There is a tape that plays in my head. I don’t turn it on, it just plays. I found it playing deep in the recesses of my mind when I disciplined my children or taught them to play ball or how to hammer a nail. It plays involuntarily still when I show my grandchildren how to cast a fishing line or how to play well with their siblings.
It goes like this: “How did my Dad do it?”
This intimidates me a bit because I know my children—and yours—have a tape playing in their own minds. This intimidation only deepens when I consider the common description of God as a father. When our children go to church they learn the lesson that God is their heavenly Father, and they can’t help but see that through the lens of their own earthly dad.
At our best, we will be imperfect fathers. We will always be imperfect models because we are imperfect people. But God uses fatherhood as a description of himself. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn about God. We are, for good or for bad, examples from which our kids learn how to do life.
Here are some suggestions about how dads can get this right—imperfect, but right:
1. Show your children how to love their families. Dads, make sure your children know you love them. Let them know you love them when they succeed and let them know you love them when they fail. Be certain they know that your love is unconditional. That you love them whether they do right or wrong. That you love them even when you discipline them. That you discipline them because you love them.
Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.” Unconditional love is a powerful force in the life of a child.
And, make sure they know you love their mother. Teach them by your actions how a man is to treat his wife. Live out Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Show by your love and sacrifice that you treasure your wife so they can see a healthy model.
2. Show your children how to love the church and the things of God. I am very blessed that my father took me to church. He cared so much about my spiritual development that he took me to church Sunday by Sunday. Note that he didn’t just send me to learn from others. He took me and thereby taught me to value this institution formed by the Lord. By the way, he didn’t give me a choice about attending church any more than he let me choose whether to skip school or to stay up all night long or to eat only ice cream.
Show your kids that the things of God are important. Help them see that church is God’s idea, the Bible is God’s Word, and prayer is talking to God. Let them see this by how you spend your time and your money. Let them see this by what you talk about and what you do.
3. Show your children how to love Jesus and to follow him closely. Faith is about more than going to church or being moral. Ultimately, it is about a personal relationship with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let your children know by your words and your actions that Jesus is your Savior, your Lord, and the center of your life. Tell them about when you trusted Christ. Talk to them about what God is doing in your life currently. Let them know the primacy of your devotional life—that Dad reads his Bible and spends time with the Lord in prayer.
You are going to get some things wrong in parenting. But don’t get this one wrong. Let your children know that you love Jesus more than them and that this love makes you love them more than you ever could otherwise. Let them know that your commitment to Jesus not only gives you a home in heaven one day, but it makes your home better in this day.
Dads, there is one more gift to give to your children. Help them hear an even better tape that needs to play in their minds than “What would Dad do?” This tape has to be played consciously and intentionally. It goes like this: “What does my Heavenly Father want?”
Dads, you can let them see some of the answer to that question in your life.
Doug Munton is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill. His latest book is titled “30 Days to Acts.”