Yessir, this is a topic I know a little about.
It was more than a decade ago that I was teetering on this precipice myself. Janet and I had decided to take our two young daughters and go participate in a family-integrated church plant. Mostly oblivious to what was ahead of us, I was extremely gung-ho, but I could tell that Janet had some unspoken reservations. I couldn’t imagine what they were.
They were me. I was the unspoken reservation. When I drew it out of her, she sheepishly admitted that she was concerned that we might be moving on from a beloved church, albeit one with a flawed discipleship structure, only to have less discipleship anyway. What we had, with whatever flaws, was something, and she needed to be confident that it wasn’t going to be replaced with nothing. Ouch. Double ouch. It pierced because it was legitimate. I knew me. She knew me. And we both knew that there was a lot of the love of the world still left in this young father, and a track record to prove it.
Needless to say it was “game on” (or maybe literally “game off”, but more on that in a minute), not because I was resisting what she was saying but because I was embracing it. It was now so clear in my mind that with this move to a new church, I was now the difference between more discipleship for our family or less, and it wasn’t going to be less.
It didn’t happen all at once, but I did learn to be more and more faithful in my duty before God as a husband and father. I’m not claiming to be the ideal, but there has been real, significant progress, and it has meant the world to the life of the Dohm family. I thank God that He has seen fit to bring us to this point, by making me feel the weight of my Biblical calling.
Looking back, I have a few exhortations to fathers who are teetering on their own precipice:
Institute family worship today
When God gives us light to walk by, we need to act. Not tomorrow, today. In the category of family worship, skip the lengthy planning cycle, forget about the external helps from the Christian book store, and simply gather your wife and children to pray, read the Bible, discuss the text, and sing. Today. I’m not against planning, I’m for it. I’m not against helps, I’m for them. What I’m against is putting off the most important thing in the life of your family until tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next, not because more time is needed to gather yourself for the mission, but because we all have a natural aversion to pushing beyond our comfort zone. Better to be uncomfortable and a little incompetent today, but to serve notice to your beloved comfort zone, than to chicken out with a transparent excuse. Don’t worry, every day that you meet the challenge you’ll become a little more comfortable and a little more competent.
One note: If you haven’t been leading family worship for your whole married life, understand that you may need to be patient with your wife. She is going to want to see that this is really a permanent change, and until she does, she might be lukewarm. Blame yourself and be patient.
Make that practice the immovable rock in your daily schedule
Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
What part of “You shall teach them diligently to your children” do we not understand? And yet, until we are willing to fight hard to establish the pattern, we find that any little thing can bump family worship. Family worship must become that non-negotiable, immovable rock in the schedule around which everything else rotates. Everything. Every single thing.
“My work schedule won’t accommodate it.” Shift your family schedule to make it work. Eat dinner at 8:00, put the kids to bed at 10:30, and let them sleep in to a later time that completes the schedule shift.
“That still doesn’t work.” Then find another job. Radically change your family budget, move into a trailer, and worship God there. “Seriously?” Seriously. Do it because you fear God. Do it for the joy that this established pattern, done rightly, inevitably brings. At the end of your days you won’t regret it.
Having this pattern firmly established will also make Sunday morning a lot better. Your kids will already know the drill, having been expected to sit quietly and attentively during family worship through the course of the week.
Decide to grow up
May I say a few things that everyone knows but no one wants to say? Too many men are just large, hairy boys. When the Dohm family took the plunge and committed to our first family-integrated church, I was still a boy in so many ways. A thirty year old boy, but still a boy. A boy with a steady job and some church responsibilities, but still a boy. A Christian boy, but still a boy.
I was wasting volumes of time doing boyhood things. But my wife needed a man for a husband, and my girls needed a man for a Daddy, and I knew I had to grow up. To my shame, it was long overdue. In a day when Christian leaders want to help us not waste our sports, they should back up, take a deep breath, and tell us not to waste our lives. We all have a window of time to teach our children diligently about our great, merciful, just, and holy God, and that window is shorter than we ever imagined and closing a little every day. Sideline that lawful, unprofitable stuff and get going on things that matter.
There are many other things to say, but none of them are as important as these things, at least in my estimation and experience. If you get these things in order, the other things are accomplished readily enough. Without these things, the others don’t matter anyway.
I know these things look daunting from the outside, but I want to tell you that they are so exhilarating from the inside. Give it a serious go and I’ll be proven right. You get a sense very early on that you were made for this, to rally your family around God and His word, so that they might come to know a mighty Redeemer, and then come to know Him and love Him in a deeper way.
Go for it, brothers. There is nothing like it.