Many pastors fail at being the pastor of their family. We may be ashamed to admit it, but often when we pontificate from the pulpit about how parents shouldn’t outsource the discipleship of their children to the church, we aren’t even discipling our own children.
Before you feel a heavy hand of condemnation, let me remind you that no man wakes up one day and instantly becomes the pastor of his home. It takes years of experience—and many awkward face-plants—to grow into that role. 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.”
PRAY FOR AND WITH YOUR FAMILY
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, and her prayer life pushes me to have a healthier prayer life of my own. It is now part of my daily routine to pray for Rebekah and my boys. If you develop the habit of privately praying for your family, then publicly praying for them will come naturally. Your family needs to hear you pray for them. Your children need to hear their father praying for their salvation.
TURN OFF THE TV, PUT DOWN THE PHONE, AND ENGAGE
I’ve gone through periods when I struggled to come home from the office and simply be pastor-dad, not Pastor Dayton. Our culture calls us to take pride in maintaining a slammed schedule, but our culture also celebrates and encourages a million other things that starve our spiritual vitality and destroy our families. Don’t come home from a long day and shut down. When you are with your family, turn off the TV unless you are watching it together. You also don’t need to be checking sports scores or your email on your phone. I know it’s hard, since many of us have rewired our brains to “need” to check our phones every few minutes. But it can wait.
TALK ABOUT JESUS WITH YOUR FAMILY
What you talk about most often is what your kids think is most important to Dad. 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. You don’t have to drop theology bombs on their little minds. Just talk to them about Jesus.
READ SCRIPTURE WITH YOUR KIDS EVERY NIGHT
There is no easier way to make sure you talk about Jesus 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 increments of ten or fifteen minutes. For instance, if you have small children you can use resources such as The Gospel Project Bible or The Jesus Storybook Bible. Reading a chapter or two takes no time at all.
The next day, come home from the office and ask your kids what they remember about the previous night’s family devotion. Ask them how they applied the gospel truth from last night during their day. Tell them how you applied that truth to your heart and life. It’s simple; it just takes intentionality.
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. Even for many who believe in God, the default worldview has become something akin to what sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called “moralistic therapeutic deism.” “Moralistic” means someone thinks God just wants them to be a good person; “therapeutic” means they think God wants them to be happy (according to their own definition of happiness); and “deism” is a way of saying God isn’t personally involved in their life.
You do not want to tell your kids that Jesus matters and then parent them through a filter that encourages moralism. That duality is how you create little religious hearts that try to earn God’s favor by being good. This may be the most difficult aspect of being a father and a pastor. We face all kinds of real and perceived pressure to have children who behave properly, who obey, who do not become the stereotype of the wild and crazy pastor’s kids. Our default wiring, with its natural inclination toward religion, will cause us to apply this pressure when disciplining our children, and in doing so will turn them into legalists.
If you believe the gospel, you will not be shocked by your child’s sinfulness. You do not need to lament that your eighteen-month-old is a viper in a diaper the first time he disobeys, but you should remember that Scripture says we are sinners by nature. When we respond to our children’s sin with shock, we communicate to them: “Do better, try harder, make yourself righteous.” Our goal as fathers must not be mere behavior modification. Our aim is to see our children repent and believe the gospel. Therefore, do not respond to their sin in a way that simply calls for a change in behavior; respond in a way that calls for heartfelt repentance.
The moments when we discipline our children are of incredible value for pointing them to Jesus. 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.
PASTOR YOUR HOME ON PURPOSE
None of this is hard. It just requires intentionality, yet we are often far too passive. This passivity is hurting your family. Begin implementing these basics habits now!
As you pursue being the pastor of your home, you will fail. It’s OK! We all fail, but we cannot allow failure to become defeat. The stakes are too high and your family is far too valuable.
 This term is from their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Content taken from Lies Pastors Believe: Seven Ways to Elevate Yourself, Subvert the Gospel, and Undermine the Church by Dayton Hartman, ©2017. Used by permission of Lexham Press, Bellingham, Washington, LexhamPress.com.
Dayton Hartman holds a Ph.D. in Church and Dogma History from North-West University (Potchefstroom) and an MA from Liberty University. He serves as Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Additionally, he is an Adjunct Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC) and Columbia International University (Columbia, SC). Learn more at his website.