This is the sixth in a series of First Man Standing bible studies. The series as a whole explores themes of masculinity, relationships (including those with friends, our partner and children) and how we can change our society to end violence against women. Today’s Bible study reflects on how we can influence the next generation including how we raise our children and mentor the next generation.
Purpose of the study
To explore what the Bible says about raising the next generation and how men can have a positive influence in the lives of their sons and daughters and other children and young people. We also think about how we can help young people to develop positive relationships.
Icebreaker for groups: Fathers and sons
Divide into pairs. Think of a father and son combination in the news, from history or literature or that you know personally.
One of you takes the role of the father; the other the son. Think of one thing that they would each wish to say to the other.
Feedback to group.
Key bible passages, reflection and questions for discussion
1. Being a father
To be father is a great privilege. Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3). The Bible gives us lots of guidance as to how we can and should raise our children. Many of these are about love and effective discipline and are compared with the way God treats us. To be a father is to model what God is like in the lives of our children:
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
“Do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
The New Testament’s instructions to fathers emphasise the need for fathers not to exasperate (or in Colossians 3:21, “embitter”) their children but to bring them up to know God.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
The Bible assumes that both mothers and fathers will be engaged in the bringing up of children, and children are called upon, including in the Ten Commandments, to honour their father and their mother.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instructions, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”
The Bible recognises the distinction between sons and daughters but says very little about how Fathers should behave differently towards them. The implication is that both sons and daughters flourish when experiencing love and healthy boundaries:
“Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.”
What is a good father?
The Bible gives us two ways of understanding what it means to be a father.
The first is through direct instructions and examples of human fathers both good and bad. The emphasis is on love and discipline. A father cares for and protects his children and teaches them the way they should go. Good fathers, like Job and Joseph, the father figure for Jesus, model character traits that we can imitate. Bad fathers are those such as Eli (in 1 Samuel 2) who do not control their children and allow them to develop habits of selfishness and sin
The second is God himself, who is called father. What an amazing insight into his character, and what a challenge for we men to aspire to. God is faithful and true, one who loves and provides for his children. But the Bible also reminds us of his discipline and high level of aspiration for his children.
Men who are abusing their wives are also abusing their children and are not good fathers. David provides a sobering example of how marital infidelity and multiple partners have huge negative implications for the next generation.
Reflecting on these issues in our society, the biggest additional dimension I would add is time. In a society where everyone is so busy, children crave time with their fathers. A good father is one who prioritises his children and is present for them.
What can we do from this point onwards to build positive things into our families and the lives of our children?
2. Praying for the prodigals
Many of us experience the pain of children who leave the faith, damage themselves or otherwise lose their way. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 has encouraged parents down the centuries. The father does not prevent the son from pursuing his rebellion and folly. He waits and looks out for his son and when he returns of his own accord he welcomes him back with grace and without recrimination. Our responsibility for our children is always to love them, to pray for them and to be ready to welcome them back joyfully and unconditionally. Is there anything that makes us feel closer to God than crying out to him for our children?
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The Bible also gives us verses of encouragement that what we have sown into our children’s lives will not be in vain.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Home for Good (www.homeforgood.org.uk) is a Christian campaign to find a home for every child who needs one. This includes encouraging church members to get involved in fostering and adoption. Adoption of a child reflects a God who adopts us into his family as sons and daughters. Have you considered adopting or fostering a child? Is it something that God may be calling you to do?
3. Young people need good role models and lots of help to develop good relationships
Raising children is a job for all of us, and not just for parents. In the church we have specific opportunities as Sunday School teachers and youth leaders. We all have a responsibility to raise young people in the knowledge and love of God. Those of us who are not biological fathers will have a huge influence in the lives of many young people around us through our example. Jesus had no children of his own, but provides an excellent example of welcoming young children in the face of opposition from other adults:
“Jesus said: ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
For children who do not have a father figure in their home or had an unhealthy father figure or an abusive father or father figure, there is a particular opportunity for men in the church to demonstrate a positive model of masculinity. There is also an opportunity to support women who are bringing up children on their own. God is described as the father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) and we can imitate him in this.
One of the exciting new opportunities that has emerged over the last few years is for each of us to act as mentors to younger individuals and couples. The church is ideally placed for such work. There are numerous Biblical examples of this from Moses and Joshua through to Paul and Timothy:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith….Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.”
(1 Timothy 1: 1-2, 18)
Statistics on children in the UK
Some statistics include:
There are over 11 million children under 18 in the UK. (ONS, 2014)
Over 570,000 are identified as needing protection from abuse. (NSPCC, 2015)
750,000 children are estimated to be growing up in households where they are witnessing domestic abuse. (department of Health, 2002)
The position of fathers when relationships have broken up
For many women a marriage or relationship break up means having to battle to get maintenance and fear that their former partner will harm their children. We also meet many fathers whose deepest pain is their lack of access to their children.
Every situation is different and many couples are able to maintain a positive environment for their children and respect between themselves. Men who have been abusive in their relationship, however, may seek to regain power and control over a woman. Do they go above and beyond what is required or do they make the woman almost beg for the maintenance? How are they modelling good relationships post-break up in the way they are treating the mother of their children?
What does love look like in these situations? For men it means honouring their former wife or partner, paying what has been agreed to support their children and never seeking to turn them against their mother.
Films and TV
Finding Nemo (2003)
East of Eden (1955)
Field of dreams (1989)
The Lion King (1994)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The Father Heart of God – Floyd McClung
Return of the Prodigal Son – Henri Nouwen
Rob Parsons books