The Chinese church has responded energetically to the need for cross-cultural, global mission. With a heart and determination to commit and never look back, many missionaries and their families have been sent to the ends of the earth and entered the harvest fields.
The same DNA is in them as in the older generation of the church—charge, charge, charge into serving. Any kind of suffering is all for the Lord. They were inspired by the sacrificial love of Jesus: how could they not offer up their whole heart and soul to the Lord? Was there anything in this world that they could not give up for the Lord?
Such determination is admirable, but such a “charging in” also creates challenges that must be faced. In recent years, the number of missionaries and their families who have been derailed or even completely destroyed in missionary service has reached distressing, heart-wrenching levels.
One of the subjects that has not been brought up and explored is this question: In their ministry, have they not offered up to God what he required, and have they given up what God did not want them to give up? The answer is most definitely yes—in the area of building up their families and developing as parents.
Many who serve in the Chinese church have the theological view that if you are committed to ministry, God will take care of your family. There exists subconsciously, then, the idea that you can build family relationships without putting in any time or investment. This, coupled with the biased understanding that the Bible teaches that if someone wants to serve the Lord, they have to leave their parents, wife, and children behind, leads to the belief and practice that it is perfectly okay to abandon your family in order to serve the Lord.
This interplay of factors has led those committed to serving, especially among our brothers, not to put the deepening of their marriages or the development of their parental duties at the forefront of their ministry. They have not recognized the need to spend time building this “safety net” that is so deeply connected with their survival. However, when there is no safety net, or when the net breaks, or the ministry collapses through major setbacks, then the heartbreaking outcome is the shattering of lives and the undoing, or even complete disintegration, of ministry. But this is avoidable.
Of the many relationships in this safety net of survival, this article will offer a concise view of just one of the more neglected—fatherhood.
The Call to Another Ministry: Fatherhood
Missions scholars often cite the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:1–3, where God will bless the nations of the earth through Abraham, as an important foundation for missionary theology. But how God will fulfill this promise is to be understood in light of Genesis 18:17–19:
The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 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.”
This passage shows that Abraham’s fatherhood is closely linked to God’s blessing of the nations and is a part of his calling. God’s promise to bless him and the nations was fulfilled through his role as the head of a family and a tribe, commanding and teaching his children and their descendants to keep the word of God and to live it out through all generations.
This neglected connection should allow many key brothers who “charge in” to reflect on the call to fatherhood even as they respond to the call of the great commission. God’s command to Abraham, the father of faith, highlights not only the importance of verbal proclamation, but more crucially the need for mission that lives out God’s way of life, and for godly homes and families to be a major vehicle for the great work of mission. How very important is the call to spiritual fatherhood!
The Core of Spiritual Fatherhood
The Christian faith emphasizes fathers as the “head of the family,” referring directly to the God-given leadership, responsibility, and function of fathers. As fathers, it is they who are primarily responsible for raising their children.
Spiritual fatherhood in the father-son and father-daughter relationship begins with the lifelong formation of sons from boys into men, and daughters from girls into women, through a father’s parenting. It is to let children know that God created man and woman for his own purposes, that they may live out the great glory of being a man or woman.
Fatherhood is not only about nurturing children to live as men and women according to God’s design, but also about nurturing them to become godly, spiritual fathers and mothers to the next generation. Although not everyone will become a biological parent, the Word of God will be passed on through the many spiritual parents who have been nurtured. These spiritual parents will lead, shepherd, and teach spiritually, so that the faith will be handed down through the generations and spread to all nations.
As missionary workers lead people to the Lord and make disciples, how can they not also hope to see their children hold fast to their faith, live out the glory of being created by God, and go on to pass the faith from generation to generation? This is the reward for responding to the holy calling of fatherhood. May no father lose this reward.
The Formation of a Father
Effective fatherhood is not a natural process. It needs to be learned, and thus it is necessary to have clear objectives. I believe that God’s will for a mature father is to shoulder the leadership responsibility of being “head of the family” and a “hero dad” to his children. God wants fathers to lead with steadfast truth, courage, wisdom, and a tender heart.
To be effective as a father like this, one must first understand God’s idea of how to be a true man. After many years of study, I have come to the conclusion that what God wants in a man is a “resolute and tender Christian knight.”
The concept of the “Christian knight” is derived from the book Raising a Modern-Day Knight,1 which represents God’s vision of manhood. Honor and faithfulness are the language of the Christian knight and his signature traits. “Resolute and tender” are descriptions I have added to the qualities of the Christian knight.
The Christian knight displays resoluteness in undertaking God’s mission and defending the truth and the home. This resoluteness is the result of a long and rigorous training in biblical truth, biblical values, biblical beliefs, and personal spiritual disciplines (including physical training). When facing God and his loved ones, the Christian knight displays a gentle, tender spirit. This resoluteness and tenderness are perfectly combined and displayed in the person of Jesus Christ. Cultivating this character is thus the method for the formation of a spiritual father.
I believe that this world cannot do without fathers, and that fatherhood is a sacred office to which we are appointed by our heavenly Father. When fatherhood is renewed, learned, and undertaken in Christ, God will surely do something new in the relationships between fathers and their children.
When fathers respond to the call to lead as fathers after our heavenly Father’s own heart, his grace and mercy will come to the world. The family, and indeed the whole earth, will experience renewing grace when the promise of Malachi 4:5–6 is fulfilled—”And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” So, fathers, let us arise and answer this call.
Translated by ChinaSource
Daniel Sher was born and raised in Taiwan. After graduating from college with a major in civil engineering, he worked in a variety of jobs. He then went to the US for advanced studies in business administration in 1990 with his wife Joy and their two sons. To further pursue …View Full Bio