By Roydon Frost.
[Below is an audio recording. The quality isn’t that great and the intro was not recorded. So read the first paragraph of the blog and then listen to the audio]
Any kind of leadership is hard. Leading a family in Christ, where the stakes are so high, and there is just nowhere to hide, may be the hardest of all. What follows is not a blueprint or a template. It’s merely the practical experience and biblical conviction of someone who is trying, and often failing, to answer this most noble of callings. One thing is for certain, if we as men are going to do this thing, we need to do it together. So, let’s get to it. But first…
…a word on motivation
In this post I’m focussing on the practice. But if the Bible teaches us anything, it teaches us that you can’t divorce practice from faith. If we’re going to do this in any kind of sustainable way, we need an enduring motivation – the kind you can only get from the gospel. Otherwise, what follows is nothing more than a New Year’s resolution.
…a word on manhood, guilt and responsibility
“Men are the problem.” “Men are trash.” This is what we are told all the time. These are the slogans of our culture. We are constantly being attacked for being, well, men. Then we are handed a new definition of masculinity that looks suspiciously like femininity. And so we don’t know who we are any more, or who we are supposed to be. Undoubtedly, this is largely our own fault. We deserve a lot of the bad press we’re getting. But what’s the solution? Its not more guilt. Guilt on its own doesn’t lead to progress. And the solution is not for men to be more like women. Women do a much better job of that. No, the solution is for men to be better men. What does that mean? When we look to Jesus for the essence of manhood, we see that at the heart of it is servant-leadership. That means taking radical responsibility for others, forsaking our own interests, and doing whatever it takes to serve theirs. It starts with owning our guilt. Instead of guilt ending self-pity or self-justification we take it to Jesus, confess it, and ask him to help us be better men. Then in the strength that he provides, we get back up, and get on with the job.
…a word on time
In this city men like to wear busyness as a badge of honour. “I’m so busy, I don’t have time.” That’s a sham. When I say I don’t have time to read the Bible with my family, it’s just a polite way of saying “it’s not a priority for me”. We have time to watch soccer, go to the gym, ride a mountain bike, watch Netflix, hit the pub with the gents. We have time for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We have time to live our frustrated sports ambitions through our children by spending endless hours on the side-lines. Even when we claim work is too hectic, that’s at least questionable. Often, work has become all-consuming because we want it to be. Its our god. Its where we find our meaning and our worth. There are many men, far busier than we are, who still manage to make discipleship in the home a priority. So it may be that there is room to let work suffer a little for the sake of family. You’re not going to lie on your deathbed and regret that you never cleared your inbox. You are not going to be fired for it either. Let’s be real. If Jesus is King of the universe, we need to revisit our priorities. Discipleship in the home has got to be right near the centre. That means time.
Disciple your wife
What’s your goal for your wife? What do you want for her? If we’re honest, most of our goals for our wives are unstated, but generally they have to do with her getting better at serving me. “I want her to cook better; to stop nagging; to be better in bed.” My brothers, that is not servant-leadership. Your goal for your wife, the best you could possibly want for her, is that she draws closer to Jesus. For that to happen, you need to pray with her, read the Bible with her, have gospel conversations, and live an integrated life. These are the nuts and bolts, and like most nuts and bolts, they are not exactly an exciting innovation, but they are what works.
So why don’t we do it?
- “I don’t have time.” Really? See above for details.
- “I’m not qualified.” You don’t have to be a guru (there are no gurus in the Christian faith). You just have to take responsibility and initiative (be a servant-leader). Your wife may be the one who understands the Bible, but you can be the one who opens it. Your wife might have all the right words in prayer, but you can make sure that she prays them.
If you read the bible and pray with her regularly, that becomes the foundation for gospel conversations. I’m not talking about tacking “and Jesus died for our sins” on the end of every sentence. But remember, by some estimates your wife will speak as many 25 000 words in a day (to your 5000). Each one of them is a potential segue into the gospel. If she is anxious, suggest that you pray together. If she is involved in some conflict, remind her of the option of forgiveness, and where it comes from. If she is celebrating, turn it to thanksgiving. There is a natural gospel opportunity in almost every conversation.
Of course, all this discipleship stuff is empty if you are not a servant-leader in every aspect of the marriage. If you are passive or selfish when it comes to finances, sex, the children, the extended family, domestic chores and so on, then all your discipleship efforts spell one word: hypocrisy.
On the other hand, if you’re striving for progress (not perfection) in all those areas, then you will serve your wife in the most valuable way imaginable: by giving her more of Jesus.
Disciple your kids
What’s the goal? For most of us, the goal for our kids is to give them a good education and every opportunity in life. That’s the wrong goal. Why? Many reasons. But for one, suffering and failure will come, no matter how much education and opportunity you jam into them. You can’t insulate them. But you can equip them. They need Jesus – he’s the goal.
The nuts and bolts are the same: prayer, Bible reading, gospel conversation and an integrated life. You make that happen formally and informally. Its good to build the formal time into the rhythm of your week. Meal times are your friend. You all need to eat, so why not do it together? Dispense with all devices (including your phone!) and be a family over a meal. That opens space for the formal and the informal. So, you might plan Bible reading and prayer three nights a week over dinner (the formal time). Then the other nights are open for conversation (the informal time). This is an investment in relationship capital you need just to be a father, and to create natural opportunities for gospel conversation – to cultivate a gospel world view. The formal time serves the informal, which is often the really fruitful stuff. A bully at school, an unfair teacher, a failed exam, first prize in mathematics – any of these can potentially be related back to what we read in the Bible last Tuesday.
Then again, Tuesday night Bible reading and prayer count for nothing if, from your kids’ perspective, it doesn’t seem to touch the rest of your week. This leads us to the most important part of discipleship in the home.
A disciple is like an apprentice, someone who learns theory and practice on the job. What disciples are learning is a person, Jesus Christ. You can buy every member of your family an ESV Study Bible; you can even read it at them three times a week, without fail. But if it’s only a manual; if it’s only theory; if you are tyrant or a damp squib the rest of the week; what have you modelled for them? There’s that word again: hypocrisy. On my reading of the New Testament there’s nothing Jesus hated more. So, if he’s not your Saviour; if he’s not Lord over your life; if you’re not striving to follow him yourself; if you’re not learning to love and treasure him above all else – please don’t pretend. It would be better for your family if you led them as you truly are. On the other hand, there is no greater gift you can give your family than your own authentic faith in Christ. If they catch you praying, reading your bible, or speaking about the gospel spontaneously, simply because its who you are – that’s worth more than ten thousand practical techniques. It also covers over a multitude of failings, which is our closing comment.
Be a model failure
Failure is the one thing you are going to get consistently right. When it comes to leading discipleship in the home, failure is the one certainty. You are not always going to be regular in reading the Bible with your wife. You are not always going to pray with your kids as often as you should. You are going to miss countless opportunities to turn the conversation to Christ. You are going prove yourself a hypocrite time and time again. And yet, because of the gospel, failure doesn’t need to end in the paralysis of guilt or the pride of self-justification. It ends in Jesus. It ends in repentance, faith and a renewed determination to lead your family by serving them. Because of the gospel, failure need not be a witness to your hypocrisy, it can be a witness to the grace of God in Christ. By modelling repentance and faith, you can cut hypocrisy off at the knees. Of course, all this means you need to be the first in your home to say you’re sorry, and famous for saying it the most. That will be hard for most of us. But then again, most noble callings are, and we are not in this alone.