by Clayton Knight
WARREN, MI – For many people in the church, there’s a certain kind of dread that creeps in one Sunday every June. What is intended to be a holiday to celebrate dads, can easily become an opportunity for hurt—both old and new—to rear its ugly head. Sadly, life in this fallen world means that everyone’s dad is a sinner.
Oftentimes, those sinful dads have caused tremendous amounts of pain to their own children. As a pastor, I’ve sat and wept with people in my church as they talked with me about their wicked fathers. As foster parents, my wife and I have cared for children who bear the consequences of their fathers’ poor choices, absenteeism, neglect, or criminal activity.
For other men, Father’s Day serves as a painful reminder that they aren’t fathers yet, despite their deep desire to become one. For others, Father’s Day comes loaded with sadness. Maybe dad has passed away. Or perhaps it’s dad himself who’s faced with mourning the loss of a child who’s no longer here to celebrate.
Added to the mix, pastors can be tone deaf to the complex emotions that many feel on Father’s Day. We can be totally unaware of what we’re doing when we walk up into our pulpits and thoughtlessly blab out, “Happy Father’s Day!”
When we tailor our sermons to fathers and maybe even hand out gifts to dads in attendance (I once knew of a church that fried bacon for every dad who walked into the church building on Father’s Day), we may unintentionally be throwing salt in an open wound for many hurting people in our congregations.
But I think it's time that we broadened our understanding of who a “father” is in the church.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).
Here, Paul is arguing that God is making one new humanity in Christ. And that “new humanity” is God’s household—the church. And in his household, there are spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers—as Paul makes abundantly clear elsewhere:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Paul himself, being a celibate, single man (1 Cor 7:7), understood that he was a “father” to the entire congregation at Corinth:
Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15
So, here's the truth that we need to grapple with: You don’t have to have kids to be a dad in the church. You don’t even have to be married. You just have to be a man committed to Christ and his plan for the world.
People ought to be able to look at the mature, godly men in our churches and say, “That’s a father.”
“What?” someone may respond, “But that guy doesn’t even have kids. What do you mean he’s a father?”
To which we reply, “Oh yes, he does! That man is a father to many in the church.”
I don’t know your family situation or your past, but I do want you to know the kind of family you are welcomed into now in Christ. The psalmist lamented, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).
Now, let’s ask ourselves this: How does the Lord take people in?
The answer: he does it through the local church.
So, let’s commit ourselves to shaping our church communities, our sermons, and our holiday celebrations according to the Word of God. So that, by God’s grace, we may see more spiritual fathers (and mothers!) rise up in our churches for the glory of God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clayton Knight is the Senior Pastor at Warren Woods Baptist Church in Warren, Michigan. He is married to Sarah and a blessed daddy to one sweet daughter.