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Avoiding two Ditches of Family: Part 1

Ditches for Family Leaders

I have a confession to make. Before I got married, I went through a battery of books and DVDs that would help prepare me for marriage, so that Laurie and I would be on sound footing for the early (and late) years of marriage. This type of work is what is necessary to have a solid marriage. A good marriage takes work and effort, and that was on my radar screen before marriage.

With our first child, however, I went about my parenting as if raising believing children came naturally, without work. I had never considered the idea of family driven faith. Pretty shameful—as if Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, and Ephesians 6 didn’t mean anything until.

Since discovering the joy of family worship, my major struggle as the leader of my family has involved two ditches. Our goal is to be on the smooth road, yet we have a tendency to swing our car from one ditch to another. I see two ditches on our road of faithfulness as a neglect of the family, or an idolization of the family. (I write this with men in mind, though I hope women can take the ideas presented here and mold them to your profound position in raising the next generation)

The First Ditch: Neglect of family

Neglecting to raise your children to love the Lord. Now, don’t get me wrong—the Holy Spirit converts. I cannot give my child the “Christian shot” at the age of seven. What I mean by raising children to love the Lord is that Christ is the center of the house, and we faithfully put Christ before our children.

What the ditch looks like?

Allow me to lay out some parameters. For men, it is their physical absence (over-working, over-playing, over-hobbying—all of these done outside of the context of the home), OR their emotional absence (much tougher for men—but the lack of being that solid rock for the family), OR their spiritual absence (no plan or purpose for parenting, no leadership in spiritual things, or farming the child off to the church so the “professionals” can raise your child).

This ditch has major impact on a family. Our children can be wounded by never having the attention of their father. And we will have regret—the “I missed it” or “I blew it” thoughts that wreak havoc. Neglecting your family is a problem that too many of us fall trap to and will later have to clean up the negative effects.

What is the solution?

The gospel. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—from Saul the murderer to Peter the denier. Repent, and embrace one of the greatest callings in the world—raising the next generation to trust the Lord.

Where the rubber meets the road: Here’s a question I’ve been mulling over in my mind: Since you only have one shot at this life, what is the best use of your time here on earth? Then there is a litany of questions that you should answer over time: Why am I here on earth? What is the most important thing to me? How am I making what I say is the most important thing to me actually the most important thing to me? What can I do tomorrow that will impact my family most for Christ? How can I start to lead my family in a way that honors Christ? Should I leave my nice job that sucks me dry but gives us a good lifestyle and a good retirement to be more involved in the life of my family? Where is the balance between the two?

Lots of questions.

I have no answers for you—that’s between you, your family, and Jesus. However, my plea for you if you have neglected your family is that you would repent and get back into the game. Start small—you’re not going to climb Mt. Everest in a day. Start by making sure your family prays together at meal time. Goodness, even if that is hard—make sure your family at least has a meal time together. Start small, and when you don’t get it right all the time, try again. There isn’t a great father around who doesn’t miss a day (or a week). What sets the great fathers apart is that they keep at it.


1) Remember men that you have accountability and a friend in the process. Your wife is invaluable to you. She is your helper suitable. Partner with her in this—you set the spiritual tone of the family, but if you can’t read well, let her read. She might ask great questions that get the family thinking. She might play an instrument and sing better than you. In fact, she might be better at everything that you think of to do! I know that’s true in the Zanger household! However, you—fathers—you take the lead. You take the initiative.

2) Involve another man or a group of men in this process. Learn from each other—what has worked, what hasn’t worked. Hold each other accountable. In this day and age of texting, Facebook, Twitter, notifications, etc., use those things to help you in this battle to be the spiritual leader of your family. Check in once a week with your accountability partner and share your struggles, your victories, and your ideas. Encourage each other when you fail. Remember the great gospel of Christ—Christ didn’t die for you so that you, by your effort, could work your way to heaven. Even this “good work” of raising the next generation to love Christ was brought about completely by the grace and mercy of God (Ephesians 2:1-10).

3) Read books and use helps. Family Worship by D.A. Carson is highly recommended. Get a good children’s Bible. Get some good books that will help and guide you as you teach your children. Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware comes to mind. Use catechism. Use creeds. Use confessions. There is ample material for you out there—you don’t have to create it all yourself. Finally, and most importantly, keep in mind the goal of it all—the glory of Jesus Christ.

The Second Ditch

In my next article (Lord willing), I will examine the second ditch—idolization of the family.

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