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Feeding the Faith of our Fathers

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While it is not advisable to let the Hallmark calendar determine our annual liturgy, holidays like Father’s Day can still present a fitting opportunity to encourage and exhort particular demographics in our congregations. Here are a few ways pastors can use June’s cultural calendar without letting it hijack the service, take the focus off the gospel, or put dads under the pile.

Meditate on the God Who is Our Father
Our model for fatherhood is not the self-congratulating guy who keeps posting idyllic Facebook pictures of himself with his kids on their boat or in the backyard––#hero. Our model for fatherhood is God the Father Himself. Of course, the Father’s relationship to the Son is utterly unique—some aspects of it we’ll never be able to imitate. Still, God has embossed his image on all humanity, He is Father to all people who are in Christ, and He calls all Christians to be imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1). What this means is that all dads, and especially Christian dads, can and should seek to conform their parental patterns to the mold of God’s fatherhood. So instead of immediately dropping the hammer on dads for not being consistent enough in family devotions or in one-on-one time with the kids, we’d serve dads well by praying with them from the pulpit about the relationship between the Father and the Son (John 5:19-47; Hebrews 1:5ff).

From there, we can lead them to reflect on the opening of the Lord’s prayer, as Jesus invites all believers, inadequate dads included, to address God as ourFather because of God’s own gracious initiative toward us in Christ (Matthew 6:9). Which means we can help dads meditate on the following: our own rebellion against God as our righteous and loving Father, Jesus’ flawless obedience to Him as His Son, our need to be adopted into God’s family by grace through faith in Christ, our Christian condition before God as a repentant prodigal, and even our temptation to play the self-righteous older brother (Luke 15:11-32).

The dads among us can more fully delight in the privilege of Christian fatherhood when they grasp God’s covenant promise that He will be a father to us, and we will be sons to him in Christ.[1]Christian dads must first view themselves as sons of God by grace if they want to reflect that same grace to their own children, a grace that lovingly mingles mercy and truth.

Meditate on the Doctrine of Adoption
We don’t necessarily have to preach a topical sermon on what it means to be a father just because it’s Father’s Day. I don’t. Yet that doesn’t mean we have to go to the other extreme and ignore it altogether (I don’t do that, either). If we’re committed to preaching the gospel every week from every text, as we ought to be, then gospel themes and applications, like the fatherhood of God and adoption into His family through the gospel, can sprout organically from almost any text. They don’t have to be “stapled” onto a sermon that’s really about something else.

When the gospel of God’s Son is the main thing clarified in all our preaching, then the categories of fatherhood and sonship can rise naturally from the redemption that the Father has planned to accomplish for us through His Son.[2]We can encourage Christian fathers with the reality that they are now sons of God in union with Jesus Christ, having the full status of first-born co-heirs with Christ by grace alone through faith alone. In doing so, we encourage them to carry out their duties as dads in the wider context of their life in Christ. We carry out these duties, not in the futility and impotence of the flesh, but in the effectiveness of the gospel and the power of the Spirit. The best dads are those who rejoice in the goodness and grace of being sons of God through faith in Christ. Grateful sons grow into godly dads.

Encourage Spiritual Fatherhood in the Church
The topic of fatherhood doesn’t stop with how we lead our own biological children. We can encourage all our men to think about the church as God’s household, with God as our Father (1 Timothy 3:15), and spur them on to aspire to eldership as spiritual fathers in the household of faith (1 Corinthians 4:15). And we can encourage all Christian men—whether dads, single men, or married men who wish they were dads but are as yet unable to have kids—to prioritize disciple-making in the local church. Remind them of the following promise:

To eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me, and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (Isa 56:4-5)

Pray for All Kinds of Dads
All too often, these Hallmark holidays are heartaches for people who have lost loved ones. So, if you’re going to address dads specifically, then you might serve your congregation well by thinking through some tender shepherding care for people in the congregation who may have lost their own fathers recently, husbands who have not seen their desire to be fathers fulfilled, and fathers who have lost children to tragic illness, accident, or even apostasy.

In our church service, we have two major prayers in the Sunday morning service—a prayer of praise and confession, and a pastoral prayer. The pastoral prayer includes a brief prayer through the New Testament reading that was just read, prayer for authorities (1Tim 2:1-2), prayers for other churches, prayers for our own spiritual growth as a congregation, and prayers for congregational ministries and needs. Praying a thoughtful, biblical prayer for dads as one part of that pastoral prayer can be a great way to encourage them without hijacking the service for the sake of a secular holiday. A number of texts would be appropriate (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Proverbs 1-2; Ephesians 6:4, etc.).

Of course, we can’t do all these things in one service, but we can thoughtfully engage fathers in the regular rhythms of our corporate gathering. We can even do it through the content of the hymns and songs we sing about God’s Trinitarian being, his fatherly care for us, and our blessed status as sons of God in Christ. All this keeps our address to fathers from becoming just another guilt trip, and it keeps the focus of our services where it ought to be every Sunday—on the gospel.

[1]See Exodus 4:22; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 89:26-27; 2 Corinthians 6:15-18; cf. Isaiah 43:6; Jeremiah 31:9.

[2]For example, see how Rom 8:12-17 arises from Romans 1–7; see also how Galatians 4:1-7 arises from Galatians 1-3.

Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander is as the Pastor of Grace Covenant Church of Fox Valley in St. Charles, Illinois.
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