I realized God doesn’t call a man to be both a father, the spiritual leader, and a pastor in such a way that those two roles constantly war against each other.
While Joan was at home with our kids, I was out, winning people to Jesus. When I came home Joan would say to me, “Are you going to be gone again tonight?” I would respond, “Honey, this is God’s work. If I don’t do this, it’s not going to get done!”
One day, Joan sat me down in the kitchen and said, “Honey, I just want to tell you I am never going to ask you again, ‘Are you going to be gone tonight?’ If you believe God wants you to lead us by being gone all the time, then I’m not going to argue with you.” That was a turning point in my life. I realized God doesn’t call a man to be both a father, the spiritual leader, and a pastor in such a way that those two roles constantly war against each other.
In 1994, a study was done in Switzerland to determine whether a person’s religious beliefs and practices carried through to the following generation—and why or why not. It found that “It is the religious practices of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”(1) But a father’s spiritual leadership role in the home is more than just taking his children to church regularly.
I would like to suggest three spiritual qualities for being a true spiritual leader: First, the father will endeavor to live a life worthy of his children’s imitation.(2) Spiritual truth is more likely to be caught than taught.
Second, build a lifetime relationship with your spouse. By focusing on your spouse, you are showing your kids what love and family look like.
Third, the father affirms each child as a unique and special gift from God. A child’s identity comes through the father. The last thing a child should hear before drifting off to sleep are words like, “I’m so happy you are my daughter (or son), you’re exactly what I would have ordered if I could have special ordered you from God!”
There are millions of young adults wandering the landscape of America in search of themselves, looking in every dark cultural hole for an identity to claim—young adults for whom there was no father to pronounce a unique blessing and benediction upon them when they need to hear it.3 If God the Father said to His Son, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), how much more should an earthly father tell his children the same thing?
Abraham Swamidass, DMin, pastors the Beloit and Delavan churches in addition to serving as family ministries director for the Wisconsin Conference.