Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
Paul sets forth the greatest leadership principle a father can practice: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Many Christian men know that this principle makes sense but few actually follow it. We’ve come to believe that we can say we believe one thing but live out another thing. And unless your children are under two years old, you’ve already figured out that you can’t fool them. They have a built in bull detector. In fact, you’ll do more damage than good, claiming to be or teach one thing, but do another. You will instill distrust and confusion in the life of your child.
The only way to be a great father (or a great leader in any arena of life) is to pursue something greater than yourself. As Christian fathers, we pursue Someone greater than ourselves. In Luke 7 we find the one time in all of Scripture that Jesus was actually “amazed” at someone. Consider how difficult it would be to amaze Jesus. A centurion had come to Him, begging Jesus to heal his sick and dying servant. He explained to Jesus that he believed if Jesus would just say the word, his servant would be healed. Luke 7:9, says, “When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” But it wasn’t simply a blind faith that impressed Jesus. It was the centurion’s understanding of Jesus and who He is. The centurion understood a powerful lesson of leadership and of fatherhood. The depth of his understanding is revealed in Luke 7:8, as the centurion explains, “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion knew that Jesus was under the authority of the Father and He had been given the authority to do what He needed to do. This is the first guiding principle of fatherhood. Dads, you are under the authority of God almighty. You have been given the role as a father by God Himself. Fatherhood is a stewardship; it is temporary; and you are accountable.
If you want to ask your children to follow you as you follow Christ, then you must first understand the guiding principle of fatherhood- that more is caught than taught. In fact, most of what you pass on to your children is caught, simply by watching you day after day. Apply these five principles as you seek to be a father worth following, and then experience the joy of leaving the rest up to God Himself, to shape and mold your children into His image. In the end, life is all about worship. Who/what you worship guides everything else in your life. It’s all about love. What you love is what gets your time, your energy, your thoughts, your money, and your life. Jesus said what you love is where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21). It reveals what you value most. The problem with most of us is that we practice “disordered love”. Augustine said that all of our sins are the result of love out of order. We love good things, more than the Supreme thing. Show your children how to love by putting your loves in order.
1. You love Jesus above all else.
Show your children how to live out of a Gospel identity. Show them that you love Jesus above all else by spending time with Him daily. When your children wake up in the morning, let them see a father pursuing Jesus first, above all else, in His Word. Show them a man who is in passionate pursuit of Jesus. And make Church a priority, above travel, the lake, golf, or whatever your other loves may be. Lead the way. Make it your life’s goal to follow Jesus every day. I’ve seen children watch their dads go to church every week but not follow Jesus every day and if you do so, you will present a false, distorted view of Christianity. Indeed, simply a religion that bears His name. In his book, Risk, Kenny Luck writes, “No man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God.” He says the biggest challenge facing Christian men is not the world, so much as their view of God. We need men willing to risk and aggressively pursue God. Your view of God will determine your spiritual direction. It’s revealed in His Word and confirmed through your obedience. If a man’s view of God in Christ is accurate, there will be an aggressive and bold spiritual commitment and courage in leadership.
2. You love their mom more than them.
The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. I’ve learned over the years that the greatest security you can bring to your children is to love their mom. Fathers must express that love boldly and kindly in every day interactions. Again, it’s being caught by your children. Our sons will love their wives as we love ours. Our daughters will be loved and love, as we love our wives. When your children are young, establish clear parameters about who is most important in the family. It’s not the children. The child-centered family is certain to produce selfish attention addicts. The parent-centered family is clear about who’s in charge and which relationship is most important, above all the others. Do not let your young children interrupt adult conversation or adult time. Time for husband and wife supersedes time for children. Over time, this pattern brings great security in the lives of the children. Keep your relationship with your wife the priority, then you’ll be ready to guide your children. In our day, as never before, our sons need fathers. Our daughters need fathers. A father is the son’s first hero and the daughter’s first love. John Eldredge, in his great book, “Wild at Heart”, writes, “What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities.” Like food through the body, boys become men by spending time with men. And the father is the primary giver of manhood to his son.
3. You love your family more than your job.
One of the most common disordered loves in the lives of men is our God-given love for work. We were designed to work, to build, and construct. In his book, “Choosing to Cheat”, Andy Stanley sets forth a provocative principle: When it comes to balancing work and family, you’re going to cheat someone. He explains, “Everyone is busy. All of us have more to do than we will ever get done. We all have to cheat along the way. When you cheat strategically, you leverage your busyness for the sake of what’s most important. Cheating strategically allows us to communicate the message our families long the feel–you are important to me. You are more important to me than anybody or anything else in the world”. The idea of “cheating” is simply another way to talk about decisions made according to our priorities. Too many fathers pray, “Lord, help my family thrive while I’m in such a busy season and unable to be present in their lives.” Instead, there are times we need to pray, “Lord, I place my work in your hands. Allow my work to thrive, even as I seek to be present with my family during this critical season of their lives.” Throughout any career there are seasons of intense focus at work that will demand your time, but there are also critical moments in the lives of your family that will demand your time as well. In the end, Jesus never talked about “balance”. He talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing: the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). There’s only one first, and when we determine to follow Jesus every day, He will guide us when those tough decisions must be made.
4. You love others without condition.
Show your children how to love others like Jesus loves them. As you parent with grace, forgive and forget, your children will do the same. But you must also teach them to love others outside your family. Especially those who are very different from them. Watch for opportunities to offer biblical commentary on the issues of the day. The way you extend grace to others is the way they will. Show them by your actions how to love others unconditionally. Talk to your children about issues of race, religious pluralism, and sexual orientation. It’s even more important to show them what you believe. Befriend others who are not like you. Introduce them to your children. Have them in your home. You will teach your children how God loves them by showing them that you love people who are not like you at all. If you are not intentional about this you will inadvertently teach your children that you are only comfortable with people who are like you. This is not the way to help them experience God’s grace in diversity nor is it the way to prepare them for a future of growing (and necessary) diversity.
5. You love being with them.
The most important way to show love to your children is by being with them. The old adage that children spell love, T. I. M. E. is true. You can talk about how much love your children and even tell them how much you love them (often via texts or voice mails for some), but nothing surpasses your presence. I love the story of the little boy who was talking with his classmates at school about who had the best dad. “My dad is very busy and has a really important job. He makes lots of money and tells a lot of people what to do every day.” Another boy, seeking to one up the other, said, “My dad is the president of his company and flies in his own private jet to get to meetings all around the country. He’s the best!” Finally, the third little boy spoke up excitedly, “My dad is here!” His dad then joined his son and his classmates for lunch. If you are going to call your children to follow you as you follow Jesus, they must see you do so firsthand.
Dads: be there.