Spiritual Priorities in the Parsonage
Some ministers’ homes multiply themselves in ministering as the family grows. Others produce children who are filled with bitterness and hostility. Why the difference? What events cause some children to revere and others to reject home values?
The minister is in the public eye; so is his family. This in itself complicates normal growth patterns and keeps his family in a spiritual pressure cooker. Thus, part of his task is to prevent an overreaction to unreasonable demands by well-meaning church members — while still helping each child develop to his fullest spiritual potential.
What then are the spiritual priorities that build a home blended and cohesive in its devotion to Christ and His work? Let’s look at six.
It is well established that discipline is necessary for both guidance and happiness. A biblical principle and a responsibility of both parents, discipline is not a system of punishment but of growth directing.
In his sermon, “Keeper of the Springs,” Peter Marshall told of a man whose job was to keep the springs — that provided water for a mountain village — free of debris. Then the village built reservoirs to eliminate the need for the keeper. But health levels dropped drastically. Finally, they rehired the keeper of the springs and abandoned the reservoirs.
Peter Marshall compared this to discipline in the home. We may feel the reservoirs of school and church will meet all spiritual needs, but facts show this is not so. The person who grows without disciplinary direction and training is unhappy, insecure, and a prime subject for mental and spiritual disturbance.
The Korean War’s brainwashing phenomenon moved psychiatrists to intensive study of the weaknesses that permitted it. An interesting — but predictable — discovery was that brainwashing of individuals from well-disciplined homes and with a commitment to God was almost impossible.
In spite of documentation on the effectiveness of family worship, a survey of Christian homes would likely reveal that formal family devotions are the exception rather than the rule. Unless they are forced and performed merely from a sense of duty, family devotions can certainly make clear the direction of a family’s dedication. We urge families in our churches to have family altars. Do we give attention to it in our own homes?
Spiritual dynamics should not be reserved for the church building. If salvation is important, your children should hear you call their names before God at home. If healing is accepted, your children should hear prayer for the sick at home. If the Holy Spirit guides in church, your children should see evidences of such guidance in home and job decisions. If you believe the Bible is God’s Word, then your children have a right to expect to hear it read and see it consulted as such in the home.
The miraculous intervention of God in the home impresses and teaches young hearts and minds. But when all these things are merely church occurrences, children can easily isolate them and remove their influence from daily life especially in a mobile age where ministers move frequently.
I also believe that the Sunday hour delegated for religious education is inadequate. If nothing else, Bible quizzes and doctrinal games ought to be included among the activities a family does for entertainment or togetherness.
After years of concentrated effort to involve others in worship and service, ministers may awaken to find their own children uninvolved. Perhaps an answer to this is adapting some practices of the Early Church. Their worship seems to have been limited to homes and small groups. In such groups both the size of the group and the neighborhood familiarity would permit nothing but complete involvement for each person present. So a major spiritual priority for the home might be to use it as a neighborhood worship spot — and thus involve the children.
A dangerous precedent is set when ministers look for churches that best serve them rather than for churches where they can best serve. A spiritual priority of the Christian home must always be to give, not to get; to serve, not to be served. Early in life, members of the family should adopt specific responsibilities for service to Christ and His Church. Individuals and families who serve are committed people — they have to be.
A secular proverb says that nothing succeeds like success. Patterns of failure as well as patterns of success can be developed.
We must not expect instant maturity even from children reared in the church and the parsonage. Movement toward God must be in a series of positive, achievable, and rewarding steps. Some may wish to chart the growth of each child through expected religious experience and Bible reading much as we chart personal hygiene, such as brushing teeth.
This growth must be built on strong personal dependence on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Manageable daily portions of the Bible in a readable translation will present God’s Word as an exciting, desirable Book to be eagerly sought for God’s message for me for today.
Every experience, simple as it may be, should be doubly rewarding — the implicit reward of the encounter with God and the reward of family pleasure. With God thus presented as the exciting, personal Creator of the universe and the Source of constant discovery and abundant life, we may be surprised how much the Holy Spirit makes it unnecessary for us to have constant don’ts and taboos.
A Good Father Image
Since, as many authorities believe, children receive their first understanding of God’s nature from observing the father and the homelife, it is obvious that the father’s open, accepting, and forgiving spirit becomes a spiritual priority. If the child relates well to his father, he can more easily have a proper relationship with God. Parents should attempt to be approachable and uncondemning as God is.
A final priority is genuineness. The home that cannot examine itself without hypocrisy and then deal honestly in its interpersonal relationships is open to its children being disillusioned and rejecting the values it presents. Newer generations seem more difficult to deceive, more perceptive in penetrating facades, and in exposing superficial motives of their elders. The Christian home should have nothing to fear here. This should be a welcome addition to the home that rejects deception and thrives on candid reality and godly honesty.
Discipline, spiritual dynamics, involvement, growth, a good father image, and genuineness are more than spiritual priorities of a Christian home — they are earmarks of a revived home that remembers this scriptural injunction: “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Salvation cannot be transmitted to our children — they must have a personal experience with God. But receptiveness to salvation can and must be transmitted. Only the mercy of God could wipe the tears of sorrow from our eyes should we make heaven but leave our children behind — because we forgot about spiritual priorities in the parsonage.
Gayle D. Erwin