Pastoring Your Wife and Kids

Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ

Those are meaningful words from a dear friend. Brothers, it’s an honor to be here with you, to look into God’s word with you together. It’s humbling and exciting to address a room full of pastors, comrades, and to do so on this particular topic. It’s also comforting to address a room full of pastors on this topic because I know I have a sympathetic audience. I’m sure many of you preach regularly, and even if you’re not the Sunday preacher, you at least preach sometimes, so you’ll understand the sheer scope of the topic I was assigned, Pastoring Your Wife and Kids, and trying to get it all done in under an hour. I don’t have to tell you that we’re going to be selective in what we cover today. But I believe what I do have to say is what the Lord would have us hear and consider this afternoon.

Pastoring Your Wife and Kids

The fact that you’re preachers means that you’ll understand the need I feel to tether myself to a text. I want God to address us today, so I want this message to flow from his word and not merely my own experience as a husband and father. And even though this isn’t the kind of textually-driven message that I typically preach and am comfortable preaching — it’s heavy on application and it’s not the model for how I preach or how I would encourage others to preach — I do want to throw my anchor out into one text in particular, and it is the most obvious text.

I had two options really for texts that deal with both being a husband and being a father. I could have gone with Ephesians 5:22–6:4, which is our text — so if you want to turn with me there to Ephesians 5 — or I could have gone with Colossians 3:18–21, the cliff note version of Ephesians 5. We opted for the longer text. Let’s read Ephesians chapter 5:22–6:4, and I’ll pray for God’s help and we’ll dive in and see what God has for us. The apostle Paul writes this:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

A Reminder of Unchanging Truth

Well, this is a familiar text, pastors, isn’t it? I’ve been asked to preach on this text more than any other at weddings. It’s one I often go to with couples, married couples who are in crisis. It’s just a go-to text. I’m glad that 2 Peter 3:1 is in the Bible. Here’s what the apostle Peter says:

I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.

And that’s all I’m doing this afternoon. I’m stirring you up by way of reminder. You know what I’m about to say. But we need reminders, don’t we? Conferences like this are great opportunities to learn and to grow, but they’re also opportunities to step back from the daily routine of ministry, and evaluate, and see if there are areas of our life and our ministry that are out of whack, and by God’s grace, adjust what’s out of whack. We have to evaluate from time to time how we’re doing pastoring our wife and kids, don’t we?

I’ve been doing that the past couple days in preparation for this message. I’ll tell you, I’ve been convicted of sin, and God has graciously shown me areas where I need to shore up. I say that to make it clear from the outset that I’m not here as an expert who’s got this down now and doesn’t fail here. I need this sermon as much or more than anyone in the room. I’ve preached it to myself already. I’m preaching it to myself now first and foremost. I need it.

In fact, when the invitation originally came to speak on this topic, I printed it off and I read it to my family. I’ve been married for almost 23 years to my wife Delaine. We have 5 kids, a 20-year-old daughter, an 18-year-old son, a 15-year-old daughter, and a 15-year-old son who are not twins (my middle son is adopted), and then we have a soon to be 11-year-old son.

Held to a High Standard

I asked their permission to speak on this topic. I sat him down and said, “Do you think that I should dare accept an invitation to speak specifically on pastoring the family?” And phew, they said, “Yes.” I say phew, because if they would’ve said, “Well no, we don’t think that’s a good idea. We don’t think this is one of your strong suits. There are too many things in our family that need attention. It’s kind of a mess right now” — if they would’ve said that, I not only would not be here right now, but I’d be looking for another career at age 46. Because there is no profession like ours where men are qualified for their jobs by being exemplary husbands and fathers and disqualified when they’re not.

Man, that is sobering. You can be the President of the United States and be a habitual adulterer and neglect your kids. In fact, you can be an adulterer and have a legacy of being a great president. Not so with us, brothers. We are held to a different standard. We’re not called to be perfect, but we are called to lead by example. And the high standard makes sense. We are ministers of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. What a calling we have to declare the gospel, so it makes sense that the gospel should be clearly visible in our marriages, in our families. We can never tell the people we pastor too much nor can we be reminded too often that the deepest meaning of marriage is that it stands for and points to something else.

That’s Ephesians 5:32, from our text. You know this. Paul says that the mystery of marriage, once hidden, now revealed by God, is profound and that it refers to Christ and the church. Human marriage, every one of them, your marriage, my marriage is a metaphor. It’s a picture. It’s a parable of something much more glorious, much more magnificent, namely Christ and his marriage to his bride, the church. Marriage is not a great thing in and of itself. It’s a great thing because it displays something unspeakably great: Christ and his bride. Marriage is a picture of the gospel, so of course we ministers of the gospel are held to a high standard here. How can we preach the gospel with any authenticity if our marriages tell lies about the gospel?

Very often our marriages produce children, which means we take on the additional role as fathers, making disciples of Jesus through the glorious gospel. I’ve been entrusted with souls. You’ve been entrusted with souls. I have 5 of them, and my main job is to lead those souls to Jesus.

God is sovereign over their salvation, but my job is to take them to Christ. A man who does not take great care to nurture and evangelize and disciple his own children has no business in pastoral ministry. In fact, the family is the venue where we forge and hone our pastoral skill. So really, we serve the church when we serve our families. How can we be ministers of the gospel and not minister the gospel to our families? Of course we’re held to a high standard here. Let’s simply walk through the text and see what the Lord has to say, understanding that we’re hardly scratching the surface this afternoon. We’re not going deep into the text, but even so, there’s plenty for us here to help us do some necessary evaluation.

The Calling of a Wife

Now, obviously I’ve prepared this message with pastors who are husbands and fathers in mind, but let’s start by remembering the call that God has issued to our wives. Look at Ephesians 5:22–24 again:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

So in telling the gospel with our marriages, the husband, you know this well, images forth and represents Christ, and the wife represents the church. So our wives are called here to submit to our headship, that is, our divine calling to assume the primary responsibility to lead like Christ leads his church. That’s what headship is. It’s taking the primary responsibility to lead and to lead like Christ. Let’s look at this from our wives’ perspective for a moment.

I wonder if you’ve ever read these verses standing in your wife’s shoes, metaphorically speaking. I hope you’ve never read this standing in your wife’s shoes. That sentence obviously was not in my manuscript. Our wives are called to respect and affirm our authority and to submit to our leadership, to yield to it.

That is quite a calling. I mean, we know it’s not a demeaning calling, right? It’s a noble calling. It’s a beautiful calling, because it tells the gospel. Submission also reflects the glory of our triune God, because there is submission in the Trinity as the Son submits to the Father and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. So submission is as God-like as headship. And submission is a high and hard call for our wives. It’s no wonder that when the apostle Peter was dealing with submission in 1 Peter 3, he tells wives not to fear anything that is frightening. The call on our wives to submit is a call for remarkable vulnerability, and vulnerability can be frightening.

When my wife married me, she submitted herself to a sinful man. Yes, she entrusted herself to God ultimately, but our wives have entrusted themselves to us. And God, think about this, has entrusted his daughters to us. I mean, think about that. And he wants our wives’ submission to be a happy submission, a glad submission, the way the church gladly submits to Christ.

That tells a true gospel, which is why we husbands get instructed from Ephesians 5:25–33. Those verses are God watching out for his daughters. Those nine verses, if obeyed by us, however imperfectly, will enable our wives to not only submit without fear but to do it joyfully. Our job, our headship spelled out in these next nine verses, should diminish the fear associated with submitting one’s life to another person’s authority. Ephesians 5:25–33 is a command to husbands to make submission as easy as possible for our wives. Our job, husbands, is to make our wives feel as secure as possible as they obey God’s call to submit.

The Calling of a Husband

So let’s look at our call now. The husband’s call to headship. Just a moment ago, I defined headship as our divine calling to assume primary responsibility to lead in our marriages. These verses have some remarkable things to say about that leadership, and I’m going to highlight just two things these verses say about it. First, it is to be a self-sacrificial leadership. And secondly, it’s to be a sanctifying leadership. Let’s look at those one at a time.

Self-Sacrificial Leadership

First, consider our call to self-sacrificial leadership. Let’s read Ephesians 5:25 again:

Husbands, love your wives (thank God the apostle Paul didn’t stop there, but defined that for us), as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .

That is the most radical thing the apostle could have said in how we’re to love and lead our wives. Since we’re the head in our marriage, given the glorious duty of imaging forth Christ to tell the truth about his love for the church and how we love our wives, we’re to love like he loves, which is summed up by the phrase “gave himself up for her”.

Now, think about what that means. He gave himself up for her. It means that the Lord of glory laid his glory aside and became a man. It means that the one who created and sustains the universe by the word of his power was born of a woman in a barn. It means that the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given, submitted himself to a young girl and a carpenter in childhood. It means that the King of kings lived in poverty so as not to have a place to lay his head. It means he suffered betrayal and denial at the hands of friends. It means, in the end, that he was despised, rejected, stricken, wounded, smitten, chastised, marred, oppressed, beaten, crushed, torn, whipped, tortured, and killed for you and for me. “He gave himself up for her” means that Christ takes the lead to save his bride, and he does it by suffering and dying for her by laying down his life.

That is leadership of the most exalted kind, and it’s self-sacrificial leadership. It’s servant leadership. That’s what headship is. It’s self-sacrificial service. This is how Jesus defined his leadership for us in Mark 10:45:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life (there’s the self-sacrifice) as a ransom for many.

Self-sacrificial servanthood defines our leadership. And Christ’s self-sacrificial servanthood is our motive and our model in how we’re to love our wives. This is the headship that our wives are called to submit to, a headship that gives himself up for her.

Give What You Command

Now, I said this is radical, and it is. Really, God? Me? I’m supposed to love my wife Delaine as Christ loves the church? Do you know how selfish I am? Do you know how lazy I am? And God says, “I know. That’s exactly why I sent Jesus to give himself up for you. He not only paid the penalty for your sins of selfishness and laziness, but he purchased for you the freedom from those sins and he bought you the grace you need to love Delaine the way I love the church.” And that’s good news, isn’t it, brothers? We don’t want to go any further in this application-heavy message without grasping hold of the gospel.

God does not give a command to his people without giving the grace to obey it. That’s the New Covenant in a nutshell, the New Covenant that Jesus purchased with his blood. And the fact that this commandment can be obeyed should stagger us. By God’s grace, we can love our wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, and so tell the truth about the gospel with our marriage. That’s amazing. But it means a lifestyle of love that’s expressed in specific choices and actions we make every single day to put our wife’s good above our own no matter the cost. That’s what Jesus did, right? His love cost him. His love for you and his love for me cost him. Self-sacrificial leadership is costly, and so it will require that we too lay down our lives on behalf of our wife.

Asking the Right Questions

Now, when it comes to evaluating how we’re doing on this point, I think it’s a matter of asking ourselves the right questions. They are even obvious questions, but obvious questions need to be asked so we can see where we need to ask for more grace and then move towards our wives with a heart to serve. Let’s ask ourselves some questions. I put the kinds of questions that I’m asking in the sermon so you don’t have to think, “Oh, I didn’t get that one.” They’re on handouts that you can grab on your way out. So listen, take those home, and do business with God later.

Here are the kind of questions to discern where we’re at in caring for our wives and loving her like Christ loved the church:

  • How have I tangibly sacrificed for my wife in the last week?
  • Where am I regularly sacrificing for her benefit, for her good, for her joy, regardless of the cost to me?
  • Am I even aware of what kind of service I could provide that would benefit her?

Listen, if we come up empty when we ask those kinds of questions, here’s what we do. First we repent for not leading our wives as a self-sacrificial servant and receive the forgiveness that’s ours in Christ. Then we go home after this conference and we ask her, “How can I better serve you? What can I do for you that would benefit you? What can I do for you that would ease your burdens?” Just asking those questions will go a long way in making your wife feel cared for and loved.

Here’s another question. Do I go home at the end of the work day, we pastor-husbands, still in the frame of mind that I’m a servant? Or do I go home in the frame of mind that now it’s my turn to be served? Man, this is an ongoing temptation for me. I mean, I can say this here because I have a sympathetic crowd, but our job is hard. It’s hard. The work is hard, the hours are long. I’m not complaining. I love being a pastor. I’m just telling it like it is. We spend days, often very long days, serving the church self-sacrificially. And sometimes we can be pulled in so many different directions in the course of a day that we’re left busy. I don’t know about you, but I get in my car at the end of a day feeling like I’ve left it all on the field. There’s not much more to give.

And here’s where I need to remember Jesus, because Jesus never stops serving. He never stops serving. He’s still serving. He’s interceding on our behalf. He’s still building his church and protecting it. He’s still sanctifying his bride. And that’s how I’m called to serve my wife all the time. When Jesus needed to refuel, he went away to pray, didn’t he? So very often, and I would encourage you to do this, I have to pray before I leave the office there. There have been times when I was almost home when I realized I’m going home now with an attitude of being served. I don’t feel like I have anything to give, and I would just pull over and pray. Because there’s grace available, we just need to tap into it. So I pray, “God, give me the grace I need now to go home and serve Delaine no matter the cost to me.” And you know what? That is a prayer that God is overjoyed to answer because he wants our marriages to display the gospel.

A Schedule That Reflects Our Priorities

Here’s another question. Do I demonstrate sacrificial love by my use of time? Here’s what I’m getting at. Does my schedule reflect time set aside for meaningful interaction with my wife? If you were to look at my calendar, and I’m sure some of you do this, you’d see every Thursday blocked out as date night. Nothing apart from a significant emergency touches it. It’s not just time with our wives that matters, but it’s our level of engagement with our wives during those times. Do we demonstrate sacrificial love by the way we extend mental energy for her? Are we attentive? Are we intentional with that time to ask meaningful and penetrating questions and then interact with the answers?

One more question and then we’ll move on. Do I sacrifice my pride by being the first to apologize after every disagreement and conflict, even when I am sure I am the one who was wronged? That’s loving like Jesus loves, brothers. He took the initiative to seek and to save the lost. He came to us. He pursued us. He meets us in our sin with forgiveness and sanctifying grace. He loves us in spite of our weakness in sin, and so we must move toward our wives no matter the cost. Our call as husbands is to lead like Christ with self-sacrificial service that gives himself up for her.

Sanctifying Leadership

The next point after our headship being self-sacrificial leadership on behalf of our wives is that it is to also be a sanctifying leadership on behalf of our wives. Look at Ephesians 5:26–30 again:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husband should love their wives as their own body. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

We’re to love our wives with a sacrificial love and with a sanctifying love. Christ’s goal for his bride is to see her grow in godliness, and so our goal for our bride should be to see her growth in godliness. That’s startling and that gets my attention. God has given Delaine to me, he’s entrusted me with his daughter, so that I can be a sanctifying influence on her so that she will become more like Christ for being married to me — and not just because I am a difficult man to be married to so she experiences the sanctifying grace that suffering with me usually brings. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about having a positive impact, a positive effect on our wives’ personal holiness.

Jesus is making his bride into something morally and spiritually beautiful. And because we’re called to be husbands who love our wives like Christ loves his, we bear a unique responsibility for the moral and spiritual growth and beauty of our wives. And so brothers, we must know our wives spiritually.

Knowing Our Wives Spiritually

Now, I don’t know why it’s so easy to fail here, but I fail. I wonder if you’ve ever had your wife say to you in a moment of spiritual need, where she just needs some biblical counsel from a patient husband, “Is this how you would treat someone from the church coming to you for counsel?” Delaine has said that to me more times than I care to remember. And it reminds me each time that I’m not called to be one flesh with church, I’m one flesh with my wife. I’m married to her, not my congregation. And I’m called to be concerned first and foremost about her spiritual life. I blow it here.

Years ago, we had a conflict in the evening and it spilled over into morning. I don’t remember what the conflict was about, I just remember we didn’t have time to wrap it up because I had to rush off to a meeting. So I called later and tried to resolve it, and I remember finally just asking, “What do you need from me?” She started telling me, and I grabbed post-it notes and wrote down what she said. I’ve kept them all these years. These are nine or 10 years old.

There was a theme that surfaced when you read the post-it note. She said things like, “Make sure I’m having consistent devotions. Ask me, ‘What is God teaching you?’ Talk to me kindly and graciously about my sin. I need to see your desire for Jesus in that you want to lead me to him.” She said those things to me, a pastor. She was saying to me, “Fulfill your calling and know me spiritually and participate in my sanctification by nourishing and cherishing me.” And so we have to ask ourselves some questions to help us evaluate how we’re doing in caring for our wives spiritually. So ask yourself:

  • Do I know if my wife is practicing the spiritual disciplines consistently?
  • Do I know where she’s reading in her devotions?
  • Do I know what she’s studying beyond her devotions?
  • Do I know what God is teaching her?
  • Do I know what she’s praying about, what burdens she’s casting on the Lord?
  • Do I know where she’s tempted to sin?
  • Do I know what particular sin she’s attempting to mortify?
  • Am I helping her in all those things?

My wife Delaine says to me all the time, “Just point me to Jesus. Just take me to Jesus. Just lead me to Jesus.” The way we do that is through word and prayer, right? There’s nothing earth-shattering in this message. In order to lead in a sanctifying way, we must spend time with our wives in the written word of God where the living Word, Jesus, is revealed, and we must commune together with Christ in prayer.

Practicing Spiritual Disciplines

I’ve found it so hard to be consistent here. Jon Bloom is in my small group and he knows my struggles in this area. But at the same time, when it happens consistently, there is nothing sweeter than going to Christ together with your wife. It’s a fulfillment of our call as husbands. I looked at a couple books on my shelf that address pastor-husbands, and they all said to be in the word and pray with your wife every day. And that was the emphasis, every day. If you are in the word and praying with your wife every day, I could not respect you more. Keep doing it. But that’s never been something I could maintain. I’ve started doing it over and over and over again. Something happens, we get knocked off schedule, I get discouraged, and I end up doing nothing rather than doing something inconsistently. That’s my temptation.

So here’s how we’ve addressed that. Instead of the expectation of every day, we’ve decided that we’re going to be in the word and pray together three times a week, and we’re going to be strategic about when we do that. Every midweek, we want to connect spiritually. So on Wednesday nights we read the Bible. We’re just reading through the book of Ephesians now. And we pray, and that night is typically for prayer for one another. We also pursue Christ intentionally together on Saturday night. I get done with sermon prep, I go home, and together we’re in the word and we’re praying, and typically the prayers on that night are for the church.

And we have devotions together on Monday morning. Monday is my day off and I am susceptible to the Monday blues. I imagine some of you are too. I wake up and Satan is in my face sometimes, or I feel the dark cloud settle on my soul, and that day, my day off, can be more about just fighting the battle than about rest and about family. We’ve determined we’re going to do our spiritual warfare together at the beginning of that day, and it’s been helpful.

We’re called to image forth Christ in our sacrificial and in our sanctifying leadership of our wives. And there’s so much more I want to say, but we have to move on because my topic is pastoring your wife and kids. I realize time is short.

Pastoring Our Children

Let me focus briefly on Ephesians 6:4. Here it is again:

Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Now, that text is about as straightforward as it gets, and so I am going to move right to application. I’m going to say one thing about not provoking our children to anger. And one thing about bringing them up in the instruction of the Lord.

Guarding Time with Our Children

First, if I want to disobey this text and provoke my kids and raise them to resent the church and resent being a pastor’s kid, all I have to do is sacrifice time with them on the altar of ministry, and that’s exactly what I started out my ministry doing. I remember a time very vividly, my two oldest were very young — they’re 20 and 18 now but they were probably seven and five at the time — I had my daughter laying belly down on the kitchen floor clinging to one ankle, and my son doing the same thing, holding onto the other ankle, and they were both crying, with tears streaming down their cheeks, and they were pleading, “Daddy, please don’t leave again.” But off I went to another evening meeting, thinking I was nobly obeying Jesus, and all I was doing was destroying my family.

When God finally got through to me, what I realized was that my inability to say “no” to the church on occasion in order to say “yes” to my family was driven by fear of man. By which I mean I just wanted everybody to like me, and I wanted to be known as an accessible pastor, so I never said “no”. What I came to realize is that sometimes pastoring the church well means saying “no” to the church for the sake of the family.

I was sent out, like John said, to my current pastorate from Bethlehem Baptist, and when it was clear that I was going to be leaving my job at Desiring God, whenever I was around John Piper, he’d just give me pastoral advice. Some of the sentences he said way back then have stuck with me, even though I didn’t get them at the time. I remember him saying to me once that one of the hardest things in ministry is knowing when to say “no”.

Now I know what that means, and it is one of the hardest things, but I know when to say “no”, because I now have scheduled times on the calendar with my kids, and I protect those times. I interviewed my kids about this message. I was asking them, “What have I done that’s been helpful, and what’s not been helpful?” And I asked them, “What would you want me to say to a room full of pastors about parenting their children?” And every single one of them said, first thing, “Tell them to give their kids individualized time.” They told me that it was one of the most important things I have done and still do for them. A couple of them told me that in times where I’ve slipped and stopped doing that for a season that they felt it.

Pastoring Each Child

When my kids were younger — you can do this or something like it but I’m just telling you what’s worked for us — I just rotated through and took each of them out to breakfast once a month, but I was intentional with those times. And I had a series of questions that I would ask regularly. These are on the handout. I didn’t ask all these questions every time, but these are the kinds of questions I would ask, to get to particular topics and to get our conversation going. I’d always ask them to tell me the gospel. I would say, “What is the gospel in your own words?” I wanted them to be able to articulate it because I want to raise kids that are centered on Christ. I always ask them about their personal devotions and what God was teaching them. I ask them if there was a specific sin they were fighting that they needed help defeating.

I always ask them if they were more aware of my encouragement or my criticism, and then I usually had to take time to repent. I asked them what daddy was most passionate about, and then I would brace myself for the answer. I asked them regularly, “Do I act the same at church as I do at home?” Because kids can sniff out hypocrisy and I don’t want them to see me as a hypocrite. I asked if they were aware of my love for them. I asked them regularly if I had sinned against them in any way that I hadn’t repented of. I asked them, and still do, “How am I doing as a dad?” I give them an opportunity to bring observations and input, so that they know that they have the freedom when they see me sin to come to me and confront that sin. I asked how Sunday morning sermons were impacting them.

I asked them regularly if my relationship with their mom made them excited to get married. I asked them about their friendships. And I still pull out the questions on occasion and ask them. I still have breakfast, now that my kids are older, once a month with my daughters. It’s just a time to connect relationally and spiritually. But as my boys have gotten older, I’ve upped the amount of time I spend with them individually. Right when they hit 11 or 12, somewhere in there, I bump it up. Now here’s what I’m doing. Mondays are not the focused family day that they once were. I’ve got kids in college and there are extracurricular activities, so I use Mondays now to rotate between my two younger sons. They each get two times per month, about an hour and a half or so with me. We go out to coffee and we read together and talk.

Right now I’m reading Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware with my almost 11-year-old, and I’m reading Finally Free by Heath Lambert with my 15-year-old. We’re taking lust, masturbation, and porn head on. I’ve read several books with my 18-year-old, but now when we go out, it’s mostly just to connect and to talk. And brothers, I’ve seen fruit by God’s grace. The ease of conversation with my boys is so sweet and really remarkable. I mean, we can talk about anything, and we do. And I mean anything, and you know what I’m talking about. And they’ll talk with me about those things.

My 15-year-old, Yari, adopted from Russia, is now a Christian as a result of those times. A couple years ago, he just came to the realization that he wasn’t a Christian, so we decided to read together Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel?. And as we read that book out loud to one another in Caribou Coffee, I watched the light go on. He’d heard the gospel his entire life from me, but in a moment reading that book together, God opened his eyes and opened his heart, and later in that week on a bike ride, he cried out to God to save him. If we don’t take time to lead our kids to Jesus, how can we lead our church to Jesus? So, do not provoke your children to anger, instead give them consistent, focused, intentional, individualized time.

Raising Children in the Lord’s Instruction

One more point and we’re done, and this is way briefer than it deserves. There are all kinds of things I could say about bringing up our children in the instruction of the Lord. I want my kids to know the gospel, to find their identity in Christ, to find all their joy and satisfaction in Jesus, and to interpret their world and their life through the lens of the gospel. I want them to know that the absolute sovereignty of God is the foundation of the gospel, that all their life is decreed by God for their good and his glory, and that everything in their life is somehow related to God.

A High View of God’s Church

But there’s one topic of instruction I want to encourage you to build into your children that may not be as obvious, and that is a high view of God’s church.

That wasn’t even on my radar to talk about this afternoon until I had my breakfast date with my 20-year-old a couple weeks ago. We were discussing this message, and I just asked her — she’s an adult member of the church now — “Why are you still in the church? How would you answer that question? Why are you still here? Why are you now a member of our church?” She’s seen it all. She’s seen the good and the glorious. She’s seen the bad and the ugly. She’s been through sweet seasons and she’s been through hard seasons. She’s seen the effect that some of those seasons have had on mom and dad. We can’t hide everything from our kids, nor do we want to. In fact, she went through something very difficult relationally in our church at the time she was becoming a member.

I asked, “Why are you still in this church, babe?” She said to me, “Because you taught me to love God’s church.” And then she said, “You told me every Saturday that tomorrow, Sunday, is the best day of the week because we get to gather with God’s people and worship Jesus, and I believed you and still do.” And then we just went on to talk about that and how important that high view of the church was in her processing being a pastor’s kid. It even made being a pastor’s kid, and she still is a pastor’s kid, seem more of an honor than a burden. Everything I read about being a pastor’s kid talks about the experience of being a pastor’s kid. Well, I want my kids to have a theology of the church through which to interpret their experiences as pastors’ kids. We see the importance of the church all over the book of Ephesians, but we see it in the text we read.

Jesus loves the church, so much that he gave himself up for her, so much that he’s fully committed to sanctifying her. Though she’s all covered in spots and wrinkles and imperfections now, he still loves her. And if we’re going to follow Jesus, we must love what Jesus loves, and what’s a priority for him must be a priority for us. That means we must love the church and never disrespect Christ’s bride, and instead she should be a priority and held in high esteem. That’s what I’ve taught my kids, and so they’ve grown up serving in the church. When they’ve had to sacrifice, because we sometimes have to say “no” to the family in order to say “yes” to the church, in those times they didn’t grow bitter because they know that serving God’s church is a remarkable honor. So brothers, build a high view of God’s church into your kids.

Well, we can talk about these things, I could talk about them, for a long time and I already have. Thanks for your patience. But let me end by reminding you of something I already said. I needed to remind myself of this over and over again in my preparations, because God kept putting fingers on places in my pastoring and in my family that needed attention. Christ gave himself up for you and for me. He died for all your sins and deficiencies, all of mine as a husband and father, and he also died to purchase all the grace we need to be the husbands and fathers that he calls us to be. He’s fully committed to our marriages and our families and our churches, so no matter how this message lands on you, we can all leave filled with joy and expectation because God will supply everything we need to be the men he calls us to be.

is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.