The Father and his Flock
Husbands and fathers are called to be pastors in their homes. "What the preacher is in the pulpit," Lewis Bayly declared, "the same the Christian householder is in his house." The idea of fathers as the pastors of their homes arises from the testimony of Scripture. The word "pastor" comes from the Latin word for "shepherd"--and every father is called to serve as a shepherd in his home.
The application of shepherding imagery in the Bible does not end with the call for pastors to reflect the ministry of the good shepherd Jesus in the local church. Scripture also draws parallels between the responsibility of Christian fathers to pastor their families and the responsibility of called men to shepherd the local church. Paul had this to say about anyone who might become a pastor/elder: "He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God's church?)" (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
Pastoral leaders must be good shepherds of their little flocks at home before they are qualified to serve as shepherds of God's flock, the church. Every man in a local church should be able to look to his pastor's ministry as a model of faithful shepherding to be imitated on a smaller scale in his own home. If the congregation's pastor is shepherding the church but not his own family, his influence is muted and his model is one of tragic hypocrisy.
A family is not a church; every Christian believer, as an individual, functions under the authority of the congregation. Yet the principles of directing and caring for the church and the household are the same. Paul called local churches "the household of God" (1 Tim. 3:15) and he uses family imagery to exhort congregations (1 Tim. 5:1-2; 1 Cor. 4:15-16; 1 Thess. 2:11). The interplay in the Scripture between the household of God and familial households, as well as the interplay between pastors and fathers, should arrest the reader's attention.
"The church is the family of God," Randy Stinson asserts, "and family relationships represent a divinely-ordained paradigm for God's church--which is why it is so important for our relationships in the family and in the church to reflect God's ideal."1 It is common today for families to have the mentality that the church exists to serve the family. In reality, such a view needs to be turned on its head. Our households exist to portray to the world the church, the household of God. The congregation, then, is to be conformed to the Word of God and be determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified--and families are called to do the same.
Pastors reflect Jesus in the church by feeding, directing, disciplining, and defending the flock of God, and fathers must do likewise with the little family flock God has entrusted to them. What must not be overlooked in all of this, however, is that the most important reality in the life of the family is not the family, but Jesus Christ. It is God's eternal plan to sum up all things in Jesus (Eph. 1:10) and it is a father's primary job to lead in doing so in his little flock at home. Any father who fails to focus on the Gospel and settles for behavioral change and isolation from the world is cultivating an idolatrous focus on their own family. Family issues are, however, deeper than behavior; they are issues of the heart for which the only answer is the Gospel. A home full of well-behaved, well-mannered children whose obedience is not understood through the lens of the Gospel is not holy but hellish.
A father is the head of his home, the spiritual leader, who has the responsibility to feed his family the Word of God on a daily basis. He also must know that, even though he is the shepherd of his little flock, "the chief Shepherd" has graciously placed him under the authority of the church and its shepherds, "the flock of God" (1 Pet 5:2, 4). Therefore, each father should lead his family to the church as a vital partner as he guides his family. He should be able to say, with the apostle Paul, that he ministers night and day with tears, declaring the whole counsel of God and refusing to count his life more dear than his ministry to his family (Acts 20:17-38). How are you doing pastor dad?
1. Randy Stinson, "Family Ministry and the Future of the Church," in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 3.
David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.