How can today’s Christian fathers prepare their boys to be Christian men, when many of the cultural supports from former days have been removed and when the person most well-suited for the task of passing on the arts and skills of manliness and fatherhood—the boy’s father—is absent a majority of the time? If today’s fathers cannot mentor their sons, where will tomorrow’s fathers receive the training they need?
Fathers have had their difficulties in all periods of time, but today’s fathers face challenges that are somewhat new to the past few generations. The Industrial Revolution separated laboring fathers from their families, just as the Feminist Revolution more recently has separated mothers from their families. Schools now absorb the majority children’s time during their most creative and productive years and train them to become employees for multi-national corporations, not entrepreneurs within their local communities. In the classroom and beyond, boyhood and masculinity are denigrated, and Christianity is openly attacked. From where, then, will the next generation of Christian men arise, capable to lead, provide for, and protect their families?
The time has come for men to rally together, recognize the challenges facing them, and turn to God’s Word to re-discover the way forward. The following ten topics provide a framework for opening this important discussion.
In addition to the specific Bible passages cited there, consider also these general insights from God’s Word:
- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–7)
- “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
- “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
- “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Topic 1: Fatherhood and Society
Can we, in good Christian conscience, allow contemporary postmodern society—especially through its primary influence in the schools, the media, entertainment and various social media—to shoulder the burden of preparing our boys for manhood? Would we dare to delegate to society the responsibilities and tasks of the father’s vocation, to the extent that the father is unable to fulfill that calling? Was there ever a time when Christians could reasonably rely on society to make up for the shortcomings of Christian fathers with respect to the preparation of their sons for adulthood?
Topic 2: The Priority of Mentoring
Given that, to effectively mentor one’s son in anything, at minimum, the father needs to know his son, and the boy must have respect for his father, and given that this kind of relationship is developed over time and proximity, what kind of adjustments may be required of today’s Christian father if he is to have the availability for it?
Topic 3: Home Catechesis
The Christian father as chief catechist in the home: Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism was written as a guidebook to Christian fathers, beginning nearly every section with the instruction “As the Head of Household should teach … in a simple way to his household.” How might actively taking on the task of catechesis prepare one’s boys to live as men of conscience once they reach adulthood? How can a Christian father take on this task with integrity, understanding that he is accountable not only before God, but also to his home congregation? How can the father’s own life, and his relationship with his sons, demonstrate the great joy that the Gospel of forgiveness outshines the Law of condemnation?
Topic 4: Roles of Fathers and Mothers
The Christian father as “priest of his home”: In many Christian homes, spiritual leadership is often deferred to the mother. Why is this? What is the potential impact on boys, if their mothers are seen to constantly overshadow their Christian fathers in this vitally important leadership role? If they don’t already, how might Christian fathers visibly take on leadership in spiritual matters, without also being seen as subordinating or silencing their wives and trivializing their important spiritual influence?
Topic 5: Modeling a Christian Marriage
A Christian father’s relationship with his wife is very often a formative influence in a boy’s selection of his own “lifelong helpmeet” once he reaches manhood. Do we each treat our wife in a way that would demonstrate to our sons her value as our own highly prized “lifelong helpmeet”? Understanding that each of our sons is unique, how can we talk about women, especially our own wives, to our sons in ways that extol the qualities to be found in a female that are important—even indispensable—for a lifelong union with him? Does this take place in a single conversation?
Topic 6: Recognizing Genuine Beauty
Society has so perverted masculinity as to make of beauty in the eyes of a man an object of inordinate lust, power or greed—and it has done so mainly by exploiting known human weakness for the sake of profit, especially having created out of the female form a veritable fiction. Apart from society’s exploitative use of it, do men really know what beauty is anymore? If not, how do Christian men re-acquaint themselves with it? How do we, as Christian fathers, prepare our sons to behold, recognize, and appreciate beauty for what it is, without turning it into an object of deadly vice? How do we teach them the distinction between someone who is beautiful (1 Peter 3:3–6) and something that evokes lust or greed, between someone whom we should recognize and appreciate, and something from which we should deliberately avert the eyes, or even flee as Joseph did (Genesis 39:7–13; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18)?
Topic 7: Industriousness
Being designed for the activity of labor in the Garden, and being set to work in it by God, generally speaking, for men, it is vitally important that we “know how to do stuff.” It is simply part of who we are. If such is not the “stuff” of revenue generation, it is often tasks related to domestic utility or to personal hobbies. Indeed, much of it is known well enough to become a source of income, given a bit more interest, or perhaps some additional professional training. From whom did we learn the majority of these things? How valuable have they been in terms of meeting the demands of life? For as useful as they have been to us, how important is it that this knowledge be passed on to our sons?
Topic 8: Diligence
The Bible says a great deal regarding the virtue of hard work (Colossians 3:23; 1 Timothy 5:8; Proverbs 6:10–12; 14:23; 13:4; 12:11,24). Whether they are chores related to the maintenance of the home, or to earning an income, do we work in such a way as to pass along this virtue? If our boys are not invited to labor with us, to learn the work itself, is our diligence at least apparent to them? What are the biggest challenges we face in passing along the virtue of hard work?
Topic 9: Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship was the vision for America’s economy from the time of our nation’s founding. It is the most rewarding form of labor, and a hallmark of the free man. But it is very hard work, requiring multiple sets of skills—not just those related to rendering the product or service itself, but also in marketing, customer maintenance and accounting, in addition to a sufficient knowledge of the law as to negotiate contracts and avoid legal entanglements. Learning these additional skills from scratch while executing a good idea can take a decade or more, the burden of which can be overwhelming and is often the cause of business failure. Whether we fathers are currently business owners or not, if we value entrepreneurship, how can we encourage and guide our boys into it, that they may learn the arts of the businessman when there is the least risk for them?
Topic 10: Generosity
In addition to the raw arts of the businessman, there is a division between legitimate profit motive and outright greed, and a balance between one’s motivation to be successful and his concern for others. For the entrepreneur of Christian conscience, these differences drive his business practices, and often put him at an apparent economic disadvantage when competing against those who are not guided by selfless Christian virtue (indeed, greed is now popularly referred to as an “economic virtue” while top business schools, which have long subordinated ethics studies to economics, openly teach our nation’s business leaders that the “path to power” lies in ruthless self-centeredness, that an “overactive conscience is dangerous to organizational survival”). What opportunities do Christian fathers have to demonstrate and teach to their sons Christian virtue in business dealings? If those opportunities are few, how can we create such opportunities?
What can fathers do to emphasize that our love and generosity toward others has as its proper source the grace and mercy of God toward us sinners in Christ Jesus our Savior? How might our dealings with others in worldly affairs provide occasions for evangelism—for sharing with them the Good News that they, too, may have peace with God through Jesus Christ?
The preceding discussion questions have been adapted, by permission of the author, from a handout entitled “Boys to Christian Men: The Father as Mentor to His Sons” that was presented to a men’s breakout session at the 2016 Wittenberg Academy Family Retreat.
Douglas Lindee is President and Chief Consultant at Mathetes, Inc., which specializes in enterprise systems management and business integration projects. In addition to this highly technical work, Mr. Lindee, along with his wife, who is a studio artist, also seeks to cultivate the fine arts through productions in watercolor, graphite, charcoal, and pastel media in a manner that integrates the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo-Classical traditions. His highest passion, however, is to serve as husband to Elizabeth, and father to their seven children, to whom, as home educators, they endeavor to provide a rigorous education in the high standards of Classical Lutheran Education.