My friend and theology student
Garrett Ventry has a blog series running on a Man and Church Planting
covering things like finances, being a Dad, marriage etc. His blog is flowing over here. I wrote a deal on being a Dad and included it here for those who read the POCBlog.
Being and Church Planter and a Dad
Family. A simple word and a complex reality in our modern world. The identity of a family has been redefined, challenged and many times maligned in our culture. Furthermore, there are far too many men and women sacrificing their families on the altars of money, work and personal achievement. Pastors have not been immune to this. Church planters in particular face an incredible strain in planting the gospel and forming new missional communities. Finances are many times short, leaders in great need and the church planter often overworked and exhausted. Many times a church planter’s wife and children see husband and Daddy less and less as he works hard for God in the fields of ministry. Brothers, this should not be.
Many great leaders from church history considered a man’s family his “first flock” to disciple and lead in the mission and ministry of God. The family is to be a place of worship, a place of instruction and the locus where one begins to work his gifts and discover his calling. JI Packer in his book “The Question for Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life” recounts that worship should be “public, in the local church; domestic in the family; private in the closet” (Packer 255). The family should be a place of worship and the church planter who works hard in the mission and leads nothing of spiritual vitality in the home is AWOL even as he “plants churches.” The gospel should be planted by God in the heart of a man, by that man in his family and as an outflow…into his community. The qualifications for church leaders actually includes the way a man manages his household and leads his children in the gospel (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Furthermore a man’s family is a gift from God to be enjoyed, nurtured and cherished. There is a domestic life and reality that holds deep blessing if embraced in the proper posture and mindset before God.
In this post I am going to do a few simple things. First, I am going to share a short challenge from the Scriptures as to our responsibility to our kids in general. Second, I want to share practically the challenges that planting churches holds for this calling. Third, I will share a few practices that we have employed as a family in the planting of Jacob’s Well together. Finally, I will conclude with a few thoughts about the blessings of planting and gospel ministry as a family. So we begin with the Words of God.
The Biblical Call
In a moment we will get to the clear teaching of the Bible in the great “chapter sixes” of the Old and New Testament in regards to fathering children. Before we get there I want to bring a challenge of responsibility to the forefront. In his first letter to Timothy, the early Christian leader Paul brings this clear exhortation:
8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8
The context for this passage is the care of widows, those who were financially vulnerable in a society. The Scriptures are clear that we are to provide for our relatives and those who are members of our household. The household in the ancient world would have been more expansive than the nuclear family of parents/kids but it certainly included one’s own children. As a church planter we have a responsibility before God to provide for our families. The immediate context is for the daily needs of your crew – food, clothing, shelter. This means a church planter needs to work hard to provide financially in our modern context. Working a job or raising funds to cover your salary must be the responsibility of the man planting a church. Church planting isn’t going to make anyone rich (at least I hope not), but you don’t want your wife and kids to always be thinking they will have no food because “Dad is planting a church and we are more than broke.” Men, provide for your families.
In addition to material provision the discipleship and nurture of kids is part of our calling as gospel men and fathers. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 give clarity to this calling upon our lives. We will look at these in turn.
As God was giving his law through Moses, he was calling his people to a certain way of life as a unique covenant community. The text above begins with what is known as the Shema, which is Hebrew for “Hear!” It means, listen up, pay attention, what I’m about to command you is of big time importance. What follows the call to hear is a central truth about God and what Jesus would call the greatest commandment (See Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). Truth about God: the Lord is one. The greatest command: love God with all that you are. It is in this context that the community is challenged in the way it should impart the commands of God to their children.
 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV
Parents have the unique, God-given charge to teach the truth diligently to their children. In the course of daily life, the Word of God should be taught by parents to their kids. To do something diligently means to be steady at it, giving focused energy towards the task. God’s people are to be teachers in family as the family engages gospel life and mission together. The locus of this teaching is quite literally, “everywhere.” The text tells us to talk of the Word of God while sitting in the house, walk by the way, when you lie down and when rise in the morning. The Word of God should dwell in us constantly and be a part of the environment in which we live. To rewrite this for a contemporary setting we might say we should talk of the Word when we chill at the house, walk to the park, work out, drive to football practice, at bed time and at the breakfast table.
At this point some of you will think this means to set up a classroom setting for you to lecture the kiddos on the things of God at certain points every day. I think what we need to stress is that the teaching of the gospel should happen regularly, in the day to day flow of your life. God gives opportunities to teach as we live with him, have our steps ordered by him and pass through this life with him. We’ll talk more practical at the end of this post but I want you to “HEAR” the call of God – love him first, then teach is truth and his ways to your kids.
The New Testament re-articulates this ancient command and has particular instruction for the relationships in a Christian household. The children and parents are both instructed and a specific, and very important, command is given to the Father. Ephesians chapter six begins as follows:
[6:1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),  “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV
This passage is actually the second expansion on an earlier command given in Ephesians 5:18-21. We are to be filled with the Spirit by addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by giving thanks and by submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus. This aspect of submitting to one another is unpacked in the realm of three household relationships: husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/slaves. The harmony and duty of various members of the household are in view. Children are to obey their parents. This is only fitting and it is part of the Ten Commandments. Mom and Dad should be honored as children follow God. In this context Fathers are also called to a specific role – to raise their kids in the discipline and instruction of God.
The word here for discipline is paideia. It refers to the holistic training and education of children in a systematic way, correcting and teaching them in the fear of the Lord. It involves verbal teaching, modeling and correction. Combined with the word instruction, it is clear that Fathers are to exhort their kids to learn the ways of God and to be responsible for their holistic education. Whether this means home school, Christian school, private school or utilizing public school will be left to conscience of the reader but it does mean that Dad is responsible before God. You cannot outsource this responsibility though church, schools and other families may be instrumental in the process. You must take the lead here men and you will answer to God for it. It’s also a great privilege to shape these little lives.
One of the central things men must embrace about being a husband and father is the constant responsibility for others. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 7 that a married man has concerns of a worldly nature as he must provide for his wife and her concerns. This includes the needs of the family. You must embrace and rejoice in this responsibility and not punk out on it. You have other concerns than church planting or “your ministry.” Embrace family life and responsibility. I say this as you will be tempted to care for “the things of God” to the neglect of your family. Never a good move.
Church planting is time consuming. It involves building relationships with lost people, training leaders, discipling converts and immature Christians, building administrative systems, building teams, training elders, leading staff, etc etc. The work is never really finished and you can literally work around the clock and disappear on your family. Don’t be a jerk and do that.
Additionally, the needs of the church will always be calling out to you. People will want to own your schedule and ask you to meet with them at all hours and at their convenience. Church people will also ask you to start ministries for them, give them programs to consume and not blink if you are out every night of the week. People won’t think twice about the effect all this may have on your family; but you should. I like to say to people that I’m not here to “dance for them.” I don’t dance. I refuse to give away the time my kids need from me. Sorry, I brought them into this church planting war and we will go out together. You, church complainer? I’m not so sure about you. My kids need to know their Daddy, I want to win their hearts when they are young not lose them because I’m always scurrying around at the command of people in the church.
Our culture has also bought into a stupid idea that if we can get “quality time” together then our families will be close, connected and fruitful. The problem is in our definition. The truth is that quality time IS quantity time. To know their Daddy, children need to be with you and not simply for half an hour a week. If your kids don’t know your heart, you will not have quality “forced quick time” with them. In fact, without time given to your kids, they will not want to be with you. As they get older, they will find better things to do than “quality time” with Dad. Men, be with your kids often and intentionally from the time they are young. My oldest just hit puberty and we are close. Why? Because we have been since day one. I’ve made sure that I’m around for them. What follows are few things I’ve put into practice to make sure of this and to follow God’s command to bring them up in the gospel.
Home Team Practices
What I want to give you here are a few things we have done as a family that have helped us disciple and train our kids in the gospel. Additionally, they have helped my kids know me well in the midst of the bustle of church planting. Just as an FYI my kids are currently 11, almost 9 and 6 years old and our church plant turns three this fall.
Win 2 out of 3
In our contemporary life and culture there are three great times when you have an opportunity to invest in your family spiritually and relationally: morning, dinner hour, and bed time. I encourage myself and the men I lead to try to “win 2 of 3” each day. For some, morning breakfast is a great time to connect to pray, read and discuss Scripture. For others the dinner hour works much better. Additionally, bed time is a sacred moment for young children in connecting with them. For my family, dinner and bed time work well for us while the morning can be a chaotic rush to school. Nevertheless we have found praying in the mornings a helpful way to start our day if we wrangle in the chaos. We work hard to connect at dinner and we put our kids to bed almost every night. You can see the doc I’ve put together on family worship if you want more but the following are descriptions of things I have done to connect with my kids.
- Morning Prayer – before leaving the house, we hold hands and sing a short song based on Lamentations 3:23, 24 and I pray for the family as we head into the day.
- Family Prayer – we usually do this at dinner time…not every night but often. Each person in our family will share something positive they are thankful for as well as something hard/difficult/negative/suffering oriented. Then in response to 1 Thessalonians 5 and the command to give thanks in all things, we thank God for all of the stuff we wrote down. The good, the bad and the ugly.
- Dinner discussions – we have used books by Starr Meade, topics from science, theology, etc just to talk about things of substance at the dinner table. I love our kids to ask questions so we go with it.
- Bed time creativity – I tell stories at night and try to engage the kid’s imagination and moral development. My two oldest (my daughters) also like to ask questions at bed time as they milk trying to stay up late. I go along for a bit because the discussions are usually quite rich. Right now we are discussing the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. It’s awesome.
Form a flow (a culture)
I’m a firm believe that the daily rhythms of the home form a flow or a culture. This perhaps shapes our kids more than anything. They will see how you relate to their Mom, how you respond to your sins and the sins of others and what you do with your time when you are home. Here are a few things that shape the flow of our family.
To shape our culture I have a rotation of Daddy Dates and Buddy Days (for my son) with my kids. I regularly take them to do things. Whether it’s going to a park, out to eat, to a movie, to walk around the mall, or special birthday trips my kids always know “who is up next in the rotation.” I forget so they always tell me who is up next. They are also thinking creatively about what they want to do with Dad. They know they are important to me as I give them my time.
As my kids grow they find various interests and things they are into. As this happens, I work to get into their world and help out with their projects. I have coached soccer and go to countless soccer games (I was not a soccer person growing up…in fact…hated it). I have played with Legos and tried to “transform” robots into trucks many times failing badly. My wife and I have done school projects volcanoes, worms, computers, the Civil War and I even helped one kid start on online business selling bookmarks to make money for charity. I help with homework and I watch kids do cartwheels and try to do handstands. The constant call of “Daddy watch me, Daddy watch” can become really annoying, but I always try to pause and give attention my attention to a little princess or a budding ninja. I want them to have my attention so that we trust one another. After all, those little girls will seek attention elsewhere if their Daddy never has their eye on them. The young idiot teenage boys are coming! I’m going to be there first.
Finally, I try to repent of my sin and confess it with my kids. When I get impatient or harsh with them I apologize. When I am negative or unnecessarily critical of something I repent. I want the kids to know I need Jesus and the gospel and that I am a Christian believer. Living a life of repentance and faith before watching little eyes is one of the best sermons you will ever give.
In 2008 our family was preparing to leave a large church in the south which had a wonderful children’s ministry. Each classroom was multimedia equipped, the teachers had full costumes and the rooms looked like sets from a Hollywood movie production. It was awesome. I mean, really…awesome. We had over a thousand kids in a safe, godly, well run children’s ministry. It really was sweet in every way.
After we moved to New Jersey to begin planting Jacob’s Well, my kids sat in living room floors with two other kids for six months and with just a handful of kids for over a year. They were taught mainly by young single men who didn’t really know how to teach children. They were blessed beyond belief. One of the greatest blessings of my kids’ lives has been to grow up among church planting. They have seen people get saved and God’s church bearing fruit. They have watched ten people turn into hundreds and they have been with their Daddy every step of the way.
My children are growing up among church planting. I am working hard to have them grow up with their Daddy around as well. There are times that I work too much, or am gone more than I like but I refuse to allow church planting to rob me of the joys of ministering to my kids. They only get to call one guy their Dad and I’m going to be on that wall for them with all my might while I have still have breath.
Jesus taught us that to be the greatest in the kingdom is to be a servant of all. He taught us that to find one’s life we must lose it for his sake. I can think of no better way for a Dad to live out this calling than by serving his kids. Yes golf, movies, power tools, going to the gym and drinks with your buddies are fun…but none of them can snuggle, giggle, laugh, cry and hug your neck like your kids. Sniff. Sniff.
Don’t trade your life as a Dad for a bowl of busy porridge men. Be present, sacrifice selfishness and receive the blessings of God that come with being a father. You will have no regrets in the end.