Here’s another instalment from New Word Alive 2009, this time part one of a seminar by John Benton on being a father of teenagers. John’s wife, Ann, has recently published a book on parenting teenagers called Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents (IVP) .
For a variety of reasons many men don’t know any more what they are meant to be as fathers. We may need to learn, or relearn, what fatherhood is about especially when our children move into their teens.
A description of fatherhood (1 Thessalonians 2:11)
‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul describes his ministry among the Thessalonian church using images from fathering and mothering because parents are kind of pastors to their family. So indirectly Paul describes what it means to be a good father.
1. Overall perspective – responsibility
1 Thessalonians 2:11. Fathers initiate (while mothers nurture) and you are responsible for what you initiate. So fathers have authority – not to dominate, but to serve our families. Throughout the Scripture those who initiate (like God in creation) as described as ‘fathers’. So fathers should not abandon their families – either literally or by not getting involved in family life.
2. Fundamental attitude – love
1 Thessalonians 2:8. Love is compassionate in its disposition. Paul tried to avoid being a burden to the Thessalonians (v. 7). Love is self-sacrificing in its out-working (vv. 8-9). Many things go wrong in families, but if our children know they are loved then that is half the battle.
For teenagers this means two things. First, negatively fathers will not seek to use their teenagers as a vehicle for their own ego or respect from others.
Second, positively you will seek to understand where you teenager is up to. Their context is often one of a battle for self-respect with many potential put downs and power games. This job is a man’s job! It requires strength to take responsibility and sacrifice.
3. Modelled behaviour – consistency
1 Thessalonians 2:10. The last thing your teenagers need is you telling them one thing while you do another. Teenagers years are years of growing power and autonomy. Give them power to early and they cannot cope so it leads to disrespect. Give them power too late and it creates resentment. What helps is seeing the right and loving use of power in the home. That involves consistency – not acting out of mood.
4. Practical input – encouragement
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. What children need most from Dad is encouragement. Often Dads think it is a bit of fun to rubbish their children or to stimulate them. The effect, however, is to crush children.
Encouragement comes in two parts. The first is comforting (consoling them when they have mucked up). Teenagers are awkward and sensitive, not sure who they are and need building up. The second is urging: accentuating the positives, gentling pushing them go further and so on. The ideal environment is for praise to out balance correction by three to one. Again this requires strength. It requires putting out preoccupations aside to focus on our children.
5. Ultimate purpose – a worthwhile life
1 Thessalonians 2:12. What is parenting for? We want them to make good choices, but what is good? Paul’s aim in fathering the Thessalonians is to live lives worthy of God. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)
I’ll share part two of my notes on John’s seminar on being a father of teenagers in a future post.