The Fatherly Mother (or Motherly Father?)

Comments on last week’s blog post about pastors using nursing mothers as role models got somewhat sidetracked into a debate on breastfeeding in public worship! In an effort to get the conversation back on track, let’s just edge a few verses further on in 1 Thessalonians 2, and look at the next model of leadership that Paul introduces – The Firm Father.

When Paul used the nursing mother illustration, he probably anticipated the danger of the Thessalonians running to an extreme with it, and becoming too “soft.” Because he immediately introduces the Firm Father model to balance it (1 Thess. 2:11).

dad feeding babyWhile the Gentle Mother model calls us away from hard-hearted authoritarianism, the Firm Father model calls us away from soft-hearted spoiling of our spiritual children. The leader is called to exercise fatherly authority as well as motherly care. Maybe try to imagine a man feeding a baby with a bottle if you want to capture the balance of this. But let’s look a bit more at the issue of fatherly authority.

The undergirding of authority (v. 10)
The Apostle laid a foundation for his fatherly authority with fatherly presence and fatherly example.

Fatherly presence: There is no such thing as an “absent father.” If a father is always absent from the home, he is not a father. The Apostle can say “we behaved ourselves among you.” As the one whose preaching brought them to life, he could call himself their spiritual father. But he did not just give life and go; he lived among them and with them. They saw him and observed his conduct. He interacted and communicated with them.

Fatherly example: The Apostle asks them to remember not just that he was among them, but how he was among them. He says that his conduct was holy, just, and blameless. He set before them a good and godly example.

There can be no fatherly authority without fatherly presence and fatherly example. And the more of that that exists, the more fatherly authority will be respected.

The use of authority (v. 11)
The Apostle gave authoritative commands in this letter to the Thessalonians. However, his exercise of authority was much more than the issuing of bare commands. He says: “We exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children.”

  • Exhortations (aimed at the will) are positive appeals that a father makes while walking alongside his kids.
  • Comforts (aimed at the heart) are soothing encouragements he gives when picking them up after a fall.
  • Charges (aimed at the conscience) are earnest entreaties that appeal to objective truth and bring it to the conscience.

And notice that Paul gave these exhortations, comforts, and charges to “every one of you.” They were tailored to every single individual in appropriate measure.

Clearly, fatherly authority is a much wider and a much more demanding concept than just commanding people to do something.

The undermining of authority
There are many factors in wider society that undermine the spiritual authority of pastors (the general lack of respect for authority, the media’s caricaturing of preachers, the scandals involving prominent preachers, etc). However, this loss of authority is often made worse by pastors themselves.

Obviously if a pastor engages in sinful conduct, he will lose the respect of his flock. However, the most common way I’ve seen pastors undermine their authority is not so much in sinful conduct, but in foolish and inappropriate conduct – just a simple lack of common sense.

If we act like an academic scholar when we are talking to children, like a gladhanding politician climbing the social ladder when in company, like a radio talk-show host when giving our opinions, etc., then people are not going to respect what we say.

In some ways I wish it wasn’t so, but what we wear also has an impact upon how people view us. Yes, God looks on the heart, but remember people do look on our outward appearance…and draw conclusions about our character. If we dress like teenagers when we are 60, or dress for a funeral when playing games with the children; if we disregard established social conventions; if we play sport or Scrabble as if its the World series or the World Cup; or if, as Robert Anderson says, we “flaunt a macho image, attempting to convey exaggerated images of our manhood,” etc., we will undermine our authority and lose people’s respect.

In The Effective Pastor, Rober Anderson relates how a lady one told him: “It is so nice to have a pastor who you know always will say the appropriate thing. He actually thinks before he speaks. We haven’t always had pastors like that.” Anderson exhorts: “God wants people who have a sense of dignity about them. I do not mean stuffy people. I mean people who know how to conduct themselves properly.”

So concerned was Anderson about this lack of common sense in so many pastors that he brought in someone to teach his class about basic social etiquette….without much success. He says:

Unfortunately it probably is one of the classes that is received the most poorly. I say unfortunately because it is the class that often is needed the most. Not many of our graduates fail in the ministry because they fall prey to doctrinal errors. Numbers, howev­er, have made an improper impact on the ministry simply because they are “klutzes,” are continually making themselves offensive to people—and they will not change. Simple things—such as practicing acceptable table manners, placing a mint in their mouths when deal­ing with people in close proximity, and refraining from picking the nose, ears, or teeth in public—would give those people substantial mileage in being more acceptable to others. If they learned a few social graces in addition and were able to remember to express grati­tude to people for every kind action no matter how small, they would be making major progress toward becoming the type of re­spectable person the Bible demands for the position of pastor. The person who basks in his crudeness and considers it a necessary part of his “macho” image probably should seek another vocation besides the pastorate.

So, it’s neither Gentle Mother nor Firm Father, but both, in appropriate balance for each situation we face. Too much of either – and all of us have a bias to the one or the other – will imbalance us.

But a lack of common sense will destroy us.

Lectures on Exodus & Leviticus

Here are SermonAudio links to the next two lectures in my Old Testament Introduction course.

Lecture 3. Exodus Overview: Redemption of a Covenant People

Lecture 4. Leviticus Overview: Worship of a Covenant People

And if you’re really keen, here are the skeleton notes that I give to the students and ask them to fill out as we go along.

Lecture 3. Exodus Overview: Redemption of a Covenant People (pdf)

Lecture 4. Leviticus Overview: Worship of a Covenant People (pdf)

And if you want to keep track of where we’re going with the lectures in the coming weeks, here’s the Course Schedule (pdf).

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (48)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.

Here’s a brief explanation of the plan.

10 more things I wish I’d known at College

Yesterday I linked to a Lifehacker article that compiled the top ten responses to the question: What do you wish you’d known when you were at College? Most of the top 10 answers were also applicable to Christian students.

However, I then asked you for ideas to help compile a top 10 list that would be especially relevant for Christian students. Here’s your suggestions, together with my own.

Thriving at College1. Read Thriving at College by Alex Chediak. Every church should have a crate of these to give away to their students.

2. Get addicted to the holy habits of daily Bible reading (thanks Se7en), and prayer. Whatever else you study, make the Word of God your #1 priority. And whoever else you speak to, speak to your Maker, Sustainer, Guide, and Guard. As Pete said, you need the Lord’s help to “flee temptations.”

3. Seize the immense opportunity to form friendships and speak the gospel to those friends.
Ryan commented: “The time in college is far and away the most fertile ground for relational evangelism.” (see Ryan’s letter to new students here.) Pete advised students to consider a College Campus ministry to encourage you and train you in this.

4. Mix with older people. The vibrancy of multiple young people on a campus can make older people seem very boring. However, mixing with wise and experienced older people, especially senior citizens, can teach you more than any college. And, believe it or not, they can also learn from you.

5. Keep in regular contact with your parents (and your brothers and sisters). Many young people go to college, plunge themselves into exciting new relationships, and almost completely cut themselves off from their families – sometimes unthinkingly, but sometimes deliberately. Not wise. Make sure that you are in at least weekly contact with your parents and share your life with them.

6. Don’t major in dating, and don’t make marriage your ultimate goal. If God means you to marry, then you don’t have to spend every waking and sleeping moment thinking and dreaming about it. He’ll arrange the marriage. Be patient. Don’t experiment.

7. Set yourself a deadline to choose and settle down in a local church. To spend a few weeks or even a couple months looking for the best church is fine. But insist to yourself that you choose by the end of the first semester and then stay there. And don’t choose a church based on dating potential.

8. Serve your local church. Don’t just be a taker; be a giver too. Ask what service you can offer to your church. And don’t think yourself above the mundane and unseen service roles.

9. Find a mentor. Maybe ask the pastor or one of the elders to meet with you regularly to keep you accountable and to encourage your spiritual growth and development. Work through a book together, perhaps something like Note to Self by Joe Thorn.

10. Keep the Lord’s Day holy.
You will be very tempted by all the student activities offered on Sundays. You will also be tempted to study your subjects, write your papers, and prepare for exams on Sunday afternoon and evening. But your body and mind need to rest. Research has shown that students who take a full day off studies each week do better than those who work and study seven days a week. If you keep Sunday free for worship, fellowship, Christian service, reading good books, etc., you are laying a foundation for College and life success. Get organized for Monday on Saturday, trust the Lord to honor your honoring of His day, and begin to look forward to a day each week when you can leave your studies behind with a good conscience. You’ll find it liberating!

10 things I wish I’d known in college

81 million Americans went back to school this week. 17.5 million of them are in post-secondary education, and most of them are already feeling that the summer was last century. The first assignment is already due, the first demerits have already been handed out, the exercise program is already growing fat, and 6am already feels like 3am. Does it need to be like this? Am I managing myself and my time in the best way? Am I going to look back on this time with deep regret?

stressed student

Maybe you need to read What do you wish you’d known when you were at college? in which Lifehacker compiles its top ten of reader responses to this question. In summary:

Focus on Academics
1. Go to class.
2. Go to office hours.

Work on Discovering Your Calling or Developing Career Skills
3. Do internships.
4. Learn job-relevant skills.

Mind Your Finances
5. Go for the free money.
6. Avoid debt.

Get Social
7. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Make the Most of This Unique Time
8. Don’t be in a rush to get out early.
9. Get involved with a club or association.
10. Study abroad.

Although there are some helpful tips for everyone here, it’s obviously not a distinctively Christian list. For example, I doubt #10 would be a good choice for most young Christians. So, what would a Christian list look like? As a Christian, what do you wish you’d known in college?

I’ll compile your answers, add some of my own, and post the result tomorrow.

PS: And while we’re on the subject of avoiding regrets in school or college, here’s 10 Privacy Tips for the Connected Student.

I’m so tired of all the Grand Rapids bashing.

OK, I’m really tired of all the Grand Rapids-bashing that keeps rearing it’s ugly head in the Reformed blogosphere.

grand rapids

Anyone visiting from Moscow, would think that the city is simply the biggest drag on the Reformed resurgence.

What, you mean that’s just happened?

Yes, the latest salvo of contempt is from Doug Wilson:

And by Calvinist, I do not mean someone who grew up in the environs of Grand Rapids, and whose thought processes are tinctured with some elements of a by-gone Reformed tradition. I mean somebody who actually thinks that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across.

I mean, what a crime, to have been raised in or near Grand Rapids, and to actually have some sense of theological connection to God’s work in past ages. You couldn’t possibly be that and ”think that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across” could you?

But, thankfully, according to Mr Wilson, deliverance is near. Yes, apparently a striking new “Kuyperian aesthetic” is the answer. “Get out of the way, Historical Theology; make way, Confessional Standards; we’re coming through with our novels, movies, music and paintings. Vive la revolution!”


Now, I admit, Grand Rapids is far from perfect. It’s seen better days – economically and spiritually. The triple viruses of academic liberalism, dead orthodoxy, and cold nominalism have done their deadly work – as they have in every other American city. But much good remains. God’s work goes on – even in Grand Rapids. There are a number of excellent preachers here, and many wonderful Christians. It’s a fantastic place to live, work, and raise a family. I’ve preached in numerous churches here, representing various denominations, and found so much to thank God for.

But even if we’re as bad as we’re made out to be, how should you go about trying to help us? Well, when Jesus saw another “Reformed Jerusalem” in a poor spiritual condition, he didn’t spit out scornful spiritual and cultural superiority, but after forceful critique He wept tears of compassion and pled for her to return to Him.

I see something similar to this concerned pity in the sentiments Tweeted by Shai Linne when he visited Grand Rapids last week:

  • In Grand Rapids, MI for the weekend. Lots of old churches. Seems like revival came and went.
  • Few things more sad than seeing evidence of a once-thriving-but-now-dead Christianity. A warning for us.
  • Seems like it happened early last century would be my guess. I want to research to see what happened here.
  • Most of the seemingly dead churches here in GR have “reformed” in the title. Shows that right doctrine alone isn’t enough.
  • Can anyone point me to a resource that deals with the dutch reformed movement in the Grand Rapids, MI area?

Shai and I have disagreed in the past, but I certainly agree with the spirit and content of these remarks: first-hand knowledge, recognition of God’s past work, sadness over present decay, appeal to learn lessons, a desire to know more, a concerned warning, and a serious commitment to understand an important and beautiful branch of Christ’s church.

What an example to others who have a genuine desire for the good of the city, the strengthening of the church, and the salvation of lost souls.