It’s a well-known statistic true of today’s western culture: Christian men are notably less likely to be involved in worship than Christian women. That holds true for church worship, family worship and personal worship.
Given that reality, it’s no surprise to learn that men volunteer less than women for tasks within the church and church community. As a point of interest, it’s noteworthy that in Muslim cultures this disproportion is reversed; there the men are typically more zealous in their spirituality than the women. In other words, it’s not simply a quirk of biology.
We could perhaps write off these interesting stats as a mere curiosity were it not for another set of statistics. That’s this: the children of Christian fathers who are zealous in worship are far more likely to embrace the faith and walk with the Lord than the children of Christian men who are irregular or lukewarm in their zeal for worship – even if Mom is zealous. Dad’s example is far more influential than Mom’s.
So it seems to me worthwhile to use this Bit to Read to zero in on Dads’ worship habits.
I suspect that every reader of this Bit will readily concede that going to church is important. In fact, I’m deeply grateful that in our midst the overwhelmingly largest number of men in the congregation are faithful in their church attendance – unlike the 60/40 stat (women vs men) that characterizes North American churches. Flip side: attendance in our midst at Men’s Society vs Women’s Society is much more akin to North American averages. Why is it, though, that church is important?
We’re going to say: church is important because the Lord has entrusted the preaching of the gospel to the church, and the Holy Spirit uses the preaching to work faith, and we need faith to be saved. That’s so true – but let’s take this a step further.
The purpose of the preaching is not to generate faith so that the hearer has the necessary “insurance policy” to escape hell and enter the kingdom of heaven. An insurance policy can stay in the cupboard till the day I need it. But faith is something I put to work in the actual questions of daily life on Monday, Tuesday, etc – for those are the contexts wherein I show that I feel safe in God’s arms no matter what he puts on my path and where I demonstrate too that I trust that his commands for me are good and wholesome. So: Sunday’s preaching is directed to the needs of Monday – and that means that I need to work with what happened in church in the week that follows.
The pressing question then is this: do our children actually see us Dads connecting Sunday to Monday? Perhaps you wonder: how are we to do that?
- The first step is invariably discussions at home with the family about what occurred in church. I’m referring not just to the sermon but also to the song selections, the prayers, the sacraments, the blessing – the entire liturgy. For you sang those songs, you prayed along in the prayers, you listened to the sermon in the context of last week’s memories and in the anticipation of what the new week will bring. Dad is the God-appointed leader in the family, and so it is Dad first of all who needs to make these links between church and daily life – and show the children how he makes those links. In our congregation of 600, no sermon can ever unpack the application of a given passage to the specific needs of every household. To unpack those applications is Dad’s job (obviously with the assistance of his helpmeet). That requires training; Dad needs to show his children that his habit is to listen to the sermon in the context of his own and his family’s real questions. If he can lead a discussion at home on that link between what God says in church on Sunday and what God gives at work on Monday, he’s showing his children how they need to learn to listen to the sermon (and the prayer and the singing, etc).
- The next step occurs in the course of the week as the children see Dad actually applying the Lord’s instruction from Sunday in the actual challenges of the week. Pressures generated by how to fix the washing machine can produce anxiety. But if the Lord through the sermon last Sunday (or last month) told me to cast all my cares upon him, then the children need to see Dad actually doing that – or at least struggling to do that and acknowledging in family conversations and prayer the challenges involved.
In a word: the children need to see Dad actively and genuinely internalizing the preaching and working with it. He’s eager to go to church, he’s attentive in church and involved, and he clearly takes church home with him and into the week. That example of the family leader impacts the children hugely.
As an extension of Church worship, Dad will want to lead his family in worship throughout the week. “Tradition,” said the English philosopher Edmund Burke, “is the accumulated wisdom of the fathers.” In Reformed circles a solid tradition inherited from the fathers was for the family to gather around the kitchen table together for breakfast, lunch and supper, and after each meal Dad (or Mom in his absence) read a portion of Scripture and led in prayer. Here was opportunity for Dad to communicate to the children his own love for the Word and for what that Word meant in the struggles of daily life. For he could comment on what was read as it pertained to the questions of the day. My siblings and I were raised with this tradition and I can testify that the practice had profoundly positive spinoffs in my life:
- By the time I was 20, I’d been through the entire Bible some 6 times. Had my parents opted to read from Scripture twice a day, I’d have been through the Bible 4 times; had they read but once a day, I’d have been through the Scriptures twice. So very much of my familiarity with the Bible can be traced back to this good tradition around the kitchen table.
- By persisting with this practice despite the busyness and distractions of life – and life on a dairy farm certainly had its busy seasons and distractions – my parents communicated to us children something of how they themselves treasured the Word of God. The reading was for them not a matter of get-er-done, but was deliberate and meaningful, with potential comment, discussion and application. In hindsight, that spoke volumes to me.
More significantly, however, was what my parents did with the Word they read at the kitchen table. It was Dad’s repeated prayer that the Lord would show us in our changing circumstances “what it is that Thou wantest us to do.” And he showed that he meant that petition by repeatedly denying himself in order to do in his daily life what he knew the Lord had taught in his Word. I learned it: the gospel was his treasure. (It goes without saying, of course, that as the years went by, I also learned that he held that treasure in a clay vessel; he needed forgiveness as much as we did.)
Family worship around the kitchen table provides an opportunity for Dad to explain the Word in the context of the family’s needs. That may require some thought on Dad’s part, and even some prep study. But Dad’s interest in the Word -or his lack of it- is a telling signal to the children of the value of the faith. Similarly, family worship provides opportunity for the family to sing together as well as recite Catechism together. Dad (or Mom under Dad’s leadership) can take a moment to explain the songs and the confession in the context of life’s daily questions. If the whole evening meal takes an hour, so be it. More than any other moment of life, it’s in the family worship around the kitchen table that the next generation of parents and leaders is formed. That’s precisely why Satan will do whatever he can to lure us away from that worship. It’s particularly Dad’s responsibility to ensure that the family has space for this worship.
The Form for the Public Profession of Faith has us promise “to commit [our] whole life to the Lord’s service as a living member of his church.” The phrase “living member” comes from Paul’s description of the church as “body” in 1 Corinthians 12. The point is that every part of my body needs every other part in order to function optimally. Paul says the same is true for the church -the body of which Christ is the Head- and at Profession of Faith we promise to be that active member.
Children look particularly to Dad for whether he’s a living member as well as for what being a living member actually looks like. If he can get away with being a lazy arm, then why should the kids stretch themselves to becoming a living member?
How can Dad -busy as he is!- model to his children what being a living member actually means? Here’s some ideas:
- In the family prayers at the kitchen table pray during the week for those mentioned in prayer on Sunday (usually also mentioned in the Pastoral Column – for a reason). This shows the children that the church and her members are important to Dad. Dad can also -perhaps through Mom- encourage the children to prepare cards for senior’s birthdays or for the sick. As opportunity is there, he can go and offer help somewhere, and perhaps take a child or two along to help along.
- Again, in the family prayers during the week Dad can pray for the ministers to receive grace to prepare their sermons well for coming Sunday. (BTW: let such prayer happen throughout the week; most ministers have their sermons as good as ready by Friday.) Dad should pray too for the elders as they go out on their home visits as well as the deacons as they ensure the communion of saints is functioning properly. Dad should pray regularly for those who are straying and/or under discipline. Doing so communicates to the children a very different signal about how he feels about church than if he fails to pray for them.
- How Dad speaks about the church, her office bearers and her members is vital for the children’s appreciation of the church. If Dad is critical of church, or if Dad tolerates critical vocabulary within the family, the upcoming generation will certainly develop a skewed view of what it means to be a living member of the church.
- Again, there are many opportunities for Dad to be actively involved in various church functions. One can think of Cadets, Men’s Society, Fellowship Groups – to say nothing of church related tasks in school communities, ARPA, etc. No, Dad ought not to get himself so involved that he neglects his primary responsibility, viz, being husband and father in the home. But between the two ditches of over-involvement and under-involvement is a sweet place that shows the children clearly how much Dad loves the Bride of Jesus Christ.
- We’re blessed in our day with ample church-related literature as Clarion, Reformed Perspective, Christian Renewal, etc. Reading such like material as best as one can is essential for Dads. That’s so because giving it your best effort again shows where your heart is – and that speaks volumes to the children. It also gives Dads worthwhile conversation material when friends come over. And be assured: the children are listening in on those conversations. They interpret from the conversation what’s actually important to Dad (Truck? Hockey scores? Prices? Or the kingdom of God?). More, as they listen to the debates their own thinking is formed – and that’s critical to their own Scriptural development.
Dad’s prayer habits and Bible reading habits in his inner room are private. Yet it’s uncanny how the children pick up whether Dad is diligent or negligent in his personal devotions. And they will learn the implicit lesson.
worship habits have a profound impact upon the children – far greater than
Mom’s. I pray that God gives Dads in our
midst the grace and strength to be the Dads the next generation of God’s
children need so much.
 The data comes from Brett & Kate McKay, Muscular Christianity: the Relationship between Men and Faith, 2018.