Dads, is Family Discipleship on Your Calendar?

Christian dads, everything we do should be marked with intentionality—even how we take dominion over our schedules.

Using data analysis, our smartphones and smartwatches can monitor all kinds of details of our lives: our health, our money, our media consumption, and more. My phone often informs me about my schedule. “You have a full day tomorrow that starts early,” it says.

TimeSpent is an app that goes further. Inspired by the late Peter Drucker, who coached leaders to “know thy time,” it helps users complete the exercise Drucker recommended of keeping a log of their time in order to determine what they are doing over the course of 24-hour time periods.

What would such a tool show about your life? What would it indicate about your work, your exercise, or your leisure time? More importantly, what would it indicate about your life as a Christian dad? Paul speaks directly to Christian dads in his letter to the Ephesians: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Logging The Right Kind of Time

If you were to log your time, what would your schedule say about your attention to this verse? What data would accumulate in your log from time spent disciplining your children in a corrective way, taking your children to church, or intentional family discipleship?

Faithfulness as a Christian father isn’t measured in a specific quantity of hours logged, but our schedules are a reflection of what’s important to us. In The Family Ministry Field Guide, Timothy Paul Jones describes a survey he conducted of Christian parents. He found a large majority understand their responsibility to raise their children in the instruction of the Lord, but they find it difficult to make time to do it intentionally such as through family Bible reading, worship, and prayer.

It’s not that parents are unable to bring their intentions to bear on their schedules. An analysis of time logs for many Christian parents would reveal that many family aspirations related to education, music, and sports somehow make the jump from intention to committed time. This is significant because much of what fills up our schedule as parents tends to be what can be described as secondary parenting goals.

Dr. Jeremy Pierre, a counseling professor at Southern Seminary, explains that an unspoken goal of many parents is “to maximize opportunities for the highest quality education and vocational training.” This leads them to fill up their schedules with sports, music lessons, and other related activities for their children. Pierre recognizes that while such a goal can be important to fulfilling a parent’s mission, it has to be seen as secondary to those primary, mission-critical goals that if not met will result in mission failure.

One of the mission critical, primary goals Pierre identifies for dads, based on Scripture, is to “demonstrate personal commitment to, and enjoyment of, the gospel of Jesus Christ in front of children, instructing them carefully in it.” That’s a well-articulated goal. Notice it’s not about punching a clock and knocking out family discipleship activities—it’s about instruction that grows out of a love for the gospel.

Dads who love baseball and hope to pass along a love of the game to their kids don’t settle for just watching baseball games on TV with their kids, or occasionally playing catch in the backyard. They talk about it naturally in various settings. They sign their kids up for T-ball and everything that follows it. Some even go the significant expense and effort of supporting their children in traveling baseball teams. A dad’s love for the game of baseball will be obvious in his schedule, even to the point of pushing beyond resistance from his kids or enduring the demands of regular practice and games.

Our kids are smarter than any app that analyzes schedules. They quickly discern what we love and what we want them to love based on how we spend our time. Children benefit greatly from hearing Sunday school lessons and sermons from teachers and preachers who love the gospel. But they are also watching to see if you love the gospel and if you want them to love it.

Faithfulness is Key

You don’t have to be qualified to teach or preach in order to demonstrate love for the gospel to your kids. In fact, Paul doesn’t include any qualifications for dads the way he does for elders and deacons when it comes to instruction in the Lord. You can do this.

Much of your faithfulness will come in the form of regularly taking your children to church and talking with them after the service about what they heard, patiently disciplining your children in a way that doesn’t provoke them to anger,I and leading your family in daily prayer. But your children also need to regularly hear you reading Scripture and teaching them from the Bible. That’s why your schedule needs some kind of regular family devotional time.

When I first started trying to get into a devotions routine with my family, I looked to products that had multiple steps and required a lot of front-end planning. I pulled off a few of these but quickly found myself feeling unqualified to execute the model, and frustrated by the need for prep time. As a result, our family devotion time was sporadic, even though I knew it was important to do.

I was grateful for an older friend who encouraged me to scrap the complicated model and simply pick up the Bible and read it to my family. “Just start reading through a book of the Bible, maybe start with the Gospel of John,” he said. “Now that my kids are grown, they tell me that our time together reading the Bible was the most meaningful part of their spiritual formation.”

When I asked him what kind of discussion they had about the text, he said they would talk about what the passage revealed about God and what it revealed about us and our need for Christ—but he said there were many nights his family would simply read a chapter from the Bible, pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate it, and call it a night.

After taking this approach, our family was able to fit in much more family devotion time than we thought possible and were able to read much more of the Bible as a family than we would have imagined. We’ve even been able to add on to that Bible reading routine, singing worship songs and incorporating devotional resources such as Glorious God, Glorious Gospel.

When you feel under-qualified and crunched for time, you can trust the Holy Spirit to produce fruit from the means of regularly reading the Word to your children, leading your family in regular prayer, lovingly disciplining them, and regularly leading them to church for faithful preaching and teaching.

We probably won’t see an app anytime soon that informs us how our schedules line up with our responsibilities as Christian dads. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to grow our love for the gospel, and our desire to faithfully instruct our children from that love with as much of our schedule as we can, within the limited years God places them in our care.

Find more vision and resources for family discipleship here.

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