In her book Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need, physician Meg Meeker says, “A father is not a coach. A Father is a leader.”
Coaches aren’t players. They can’t be. They have to oversee the entire court, field, yard. They have to get the individual players to perform as a single organism, a team. If they are playing one position, they become myopic and cannot see beyond the play in which they’re participating. Coaches show how to do. They instruct. They teach. They tell the way it needs to be done.
But leaders do. They’re part of the action. They teach by doing, not merely by saying. They don’t need to see the whole team behind them. They need to see the way forward. They need a clear vision for the future, and they need to convince their team to follow them.
Nowhere is this more true for fathers than in the Church. Men are not called to be the spiritual coaches of their households, calling the shots from the sideline, telling others what they are to do and be. They are to be leaders, facing the future, forging the way forward, showing by example what their children are to be doing.
If you only take your children to church, you have not successfully led them. You must participate. You must teach them to pray by praying. You must teach them to sing by singing. You must teach them to do their part of the liturgy by doing it yourself.
And if your spiritual leadership of your family stops when you cross the threshold of the church to head home, if you doff the mantle of leadership for the next six days and twenty-something hours, you’re not leading in the way God has called you to lead.
Consider Jesus. God did not save men by coaching them. He does not remain on the sideline, removed from His creation. Instead, the Second Person of the Trinity takes human flesh, puts on a uniform, and becomes a creature Himself. God became our brother. His work to save fallen mankind is always incarnational, enfleshed, in our midst. He doesn’t call us out of the mess of sin but participates in the brokenness of creation. Even to the Law, the rules of creation, which the Creator Himself did not need to submit, Jesus yields. The One who commands perfect righteousness is the only One who does righteousness perfectly.
Where does Jesus lead? To the cross.
So where do you lead? To the cross.
Unless you’re Jesus (spoiler alert: you’re not), you’ll never lead by your perfect righteousness. You’ll never get it right all of the time or most of the time. You’ll fail in big ways and in day-by-day, moment-by-moment little ways. Leading your family to the cross is not a matter of getting it right. It’s a matter of owning up to the ways and times you get it wrong. Dead wrong. Leading them to the cross is first and foremost nothing more than modeling repentance. Confess your sins, first from your pastor as from Christ, and then from your wife and children, as those you’ve sinned against. Seek absolution, first from your pastor and then from your wife and children.
No one expects you to be a perfect father. Your children have one perfect Father, as do you: your Heavenly Father. No one expects you to be a perfect husband. There is only one perfect Husband, the Bridegroom of His Church: Jesus. In Him, with His perfect forgiveness, you also are perfected. In the Heavenly Father, with His perfect mercy, you are perfected.
So be a father. A good one. Take your kids (and your wife, your godchildren, the neighbor kids without a dad at home, and anyone you can) to church. Not because you should, but because you know what you—and they—will find there: perfect forgiveness, for you and for them. Lead them in participating in the liturgy, confessing the creeds, singing the hymns, confessing your sins, and receiving from the hand of your pastor the forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper that flows straight from the cross to the paten and chalice.
Be that kind of leader. Show them the way.
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