The next revolution in family ministry

The debate over family ministry has been alive and well over the past 10 years and for that I am grateful. One of the things I was not aware of is how Dad’s  were removed from being the primary spiritual leaders of their homes through the industrial revolution. Up to that point there was no separation of duties within the family. The husband and wife were partners in both the economics of their home as well as the more domestic duties of child rearing with in the home. What’s crazy is the church let it happen.

In her book Total Truth Nancy Pearcey describes the role of fathers:

Dad was called to sacrifice his own interests—to be dis interested—in order to represent the interests of the whole. Husbands and fathers were not to be driven by personal ambition or self-interest but to take responsibility for the common good of the entire household.

Being a father was not a separate activity to come home to after a day at work; rather, it was an integral part of a man’s daily routine. Historical records reveal that colonial literature on parenting—like sermons and child-rearing manuals—were not addressed to mothers, as the majority are today. Instead, they were typically addressed to fathers. Fathers were considered the primary parent, and were held to be particularly important in their children’s religious and intellectual training.

As a result, the most striking feature of child-rearing manuals of the mid-nineteenth century is the disappearance of references to fathers. For the first time we find sermons and pamphlets on the topic of child-rearing addressed exclusively to mothers rather than to fathers or both parents. Men began to feel connected to their children primarily through their wives.

“Women took men’s place as the custodians of communal virtue,” Rotundo writes, but in doing so, they “were freeing men to pursue self-interest.”  In other words, men were being let off the hook

instead of challenging the growing secularism among men, the church largely acquiesced—by turning to women. Churchmen seemed relieved to find at least one sphere, the home, where religion still held sway. Whereas traditional church teaching had held that fathers were responsible for their children’s education, in the early 1800s, says one historian, “New England ministers fervently reiterated their consensus that mothers were more important than fathers in forming ‘the tastes, sentiments, and habits of children,’ and more effective in instructing them.” As a result, “mothers increasingly took over the formerly paternal task of conducting family prayers.”

We need Godly women and Godly mothers, but I have to say that I agree with Nancy our culture in general and the church in particular has let men off the hook. We preach to mothers and expect them to translate it to fathers. We seek the path of least resistance and it has hurt both the church and the family. I have been guilty myself at times in decrying the feminization  of the church. I will be the first to admit many times I have given into the idea that women are the bastions of virtues and guys are the lucky recipients of said virtue.  The church has taken it’s parenting cue from culture that says parenting is women’s work and dads get a pass. Who suffers? Our kids. If I am honest I gear most of my “parental partnership plans” to mothers. This has to change.

Nancy’s damning statement cuts so deep every time I read it “Instead of challenging the growing secularism among men, the church largely acquiesced—by turning to women.” I think the next wave of family ministry focus needs to be geared toward  dad. How do we help dad engage in the home? How do we help dads win? How do we move the deeply entrenched idea that raising children is not women’s work?

Lastly in our stance against gender confusion lets clearly define how God sees the family unit as it functions best. Not rejecting hundreds of years of orthodoxy because we are afraid of challenging the growing secularism in our culture.

Dad’s be who God has called you to be where he’s placed you. Being a good dad comes from a place of understanding the heart of the Father who while you were still a sinner sent his only son at gave cost to redeem you to restore relationship with you. It doesn’t matter what kind of father you did or didn’t have. You have been rescued by almighty God. Be the dad your kids need, grace allows and the gospel demands.


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10 thoughts on “The next revolution in family ministry

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Sam. This issue has been on my mind a lot, as we work with a largely fatherless generation. Men have been pushed aside, and (often in passivity) have willingly allowed themselves to be pushed aside & irrelevant.

    We must reach the next generation. We must especially reach the fatherless, to guide them to break this cycle.

    • Thanks for your comment Joey. I agree. Many times I find myself doing what is easier or produces what I think is the best results rather than doing what is more difficult. I believe engaging dads is more difficult and at the same time will make the most lasting impact in this generation and the next. If we can help dads be more present both physically and emotionally our kids will be the ones that benefit most.

  2. Great article Sam. We need to teach men not only how to lead their own households but how to be a Christian model and mentor to the fatherless in our society. I believe wholeheartedly that the answer to the crisis of fatherlessness that we face in our society (short of convincing men to stick around and be fathers) is to train and equip a generation of men who can be out in the community and serve as mentors and role models not only for their own kids but for their kids’ friend who don’t know what a Christian dad is, who can’t relate to God as Father and who may otherwise never step across the thresholds of our churches.

  3. I agree with your conclusion that we need dads to be the spiritual leaders in the family and that the church needs to be intentional about making that a reality. I recently read about the industrial revolution impact on families. In the 19th century men who found purpose and value in being a husband and father suddenly found themselves spending most of their waking hours doing a job that they really didn’t care about. Their self-esteem plummeted because they lacked purpose. Men need to see that regardless of their job, their primary role is leading their family – and in many cases, that might mean working less.

    • Scott really good.Nancy whole chapter on gender roles and how things changed with the industrial revelation was powerful. I wish I could post the whole chapter but was really really good. She for me framed the argument so well as to why men are ambivalent towards religion. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation.

  4. I was just reading this exact excerpt the other day and was saddened at the information. This has led to even more than just what has been represented here, as I’m sure you know. I think this cultural shift contributes heavily to the idea that children are “for the mom.” As if the dad was simply the donor and the mom is now the caregiver, which then contributes to even deeper issues. Vicious cycle.
    I am SO grateful for men like you and many others who are stepping up to lead children and family ministries in the church – your leadership and modeling are a great start!