When my parents called me home as a boy it was often not good news. It meant my time to play had expired. Or maybe I was in trouble. It meant goodbye friends, farewell fun and games. It meant hello chores, hello accountability. On the other hand it could mean that supper was ready, which was always of interest to me. Home was generally a place to go because you had to eat and sleep and bathe and do necessary work. Home was where you went when everything else was closed. But the real action was elsewhere, so I believed.
When I was a grown man I called my own children home. It wasn’t just for chores, or dinner. I called them home out of the culture. Naomi was in high school, Nathan and Aaron were in middle school, Alexa was in elementary school and Caleb was being homeschooled. I decided that although the older four were getting good grades, they got along well with their classmates, and they were bragged about by their teachers, I needed them to come home so that I could train them.
Arden and I had started off teaching our children at home. Since we were both public school teachers, and we knew the inside of the government educational system, we were convinced that it would better for them to receive faith-based, individualized instruction at home instead of age-segregated classroom instruction. Arden quit her job to stay home and things went well for a number of years. As each child reached ten years of age, we enrolled them for a year in the public school where I taught so that they could have me, Mr. Sleadd, as their fifth grade teacher.
Then Arden’s health took a dive because of a mysterious illness called fibromyalgia. The disease laid her up for long periods with wracking pain and fatigue. Her erratic condition often left her so debilitated that she needed help with even simple tasks like getting dressed, eating and taking care of herself. She became physically spent, emotionally depressed and unable to teach the children. I decided to enroll them full time in the local public schools.
I figured we’d make the most of the situation and allow the kids to bloom where they were transplanted. Wanting to be a good dad, I indulged them in school sports, private music lessons, church youth groups, and visits with friends. Since Arden was unable to drive, I handled all the taxi responsibilities. At times I covered the shopping and cooking, too, with the kids pitching in when possible. You can imagine what our home life was like trying to keep up with swim team, football, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics, track, piano, violin and trumpet lessons; games, meets, concerts, recitals, parades, parent conferences and school functions—for three different school schedules.
Add to this our weekly church experience where each child was encouraged to attend age-segregated youth activities. Top it all off with invitations to parties and outings with friends, and you’ve got a recipe for family frazzle. I felt like I was herding rabbits. We were in a rat race and the rats were winning. We were fast becoming relational strangers, sharing the same roof and last name. There was no time for discipleship. The public school curriculum was thoroughly secular. The church youth activities were shallow and entertainment oriented. I was witnessing the hearts and minds of my children being drawn steadily to a peer culture and away from the things of family.
I started to recognize a huge discrepancy between the picture of Biblical fatherhood and how I was raising my kids. Certain verses in the Bible began to impress and convict me. The implications of the following Scripture passages hit me like a ton of bricks.
Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Malachi 2:15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
Malachi 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
Ephesians 5:15-17 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Imagine spending so much time in a house of distorted mirrors that you don’t recognize a true reflection when you see it. I found myself in such a place. My mind told me there was something wrong with this picture and it dawned on me that I was permitting others to train my children. I was not diligently teaching my children God’s Word, and I was allowing them to be surrounded with foolish companions, most of whom had no respect for a Biblical worldview. I realized that sending my children to Caesar’s schools was designed to bring Roman values into my home. Furthermore, our frantic family schedule was evidence that we had been stretched and distorted into the mold of the world. Our commitments to sports, academics and achievement crowded out time for reading God’s Word and for worshipping as a family. I wanted out of the house of mirrors.
I began to study my children closely, looking for spiritual fruit, and paying attention to their attitudes. I asked them a lot of questions about the things that were important to them. I looked for evidence of gratitude, contentment, a love of Scripture, a heart for service, and a preference for family. Finding these things lacking, I prayed for wisdom and decided that a radical change was in order.
Called Home At Christmas
I called my children home during Christmas vacation of 2002. I shared my observations in a family meeting, and confessed that I had dropped the ball in discipleship. I said that I felt God’s Word compelled me to train them properly, from here on, which I could not accomplish with them remaining in secular schools. I confessed that I had left the burden of child training to their mother when she was ill. I asked Arden to forgive me. She did. I apologized to my children for not being more involved in their discipleship and asked them to forgive me. They did. I told them that I would now fully bear the responsibility for their education and that I would need their support and patience in working out the bugs. I told them they would finish their current school year, and be homeschooled thereafter.
My children sat in shock, at the announcement, weighing their losses (friends, sports, etc.). But they understood. They will tell you now that they saw God at work in their dad, breaking me and directing me. I’m sure they also reasoned that I had the rest of the school year to change my mind, so why worry about it.
Having made the decision, I had episodes of doubt. On several occasions I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night wondering if I had lost my mind. “God, what are you doing to me?” I asked. “Can I really do this?” Certain of my inadequacy, I found comfort by reading the Bible and praying. Eventually I settled into the mindset that anything God calls me to do, He would supply the ability to complete. I began to look at is as a glorious adventure. How could five kids get a good education at home with a sick mom and a dad who left for his full time job each morning? If it didn’t work out, I figured I could always put them back in school and I’d be wiser for the trying.
Arden and I began to examine our schedule and lifestyle carefully to see what could be trimmed. We prioritized devotional time together over individual time apart. We used our reclaimed time at home to be together to play games and invite other families to visit. We found it easier to fellowship with entire families rather than invite one child to come play with one of our children. We cut most of the sports and maintained most of the music. We cut youth groups. We cut sleepovers. For academics we chose some self-paced curriculum the older children could use to teach themselves. With plenty of modifications and flexibility we found we could focus on godly character development and achieve good scholastic results. I woke my children up early enough to have Bible study each morning before I left for work at 7:15am. Some of them even stayed awake while we did it.
We started singing together as a family and learned to harmonize in four parts. I determined that music would be one of the glues that would bond us together as a family. I bought a drum set, a bass guitar and a keyboard and we formed a family band, calling ourselves Homemade Jam. We started playing jazz, blues and contemporary praise music, which was great fun for me since I had played in dance bands while in college and enjoyed it. We played music in churches, parks, and nursing homes. We played twice at the Medford Jazz festival. My two daughters and I sang a harmonized arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner for the state legislature in Salem one year, and the whole family recorded our first a cappella Christmas CD in 2005.
We found that we had more time to read the Bible and great literature together, and to grow closer in conversation. Arden and I embraced a new vision of parenting that included preparing our children for marriage and for raising their own families in the future. We began to question the practice of superficial dating and became interested in models of biblical courtship.
Called To Build A Covered Bridge Ministry
The ton of bricks that had clobbered me, namely Scripture, became the foundation of a radical, missional mindset. I began to see God’s purpose for fathers more clearly. The clarity of the Lord’s call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut. 6:5), to love our neighbor selflessly (Matt. 22:39), and to make disciples, teaching them all that God has commanded (Matt. 28:20), had amazing ministry implications for dads like me. If a father’s closest neighbors are his wife and children, then it stands to reason that they are his primary mission field. T his missionary work is so important that a man’s ability to manage his family in godliness is a prerequisite for eldership in the church. “He must mange his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:4,5)
This understanding brought Biblical purpose into our home. God blessed us with unity and contentment, and soon we felt called to help others find their way out of the cultural house of mirrors. Thus was created Covered Bridge Family Ministries, the bridge representing the father’s protective covering over his household as children are directed over the span of time and circumstances into the next generation. We believe healthy families are beacons of hope in our troubled society, and that Christian households can be effective embassies of ministry for the living gospel of Christ.
For over four years now we have enjoyed promoting father leadership, family-integrated worship and home education. We have sponsored barn dances, variety shows, academic events, family building seminars, and a competitive speech club for homeschool students. To visit out our ministry web page go to http://www.coveredbridgefm.org/. In calling our children out of the secular culture, we felt that it was wise to provide healthy social events and activities to spur them on in their walk of faith. At our very first barn dance our oldest daughter met a young man, who two and a half years later would ask us to court her for marriage. Today they are happily married and are the delighted parents of a cheerful little baby boy.
Called To Transplant
Little did I know what lay ahead. I soon discovered that my newfound perspective on family ministry and father leadership was not widely shared. My own church, where I helped lead musical worship, taught parenting classes, and served as an elder, viewed family ministry as just another program on the ministry menu. While our large church had paid staff dealing with nursery, preschool, elementary Sunday School, junior high, high school, singles, and seniors, no one ministered to families as a unit. Parents were welcome to attend the weekly children’s drama, and to volunteer to work in classes, but no efforts were made throughout the church to unite families in teaching on Sundays. A perusal of the church’s web site, its ministry brochures, and its activities newsletters routinely gave evidence that youth were minstered to apart from their parents. Families did not generally sit together during services, but instead the youth sat together with their peers in one section of the auditorium while their parents sat in another section. I pointed out to the other elders how our regular practices were routinely fragmenting families. On any given Sunday it was typical for children to be dropped off at age-graded Sunday School classes and youth groups while their parents visited an adult class for the first hour. Then, during the second hour, the kids might go to Children’s Church while their parents attended the service. It was therefore possible that the only common experience a family might share Sunday morning at our church was the car ride to and from the building. The fact that my five children sat with me during the service made us feel like a conspicuous island in a sea of segregation. The house of mirrors was inside the church and we appeared to be the ones who were distorted.
I don’t want to unfairly portray my church as being against family unity. We had simply settled into routines and staffing decisions that promoted programs which tended to produce the results of family fragmentation. To be fair, the elders and staff all agreed that family restoration was a serious need. One elder initiated a three day family camp that became a yearly event, which was a wonderful approach to cultivating unity. Several families, mine among them, established age-integrated home groups, which were a blessing to participants. By and large, however, the vision for family restoration did not gain footing among the church staff as a significant priority. My recommendations for the youth minister to equip fathers to be youth ministers in their homes were unwelcome. I determined that my passion for strengthening families could best be explored apart from the ministry model of this church.
After a season of church visits, which I considered fascinating religious field trips for my children, I felt more than ever the need for family-integrated worship in our community. At one particular church my family was actually prohibited from sitting together in the main auditorium, because one of my children, under age ten was required to be in a Sunday School class. To worship together we were forced to watch the service in a remote room on a monitor. Almost unbelievable.
After many months of enjoying our visits at a variety of churches, and concluding that reformation in church practice was needed, we eventually committed to attending Coram Deo, a new, family-integrated church plant in Grants Pass. In time I accepted the position of worship leader which allowed my whole family to minister musically in the congregation. Each Sunday Pastor Dale Meador would preach at Bear Creek Church in Medford, and then drive twenty miles to Grants Pass to preach at Coram Deo. In January of 2007 Dale determined that Coram Deo needed a local pastor, and he asked me to consider stepping into that role. Initially I declined with a string of excuses about my inadequacy, but his persistence, and that of the other elders, led me to view his request as another of God’s promptings.
Called Home To Pastor
I took an unpaid year’s leave of absence from teaching to explore the Lord’s leading in shepherding a congregation. It was familiar territory to find myself awake in the middle of the night wondering, “God, what are you doing to me?” followed by a sense of peace and even adventure.
What exactly is a family-integrated church? It is a church that avoids systematic age segregation because we believe God’s Word calls parents to train their own children. It stresses that a pastor must be faithful to shepherd his own family while he serves the congregation. It assumes that Biblical mentoring implies older men and women should be with the younger members to serve as examples among them. At Coram Deo we emphasize a Biblical view of marriage and family, the importance of family worship and discipleship, the benefits of Christian education, and the need for a plurality of Biblically qualified leaders. We take seriously our charge to equip the saints for ministry, and to encourage fathers to diligently train their children. Our desire is to faithfully preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to help our members make God's Word the centerpiece of their homes.
God turned my heart toward my family. Perhaps He’s calling you, too. He might not ask you to be the pastor of a church, but I believe He calls all fathers to serve as pastors in their homes.