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Re-establishing the Father's Role as Family Shepherd
For generations, men have been abdicating their role as family shepherd. This role of leadership is not one that men can pick up or put down, it just is. Therefore, fathers are either leading their families in their presence or in their absence, in their attention to or in their neglect of their duties.
Many men have become so accustomed to mothers being the primary spiritual influence on their children that they have come to believe that is how things are supposed to be. Women, when there is a vacuum of leadership, will take responsibility and act. That in itself isn’t a mark against them - it is often a sacrifice they make to ensure that those they love are cared for. If men set their wives as the primary spiritual influence for their children within the home, it is easy for them to see their wives as the primary spiritual mover and shaker within the home, and it becomes increasingly difficult and hypocritical to try and lead their wives within that arrangement.
Due to generations of poor examples and dismal training, men do not know where to begin when attempting to re-establish their God-given role in the home. It feels awkward and clunky beginning a routine. It can be discouraging when family members do not easily adapt to the changes being made. Incremental steps forward are the key to producing good habits and life-long change for the better. We hope the following encouragement and practical tips will give you the boost you need to make gradual progress in the right direction.
How did we get here and why is change needed? It is hard to make any lasting change in your habits if you do not know why you are making that change. Below are a few reasons why I think we have a perfect storm of cultural influences that have led to the shift of discipleship from the home to outside entities like church and school.
The church has largely followed the culture's lead in how we think education and training is supposed to happen. We have gone along with the idea that experts are needed to teach just about anything. The average parent doesn't believe they are equipped to teach their children about nature of God and what He has revealed in His Word. That is believed to be better left to pastors and Sunday school teachers. Sadly, because this problem goes back a number of generations, most parents aren't really equipped because they still don't know how to study their own Bibles, practice spiritual disciplines, or effectively communicate the Gospel. Parents feel insecure and inadequate, and so they seek out others who they feel can do a better job.
In our society the family has become segmented. To clarify, our lives have become compartmentalized and largely independent, especially as children grow older. We have a group of independent individuals who live under the same roof, not an interconnected and interdependent family who is walking through life together. We don't really have Christian homes anymore, we have houses in which a group of Christians live. That makes it awkward of even unnatural to have deeply personal or spiritual conversations, or to get too involved in each other's business. This obviously increases as children grow older, but the general mindset impacts how parents act even with their younger children.
A Shortage of Real Men
There is a serious problem concerning the shortage of real men leading in their homes. Part of that is due to the general decay of the family, and part of that is due to a general feminization of the church such that manly men don’t feel welcome or appreciated there. Most men no longer recognize that the buck stops with them. They are responsible to lead. I think that most Christian couples are not aiming for household model where the husband is the head of the family, instead opting for the much more culturally friendly egalitarian pattern where the husband and wife and partners who share the burden and responsibility evenly. Yet a responsibility that is shared is one that is easily forgotten. Shared blame has a peculiar way of comforting us in our failure. Beyond that, when children don’t see dad taking his faith seriously, they will very often follow his lead.
Our default position is not to drift to greater faithfulness, or even to remain as we are. Unless we are actively working toward the goal of discipling each new generation, which begins and is centered within the home, we will gradually let go of that responsibility. Over time we will convince ourselves that an ever lowering standard of parental responsibility in the spiritual lives of our children is "good enough." As those in our community, especially within the church, do the same, we feel we are living up to our responsibility, even to the point where most evangelical parents feel that they have successfully done their part by simply dropping their child off at VBS, Sunday School, or youth group.
Re-establishing Dad's Role as Family Shepherd Episode
For generations, men have been abdicating their role as family shepherd. This role of leadership is not one that men can pick up or put down, it just is. Therefore, fathers are either leading their families in their presence or in their absence, in their attention to or in their neglect of their duties. Listen in on this conversation between Christian Horstmann from the Family Discipleship Podcast and Caleb Stomberg on Re-establishing Dad's Role as Family Shepherd. We pray it is a blessing to you and your family.
The Bible's Instruction to Fathers
In Ephesians 6, we see the Apostle Paul instructing fathers to "bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Again, this is spelled out for fathers clearly in Deuteronomy 6, when parents are commanded to teach their children about what God has done for them and what He commands. When families are around the table, when they begin and end their day, and as they go about their day, fathers are to be teaching their children about who God is and how to obey Him. It is impossible to take advantage of everyday occurrences to teach your children about the nature of God or the Gospel if you are not actually with your children.
We have numerous examples in the book of Proverbs of a father warning his son about the dangers he will face in life and exhorting him toward faithfulness to God. Just a fraction from Proverbs chapter one concerning one's friends or peers trying to draw him into mischief:
"Hear my Son, your father’s instruction…if sinners entice you, do not consent… my son, do not walk in the way with them… these men lie in wait for their own blood… such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors."
It is obvious in the Scriptures that fathers need to set positive examples for their children. They should be able to say like Paul did to the Corinthian Church, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." Fathers can't expect greater discipline and faithfulness from their children then they model for them.
Practical Tips for Fathers
What are some practical steps that fathers can take to reclaim their biblical roles as spiritual leaders in their homes?
- Take responsibility, and start taking small steps to move your family in the right direction. We can’t try to right the ship in a single quick movement or we will capsize and all drown. Small stead adjustments toward the right direction will move us where we need to go.
- Prioritize the whole family going to church together, and being a family at church. This includes sitting together, singing together, etc., not just arriving together and scattering until it is time to go home.
- Start practicing family worship as a family. Start simply and slowly. Pray together, or read a prayer from something like the Valley of Vision. Read a passage of Scripture together. Maybe use something like the Family Worship Bible Guide to help explain the passage and ask engaging questions. Sing a hymn or Psalm together. In all, it can take as little as 10 or 15 minutes. Tailor it to the makeup of your family, the number of kids you have, their ages, etc.
- Only allow your family to sit under teaching that you trust. Protect your wife and children from dangerous or unhelpful books, podcasts, ministries, etc.
- If you are a part of a church where you are a part of different classes or programs, either get involved to help lead, or where that doesn’t make sense, engage with your family on what they are being taught.
For the Father Who Feels Ill-Equipped
It is important to step up and humbly recognize that you have not been faithful. Repent and ask for your family's forgiveness when necessary. Be patient with yourself as you learn to lead and be patient with your family as they learn to be led by you.
Start becoming convinced by Scripture that leading your family is not optional, but a direct command from the Lord. If we think it is optional then we will not be diligent in our task to lead.
Like parents who begin homeschooling learn, you don't have to know everything to teach it. You just have to be a step ahead of the students. Study, learn, and then take what you have learned and use it to instruct your family. Their questions will drive you to better understand so you can better instruct.
If you have not joined a local church then do so. If you are a part of a church that is not solid, then find a different church that preaches the whole Gospel and cares about discipleship. If you can't find one in your area, then move your family to find a church. You can check out our church directory tool here.
You must look to godly men around you for encouragement, accountability, and support. Ask them to share tips with you and learn from their experience, failures, and successes. It is important to not just learn from peers, but from older men who have gone before you, and have wisdom to provide that your friends cannot because they have not lived long enough yet.
It is important for men to use resources that others have developed when learning to lead. There is no reason to feel like you must reinvent the wheel, so to speak. There are some fantastic resources to encourage you in your mission to lead your family and practical tools to help you guide your family in the faith. Click here to find more of our recommended resources.
Family Worship Resources
Instruction for Fathers
Men, we are responsible for being faithful, but the results are ultimately in God's hands. That should be a tremendous source of comfort and relief. God is always more ready to bless and with greater bounty than could be deserved, than we are ready to be diligent and faithful.
God has promised to work through the means He has commanded. We can trust that it is in God's nature to bless and bear fruit when we are faithful to follow His instruction. He has proven His willingness to bless through the generations where parents have been faithful over and over, both in Scripture and throughout history.
In-Depth Family Bible Survey
Take Your Family through the Entire Bible Over Three Years
Bible Road Trip™ is an engaging, fun, three-year Bible survey curriculum for preschool through high school.
That means that if you start in preschool, you can take your child all the way through the Bible five times by the time he or she graduates from high school.
Bible Road Trip™ Year One covers the books of law and history (Genesis to Esther) in 32 weeks, at five levels, for preschool to high school.
Bible Road Trip™ is available by level, or in the Family Edition which includes all five levels from preschool to high school.
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Caleb Stomberg is husband to Lindsey and father to their seven children. He is pastor at Legacy Reformed Baptist Church in East Grand Forks, MN. Caleb enjoys woodworking, hunting, and anything Tolkien.