Faithful fathering: the father's role in a Christian home

Mark figured out early in life that to become a discipler, he must first be a disciple.

Kenneth O. Gangel, Ph.D.. writes from Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Albert Einstein said, "Try not to be come a man of success but rather try to become a man of value." With a deep breath in his lungs and a firm grasp on his courage, Mark is about to take on the biggest job of his life. At the age of 28 he's getting married. Some people would jokingly say he is finally getting married. But to Mark everything leading up to his wedding with Teri fits the careful plan of God.

The demands of his skyrocketing career in electronics research must now take second place to the priorities of his role as a faithful husband and, perhaps soon, a faithful father.

Only now is Mark beginning to understand how much more learning he has to do. To become a discipler, he must first be a disciple. To become a teacher, he first must learn. He and Teri both come from families in which fathers lived out decades of faithfulness to their wives and their children, and Mark has no intention of blemish ing that record.

He reads newspapers and watches television, so he knows the distorted image of fathering displayed by today's media. Mark also knows the staggering statistics coming out of national polls.

A Harris poll indicated that 84 percent of Americans believe the family is important, but two out of five want no children and only 25 percent want a "stable sex life." Fewer than half the people responding to the survey indicated they would "work at marriage."

Another study showed that American seventhand eighth-graders average 7.5 minutes per week of focused conversation with their fathers. Still another study showed that fathers of preschool ers spend an average of 37 seconds a day talking with their children.

Faithfulness in leading

In a day when leadership means visibility, popularity, likeability, and drive, Mark wants to be a quiet family leader who doesn't need con stant high-profile activity to mark his role in the home. But faithful ness in biblical fathering requires recognition of the headship role, much disputed in recent decades.

The Greek word kephale (head) is used 58 times in the New Testament to describe a part of human anatomy and 13 times as a symbol for leadership. Faithful leadership is the other side of submission it makes submission possible. Despite many modern interpretations of a variety of biblical texts, conservative evangelical scholars still acknowledge the God-ordained leadership of husbands and fathers in their own homes (1 Cor. 11:3,8,9; Eph. 5:23; 1 Peter 3:1).

Spiritually mature men understand this not as dominance, but as responsibility. One author likened it to sitting at the back of a canoe, re sponsible for steering its direction and making sure you look ahead for dangerous logs or rocks in the river.

All this reflects the faithfulness of the heav enly Father. In relation to both God and us the Greek and Hebrew words mean that men following God's pattern will be solid, certain, dependable, and reliable (1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18). So God models faithful leader ship for us, and we model faithful leadership for our families.

Perhaps such leadership relates especially to our sons whom, from their earliest years, we groom into the next generation of fathers and church leaders.

Faithfulness in loving

Let's get back to Mark. Because he's been single clear up to the age of 28, he has had ample opportunity to view other marriages in action and form some solid opinions about what he wants his family to look like. From his analysis of the early chapters of Genesis, he has concluded that God intentionally created companionship between a man and a woman. To make that pos sible, God's game plan was to make leadership and submission irreversible and unconditional ways of relating.

All this relates to the team concept. Over the years, I've a stored a lot of use less basketball trivia in my head. From the old glory years of the Los Angeles Lakers team (which have, it seems, recently returned), I recall one surprising fact: that almost every time their star point guard Magic Johnson scored 30 or 40 points in a single game, the Lakers lost! Perhaps this is because Magic had played the game in a way that was outside his truest role on the team.

When it comes to Mark, about to get married and have a family, "shooting baskets" doesn't take priority; his job is to play point guard watch the floor, set up the plays, and pass the ball. That means he takes the lead in developing loving relationships in the family.

Faithfulness in leading, faithfulness in loving these are two-thirds of the great triangle of faithful fathering. More than a quarter century ago, a conserva tive Catholic columnist, Michael Novak, wrote in Harper's magazine, "The role of a father or mother and of children with respect to them, is the absolutely critical center of social force, . . . One unforgettable law has been learned painfully through all the oppressions, disasters and injustices of the last thou sand years if things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart." 1

Faithfulness in learning

The Bible directs the focus of teaching on Christian fathers. In fact, Paul spent a good bit of time telling Titus how to teach men of any age so that they could function properly in their families and in the church. Obviously God does not need to learn and therefore does not serve us as a model in this case, but the biblical information still downloads faster than we can print it out.

The Creek text of Titus 2 includes 11 words for instruction and the English text, 13. The first and last verses emphasize teaching, and the entire chapter deals with different groupings of adults.

Paul told Titus to "teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love and in endurance" (Titus 2:2, NIV). He told Titus to teach the younger men "to be self-controlled" (Titus 2:6). Taken as a block, the information in the Old and New Testaments puts us behind on a huge learning curve that calls for us to keep up with both sides of the equation learning so that we can teach.

We learn in order to teach our wives (1 Cor. 14:35). In reality, of course, many Christian wives know a good bit more about the Bible and many other things than do their husbands. But reality does not always reflect what should or could be, especially when we apply scriptural measures to men's behavior.

We learn in order to teach our children (Deut. 6:1-9). Sabbath School, children's church, Pathfinders, youth camp, Bible quizzing, and a host of other activities for children and young people are only a support, not a substitute, for our own fatherly role as mentors.

We learn in order to teach at our churches (2 Tim. 3:16, 1 7). About 20 years ago a church that I attended began an elder training program. Each of the nine elders serving the congregation at that time took a trainee who was willing to acknowledge that he did not yet meet the qualifications of eldership but wanted sincerely to move in that direction.

I A young insurance salesman with a wonderful wife and two lovely daughters entered the program. He was summoned to the home office of his company and interviewed for a major promotion. The vice president of personnel asked him dozens of questions, among which he included, "What is your greatest goal in life?" The young man thought about that for a while and then said simply, "I want to be considered worthy by my church to be an elder."

That speaks volumes about faithful ness in learning. He could have said he wanted to be the greatest father in the world, but the reference to eldership as sumes Christian behavior at home.

Some of the great men of the Bible (Jacob, Eli, David) experienced some failure when it came to fathering. I do not offer them as models, nor does this article call us to father like Elkanah or Joseph, solid as they might have been. Our task, our call from Scripture is to father like the Father.

This article is adapted from Fathering Like the Father, authored by Dr. Gangel and his son, and published by Baker Books.


1. See Michael Novak, Harper's, April 1976.



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Kenneth O. Gangel, Ph.D.. writes from Tarpon Springs, Florida.

December 2005

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