Imagine you travel back in time to the 1950’s. You find yourself on a street in Anytown, USA, admiring the perfectly mowed lawns. Suddenly you notice the sweet aroma of apple pie. You follow that smell to a house with white vinyl siding and a gray shingled roof. The window to the kitchen is open and there is a fresh baked apple pie in the window sill. Inside you see a woman with her hair in a bun and an apron around her waist. She has been working in the kitchen for hours, yet is smiling and perfectly clean. Not even one speck is on her apron.
About this time, a shiny black Studebaker pulls into the driveway. The woman doesn’t notice the car, for she has begun setting the dinner table. The man walks up to the front door, opens it, and declares, “Honey, I’m home!” Hearing this, the already smiling woman smiles even more. She hugs her husband and leads him to the table where a deliciously prepared meal awaits him.
Sticking her head out the kitchen window, the woman yells in a loud yet motherly tone, “Boys, your father is home. It’s time for dinner!” You turn around and see two young boys running with excitement toward the house. The boys had been playing in the yard so quietly that, until this moment, you didn’t even know they were there.
The family gathers around the table. The husband and father looks at his watch. It is exactly 6pm – dinnertime. Every hair on every head is in place. The boys, even though they have been playing outside have washed their hands and are well-dressed and clean. The family bows their heads in prayer.
You think to yourself, “What time does my family eat dinner? What did we eat for dinner last night? Did we eat dinner last night? I know it didn’t look as delicious as that! Would they care if I took a piece of pie?”
You break from your thoughts to listen to the dinner conversation. The Head of the household seems to be announcing his plans for summer vacation. He planned the entire vacation on his drive home. Both kids think the vacation sounds swell. The wife warmly accepts the plan for a summer camping trip and asks how she can help in preparation. The father’s monologue is only interrupted by the polite sounds of “excuse me” and “pass the potatoes, please.”
After dinner and dessert, the kids take a bath and retire to their shared bedroom. In their room, both boys kneel and pray before getting into bed. While Mom is cleaning up the dishes, Dad reads a bedtime story and tucks them in. The children fall fast asleep without fighting or whining. This sleep will last all night, and not once will either child run into the parents’ room.
You turn back to your own thoughts, “My wife doesn’t let me make our vacation plans. Does she not respect me? Isn’t she supposed to respect me? My kids are always fussy at bedtime. Did they even have a bath last night? Last week? Month? I’m sure my wife bathed them while I was studying. But if she doesn’t respect me enough to agree to my vacation plans, how do I know she bathes the kids?” You have spent enough time studying that you recognize the logical fallacies of your thought progression. You really wish you had taken a piece of that apple pie.
Now, stop imagining you are in another place in time. You are back in your present reality. You are a seminary student with a family. You have heard many times “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1Ti 3:4-5). You compare your family to the family you just saw and feel inadequate. You doubt that God can use you unless your family meets this gold standard, after all, according to the older folks in your family, when their kids were growing up… [insert unattainable expectation here].
The glimpse of life you imagined was the iconic stereotype of the traditional family. Nostalgia has placed this stereotype as the ideal of a happy family. The traditional family may be as American as apple pie, but does it accurately depict the roles of Christian parents?
In recent years, the term “traditional family values” has become synonymous with Christian values. It is important that we distinguish between the two. If we simply accept the traditional family as our ideal, and we strive for that ideal, we make an idol of it.
Christian values existed long before the creation of “traditional family” roles. We learn those values from Christ himself. We have the Bible to teach and train us. We have the Spirit to guide and convict us. We have a Father whom loves us as dear children. His love for us, should guide us in our love of our children.
So rid yourself of cultural expectations and nostalgic, rarely accurate, memories of how things used to be. Use your Bible exposition skills to study this topic in detail. Do not get so wrapped up in individual verses that you miss the overarching theme of family that is presented throughout the Bible. Before turning to your favorite verses on family order, step back and take off your intellectual hat. Put it on the shelf beside the twenty-five books you have to read this semester. You can put it back on in a moment, but for now just focus on who God is, and who you are.
You are a beloved child of God. How do you know that? How has God demonstrated that love in your life? As a child of God, you have been empowered to love. Because he loved you first, you can love those around you. Does your child, or children, know that you love them? How have you demonstrated your love in their life? Does your love for them lead them to love others?
If you are a parent and seminary student, you are, without doubt, very busy. God is a lot busier than you are. When you speak to God, he does not send you away because he is busy. You are unable to understand God, yet you have a personal relationship with Him. He shares his plan with you in small doses. Even though you can’t comprehend much, he teaches you what you can grasp.
Your kids do not understand what you are doing. They do not understand the languages you study. They do not understand the theology you are learning. They probably don’t even understand why you are in school. School is for kids isn’t it? They may feel like you have disrupted their entire life. You likely have.
Show them the love that God shows you. Share with them as God shares with you. They may not understand your coursework, but you can model obedience to God. You can do everything as if you are doing it for the Lord. Your children will know you, and because they know you, they are likely to believe the conviction you possess.
Jesus said we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mt 18:3) Look for the things you can learn from your children. When you are amazed, staring at your kids with unconditional love, know that the love you have for them is nothing compared to the love God has for his children. Do your kids run to you when you get home? Do they want to be around you? Are they so crazy about you that, that it drives you crazy?
Do you approach your heavenly Father with that same level of excitement? Jesus said we must become like little children; maybe we should start by having child-like excitement while in his presence.
With that same excitement, we should be eager to do whatever God asks us to do. We do have roles and responsibilities as Christian parents. It is true that a leader in the Church “…must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1Ti 3:4-5).
A central theme throughout the Bible is the education of our children. The knowledge of God must be communicated to each new generation. You have the responsibility to fix God’s word “…in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 11:18-21).
The entire book of Proverbs reads as advice from a father to a son. Children are to heed the instruction of their father and mother. When a child disobeys he must be disciplined. We are to discipline the ones we love. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is corrective action. The word is closely related to “disciple”. A disciple is a student, or a person who follows a certain teaching. We have a commission to make disciples, meaning we are to lead others to follow Jesus. Our children, by birth, are our disciples. They learn from us and follow our examples. We must be imitators of Christ, in word and deed, so that by following us, our children follow Jesus. (Eph 5:1)
Paul writes to Timothy “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Ti 3:14-15).
Timothy “became convinced” because he knew those from whom he learned. He knew his mother and grandmother. He knew that their life reflected what they believed. Our beliefs will either be validated or discredited by what our children observe in us.
We must manage our household well if we wish to be a leader in God’s church. (1Ti 1:4-5) Hold firm to the word of God throughout your journey. You will have successful days and you will have failures. Do not pay too much attention to gossip and negativity. Remember that “…man looks at the outward appearance of things while the Lord looks at the heart.” (1Sa 16:7)
A parent could be authoritarian in style and force the children to obey, but this type of leadership does not reflect the love of God. Forcing children to obey in an authoritarian home often has negative consequences. The outward appearance would show a well-behaved child. The heart of the child, which God sees, would be wounded. The lasting effect would be hindrance. We are not to hinder children from coming to Jesus. Be not a hindrance, but rather a cause for your children to believe in the glory of God.
There are many verses to study concerning responsibilities of Christian parents. You can study all of them. You can learn to read the verses in the original languages. You can study and write a very insightful exegetical. If, in doing so, you place your study ahead of your children, you have completely missed the application of Scripture to your life. Rather, be a doer of God’s word and a light for your children. Guide them in the way they should go and count each day as a blessing and each child as a gift from God.