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FATHER’S DAY: Churches promote, equip ‘servant leaders’ at home

NASHVILLE (BP) — When Fred Luter had a son, he wanted to give him a biblical name. So he decided on “Chip.” As in, “chip off the old block” — a reference to the oft neglected biblical principle that children’s lives are shaped by the spiritual, intellectual and emotional leadership of their fathers.

“When I started living for God and then I got married and God blessed me with a son, one of my prayers to God was, ‘Let me be the spiritual man in my son’s life that I didn’t have in my home growing up,'” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. “And God honored that.”

Today Fred “Chip” Luter III is campus pastor at Idlewild Baptist Church’s Sulpher Springs campus in Tampa, Fla. Fred Luter Jr., a former Southern Baptist Convention president, is among the Baptist leaders seeking to teach men practically what it means to be the leaders of their homes.

“Men are supposed to be, according to Scripture, the provider, the protector and the priest of their family,” the elder Luter told Baptist Press.

As providers, men are responsible to meet their families’ needs financially “no matter how much their wife makes,” Luter said. In the Garden of Eden, “before God ever gave Adam a wife, God gave Adam a job.”

As protectors, men should guard their wives and children from physical threats, shield them from harmful content on television and the Internet, and keep their teenagers from dating unwholesome people, Luter said.

A man’s priestly role involves teaching his family the Bible. Luter noted, “I don’t care how long the wife’s been saved, how long she’s been in church, it is God’s desire that the husbands and dads be the spiritual leaders of their families.”

Thanks in part to Luter’s persistent emphasis on reaching men for Christ and teaching them to lead their families, Franklin Avenue’s membership is 47 percent male — eight percentage points better than the average U.S. church’s male attendance, according to the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

The continuing goal — and challenge — of developing male leadership in families extends beyond Franklin Avenue.

Sociologist Sally Gallagher concluded in her book “Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life” that evangelicals who claim to believe in male leadership in the family are “pragmatically egalitarian” in many cases. She gave an example of a 35-year-old homeschooling mother in Minnesota who told researchers she “sent” her husband to a men’s ministry event.

Sociologist Christian Smith criticized Southern Baptists in particular for not living out the Baptist Faith and Message’s claim in Article XVIII that while “the husband and wife are of equal worth before God,” a husband “has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.”

Smith wrote of Article XVIII in “Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want” noting, “By the time the principles behind these key words are actually worked out in ordinary evangelicals’ daily lives, their marriages do not look much like what one imagines the Baptist leaders were hoping to produce.”

Smith may have a flawed view of what Baptist leaders “were hoping to produce.” When Article XVIII was initially adopted in 1998, the media largely viewed it as promoting patriarchal rule rather than the servant leadership in the home which the article lifts up as the biblical norm.

Indeed, sociologists John Bartkowski, Bradford Wilcox and Christopher Ellison noted in a Harvard research project shortly after Article XVIII was adopted that “the time is right to reconsider the one-dimensional portraits of conservative Protestant parents — and, particularly, notions of an authoritarian evangelical father.” Such notions, the researchers wrote, were “unflattering,” “inaccurate” and did not reflect evidence “that evangelical parenting yields positive benefits for the children raised in such homes.”

Bartkowski, Wilcox and Ellison wrote, “To be sure, evangelicals distinguish themselves from most other parents by the premium that they place on children’s obedience and by their more frequent use of corporal punishment. However, critics of religious conservatives would do well to remember that many of the values embraced in progressive quarters — i.e., admonitions against parental yelling, encouragement of open emotional expression and paternal involvement — are clearly present within evangelical homes. Indeed, these progressive parenting strategies are utilized more by evangelicals than by other parents.”

Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and chairman of the committee that proposed Article XVIII in 1998, said at the time, “Many within the secular and religious media teed off” on the issue of male leadership and saw Article XVIII’s call for it “as an entree for men to be domineering, demanding and abusive.”

Jordan responded, “Nothing could be further from the teaching of Scripture or the article we added to our statement of faith. It just isn’t there. To say so is to be dishonest. Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message is an excellent statement of biblical truth. It calls for a husband and wife to love each other deeply and live in harmony fulfilling their God-given roles in marriage.”

Many congregations continue to defy the secular stereotype by equipping husbands and fathers to live out the vision of biblical manhood articulated in the BF&M. Among them is Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla. Pastor Stephen Rummage told BP selfishness is among the greatest obstacles to godly male leadership in Christian families.

“Men are not thinking about leading at all,” Rummage said, “or the places we aspire to lead are outside the primary role of leadership that God has given us in the homes. A lot of men are seeking to lead in their business or seeking to lead in their favorite recreational activity, or even seeking to lead within the organization of the church. But they don’t have a desire to pour themselves out sacrificially to lead in the home.”

At times, men do not feel godly enough to lead their families spiritually, Rummage said. That’s why Bell Shoals emphasizes men’s accountability groups and offers regular leadership classes for men. The congregation’s men also receive weekly encouragement emails.

“We’ve seen some guys who have really stepped up as a result of that and become spiritual leaders in their homes and the church,” Rummage said.

The story is similar at First Baptist Church in Las Cruces, N.M., 50 miles north of El Paso, Texas. Through a Saturday morning men’s Bible study that meets once per month and an emphasis on men volunteering to serve the community, First Baptist teaches men practically how to lead.

Men “understand about prayer,” said Richard King, associate pastor at First Baptist. “They understand about their responsibility with their family. But actually translating that understanding into action” is more difficult.

A man can start leading through simple acts like gathering his family for prayer apart from meal times twice per month or volunteering with his wife and children at a ministry or other nonprofit organization, King told BP.

Husbands must serve their wives and make decisions “in consultation” with them, King said. “But I am the one who is holding my family up. Therefore, the responsibility falls to me.”

King remembers being struck years ago on a Saturday morning by his own responsibility as a father. Overwhelmed with his children’s frantic schedule of soccer, baseball and other activities, he made a rule that each child would be limited to one extracurricular endeavor. The resulting margin in life made room for discipleship as well as relaxation.

Leadership decisions like that, while at times difficult to make, can help men recapture the biblical vision of marriage and fatherhood, King said.

“As a father, I can’t just sit back with the remote in my hand and expect my wife and expect my children to” grow spiritually, King said. “I have to be actively engaged.”

He added, “When we do that, our kids are going to develop a respect for us, and more times than not, they’re going to follow our example.”