Dear pastor, the most important flock you will ever shepherd number in the hundreds and they will never pay you. The most important people you’ve been given to shepherd are the members of your family, especially your children.
In fact, every father is called to be "pastor dad." Still, if we are transparent, most pastors fail at being the pastor of their family. I get it! I fail at this more often than I'd like to admit. No man wakes up one day and instantly becomes the pastor of his home. It takes years of experience to grow into that role and many awkward face-plants while trying to shepherd their family. From my limited experience as a father and husband, here are a few simple habits that will get you on the trajectory to being a healthy "pastor dad."
1. Pray for your family and with your family:
I pray for my wife and boys every day. It should be the most natural thing for a man to pray for his family, but it isn't. It takes intentionality. My wife is a praying woman. Her prayer life pushes me to have a healthier prayer life of my own. Men, don't be intimated by your wife's spiritual disciplines, be encouraged and spurred on by them! It is now part of my daily routine to pray for Rebekah and my boys. Creating this routine makes it much easier to pray for your family in front of them. Men, your family needs to hear you pray for them. Your children need to hear their father praying for their salvation. It has to happen. If you develop the habit of privately praying for your family then publicly praying for them will come naturally.
2. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, and engage:
We are all way too busy. Our culture calls us to take pride in maintaining a slammed schedule. Our culture also celebrates and encourages a million other things that starve out our spiritual vitality and destroys our families. When you are with your family, turn off the TV (unless you are watching a show/movie with your family). Don't come home from a long day and shutdown. Come home and engage. That also means that you don't need to be checking sport scores on your phone. Do it later. Also, stop checking your email every two seconds. I know it’s hard, but it can wait. We are literally rewiring our brains to "need" to check our phones every few minutes. I've gone through periods of really struggling to come home from the office and simply be pastor dad...not Pastor Dayton. My highest calling, your highest calling, is to just be a dad who pastors his family well. Come home and engage.
3. Actually talk about Jesus with your family:
If you can't remember the last time you had a meaningful exchange with your family about the person and work of Jesus, then your kids have no idea that Jesus matters to you. Seriously! What do you talk about most often? That’s what your kids think is most important to dad. Look, you don't have to drop theology bombs on their little minds. Just talk to them about Jesus.
4. Read the Scripture with your kids, every night:
Wait, every night? Yes! You want to talk to them about Jesus every night, right? There is no easier way to make sure that happens than to read the book that’s by Jesus and about Jesus. There are a number of great resources for families and most of them can be used in 10-15 minutes time. So, for instance, if you are using The Gospel Project Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible, you have a very natural topic of discussion before bed and then a point of reference the next day. Come home and ask your kids what they remember about the previous night's family devotion. Ask them how they applied the gospel truth, from the previous night, during their day. Tell them how you applied that truth to your heart and life. Its simple, it just takes intentionality.
5. Practice discipline that reveals the gospel:
The vast majority of parenting advice from our culture is horrible. Why? Our nation has become post-Christian and is quickly moving toward being anti-Christian. So, the default worldview has become that of secular humanism. You do not want to tell your kids that Jesus matters and then parent them through the filter of secular humanism. That duality is how you create little religious hearts. We want our kids to embrace the grace of Jesus.
I must commend to you Shepherding a Child's Heart. It is a great resource for the basics of parenting your children in a way that pushes them away form Law and religiosity and drives them to the grace of Jesus. The moments when we discipline our children are of incredible value for pointing them to Jesus. Its hard, but I've found that asking my oldest son a few pointed questions keeps me calm and helps draw his attention to the Perfect Father in Heaven. I ask my son, "Who am I?" He says, "Daddy." That's right! "Do I love you, son?" He replies, "Yes!" I then tell him, "Because I love you, just as you are, please obey me." Sometimes it makes a huge difference. Many times, he doesn't get it. However, I'm trying to lay gospel groundwork and that doesn't happen overnight.
Dads, don't waste discipline. Stay calm and point your kids to Jesus!
Guys, none of this is hard. It just requires intentionality. Yet, we are often far too passive. Stop it! Your passivity is hurting your family. Begin implementing these basics habits, now! Don't wait until tomorrow. Start now! As you pursue being the pastor of your home, failure will occur. Its okay! We all fail, but we cannot allow failure to become defeat. The stakes are too high and your family is far too valuable.