Before I continue, it is important you know that I write better than I live. Everything seems neat and tidy in print. There is nothing neat and tidy about parenting. Parenting is the most difficult job in the world and no one can convince me otherwise. More specifically, being a stay-at-home mom is the most difficult job in the world. But, this isn’t an article written for or toward moms. This article is written for dads in ministry.
I am a dad in my early thirties, with a young kid at home, and I am not in the position to give any sort of seasoned advice. What I can do is give you my targets/goals as a dad in ministry. What follows is a list that is by no means mastered (or exhaustive), but one that—by God’s grace—I am more mindful of with each passing day, and I pray that it encourages you.
I want to be a dependent dad.
This is to say that I am needy for the presence of Jesus in my life. I am so prone toward having a hard, cold, and distant heart toward God and my family. If my communion with Jesus isn’t the priority of my life, I am a wreck. I am not exaggerating. You can ask my wife. As recent as two weeks ago, my wife told me that I needed to spend time in the Scripture so that the Lord would make me kinder.
Dads, we need constant communion with God. Even dads who are pastors need to be regularly reminded of this. We are completely and utterly bankrupt apart from the Lord. I need the Holy Spirit to soften me daily through the reading of the Word and prayer. So, my aim is to have a regular meeting time with the Lord. For me, it must start early in the morning before anyone else in the house wakes up. I don’t do well late at night. I like to go to bed when my wife does. Therefore, early meeting times with the Lord are the best.
Early in the a.m. I sneak out of bed and head downstairs and brew a fresh pot of coffee. As the coffee brews I gather all my materials for my devotional time with the Lord; Scripture, my chronological Bible reading plan, my prayer journal, my favorite pen, and a book I am reading to nourish my soul (currently Augustine’s Confessions). After I grab my coffee, I read for 35-40 minutes and pray for 20-25 minutes (sometimes I pray, then read). This is my favorite part of my day. If this time of my day is out of sorts, it really does impact this rest of my day. Sometimes things come up and interrupt that time (like kids waking up earlier than normal). If that time gets interrupted, I try to carve out some other time in the day and get away to spend time with the Lord.
In addition to this, my family seeks to do family worship. We do this regularly (although we miss days for various reasons sometimes). We do this before I head off to work. We read a portion of the Scripture, pray, and then sing the Doxology. This is a way for me to model the priority of daily worship for my family.
My wife and I also read before bed. It is nice to start your day with the Lord and end your day with the Lord (certainly I seek to be mindful of the Lord and my dependence on Him throughout the day, some days though I am terrible at this).
I want to be a present dad.
Ministry is busy. Responsibilities are vast. As husbands and fathers, we are called by God to provide for our home. 1 Timothy 5:8 goes as far as to say that if we don’t provide for our home, we deny the faith and are worse than an unbeliever. As Pastors we are called to care for and nurture the people the Lord has entrusted to us and we must work diligently in this important task as well. However, in the midst of our God-assigned vocation, we must not be become absent in the home.
Dads, we must be present physically, emotionally, and mentally. As I write this I have been absent from my home the last 5 nights in a row (as a rule I try not to be out more than 2 nights a week) for ministry purposes. First, I must remember that my primary ministry is my home. If I neglect my home at the expense of “vocational ministry” I am disqualified to be an elder (1 Timothy 3).
I am growing to be more present in my home and my wife knows that she has the freedom to speak into my life when I lose sight of what’s important. Here are some things I aim to do to be more present (again, these aren’t mastered).
- Turn my phone off when I’m home.
- Get on the floor and build tents, play hide and seek, have tickle fights, and dance.
- Schedule large blocks of time in the day to be home when out for several nights in a row.
I want the gospel to be in focus.
I have already mentioned how my family does daily family worship. In addition to this, we sing our prayers over meals sometimes (yes even when we are at restaurants sometimes). I also pray out loud and in front of my son that he would come to know and love Jesus the way his mother and I do. I pray that the Lord would sovereignly save him. I confess my inability to save him to God and trust the Lord’s plan for his life.
I remember a recent incident where I lost my temper with my son. I immediately felt like a failure, and I knew that incident would set the tone for the rest of my day. I was going to be discouraged and depressed. Lord, I messed up again. Instead of brooding on my failure, I did something different. I came back to my son, grabbed him by the hands and asked him to look at me. When he looked up, tears still streaming down his cheeks, I told him that Daddy was wrong and that I hope he could forgive me. I even told him how much Daddy needs Jesus.
Now, I am not sure how much he grasped, but I want to establish that rhythm in my home. That wasn’t the first time I sinned against my son and it won’t be the last. I want my son to see how much his dad needs the gospel and by God’s grace, how much he also needs the gospel.
I want to love my wife more than my kids.
Growing up, I knew my dad loved my mom more than he loved me. As my brothers and I look back on our childhood we all can see that. My dad made it abundantly clear that his love for my mother was greater than his love for me. My dad was affectionate toward my mom in front of us. I saw them kiss. I saw them hold hands. I saw my dad cradle my mom during a movie. I found and read the little love notes he would leave her (and still does!). I saw him serve her. And my mom adores my dad.
This brought me (and still brings me as an adult) immense security. As a child I knew that my parents’ love and marriage was stable, and therefore my home was stable. Loving my wife more than my kids is the most loving thing I can do for my kids. I already tell my son that I love his mother more than I love him.
Bedtime is at 7:30 p.m. each night in the Tomlinson household. Honestly, that is the favorite part of my day, because it means I finally get one-on-one time with my wife. Also, we aren’t scared of babysitters. If I can’t find a free babysitter in our local church, I will pay a responsible teenager in our local church. I am not timid to ask my mother-in-law (who lives close by) to let my son spend the night so that my wife and I can have a weekend to ourselves. This is good. This is godly. This is what’s best for your children.
I want my home to be a safe place for my kids to struggle and repent of sin.
I know of churches and homes where people must pretend to have their stuff together. I have felt the pressure to struggle with sin silently and alone. I do not want that culture in my home. Ever. I want my home to be a place where sin is taken seriously, and confession of sin flows freely. Sin feels safe in the dark. If sin remains in the dark, it destroys the soul. I want sin to be brought into the light so that it may be mortified. Mortifying sin is a team sport. I want to be on my kids’ team. This means I need to be approachable. This means that I need to set the tone of confession in my house. This means that I shouldn’t expect my kids to be saints. This means that I do not discipline for confession, but for hiding and lying.
I want to loosen up.
I’m uptight. There—I said it. I never considered myself uptight until my wife and I started having kids. Kids are messy. Laundry is everywhere. Crumbs are everywhere. Poop is everywhere. All my clothes have stains. All my eyeglasses have fingerprints. Playgrounds are disgusting. High chairs at restaurants are disgusting. Shopping carts at grocery stores are disgusting. Other people’s kids in our Children’s Ministry Program are disgusting and are infecting my kid with germs. Do you see what my wife puts up with?
My wife is teaching me. She is teaching me that a neat and tidy life is an illusion. She is teaching me that neat and tidy lives aren’t worth living. I praise God for her, because she takes messes in strides and I am seeking to emulate her. So, I am growing to be OK with the mess. The beauty is, the more I let go of neat and tidy, the more effectively I can love and enjoy my son. God is teaching me.
I want my children to love God’s Church.
I am a pastor at a local church, so my family is integrated deeply into the life of this local body. I want my kids to cherish the Church because it is Christ’s bride. Therefore, I want to flee grumbling about issues or people that are a part of my local church. I want my kids to love and serve people at my church without my cynical perspective.
Also, my church is pretty large (1,500 folks) and I preach regularly there. I try really hard not to make illustrations out of my kid in my sermons. Some pastors do, and I think that’s totally fine—it’s not a sin to use your kids to illustrate spiritual points—but I don’t want to do that. One of the pastors I serve with at my local church pays his children money every time he uses them in an illustration, and I think that’s a great idea and they seem to be OK with it. The reason why I don’t use my son as a sermon illustration is because it may embarrass him and embitter him toward ministry and the church. He may not understand or hear the sermons since he is so young right now, but this is a digital age, where many things are recorded. I want him to know that the home is not the place dad gets material for his sermon. He is safe in the home.
As a pastor of a church of 1,500 people, there is no way for me to know everyone. I don’t want people my son does not know knowing intimate/embarrassing details of his life. I try to treat social media the same way. My wife and I post pictures of my son on social media, but not often. We never post embarrassing stories about him on there (again, some do, we just decided not to).
I want the church to be a place that builds my son up in Christ. I don’t want to hinder that in any way. Some people may think I am being overly uptight here, and that’s ok. I already admitted to being uptight in the previous section.
These are my goals as a young dad in ministry. By God’s grace I am growing in them each day. May we be the fathers and ministers the Lord has called us to be as we steward the gospel in our home and our church. If you have certain goals as a dad, I would love to hear from you!