An elder serving a particular group of believers, according to God’s design, is a person with much responsibility. However, he also has been given much responsibility as the head of his own household. Both tasks can become burdensome, and if not balanced properly may lose effectiveness. Let’s look at how scripture describes the work of an elder as it relates to his family responsibilities.
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”1 Tim. 3:4-5, ESV
One of the qualifications is to have his family in order which sometimes produces unwanted results in an “Elder’s Kid.” Parents may reinforce this standard, not necessarily because of a spiritual conviction, but because the behavior of the child may tarnish the father’s “image” as a spiritual leader. This becomes an overshadowing motivation to “legally” force spirituality on the child, and especially in the teen years can cause rebellion and a rejection of all that the father represents.
Hijme Stoffels in a lecture entitled “Preachers’ kids are the worst” made this interesting observation: “Rebellion against the imposed role-model and the struggle for a personal identity have led many clergy children astray far from home, both geographically and mentally. ‘Preachers’ kids are the worst’ it is said in America…Rebellious behavior in the teenage years often was a cry for attention. The father was both present and absent. More than other working fathers the minister had the opportunity to work at home, but the door to his study often was impenetrable for his children. The more he was available for his congregation, the less he was there for his own offspring.” While we understand there is a great difference between a clergyman and an elder, some of the attitudes and principals involved can run parallel.
Our children are living in a world that is changing as fast as the technology they are forced to use for their education, relaxation and relationships. While the internet is a useful tool for so many aspects of their lives, all vying for their attention, this can easily draw them into a web of worldliness that can destroy any spiritual appreciation. I know of Christian workers and even missionaries who have been so busy “saving” the lost, that they neglected their own children who as adults gave up everything their parents stood for.
I know it is frustrating when we are in the middle of message preparation with our thoughts flowing, to be interrupted by a child who wants attention. We must remember that our children are an even more important part of our family testimony than next Sunday’s message. We need to take time to not only read and teach the Bible to them, but to also relax and build a strong close relationship with them, so that they will feel free to come to us with their problems and for companionship. Seeing them as not only family, but as an integral part of our ministry, we will make time for them so that as they mature, they will seek to follow the example we have set for them.
The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy to follow what he had learned from those who set examples for him (2 Tim. 3:14-15). He was referring to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice as well as Paul himself as Timothy’s spiritual father. Every child is different, and we need to help each one according to the specific needs of that child. I am not seeking to give a formula for raising a perfect child, but there are four steps in the Lord Jesus’ formation that we can use as a guide to help us train our children. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
1. Jesus grew in wisdom
The book of Proverbs gives sound practical advice regarding growth in wisdom which of course begins with the “fear of God” (Prov. 9:10). As part of character building, we should focus on helping the child to have a teachable spirit (Prov. 1:5); a hatred of wickedness (8:7-8); a need for humility (11:12); obedience (13:1); clear thinking (14:8); and emotional health (19:8). Learning these will result in happiness (3:13-17); spiritual growth (15:24); and future joy to the parents (10:1; 29:3).
2. Jesus grew in stature
Physical development is an important part of the child’s life and sometimes this will take some of our precious time. It could mean working out with a child as he prepares for a sporting event at school or listening to hours of music practice. Then when the event or game takes place, we should make every effort to be there to watch and encourage them, showing interest in this aspect of the child’s life. I know of elders or commended workers who have not allowed their children to participate in activities, quoting the verse “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Tim. 4:8, ESV). Children growing up need physical activity to help them toward maturity. Knowing how to work with others as a team is a real help when elders are discussing problems. A strong body is a tremendous advantage when trekking as a missionary through the jungle!
3. Jesus increased in favor with God
Growing spiritually is obviously one of the most important of these four steps. Every child is different and we need to know the character of our children along with their strengths and weaknesses so that we can help them. Some will be headstrong, and we will need patience as we seek to instruct them; others will be tolerant and will be ready to follow a Bible reading plan; some may be apathetic and will need some sort of stimulation to spike their interest. The best teaching tool is age-appropriate materials and your own example. Don’t try to force a daily Bible reading plan if they don’t see you having time in the Word every day. Above all be the same Christian example at home that you are at the chapel. Children quickly spot hypocrisy.
4. Jesus increased in favor with man
This relates to social development. Daniel was a young man who suffered captivity and estrangement from his family, but the early years had taught him faith and the importance of social skills. He was courteous but firm in his beliefs (Dan. 1:8); he related well to his superiors (Dan. 1:8-10); he was forthright and respectful (Dan. 2:14-18); he did not refrain from speaking the truth (Dan. 5:17-28); and he enjoyed true friendships (Dan. 2:17-18, 49).
We are responsible to provide a happy stable home as we build our families on the Rock (Matt. 7:24). We establish good family relationships through wisdom and understanding (Prov. 24:3-5). We strengthen our relationships with love and respect (Ps. 128), as we seek to stand together in unity (Matt. 12:25).
The love we show our children should be unconditional, avoiding favoritism for that will ultimately cause pain and suffering as it did in the family of Isaac and Jacob, and will ultimately hinder our ministry.