Part Three: The Father as the Pastor of his own Home
When St. Paul lists the qualifications of a bishop in First Timothy chapter three, he includes
One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all
reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take
care of the church of God?).
He repeats the same qualifications in Titus chapter one, where he writes: “Having faithful
children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.” St. Paul clearly sees a connection
between the qualifications of a pastor and the qualifications of a father. The two positions
have much in common.
The Christian father is the pastor of his own family. But what do I know? Permit me to
share with you some biographical facts that illustrate my incompetence to speak on this
subject. My father was ordained several years before I was born. And while he left the
parish for the professorship when I was four years old, my father remained a minister of
the word, a teacher of theology all of his life. My firstborn was born after my first year at
the seminary. My office as pastor and my office as father have been joined since I was
twenty five years old. I have very little experience in being a father and not being a pastor.
One cannot understand what he hasn’t experienced. Thus I am at a disadvantage. I cannot
speak authoritatively on this subject. What would I know about a layman serving as the
pastor of his own home? My father was the pastor of my home when I was a boy and I was
the pastor of my home when I was a man, but neither he nor I were laymen, so I have no
experiential authority to tell you how to be a pastor of your own home when you’re not a
pastor of a church.
Well, let’s talk a bit about experiential authority. What you experience tells you the way
things are. And the way things are is the way things ought to be unless somebody can
persuade you otherwise. Let us discuss the way things are.
Parents send their children to church to be taught God’s word. They send them to a
parochial school or they send them to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or some other
kind of a school for religious instruction. While the parents may attend church on a more
or less regular basis, most rarely, if ever, attend Bible class. But they send their children to
What do the children learn? They learn three things about religious instruction. First, they
learn that it is for children. That’s why they, the children, attend Sunday school or
parochial school, or vacation Bible school, while Mom and Dad don’t. Clearly, when you
grow up, you don’t need to study and learn the Bible. This is for children.
Second, they learn that religious instruction takes place outside of the home. You leave
home in order to receive instruction elsewhere. The home is not where you expect to find
it. You go to professionals who are qualified to teach you. Your parents are obviously
unqualified. Otherwise they wouldn’t be sending you to someone else to be instructed.
Third, they learn that religion doesn’t really have anything to do with your daily life. You
don’t live in a church. You don’t live in a school. You live at home. But home isn’t where
you receive religious instruction. Therefore, religious instruction doesn’t really pertain to
your daily life.
Religious instruction is for kids. Older folks, mature people, adults who are in charge of
their lives don’t need it. This is what your parents are teaching you. They are teaching you
that when you get older, more mature, and more in charge of your own life you won’t need
religious instruction, either.
If this describes the typical Lutheran family, perhaps we should reconsider what the family
is, and specifically, what the role of the father in the family is. If the father does not serve as
the pastor of his own family, it is unlikely that the children will come to see the Christian
religion as integral to their lives. If religious instruction belongs out there in an institution,
and doesn’t take place within the home, the children are unlikely to consider that
instruction as having any relevance to their daily lives.
If you are a Christian father with children still living in your home and you hear or read my
words and they describe how you have been raising your children, you may feel a bit guilty.
That’s good. Really! You should. If you’re not feeding your children with God’s word then
you should feel guilty because that’s wrong. It’s child neglect. When God chose to bless
your union with your wife with children, he made you responsible for their spiritual care.
If you haven’t been caring for their spiritual needs, you have been neglecting them. If you
spend your time, money, and attention on sports, vacations, camps, and other things that
you think may benefit them, you show that you know of your paternal responsibility. But if
you do all this and do not teach them God’s word at home, you have failed in your paternal
You cannot undo your neglect. You cannot relive your life. So the first thing you need to do
as a Christian father who wants to be the father your God has called you to be is to repent
of your sins. Acknowledge that your failure to teach God’s word to your children at home
was a sin against God. Then look to him who bore your sin. Look to him who fulfilled God’s
law, neglecting no duty, and suffering for our neglect and failure and sin. Look to Jesus,
raised up on the cross and see him bear the curse of the law. See him take your place under
the law, doing what it told you to do and suffering the penalty you earned and thereby
silencing the judgment that stood against you. Take him at his word when he tells you that
he forgives you all your sins, because until you are forgiven of all your sins, you are utterly
incompetent to serve as the pastor of your own home.
When Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep it was in the form of an absolution. Three times
Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times Jesus asked him to feed his sheep. The
request to do so was also an absolution for Peter’s shameful denial. God tells you fathers, in
the words of St. Paul,
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the
training and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
When God entrusts his children to our care, he calls on us to entrust ourselves to his care.
We give to our children the same thing we have received. The Catechism is the form in
which we receive it. The Catechism has three or six parts. As far as daily family worship is
concerned, three parts will suffice. Recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed,
and pray together the Lord’s Prayer. Also, read a portion of the Bible, or, perhaps in the
case of little children, from a Bible story book, and sing a hymn together. It takes ten to
fifteen minutes. After supper is a good time. I have several suggestions I would like to
share with you, not because they are absolutely necessary, but because they will help you
to do the job you are setting out to do.
First, be consistent. That doesn’t mean that you will never skip family devotions. It means
that you will not let skipping devotions become a habit. Things do come up that make it
impossible to be at home when the time for family worship arrives. You do what you can,
not what you can’t.
Second, the father leads. He leads in the recitations and in the prayers. This is important.
The Bible says that the husband is the head and the wife is the body. The head cares for the
body. The father is the pastor of his family by taking leadership. It doesn’t mean he knows
more theology than his wife. Maybe he doesn’t. That’s not the point. The point is that the
leader leads, and leading in prayers is essential to pastoral leadership.
Third, you don’t let anyone butt into this time and take it away from you. When you finish
dinner and you have begun devotions, and the phone rings, you answer the phone and say
that you are sorry, but you can’t talk now. You’re having devotions. Call back in fifteen
minutes. Or, ignore the phone and let whoever is calling leave a message. But don’t let
anyone interrupt what you are doing. If you do, you are teaching the children what you
don’t want them to be taught. On this point, you must be stubborn and consistent.
When it comes to the selection of hymns, choose good hymns that your children will be
able to sing in church. Children ought not to be placed into a children’s ghetto with their
own special songs and rituals that set them apart from the congregation that gathers on
Sunday for worship. What happens in the home around the dinner table should prepare
the children for worship in church.
When reading Bible stories, it is good for the father to question the children after reading
them, beginning with the youngest, asking easy questions, and moving on up to the oldest,
asking more difficult questions.
Finally, while you may want to limit your devotions to fifteen minutes, you don’t need to
leave the table just because devotions are over. Especially as the children grow older,
spending time together as a family, talking about current events, issues, things at school,
what Mr. Jones said in biology class, or whatever – talking about what’s happening in light
of God’s word and teaching is how the children incorporate a sound theological orientation
into their lives. The more you talk theology the more you want to do it and the easier and
more pleasant it gets.
The pastor isn’t a fearsome figure who is there standing in judgment of you. If he is,
something is off. The pastor is a preacher of forgiveness and hope, of joy and comfort, a
messenger of peace. That’s what the Christian father is to be with his family. It doesn’t
take a formal theological education. All it takes is the time to sit down with the family and
bring God’s word to the ones God has placed under your care.
There are no guarantees when it comes to raising children. The proverb is true, that if you
bring up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it. But
proverbs, in the nature of the case, are generalizations, and don’t necessarily work out in a
precise cause and effect fashion. Children are not machines. You cannot control them. You
can only give to them. You cannot require them to receive what you give.
When I was a boy, my father did quite a bit of preaching at vacant congregations in
Missouri and Illinois. I understood his sermons. He was a very good preacher. The pastor
of the congregation to which our family belonged was a nice man, a very dignified man with
a beautiful voice. His sermons were utterly incomprehensible. What I learned in church I
learned from the hymns and the liturgy. And I learned the most at home. It wasn’t because
my father was a theological professor. He was. I had him as a student. He was the best
teacher I had at the seminary. But while I grew up on a seminary campus, I didn’t grow up
in a seminary. I grew up in a home. My father was the pastor of that home. It was at home
that I learned, grew, was strengthened, encouraged, and grounded in the truth. I will
always be grateful to God for giving me a father who regarded himself as the pastor of his
home and who took joy in doing what God gives a pastor to do: to feed the flock of God,
which he purchased with his own blood.