3 Ways to be a Better Dad

Today is the start of my twenty-third year of doing ministry for kids and youth in the same church. One of the things I have come to realize is the reality that no family is perfect that marriage is hard work and parenting does not always come easy. Kids today face greater challenges than kids did twenty years ago there has been extensive studies as to why that is a reality some credit technology, others environmental concerns what few people mention and I have found to be the most profound issues is the dissolution of the family. The family in America is under attack.

The breakdown in the family is now into multiple generations and so many dads I talk to want to be better dads they have no idea what that looks like. They only know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a father who failed them. They feel powerless and so they turn to pop culture that either tells them it’s hopeless and to live your life for your own happiness or the other side saying you need to take the power back. I think there is a better option for dads. Here are three ways to be a better dad.

1. Show up –
This one is difficult because when we feel that we are not wanted, needed, or respected the natural reflex is to run. You may have been on the receiving end of a dad who ran and are tempted to do the same. Don’t do it. Show up. Not to everything. Show up to the important things and the small things. I was recently talking to a woman whose dad recently passed she said that even though her mom and dad got divorced he always took them on vacations and was there for the small things like teaching her how to ride a bike. He showed up in the small things and important things.

So often dads are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. In my experience with families saying nothing and doing nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing. Sending money and giving gifts don’t replace you and they don’t represent you. Show up. Step into the pain. Step into the awkard. When your kids have questions about life and sex and gender don’t send them to your wife step into the awkward and answer their questions as best as you can and point your kids to Jesus. Your kids want you dad, even when they say they don’t. Every little girl wants her dad to say she is beautiful and ever little boy wants to know his dad is proud of him. Dad only you can say those words to your kids. You want to be a better dad. Don’t text them those things show up in person and tell them yourself.

2. Shut up –
This one is hard. Because dads measure their effectiveness by how many things they can fix in a lifetime. Somethings can’t be fixed by actions some things are fixed by just showing up then shutting up. When your kids are frustrated or disappointed with you the temptation for you is to defend yourself. Instead of doing that shut up and listen. When your kids are at home come sit next to them ask them about their day and then shut up and listen. When your kids are crying because their heart is hurt don’t always try to fix everything just shut up and listen.

Kids like all of us sometimes just need to be herd. So listen, empathize, and affirm your kids. Tell them the truth. Don’t tell them they can do anything they put their minds to do tell them you are going to get through this together and stick with them. Remind them they need God’s help and after you have listened to them pray for them. If you want to be a better dad that isn’t always measured by number of problems solved it’s measured by how well you heard your child’s heart and how often you showed them God’s heart.

3. Give up –
There is something about powerlessness that we forget when we grow older. The more power we have the more control we maintain the less we can relate to a child and the harder it is to know God. I have seen people that speak powerfully to a stadium of adults but who are terrified in a room of 50 kids. Why because they have become more powerful and less dependent. They no longer relate to kids because they have forgotten how to be weak and what dependence looks like.

“You should have a fifty-year plan—a vision for growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness.”

J.I. Packer

We are drawn to power and strength we desire autonomy. One of the many idols in American culture is the self-made man. We think that if we achieve a certain level of success we will be happy. Packer is saying give up but don’t quit. He is saying slow growth is the best kind of growth. He is saying that weakness is the key to dependence and dependence is the key to growth. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says it this way.

The child is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins is saying the same thing Jesus says “you want to be great remember what it was like to be dependent and overlooked?” Do that be depended and deflect glory to God. Matthew 18 Jesus described greatness not in terms of material success but in utter dependence. “You want to be great” Jesus said “become like a little child.” Dad, you want to be a better dad? Learn how to give up your power, give up your lust for success and learn to be as dependant on God as your newborn baby is dependant on you for everything.

Kids need fewer powerful parents and more dependent ones. You want to be a better dad? Show up, shut up and give up.

How to Leave Your Kids Something of Value.

Two Years ago I started a legacy project for my kids. That will take me eight years to complete. I partnered with Crossway books to use an Heirloom ESV Journaling Bible that is made of genuine leather and will stand the test of time. My hope is that my kids will have at least two years worth of insights message notes and quotes that reflect what I was thinking in the two year period I was using the Bible that is really theirs. I know that what I say today will be forgotten that even when I give them the Bible at graduation I’m not sure it will mean as much as it will one day when I am no longer here. My hope is that they will read my words and remember that their dad loved them and prayed for them. That their dad love the Bible more than any other book. I hope my words point them to God’s word his perfect revelation of himself.

Here is what I ended up doing:
– I used one color pen to underline verses that stood out to me for an entire year then next year I changed pen colors so that my kids would know when I read that particular verse
– I wrote thoughts, notes, and quotes in the sides with a micron black heirloom pen and ended each section with that day’s date at the bottom.
– I wrote much of the comments in light of the fact that my kids would more than likely not read this Bible at all until one day I am no longer here.

Here is what I learned
– I wish I had a Bible like this from each of my grandfathers. I would read it to this day. I am sometimes so curious as to what they thought about a certain passage. To have sermon notes from my grandfather who was Presbyterian Minister would be priceless. I hope my grandkids will feel the same way.
– Knowing I have only two years and this is going to keep in the family for a long time created accountability to daily read.
– I also read and commented in the Bible while they were eating breakfast so they would one day connect the dots that I was writing to them in front of them.
– I learned that disciplines are modeled more than they are commanded. Your kids need to see you read, they need to hear you pray.
– I found I was more engaged with what I read because I wasn’t just checking off a box in a reading plan I was writing down thoughts my grandchildren will one day read. That is a crazy sobering thought.

I want to encourage you to do something similar. It is an excellent exercise for you to grow in your faith to journal but it is even more important for your kids to hear your heart and know your thoughts long after you are gone is a priceless gift. How do you start? Find a journaling Bible there are lots available I loved the ESV Journaling Bible from Crossway it was both beautiful and functional. You also need some good pens that won’t smudge and have archival ink. Lastly, you need to set aside time each day to grow in your faith and leave a legacy of faith for your kids and their kids. I hope you start today.

Training Kids to be Truthful and Kind

At the risk of sounding like a nerd. I remember reading the encyclopedia as a child. The encyclopedia salesman came to the door and sold us a set. I loved it. It was the internet before the internet was cool. I had something many kids didn’t have I had a private stash of information. What I thankfully didn’t have was a platform to share that information I had gathered about historic events, strange animals and various states. This generation more than any other has more information at their disposal and more opportunity to share their ideas than ever before. Knowledge plus platform minus the humility that failure and difficulty over time bring is a recipe for arrogance and self-reliance.

When I was growing up information was hard to come by now information is everywhere. Growing up sharing what you have learned was not easy now with the advent of social media everyone has a platform. The job for parents when I was growing up was helping lead your kids to information. Today parents are no longer curators of information but clarifiers of truth.

As a pastor and a father, I have come to realize that if I don’t teach my kids someone else will. What we teach our kids today is not primarily information that can be found elsewhere we need to teach our kids how to use the information they have acquired. We have to give them a grid that will enable them to interact on social media and other online platforms that don’t feed the ego and the subtle arrogance that knowledge and opportunity bring. We have to teach them what no one else will. If we want our kids to be a meat eater and a bone spitter we need to teach them clarity and charity.

What are meat eating and bone spitting? It is the ability to in every conversation and situation look for what you can learn, look for what is true rather than trying to win every argument. If you have been on social media we have a massive problem in our country that is more than Democrat/Republican we have informed or misinformed people who think they are right and are hell-bent on making sure they do not lose an argument. What we need more of is not information. We need more clarity and more charity.

The first thing we need to teach our kids is clarity. Is it true? Is what they are reading is what they are saying true? We have a generation that is ruled by their emotional response to any given situation yet they have failed to stop and ask “Is this true?” Truth is not relative there is objective truth. As Christians, we believe that objective truth is the Word of God. We have to teach our kids to check their ideas, information, and presuppositions against what the Bible tells us the truth is. We do this by pointing them back to scripture over and over again. We do this by personally showing them how we filter our political, moral, and spiritual decisions based on what the bible says over what someone tells us we should say or do as an “Evangelical Chrisitan”. Clarifying for our kids what is true will help them properly filter information that they are given or come across on their own. If they are not clear on what is true they will belive a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth they will believe things about God and themselves that isn’t true.

We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree.

The next thing parents have to teach their kids is Charity. Modern culture has traded charity for certainty. We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree. In our online and offline interactions, we need more charity. Charity is achieved over time through the crucible of pain and the realization that we don’t know it all. Without charity, we will produce a generation that is convinced they are right and will never learn how wrong they are until it is too late. Charity is more than an attitude towards others it is manifested in neighbor love. When we no longer have to live to one-up our “enemies” on facebook we are free to learn from them and ultimately love them. Jonathan Edwards said this in his book Charity and her Fruits. “Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

– Jonathan Edwards

The greatest gift you can give your kids and the kids you pastor is the twin girds of clarity and charity. Is this true and is this kind? Information is superabundant truth and kindness are not. May we raise kids who collect information and in an attitude of charity spit out the bones of untruth and cling to the meat of truth. May our kids grow in their knowledge but grow even more in kindness and truth.

Who is Responsible to Disciple my Kids?

Is it the church or me?

Discipleship is something parents and pastors need to take seriously and engage in together. When I first started in kids ministry over twenty years ago, the primary discipleship of children was the responsibility of the church. Over the past ten years or so the pendulum has swung from the church being primary to the church pushing parents to be primary in the discipleship of their kids and the church cheering them on. The result has been in my opinion less discipleship.

The answer to the discipleship of the next generation is not either or but both and. How can the church be intentional about discipline kids and how can parents make church an important aspect of their kids lives because of that. At the same time, how can parents disciple their kids more intentionally and how can the church resource and encourage that?

Why church discipleship is necessary

If you crush whatever initiative you set up for parents to do at home, you will only get at best 25% to 30% participation leaving 70% without the benefit of your discipleship resource. If we only view discipleship as parent driven and avoid things like VBS and other church driven initiatives many kids will miss out. Another issue we need to address is some kids come to church with grandparents or friends, and their parents will never be the primary disciplers of their kids. As kids grow, their friends will have more influence on them than their parents. As a community of faith, we need to provide a place where kids can grow in their faith even if it isn’t a value at home.

Why home discipleship is necessary

The modern America family is more transient than ever. People move to different states, different churches, different denominations like never before in history. We may never have them long enough to develop their kids and nurture their faith so we need resources they can take with them on the journey. Particularly early in life parents have more influence than anyone else on who their kids are becoming. Parents need encouragement and help.

Here are some things we try to do at our church to disciple kids.

  1. New City Catechism each week from preschool to college.
  2. Story-Based Discipleship class for Jr. High Kids.
  3. Small Groups
  4. Internship
  5. Worldview/Theology Immersion Week
  6. VBS

Here are some things you can try at home to disciple your kids.

  1. Family WorshipWe use this book at our house.
  2. New City Catechism Why Catechism? 
  3. Reading Classic Works with your kids – Leland Ryken has some great books to help you navigate the classics – Also Karen Swallow Prior’s new book would be helpful
  4. Spirit led conversations
  5. Student Discipleship Guide

The goal of discipleship is not what we do to be acceptable to God but rather how is our conformity into the image of God affecting our life and practice. How are we intentionally forming the loves of our kid’s hearts? James K. A. Smith says it this way

“Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”

This happens on purpose, not on accident. Not overnight but over time. May we as pastors and parents be curators of hearts rather than only informers of intellects.

How Do We Train Our Kids to Stand Firm

Liturgy, Theology and Love

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do, however, have a secular culture and progressive Christians. They ask us to trample on scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance to their table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the taste of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample,” and the voice of the serpent saying, “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

“Love, which we would consider an “ultimate” love could be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship. The reasons we emphasize that this is a matter of love is to signify that our orientation to what’s ultimate is not primarily on the order of thinking. It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.”  James K.A. Smith

We are not primarily what we think or even what we believe. We are primarily, as Smith says, what we love. So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them? How do we not just inform the minds of our kids but also help them form their loves?

  1. Biblical Theology – Kids need to understand the Bible is about God, not about them. They need to see the broad sweeping themes of sin, redemption, and restoration. They need to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. If Christianity is only ever theological facts to be memorized and not a God to be adored, culture wins every time. We need to give our kids a Biblically faithful picture of a God of who is holy and loving. Biblical theology is not just information, but the understanding that all of scripture is the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Properly communicated, it should warm our hearts and fill our minds with wonder.  – Great interview with Paul David Tripp on recapturing awe. 
  2. Systematic Theology – Kids need to understand that the Bible is more than a story. It is that, to be sure, but it has practical implications for how we live. Biblical theology doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions. It shows us the beauty of Christ. Systematics shows us the implications of that picture of beauty. Here is a post I wrote that has resources I would recommend for this.
  3. Devotional Life – Kids need to learn the discipline of daily practice that both inform and form their love for God. This is best taught by modeling to our kids that devotion is not something earned or which merits grace but is the natural byproduct of the grace freely given. Here is a post that gives resources for family devotions. 
  4. Embodied faith – Faith is more than an idea and belief. If faith is not manifested in love, it is seen as a faith that tramples and devours. Our faith is seen in our practices and in our love for others. The liturgies of our churches need to reinforce the love of God so that it creates places where faith and trust will be outside the reach of the snake’s lies and the guard’s insistence to trample.

A faith that lasts is one that is marked by an embodied love and worship of a God who came down made himself small and embodied sacrificial love and resurrection power. That is the kind of faith our kids need.