Some years ago, I found myself praying about whether I should pursue a DMin degree and write my dissertation on men’s ministry. But a rather sobering thought struck me. If my kids are in my home roughly twenty years and I live to be seventy, they are only going to be with me 2/7ths of my life. The price of pursuing the degree now will be paid by my 5 kids, who will get less time with me. I decided to put it off until 4 of my 5 kids were in college.
The years of greatest influence in our kid’s lives go by in a flash; so, dads whose kids are still at home, need to know how to maximize their influence, before their kids are launched into a world full of destructive worldviews. But it is not only Dad’s with kids at home who care about their influence. Even if our kids are already launched or have gifted us with grandkids, we also want to know how to maximize whatever influence we can have with both our adult kids and grandchildren. This episode examines God’s two-part design of the influence we wield as spiritual leaders of our home, positional influence and relational influence. In both cases, we must overcome false worldviews that undermine the way God wants us to lead our homes.
This is the third episode in our January series, Leading Our Homes Well in a Culture That Doesn’t Want Us to Lead. Last week we answered the first leadership question, “Where am I taking my family?” noting the biblical answer, to spiritual maturity as Christ’s disciples. Like Paul, home leaders say, One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… Brothers, join in imitating me. (Phil 3:13ff). Today’s episode examines the second leadership question, which has to do with my relationship with my followers. “How do I use my leadership influence to motivate them to come with me?” The biblical answer to this question, once again, requires us to overcome strong cultural headwinds, i.e. worldviews promoted in the culture, which undermine a man’s leadership calling. We identify four.
A. False Worldview #1: Men are unnecessary. This view is rooted in feminism, egalitarianism, and the LGBTQ+ movement. A lesbian couple can parent as well as a heterosexual married couple. Men bring nothing unique to the process of raising children. Egalitarian-leaning, church-going men know their wives have more intuitive insight about kids than they do. When the kids ask permission to do something, their response is, “Go ask your mom.” Such men don’t wear the pants in their family.
Biblical View #1: Fatherhood is irreplaceable.
- Creation, itself, tells us that the nuclear family is not just a social construct. The biological fact that conception takes place in the context of husband and wife making love speaks volumes about the best environment for nurturing that child to healthy adulthood. In God’s obvious creation design, for a child to thrive, he needs a family built on mom and dad’s love for each other.
- The family code sections of Ephesians and Colossians are significant. They address wives, then husbands, then children—commanding them to obey their parents. So, we might expect the next group Paul addresses to be parents; but it is not. How about mothers? No. It is striking that when Paul addresses the training of the children, he doesn’t mention mothers but gives commands to fathers. This pattern of responsibility began with Abraham, the Father of the Christian Faith. God said of Abraham, I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him (Gen 18:19). Perhaps fathers are specifically addressed because we inherited Adam’s passivity. He should have protected Eve from Satan and reinforced the truth of what God said.
- Substantial research confirms that fathers and mothers discipline their children differently. Focus on the Family writes, “Dad takes an objective approach and provides his children with much needed instruction in the area of moral absolutes and the consequences of right and wrong actions. Mom, on the other hand, emphasizes compassion, empathy, relationship, and the importance of appreciating the uniqueness of each individual” (Online article, Mom and Dad Approach Discipline Differently). Both Mom and Dad are needed.
B. False Worldview #2 teaches a PARENT-CENTERED approach to children’s discipline. In our narcissistic culture, it should not surprise us that some approaches to discipline are more about the parent’s feelings than the child’s behavior. It is reactive discipline. Here is an example. A dad on the playground says to his son, “Stop playing on the monkey bars.” But his son knows that this command means nothing. His father will not act until he has told the boy four or five times to stay off the monkey bars. So, the son continues to ignore his father’s command. The father, who is busy talking, yells at him again, but the son knows that his dad is not steamed up enough to act. Finally, the father reaches his limit and explodes,“You’ve got me really angry with you now. Get into that car.”
Instead of clarifying his instruction once, and then giving painful consequences for disobedience, this parenting approach is based upon the exasperation of the parent. Kids live up to whatever is demanded of them. The dad didn’t want to be bothered with the responsibility of being a good parent, but instead to continue his conversation. Furthermore, when my parenting is based upon how patient I feel, or how irritated or angry I am, punishment becomes random, and inconsistent, which provoke hot anger in a child. One moment, he gets away with murder, the next moment he barely steps across the line and is slammed with punishment. The dad trained his son not to obey until he started to get angry. He also made the issue HIS anger instead of the son’s disobedience. Good parenting isn’t rooted in how a parent FEELS but how a child BEHAVES. In fact, good parenting makes sure that the child understands that painful consequences for his misbehavior are NOT personal and do not interfere with the parent’s love for him.
Biblical View #2: Disciplining children is part of a training plan for the child. Paul writes, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
- Here are four wrong approaches to discipline that provoke anger: 1) Inconsistent discipline, as we’ve seen. Consistent discipline trains a child to know what the boundaries are because the parents have thought them through ahead of time. It is not a seat-of-the-pants, reactive discipline. 2) Discipline that attacks a child’s character using the words, you always or you never instead of correcting behavior provokes anger. 3) Disciplining a child in public will wound his spirit. 4) Discipline that is more frequent than praise wounds our child, also provoking anger. Studies show that parents use critical words ten times more than they use words to praise their children. Mostly correction with little or no affirmation CRUSHES kids’ spirits and can lead to a rebellion.
- In context, as Ephesians 6:4 continues, Paul implies that the alternative to provoking anger in our children is to exercise discipline in connection with the rest of the training plan for the child. Paul describes the plan: 1) bring them up: Dads are NOT to watch their children grow up but to actively raise them with intentionality 2) in the discipline: This Greek word is PAIDEA, from which we get pediatric. It means using consequences to train children. A father’s punishing authority is never to be used selfishly, or reflexively, but as part of a TRAINING plan. Paul continues, 3) and instruction (of the Lord): Instruction, means literally “to put into the mind.” This requires a plan for what biblical truths, godly qualities, and characteristics of Jesus we plan to impart to our kids.
C. False Worldview #3: Punishment stifles children and makes them feel bad about themselves. This humanistic view of human nature is that giving consequences for bad behavior is unnecessary, harmful and maybe even oppressive, labeling paddling abuse. Critical theory advocates see prison inmates as victims, and the police as oppressors. The concept of spanking a child is horrifying. This refusal to bring painful consequences to correct wrong behavior is so harmful that the Bible calls it HATRED. I want to say that again. The Bible calls a refusal to use painful consequences to correct behavior HATRED. Proverbs 13:24, Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. The reason this false worldview promotes hatred for our children is given in Proverbs 22:15: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. That folly will destroy him. But, the rod of discipline drives the folly far from him.
Biblical Worldview #3: Whom a father loves he disciplines. In Hebrews 12:5-8, God points to the universally recognized role of fathers in his creation—they discipline their children—to help the Hebrew believers cope with their suffering. This glimpse of God’s view of a father’s responsibility is full of wisdom for us. My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons….For the moment all discipline SEEMS PAINFUL rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
- Although the author of Hebrews appeals to the common cultural understanding of his day that all fathers discipline their children—western egalitarian, humanism wasn’t on his mind! We are often told that LOVING a child means ACCEPTING his wrong behavior instead of CORRECTING it. And even the moderating views of others are mistaken, when they say, “A child needs both love and discipline.” But discipline is NOT something that balances love; it IS love put into action. It is cruel to allow a child to become the victim of his unrestrained sinful nature! Some parents see firm discipline as negative because they experienced the out-of-control abuse of men using force to coerce behavior. They need to distinguish between this corruption of God’s design of fatherly discipline and the firm discipline that God calls love in action.
- The biblical view that love requires parents to train their children through giving painful consequences for wrong behavior is rooted in the biblical worldview of HUMAN NATURE. Unlike the humanist who thinks we just need to let a child grow in every direction he wants to—all he needs is affirmation, Christians know better. Just as growing excellent grapes to make rich wine to the glory of the vineyard owner requires pruning, Christian parents know that growing excellent kids means pruning wrong behavior through painful consequences. In case we weren’t shocked enough by God saying the refusal to punish our child is HATRED, he also equates the failure to discipline a child to killing him! Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his DEATH (Prov 19:18). Painful consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior are required because of the child’s sinful nature, called “folly.”
The Folly of Every Child’s Heart
1. He is out of control and unable to say, “no” to himself. If uncorrected, this will lead to the tragedy of going through life unable to resist his destructive impulses. Left alone, he will never learn to delay gratification so he can accomplish his tasks and fulfill his responsibilities. In contrast, painful consequences for inappropriate behavior train a child to resist what he is feeling to fulfill his responsibilities. Self-control is a golden virtue and will benefit a child his entire life.
2. He is trying to control everyone around him to get his way. Cloud and Townsend, in their book, Boundaries with Kids, write, “An accurate description of children is that they are little people who are out of control of themselves and attempting to control everyone around them.” The irony is that when parents give in to a child, instead of requiring obedience, it creates insecurity in a child. When a child pushes against the boundaries and they are firm—his world feels secure. But if they give way, the child tends to conclude that HE must control everything to be safe. And child’s need to be in control to feel secure will bring massive problems into his life in his relationships.
3. He does not want to conform to reality but wants reality to conform to him. Parenting requires us to prepare a child for the real world, where the law of sowing and reaping functions. If I work hard, I can advance in my career. If I walk on the treadmill, I will strengthen my heart muscle. Our discipline plan must have reality consequences. Choose to do your chores, you play. Choose to avoid your chores you pay. “Don’t ride your bike past the corner or you will lose it for a week.” Positive consequences are important too. “Since you’ve been obeying the rule to only ride to the corner, I think you are ready to ride down to Billy’s house.”
4. He blames circumstances and others instead of taking responsibility for his actions. Parents who raise healthy kids teach them to take responsibility for their feelings, attitudes, behaviors, and choices. Blaming others isn’t permitted. The folly that parents fail to drive out leads to an "entitled" mentality and the misery that goes with a life of anger and envy towards those more fortunate than they.
5. He is so self-absorbed that he won’t succeed at love. Love requires a person to know how his behavior affects others. For example, allowing a child to yell at us is cruel. Many in our culture would say, “He needs to vent. Don’t stifle his feelings.” But his relationships in life will end in disaster if he is not taught to overcome his feelings and treat others with respect.
Discipline’s purpose is to impose SHORT RUN, SAFE, pain in order to avoid LONG RUN, DESTRUCTIVE pain. Prov 29:1 says, A person often rebuked who becomes obstinate will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. Teaching a child to obey teaches him mastery over his impulses. Such mastery is an invaluable attribute that will cause a child to thrive his entire life. On one occasion I saw a friend’s five-year-old racing across a parking lot, heading into a lane of traffic he was not tall enough to see. But his father did see the fast-approaching car and yelled, “Billy stop!” His son immediately stopped, and the car zoomed by. George had worked for many frustrating days to train Billy to instantly obey his voice. Kids live up to the standard of obedience we demand from them. In this case, firm training may have saved Billy’s life. Paddling a toddler who runs into the street uses, safe, controled pain to prevent further, more serious harm.
D. False Worldview #4: Patriarchal authority is oppressive. The biblical teaching of male leadership results from the male privilege that the writers of the Bible experienced. That fallen men would abuse their leadership was no surprise to the Bible's authors. In fact, the Bible shows the consequence of using a leadership position selfishly on the part of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. When Rehoboam perceived a threat to his throne by the request of his people to lighten their taxes, he got counsel from two different sources. One group counseled Rehoboam to show the power of his authority. Thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ But the second group understood that true leadership always involves more than positional influence, but relational influence as well. They wisely counseled, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” The second group giving Rehoboam advice understood the biblical concept of leadership far better. Leadership is influence, sometimes positional but always relational. Rehoboam failed to understand that leadership is influence, not position. He chose option one and ten of the twelve tribes of Israel rebelled against his rule.
Biblical Worldview #4. The call to biblical leadership is the call to serve our families. Accepting our positional authority and using it to firmly discipline our children is crucial for effective influence upon our children. Parenthetically, we don’t need to fear that wielding such authority will harm our relationship with our kids. Scripture assures us, We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us AND WE RESPECTED THEM. Firm discipline, in the long, run wins our kids’ respect. They will not respect a dad who just wants to be their play buddy. On the other hand, to maximize our influence there is no substitute for winning their hearts by caring for them well. Here are 5 ways that Jesus built his relationship with his followers:
- Through UNDERSTANDING. By taking on human flesh, God, the Son came into our world. He sweat real sweat. Hitting his fingers with the hammer hurt him as much as it hurts us. He is now our Great High Priest, allowing us to draw near by his blood, and full of empathy for our weakness.
- Through AFFIRMATION. Peter had denied him three times. Then Jesus went out of his way to present Peter with a chance to reaffirm his love for Jesus three times and reinstating his call.
- Through COMPANIONSHIP. In Mark 3:14, Jesus reveals to us another vital key to leadership influence. He appointed twelve so that they might BE WITH HIM. No relationship can be built without investing in time together.
- Through COMPASSION. The twelve continually saw Jesus’ heart in action. When a leper came to Jesus saying, “If you are willing you can make me clean,” Mark says that the apostles saw that Jesus’ heart was filled with compassion.
- Through ATTENTIVENESS TO THEIR PRACTICAL NEEDS. The best way to win another’s heart is to unselfishly focus on serving him or her—meeting their practical needs, which Jesus demonstrated constantly in his healing ministry and in feeding the five thousand and four thousand.
The best way to influence our wife and kids to follow us to win their hearts by loving them well, building a caring relationship with them and serving them.
Leading our homes is not just being the decision maker; it is intentionally using our authority to relational influence to sculpt a child’s character. Cloud and Townsend write: “You are preparing your child for his future. A person’s character is his destiny... Child rearing is primarily about helping children to develop character that will take them through life safely, securely, productively, and joyfully” (Boundaries With Kids).
For Further Prayerful Thought:
- How would you argue with a Christian brother who said, “My wife is better with the kids, so I leave their discipline to her?”
- How does the discipline approach, “Your behavior is making mommy and daddy feel angry with you” violate the principles of biblical parenting?
- Why do you think God makes such harsh statements about the failure to bring painful consequences for wrong behavior—you hate your child, you bring death to your child?
- Why is biblical leadership more about winning the hearts of followers by serving them, than it is having responsibility for making decisions?
- Which component of Jesus’ leadership practices with the twelve do you most need to put into practice in your leadership role?