A CLARION CALL TO FATHERS
“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:6 (NIV 1984)
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, my wife, Yvette, had an experience with a friend that dramatically and forever shaped my understanding of the importance of fatherhood from a Christian perspective. My wife told me she had invited this friend, who was not a Christian,to have lunch with her. They were eating outdoors on a beautiful spring day, and my wife was inspired. So rather than saying her usual silent prayer, Yvette asked her friend if it was okay for her to pray for the meal that they would share. Without hesitation her friend said, “That’s fine.”
Yvette started her prayer by saying, “Dear heavenly Father . . .” She thanked God not only for their food but for the sunshine, the ducks, the fresh air. When she finished, Yvette noticed that her friend had a troubled look on her face. Fearing she had offended her friend, Yvette asked if there was something wrong with the prayer. Her friend paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, no. The prayer was fine. But I could never think of God as a heavenly father. My father was such an [#%&%*&!!]!”
When my wife told me this story, it really impressed upon me how the relationships people have with their earthly fathers have a direct and lasting impact on their ability to relate to God as Father. Indeed, it’s understandable that the notion of a loving heavenly Father can have no meaning to those who have never experienced the love of their earthly father. In fact, if one’s earthly father is so terrible, it would be easy to think a god who is a father might be infinitely terrible!
FATHERS: EARTHLY MIRRORS OF A HEAVENLY REALITY
The Bible says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). Over the years, God has shown me that the attack on the institution of fatherhood and the strategy to make fathers unloving and ineffective
is a primary goal of Satan himself. Why? Because if fathers are distant, distracted, disconnected, or even abusive, children will believe all fathers are this way, even a heavenly Father who claims to love them unconditionally.
But this is clearly not God’s plan. His desire is for all fathers to reflect aspects of his character, an earthly mirror of a heavenly reality. Matthew 7:9 — 11 illustrates this quite clearly. In this passage, Jesus is speaking to a group that must have included many fathers. Note what he says:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
From God’s perspective, all fathers — even ones who are not Christians — are created to imitate his goodness. In fact, if this were not the case, the entire analogy Jesus used loses its meaning. You see, I believe good fathers are an example of common grace, like the life-giving rain which falls on the righ teous and the wicked alike (Matt. 5:45).
But there is more. When you contemplate the symbolism in Jesus’ examples in Matthew 7:9 — 11, a deeper meaning, especially for fathers, is evident. For example, consider the comparison of bread to a stone. Especially to a small child, a piece of bread and a small stone may look the same and feel the same. But they are not the same. Bread was, and remains today, a key source of physical life and sustenance, and it represents spiritual life as Christ’s body, which was broken for the salvation of the world. A stone, especially in the time of Christ, could be a tool of destruction and death. Remember, stones were used to martyr Stephen.
Now consider the symbolism in the comparison of a fish to a serpent. The fish is a key symbol of the Christian faith. Of note, Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen whom he transformed into “fishers of men.” These men fervently shared the good news that salvation is available for all men. In contrast, the serpent is the symbol of the Evil One who seeks to thwart the gospel and lead humankind down a path of destruction and death.
What Jesus is saying in this passage is that fathers should make sure their children have both physical and spiritual life. Godly fathers are to provide a pathway and a connection to God’s saving grace because when they give their children “good gifts,” it makes it much easier for children to connect with a heavenly Father who gave the best gift of all — his Son, who died on a cross for their sins. So when their children hear, “Dear heavenly Father,” it’s winsome rather than worrisome.
THE TRUTH ABOUT CHURCH AND MEN
The truth is, men have a long way to go in becoming the spiritual leaders in this nation. In 2007, the Barna Group did a study exploring faith-related activities, commitments, and perspectives of fathers and mothers. The study found that Christian mothers outpaced fathers in terms of spiritual activities and commitment. In fact, the Barna survey examined twelve different elements of faith behavior and perspective. Mothers were distinct from fathers on eleven of the twelve factors. Mothers were more likely than fathers to say that they are absolutely committed to Christianity and to embrace a personal responsibility to share their faith in Jesus Christ with others. Moreover, mothers were also more religiously active and, in a typical week, they were more likely than fathers to attend church, pray, read the Bible, participate in a small group, and attend Sunday school. The only area in which both were equal was in willingness to volunteer at a church. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, says it all:
Whether they are a parent or not, women in America have high levels of spiritual sensitivity and engagement. Men generally lag behind the spirituality of women — and particularly so if they are not a father [sic]. In other words, having children intensifies the spiritual commitment of men, but even so most fathers still do not measure up to the spiritual footprint of their parenting counterparts.1
The bottom line is that we have a major problem here. Fathers have demonstrated that they are less likely to be spiritual to begin with, and yet if fathers are to be effective leaders for their families,
they need to be sitting in the pews with them.
Several years ago Touchstone magazine published a thought-provoking article by Robbie Low called “The Truth about Church and Men” that further illustrates the link between fatherhood and saving grace. In the article, Low examined data from a Swiss national survey that sought to determine if a person’s religion carried through to the next generations and if so, why, and if not, why not. Low concluded: “The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It’s overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family.”2 The survey data indicated the following:
If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children regularly attend church and 41 percent attend irregularly. Only 25 percent don’t attend at all.
If the father attends irregularly and the mother regularly, only 3 percent of the children attend church regularly, and 59 percent attend irregularly. And 38 percent don’t attend at all.
If the father doesn’t attend church and the mother attends regularly, only 2 percent of the children attend regularly, while 37 percent attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of the children don’t attend church.
If the father attends regularly and the mother is irregular or non-practicing, 38 percent of children attend when the mother attends irregularly, and 44 percent of children whose mothers are non-practicing attend regularly.
These data are striking and compelling. In short, if the father does not regularly attend church, only 1 child in 50 becomes a regular attender, even if the mother attends regularly. Moreover, if the father attends church regularly, regardless of what the mother does, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the children become churchgoers (regular and irregular). Even if the father is an irregular churchgoer, between a half and two-thirds of the children attend church regularly or irregularly. Although these findings are for Switzerland, I doubt you would get different results in the United States.
GETTING CHURCHES ENGAGED
Given the above statistics, it should be easy to understand why one of my most important objectives as president of National Fatherhood Initiative was to get the church fully engaged in turning the hearts of fathers to their children. After all, National Fatherhood Initiative’s mission is to improve the well-being of children by making sure they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers. There must be a sense of urgency with this work because today one out of three children nationally — three out of five in the African American community — are growing up in father-absent homes.3 These children are more at risk for a range of the most intractable social ills such as teen pregnancy, low academic performance, poverty, and crime.
Persuaded by these facts, I set out on a mission to meet as many key pastors as I could, trying to enlist them in combatting the spiritual and social impact on children and families when fathers are not
engaged. The meetings generally began and ended the same way. As I began, I told them how I believe there were few things closer to the heart of God than making sure that children have good and godly fathers. Then I would share the impact uninvolved and absent fathers were having on our families and communities. They would nod approvingly and share how important they believed this issue was and, in some cases, how the presence or absence of their father impacted their lives. So far so good . . .
But when I would ask specifically what they were doing in their churches or ministries to help men be the fathers God desires them to be, they did not have an active plan. Now, don’t get me wrong. These churches usually had some form of men’s ministry. However, when I probed regarding what the men’s ministry was, I found that they did not have a specific and intentional plan to help men be better dads and equip them to improve their skills as fathers. None addressed the myriad of questions I presented.
- Were they helping dads understand their unique calling as Christian fathers?
- Their biblical responsibilities
- Their children’s needs
- How to stay connected to teenagers
- Were fathers in the church organized so that they can support one another?
- New dads
- Teen dads
- What outreach did the church have to fathers in the community?
- Were they helping incarcerated fathers to
- Stay connected to his family while in prison?
- Make the transition after he was released?
DADS NEED HELP!
These are very key questions, because the research shows that dads need a lot of help. For example, a few years ago, National Fatherhood Initiative did a comprehensive survey called Pop’s Culture: A National Survey of Dads’ Attitudes about Fathering. One of the key questions we asked these dads was how prepared they felt they were to be fathers. Nearly half of the fathers said they were not prepared. More troubling, when we asked these dads if they felt they were replaceable by the mother of their children or another man, over half said they were.4
Now, let this sink in for a moment. These were not guys who could be dads or would be dads. These were fathers with children in the home under the age of eighteen! Yet, despite these disturbing statistics, most Christians do very little to prepare for fatherhood, and most churches and men’s ministries do very little to help fathers get the skills that they desperately need.
Moreover, National Fatherhood Initiative did another comprehensive survey called, Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers’ Attitudes on Fathering. These mothers were given a list of four common places that might offer support to fathers to help them be better dads, and they were asked to rate each as “very important,” “fairly important,” or “not important.” Eighty percent of the mothers rated “churches and other communities of faith” as a “very important” place where they would expect fathers to get help, ahead of schools, community organizations, and the workplace. In fact, church was even the number one option for mothers who described themselves as “not very religious” or “not at all religious.” 5 So it stands to reason that if churches were really to embrace the call to help men be better dads, mothers inside and outside of the congregation would be supporting this effort.
In any case, after having lots of conversations with pastors, men’s ministry leaders, and Christian dads, God gave me an insight about what was going on. I believe there is a shared perspective and misconception that if we can just help men be better Christians, they will automatically be better dads. In other words, good Chris tian men equals good Christian fathers. I must admit that this seems logical.
But here’s the problem. When I started to examine the lives of so many men whose stories are chronicled in the Bible, I detected a disturbing pattern. Many of them, even men who had deep and abiding hearts for God, had made some rather serious mistakes as fathers that often impacted generations. Therefore, if these fathers had problems, why wouldn’t fathers today? In fact, I believe this is why God made sure that these “bad dad” mistakes were front and center, consequences and all, in so many of the biblical narratives. God truly loves fatherhood and fathers, and he wanted these mistakes to be easy to find.
That is why I wrote this book. I am hopeful that as you study the examples of the fatherhood legacies of men like Abraham, David, and Eli — men who loved God deeply — you will learn from their mistakes. More importantly, my prayer for you is that this book will
serve as a clarion call for you to take action now to be the father that God designed you to be. I am also hopeful you will make the “Good Dad Promise” at the end of each chapter to your wife (or the mother of your children) and your children, so you can leave a better fatherhood legacy than the ones that some of these fathers did. There is a saying that a wise man learns from his mistakes. This is true. But the wiser man learns from the mistakes of others.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1. A CLARION CALL TO FATHERS
BAD DAD MISTAKE #1
CHAPTER 2. DAVID: HE WAS PARALYZED BY HIS PAST FAILURES
BAD DAD MISTAKE #2
CHAPTER 3. LABAN: HE MADE HIS CHILDREN COMPETE FOR HIS AFFECTION
BAD DAD MISTAKE #3
CHAPTER 4. JACOB: HE TURNED A BLIND EYE TO SIBLING RIVALRY
BAD DAD MISTAKE #4
CHAPTER 5. SAUL: HE MADE IT DIFFICULT FOR HIS CHILDREN TO HONOR HIM
BAD DAD MISTAKE #5
CHAPTER 6. ABRAHAM: HE ABANDONED HIS CHILD
BAD DAD MISTAKE #6
CHAPTER 7. ELI: HE FAILED TO DISCIPLINE HIS CHILDREN
BAD DAD MISTAKE #7
CHAPTER 8. MANOAH: HE FAILED TO TAME HIS CHILD’S TALENTS
BAD DAD MISTAKE #8
CHAPTER 9. LOT: HE PITCHED HIS FAMILY’S TENT NEAR TEMPTATION
CHAPTER 10. 6 THINGS A DAD MUST DO TO BE A GOOD FATHER
Bad Dads of the Bible
Copyright Â© 2013 by Roland C. Warren