Great Father, Good Pastor

Finding the Joys In Fatherhood

“Dad! I need you!”

“Dad! He called me an idiot!”

“Dad! Are you going to be home tomorrow?”

“Dad! You make my life miserable!”

“Dad! Will you lay down with me until I go to sleep?”

“Dad! Can I get on your shoulders?”

“Dad!” That’s not what I said!”

These are the voices of my home. The cries of my sons ages 13, 10, and 4. I hope you can understand that every time I hear that one syllable exclamation “Dad!” – my heart doesn’t leap, enraptured with the joy of fatherhood, especially when they are all tucked into bed and I’m laid flat on the couch.

I dread the trip back up the stairs, knowing it will result in another trip down for water.

Then another for ice.

Then another for a forgotten field trip permission slip.

Then another to turn out a closet light.

All along I’m watching the clock.

8:30 – 9:00 – 9:30

I’m still not asleep. I need to unwind. I need some time alone with my wife. I need some time alone with myself. In those moments when I’m bothered by the cries, whines, and requests of my sons, it seems foolish not to simply thank God that I get to be a father at all. But that’s not the way it is.

Often, when I hear “Dad!” I wince instead of rejoice.

 

Father to My Boys

I get this question often from fellow pastors,

“How do you balance ministry and family?”

On one hand, Jesus said you’ll have to hate your family to follow him. He pointed to his followers when his mother and brothers wanted to see him and said, “Here’s my family.”

Yet on the other, from cover-to-cover within the Scripture, there is no doubt that fathers have a specific responsibility and privilege to love and care for their children.

As I care for, lead, and provide for my sons, I reflect the beauty of the gospel through my parenting.

Here’s the reality.

While my sons are a part of my church, the church can never be my sons.

No one else in my church runs out the door to my car sleepy-eyed to give me a hug before I pull out of the driveway for work.

No one else in my church climbs in a recliner with me to watch a football game.

No one else in my church hides under the covers of my bed so they can tickle my feet.

No one else in my church begs me to throw a football, ride a scooter, or be a Storm Trooper.

This I know: My sons don’t have another dad.

Two of my boys are adopted. They’ve already lost one dad. I will not be another.

But while they know what it is to lose a father, I know what it is to lose a son. You see, I have four sons. My third son only lived for 25 hours. I remember the morning he was born. I remember the afternoon he died.

A year after we buried him, we started a church 500 miles away from his grave. It was hard to leave him there. I suppose it didn’t make a lot of sense to be close to that plot of dirt and the 1’x 2’ stone marker. No, I’d never hear, “Dad! Can you get me some ice cold water?” from that grave. I’d never hear, “Dad! I need your help,” from under that layer of sod.

 

Great Father, Good Pastor

When we planted in our new city, I knew the work would be hard. I read the stories of church planters rising early and working long into the evening. I’d read the stories of pastors pulling 80-hour weeks.

But I couldn’t make myself do it.

As much as I wanted to be a “successful” church planter, I wanted to hear “Dad!” more.

Now, 5 and a half years into the life of our church, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. The more I declined the 6:30 pm meetings in order to be present at the dinner table with my boys, the more I passed on the 7:00 am breakfast in order to walk my boys to school, the more I told my church “No” in order to tell my sons, “Yes,” – to school programs, baseball games, and BBQ’s – the clearer picture my church, and my family, saw of the gospel I preached to them every Sunday.

Paul writes in Romans,

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” [Romans 8:14-16]

The Spirit of God, through adoption, prompts me to say to God, “Dad!”

While my sons are a part of my church, the church can never be my sons.

 

What could be more beautiful than filling out that picture by being present to answer “Yes, son?” when my own boys cry out to me. Aren’t the Scriptures full of our Father’s encouragement to us, reassuring us that he hears us and wants to care for us?

I learned that telling my church family “No, I’m sorry, I’ll be with my family” has produced some of the most beautiful fruit of my ministry. And I think that’s the way God desires it to be.

Yes, I work hard. I have late nights. But often, the best ministry unfolds around my kitchen table, on my couch, in a playroom or in one of my sons’ rooms, talking with guests in my home about the gospel while I’m interrupted by endless requests for “one more story” or “one more game of Uno.”

 

Brothers, Arise!

I have 3 sons that can cry out “Dad!”. I have one that can’t. I can’t hear his voice right now, and I suppose, he can’t hear mine.

But there is a voice he will hear.

The One that says, “Little Child, I tell you, arise” [Mark 5:41]

At that moment, the Dad who has been listening to His children since day 6 of creation will bust open that 1’ x 2’ gravestone in Durham, NC. I will then spend eternity talking to all four of my boys about how thankful I am, not only to be their dad, but their brother, too.

 

 

Trevor M. Atwood

Trevor is the lead pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, TN. Trevor received his M.Div from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Keva, have three boys: Micah, Isaac, and Simon.

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