There seems to be no end to the tide or severity of violence and immorality in our nation today. Real and threatened acts of terrorism in our public school system are exceeded only by the violence committed against our children in every other public arena. Even home is not a safe haven for our children, as criminals are bold enough to snatch children from their beds while they sleep or from their yards while they play.
In the midst of this chaos, the family is suffering from an identity crisis. Who can say what the acceptable family norm will be tomorrow? Surely, the traditional family of husband-provider/wife-homemaker/loyal children with hearts at home is looked upon with scorn and disdain. While the average divorce rate is now 50% (in and out of the Church), most have bought into an economic system that makes it almost impossible for the wife not to work. The wife’s loyalty is split, the average number of children per household has diminished to 1.7, and each family member develops his separate interests and life schedule. No leadership. No vision. No expression of calling. No purpose. No connection from one generation to the next.
The breakdown of our social order, as exemplified by the breakdown of the family, can only be understood in terms of God’s hand of judgment against a society that has abandoned His ordained standards. Like Eve, we have made a covenant with the devil. Accordingly, God in His mercy is driving us from the garden.
It is the hope of rearing a generation that might make a significant difference in our nation that moves many of us to the crazy endeavors in which we find ourselves engaged, such as home schooling. While we may feel overwhelmingly hopeless in having any impact on the course of the national government and may feel overwhelmingly helpless with the course of the Church, many of us have determined that we can and will direct the course of our smaller society–our family.
Godly leadership of the family requires godly government, just as it does in the larger societies of church and state. Government is the way people organize themselves in order to fulfill a purpose. Accordingly, neither the purpose of man nor the standards by which he organizes can be left to the discretion of man if he is to accomplish his God-given calling.
The best model of familial leadership is the rule and reign of Jesus Christ over His Church. Just as Jesus is head over His Church, the husband is head over his family. Just as Jesus serves and loves the Church, the husband is to serve and love his family. From His example, we can find at least six characteristics of godly leadership.
Identity and Distinctiveness
First, He calls a people out of the mass of mankind to be a separate and peculiar people, holy and set apart for the glory of God. He does this by virtue of His covenant established with His Church. Our families should not only exhibit the characteristics of membership in the larger body of Christ but should also exhibit qualities that are peculiar and distinctive to each individual family.
Distinctive qualities are going to develop within the family as the members begin to pursue the callings and giftings of their Christian faith. For example, when I think of certain families, I automatically associate them with certain activities such as chess, music, team sports, or hospitality. Other distinctions may be less evident to outsiders as the family develops traditions connected with holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and travel.
The wise parent identifies and captures the distinctions and traditions of his family to build within his children a sense of identity that is uniquely theirs and centered around the family. That is not to say that every family member must share the same interests, but it is the challenge and duty of the parent to integrate the pursuits and likes of each member into the family as a whole.
Law and Order
Second, Jesus equips His Church with officers, laws, and reproofs establishing order and conduct. In the family, the husband serves as the head of his wife and, therefore, of the family. The husband is commanded to love his wife, the wife is commanded to respect her husband, and the children are commanded to honor both father and mother. Thus a hierarchical structure is established as well as the underlying law that governs the life of the family.
As an officer of the family, the husband is responsible for establishing, applying, and enforcing God’s law, as objectively set forth in scripture. For some of us, such a statement sends chills of legalism up our spiritual spines. There has been so much emphasis placed on the God of grace at the expense of the God of law that one would think the two are exclusive and contradictory. The fact is that every family has some sort of standard of behavior established, even if the accepted standard is no standard at all. The only question is whose standard is in force. The only acceptable standard is God’s.
Good government is designed to promote order. An environment of order and discipline is necessary for successful home schooling. Accordingly, godly parents will establish laws of the home that are objective and proactive, producing the results desired by the parents.
Blessings and Curses
Third, Jesus rewards the obedience of His people and corrects them for their sins. Within the family is the first place that a person learns that there are consequences associated with obedience and disobedience. It is important for children to learn at an early age to associate future consequences with today’s actions.
Almost without exception, young children possess the desire to please their parents and will conform to the standards of the family in the attempt to gain approval. The proactive parent will openly reward his children for their obedience to the established family standards.
A significant fact in the way in which Jesus leads His Church is that disobedience does not bring punishment alone. Rather, the bad behavior is corrected, and change is brought forth. In theological circles this work of the Holy Spirit is called sanctification. In family circles we do not just punish; we correct, instruct, and model proper behavior.
Maintain and Sustain
Fourth, Jesus maintains and sustains His people in their temptations. It is unfortunate that families see the desire to please and the willingness to conform wane in their children at an increasingly younger age. Pressures to go one’s own way, to disobey the rules, etc., will come against the family members from many avenues.
In the best interest of the children, it is the parent’s duty to closely guard and nurture their hearts. Alert parents will recognize signs of pressure on their children to conform to another standard. Pressures most often come from age peers who introduce them to ideas of dress, music, attitudes, and behavior with which the child would not have been confronted in the home.
When behavior is exhibited that does not conform to the family standard (e.g., rolling eyes in disrespect, failure to acknowledge verbally when given instructions, disrespectful words to a sibling or parent), the parent determined to preserve his child will quickly and openly confront the issue and assist his child to the right standard. Often bad behavioral patterns have already been established before the parents notice. Those cases demand diligent perseverance with the child as both parent and child work through the hard lessons of life. It is at these times that we pray and depend on the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition the years of biblical instruction sown into the child’s life at an early age.
Serve and Protect
Fifth, Jesus restrains and overcomes all His people’s enemies. The best service a parent can give to his children is to proactively restrain them from their natural tendency toward foolish behavior. Foolishness is the number one enemy of our children. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of every child, and the godly parent will be determined to drive it far from his child.
As if it is not enough that there are dangers from within our children’s hearts, the multitude of enemies without–all striving for the life and allegiance of our children–can be overwhelming. These enemies are apt to reside where we might least expect them: the Christian novels we let our girls read, the earphones of the walkman to which we let our boys listen without supervision, the home school support group youth program, etc.
It is not that we can or should insulate and isolate our children from every potential danger of the world or to presume that there is a demon lurking behind every tree. However, it is crucial for parents to realize and acknowledge that we are in a struggle – purity vs. evil – for the very hearts of our children. As we are godly leaders of our households, our families depend on us to proactively recognize the dangers that entice our families toward ruin and to respond to the enemy accordingly. Godly parents cannot ignore, abdicate, or deny their responsibility to protect their children. The stakes – the hearts of our children – are too high to do otherwise.
Planning and Vision
Finally, Jesus orders all things for the good of His own. This may be a little difficult for a mortal man who is not omniscient or omnipotent as is our Lord; however, it is the duty of the parents, with as much grace as the Lord provides them, to direct the interests and activities of their children with some sort of goal or vision for the future.
We know of a family who, when their children were young, were very concerned to see how easily young people switched their allegiance from parents and family to outside peers. At that point, our friends determined that it would be different with their family. They determined a strategy – keep the kids so busy they will not have the time or desire for things away from the family. Their means were predominantly, though not exclusively, sports. The key difference for this family, I believe, is that whatever activity was planned for the day, it was done as a family. If it was softball, everybody played softball. If golf, almost everyone was on the course. If chess, the whole family was involved in the chess club. Their success in maintaining the hearts of their children into and through the teenage years should cause us to give their strategy serious consideration.
Too much of the Church has accepted the humanistic idea of a laissez-faire, nonintervention approach with our children: let them drift mindlessly along, and they will eventually stumble across something that piques their interest. When that happens, we should then jump in there and encourage them. The Bible assures us that a people without knowledge–a vision, a word from God–will perish. Praise God that is neither how Jesus rules His Church nor should it be the way parents rule their families.
Families who have chosen home schooling have already chosen a radically different path of child rearing. However, for those who homeschool out of conviction, it is only the beginning. The same convictions that led us to look to home schooling also challenge us to look at other facets of our families and the way in which we respond to the world around us. They are convictions that cause us to be concerned, to persevere, and to hope. Whatever else they may do, they call us to be vigilant to represent Him in the care and training of His children.