church and talking with them after the service about what they heard, patiently disciplining your children in a way that doesn’t provoke them to anger,I and leading your family in daily prayer. But your children also need to regularly hear you reading Scripture and teaching them from the Bible. That’s why your schedule needs some kind of regular family devotional time.

When I first started trying to get into a devotions routine with my family, I looked to products that had multiple steps and required a lot of front-end planning. I pulled off a few of these but quickly found myself feeling unqualified to execute the model, and frustrated by the need for prep time. As a result, our family devotion time was sporadic, even though I knew it was important to do.

I was grateful for an older friend who encouraged me to scrap the complicated model and simply pick up the Bible and read it to my family. “Just start reading through a book of the Bible, maybe start with the Gospel of John,” he said. “Now that my kids are grown, they tell me that our time together reading the Bible was the most meaningful part of their spiritual formation.”

When I asked him what kind of discussion they had about the text, he said they would talk about what the passage revealed about God and what it revealed about us and our need for Christ—but he said there were many nights his family would simply read a chapter from the Bible, pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate it, and call it a night.

After taking this approach, our family was able to fit in much more family devotion time than we thought possible and were able to read much more of the Bible as a family than we would have imagined. We’ve even been able to add on to that Bible reading routine, singing worship songs and incorporating devotional resources such as Glorious God, Glorious Gospel.

When you feel under-qualified and crunched for time, you can trust the Holy Spirit to produce fruit from the means of regularly reading the Word to your children, leading your family in regular prayer, lovingly disciplining them, and regularly leading them to church for faithful preaching and teaching.

We probably won’t see an app anytime soon that informs us how our schedules line up with our responsibilities as Christian dads. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to grow our love for the gospel, and our desire to faithfully instruct our children from that love with as much of our schedule as we can, within the limited years God places them in our care.

Find more vision and resources for family discipleship here.

Helping Children Pray

Following is part two of Truth78’s interview with Bible teacher, Nancy Guthrie. Nancy and David Guthrie experienced the death of two of their children and now lead respite retreats for parents in similar seasons of suffering.

Steve Watters: How do we help children pray for things and especially pray in the midst of difficult situations?

Nancy Guthrie: This is a very significant and personal question for me because when our son was in second grade, he had a sister who was only going to live a short time. He went to a Christian school and every day at the end of the school day, they prayed. So what do you think all those kids prayed for? They prayed that Hope would live.

I remember picking up Matt from school and waiting in the carpool line. And he hops in the car and immediately he says, “Mom, is there any chance Hope might live?” And I knew why he was asking. I knew they were praying for that every day. And he’s thinking it through, which is great. He’s thinking it through, “Should I expect that?” And I said to him, “Well, Matt, here’s what I know. I know no children have ever lived very long who have this condition that Hope has. But here’s the other thing I know, I know that Hope is in God’s hands. And whether she’s here with us, or she’s home with Him, she’s in God’s hands.”

So I think the challenge for us in helping kids know how to pray through these things is really the challenge we have with adults knowing how to pray for these things. And that is: we are oriented primarily to ask God to take this suffering away, rather than being oriented to pray and ask God to use the suffering in our lives to conform us to His image. That’s His purpose in it. He wants to use it to discipline us, to mature us. He wants to use it to give us the opportunity to live out genuine faith.

There are lots of verses in Scripture that say, “this happened, so that” and those verses are answering the question, “Why?” Both with adults and with children, my plea would be, “Look at what the scriptures say God intends to do in and through suffering, and pray for God to accomplish those things.”

That’s a whole kind of reorientation. I suppose a kid is going to state the request, “pray that this happens.” And sometimes we just ask. Isn’t it great that God is our father and we can just ask Him for what we need? But I love the Westminster Catechism which says that prayer is asking God for what He’s promised to give, not just for what I want. And, and you know what? He has promised to give sufficient grace. He’s promised to give divine power. He’s promised that His holy spirit would work for us. And so those are the things we should ask for.

A child might say, “Teacher, I want you to pray that God will give my family a new house to live in.” That was one that was in a class I was in recently. I said, “Would you give this family a new house? But more than that, Lord, would you give them contentment with what you are providing right now with what you’re providing to them?

In children’s ministry we have the opportunity to train children not to focus on prayer being solely asking God for these things or these situations that we want, but instead for inviting God to work in the situations we don’t want.


When Jesus responded to the disciples’ request to teach them to pray, He gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model. He shows us what should be in the believer’s heart when he comes to his Heavenly Father in prayer. For an in-depth look at how the Jesus teaches us to pray, consider our 13-week study for children and adults, Lord, Teach Us to Pray.

 


Read Part 1 of our interview with Nancy Guthrie: Helping Children Prepare for Suffering

Dad’s Unmatched Spiritual Influence

Steve Watters recently caught up with Bill Farley to ask about the need for family discipleship, for dads to take the lead as spiritual example and guide, and the challenges dads can expect to face and what to do about them. Farley is a retired pastor, father, grandfather, and author of Gospel Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.

Steve Watters: What is the significance of a dad’s leadership in family discipleship?

Bill Farley: The big significance of a father is very simple: he is the one who is called by God to do it. The Bible repeatedly commands fathers to raise up children in the way they should go. That command is rarely ever, if at all, given to the wife or the mother. Her role is to be supportive. His role is to take responsibility and to lead the family spiritually. No one can substitute for that. Nothing is as effective as dad taking up his position as the leader of his home.

In Gospel Powered Parenting I cite a Swiss study that looked for any correlation between a father’s devotion to Christ and his children’s devotion to Christ. After studying hundreds of couples and their children, researchers came to the conclusion that the fathers’ involvement in religious activities was crucial.

When a dad attended church regularly along with his wife, 33% of the kids ended up attending church regularly. When the dad was non-practicing, but the mother went to church regularly, only 2% of the kids ended up going to church. When dad went to church irregularly, but his wife was non-practicing (she didn’t go to church at all), 25% of the kids still went to church.

The most interesting finding was that the greatest number of kids—fully 44%—who ended up as churchgoers came from homes where the dad went to church regularly and the mom was not practicing. In other words, when the kids saw their dad pushing through the obstacle of having a wife who did not want to go to church, and he went anyway, that had the biggest impact on the children. Dad’s involvement is crucial.

SW: Are family devotions the full extent of a dad’s responsibility to raise his children in the fear and instruction of the Lord? Is there more to that expectation than just family devotions?

BF: Family devotions are just part of the package. A father’s own spiritual example is crucial. How his kids perceive his relationship with Christ, and whether it’s driven by passion or whether it’s driven by religious duty, is crucial to the kids as they grow up. Kids are watching all the time. The kids are also picking up from mom and dad that religion is for men, or something only for women and children. When kids pick up that it’s also for men, the boys grow up more likely to follow Christ and the young ladies grow up more likely to choose husbands that will be men who will follow Christ. There’s a robustness that comes to the family when the dad is the one who is the spiritual leader in the home. And when dads are the spiritual heads of their homes, everything changes.

SW: What are the core elements of family devotions?

BF: Bible reading and prayer.

In our experience, family devotions don’t need to be long. 15 minutes is fine. When you’re doing family devotions you’re teaching your children the Bible, but you’re also modeling for them, and the modeling is essential. Every time you meet for family devotions, you’re saying to your kids, “This is the most important thing. Our home revolves around Christ—not our children, or our felt needs—and that is a stake that goes in deeply and stays with kids for a lifetime. I’ve never said to any of my grown children, “you need to do family devotions.” But they have all married Christians and they’re all doing family devotions without us ever saying a word. They know it’s important because we set that example for them. It would be hard for you to overestimate the long-term impact of consistent family devotions with your children.

SW: Many dads know they should lead in family discipleship, but studies show there’s a gap between those who know they should lead, and those who are consistently leading in something like the family devotions you describe. What challenges have you seen that are causing that gap?

BF: I think one of the big challenges among men is a feeling of inadequacy. Men look around and think, “You know I’m not perfect, how could I lead my kids?” Or “my wife knows the Bible much better than I do; maybe she should lead the family.”

The other problem is he’s distracted. Dad just doesn’t see the long-term impact of family devotions. Maybe he’s thinking, “Oh, this is just a religious duty and it’s not going to have any big impact. My kids are just going to grow up and they’re going to think, ‘I don’t want to be involved in that same kind of legalism that my parents were involved in.'” But our experience is just the opposite. If it’s a loving home, and you lead by example, and occasionally do things that are fun during family devotions, that will have a long-term impact on your kids and they’ll want to do that when they grow up and have their own families.

I often tell the story of a 70-year-old friend, Tim, whose mother died when he was a boy. He was the youngest child of five kids. After all his older brothers and sisters were grown and gone, his mother died choking to death on a piece of food while she was standing in line at a bank. He was left alone with his father.

His father was a janitor. His father could barely read. But every night his dad got out the old, big King James Bible with his son and they sat at the dinner table and Dad and Tim would read the King James Bible together. It was his father’s example that had a huge impact on Tim for the rest of his life. He raised his kids the same way his dad raised him. It’s not how much you know. It’s that you’re willing to learn as you study along with your kids, and communicating to your kids that God is the center of our family.

SW: Did you run into any practical challenges as you worked to have a consistent devotional time with your family?

BF: Of course! For devotions to work, you need to have a time during the day when your whole family is together. It’s usually going to be dinner, or if dad works the night shift, it’s breakfast. But there needs to be some time when the family’s all together. Our biggest obstacle was when the kids got into junior high and high school: sports, tennis lessons, drill team lessons and on and on and on; music lessons, piano, flute, etc., etc. It was hard for us to gather the family for a dinner hour. Somebody was always gone. So, I put my foot down and said, “We’re not going to be gone during the dinner hour. We’re going to be here. None of this other stuff is nearly as important as our family being together and family devotions.”

I’m sure it’s much worse today than it was when our kids were younger, in terms of distractions. You have to be really committed or it’s never going to happen. If you don’t protect the time, you won’t have a family dinner (or breakfast) hour and if you don’t have a regular family hour, you’re probably not going to have family devotions.

SW: How would you apply a passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:14, to encourage men who say they’re having difficulty leading their family spiritually?

BF: That passage says, “Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient with them all.” That’s a classic example of what it looks like to parent children!  Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Be patient will all.

It’s the same thing for dads. You may start out saying, “I’m going to do well at this. I need to do this, I’m going to get on the wagon. I’m going to. I’m going to be faithful.” And you do lead for three or four weeks, and then you wake up one day and realize it’s been two weeks since you’ve done family devotions. One thing after another has happened and there have been distractions, and activities, and on and on. You just need to get back on the wagon. Recognize from the start that this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be two steps forward and one step back.

If you do family devotions three or four nights a week, you’re doing really well. We’re not talking about doing every night of the week because for most families, that’s not sustainable. Aim for at least three or four nights of the week. Meet together as a family around God’s word.

SW: How do you get the kids talking about the passage you read?

BF: I used the Socratic method, which means I’d ask questions. We’d read a paragraph, maybe one of Paul’s epistles, and then I’d say to the kids, “What’s this text about? What was that paragraph about?” You know, I’d get all kinds of blank stares. So I would ask them more questions; draw them out and get them involved in the text. It’s not a matter of you just lecturing your children.

When your children are really little you can use Bible picture books. You can read Bible story books designed for kids at various age groups. Bruce Ware has a good book to help with this: Big Truths for Young Hearts. There are all kinds of aids you can use to help with family devotions. The important thing is, whatever you do, work consistently at it, and together, with mom and dad on the same page together.

SW: Is there a book in the Bible you encourage dads who are new to this to start with?

BF: I might say the book of Mark. It’s simple in its organization into sections with subheadings. Start at the beginning and read one section and talk about it. You don’t need to have all the answers. Your kids may ask you questions you don’t have the answers for. That’s great. Say, “Hey, next time we meet I’ll get the answer to your question and we’ll talk about it.” You don’t have to be a know-it-all. You just need to get the text in front of your children. When you do that, you’re saying to them, “Our family revolves around God, not around our kids, or our kids’ activities. And the Bible is how we connect with God, and the Bible is really, really important.” Your honoring of Scripture, your honoring of God, will have a huge long-term effect.

SW: Any final encouragements?

BF: There are only two texts on parenting in the New Testament and they both say similar things. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, and Colossians 3:21.) Both passages are to fathers. If you read through Proverbs in the Old Testament, you’ll find pretty much the same thing with a few exceptions. In the various places where parenting is discussed in the Bible, it’s assumed that the dad is the chief parent in terms of leading their children’s spiritual instruction.

To every dad reading this, pick up the mantle and your Bible, gather your family, and by faith, go forward.

                                                           

Our newly-released interactive family devotional, Glorious God, Glorious Gospel, is designed especially for dads who are ready to take the lead in the spiritual formation of their children. The book is divided into 15 chapters that use Scripture to explore God’s character, what God requires of us, God’s solution to our problem of sin, and what it means to follow Him.

Glorious God, Glorious Gospel answers questions like:

  • Who is God, and what is He like?
  • Why do I exist? How am I to act toward God?
  • What is my greatest problem and need?
  • What has God done to solve this problem?
  • How Can I be saved?
  • How should I now live?

It includes suggested schedules for breaking each chapter into smaller units, based on the ages and attention spans of your children.