I have been surveying young adults with this question: “Is there someone in your life, someone older and wiser spiritually, whom you can turn to for godly counsel and advice?” Only one out of ten say they have one. I would presume from that answer they cannot even go to their parents, especially their fathers, for such a need. It saddens my heart that young people are left on their own to figure out what to do in life, or via their peers or the google. While they may have information at their fingertips, yet what they lack is the wisdom learned through experiences, hard knocks and spiritual maturity. Why should they repeat the same mistakes that others further down the journey had committed? Or on a positive note, take the route of successes?
It is clear from Scriptures that God is concern that history doesn’t repeat itself. Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” But our stubborn and sinful hearts are foolish enough often to ignore the wisdom that is already there, not just in the Bible, but also in older people who have “eaten more salt then we have eaten rice”. That is the beauty of generations and there should be no reason why any generation cannot do better than the previous one in terms of their moral influence and social impact.
There seems to be an invisible barrier. Sociologists have termed this as the generational gap and our Enemy relishes that fact. But it was never God’s design. We observe in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that the family is central to God’s redemptive plan. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a clear affirmation of passing on of one’s birthright and heritage from one generation to the next. This is very much a relational model of the Jewish family, where the Shema is regularly recited. Certainly the spirit of this command is not merely a ritual that one goes through, but the deliberate connecting of hearts of the fathers to their children when they talked about the commandments of God in their daily living. In this fast pace society, we can understand the problems of tired fathers, who are present but not really present. One man shared honestly at a Men Alive! meeting: “We give our best at work and by the time we reach home, we are at our worst.” The fathers’ role is now limited to be a financial provider and disciplinarian of last resort. Mother-child relationship became central and fathers are peripheral.
A child is more likely to see God as his Father if he sees God in his own father. Ken Canfield, author of “The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers”, used this metaphor: “We are fathers like God is a father. We are walking object lessons to our children on who God is.” Malachi’s last words in the Old Testament were that the Elijah would come and “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:6) When God unites the hearts of the fathers to their children, and vice versa, we are not merely talking about restoring the rightful authority the fathers have over their children, but the rightful relational ties with each other. Through that, generations thereafter will have a right understanding of who God is and right theology determines right behavior in fathering our children and showing them the way to have a personal relation with God.
My heart’s desire is to see intergenerational discipling starting first and foremost in the family. If discipling does not take place in the home, it will not take place in the church because the family unit is a microcosm of the wider Body. Fathers need to recognize that they are not merely legal guardians of their children. Every man can be a biological father, but not every man knows how to be a spiritual and godly one. Apostle Paul repeatedly extols the need to father the Body of Christ. 1 Cor 4:15-17 "Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me." (The “guardian” in this context is a slave tutor in a Roman family that supervises the child.) Fathers need to be spiritual. 1 John 2:12-14 sets the path of spiritual development for everyone to grow from a child to a father. The fathers in our midst know the heart of God intimately and live out a life desiring the pleasure of God. He models the same to his children. I believe this fathering and discipling mandate is first given to biological fathers and then to other older men and women in partnership within the Church to disciple the younger ones.
In our Christian Church, not only do we have the biological family, we are blessed with a wider body of a spiritual family. The Christian faith is not just an individual faith. There is every indication especially by Apostle Paul to remind us that we are part of the Body (1 Cor 12:12-31; 27-31; Rom 12:4-5). So we do affect one another for the better or for the worse! “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) was the first disastrous effect of the sin of murder. Sin kills the family bond. We who are older and more mature must take the responsibilities of discipling younger people and training them to be godly parents some day.
The command given in the New Testament to bring up our children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” is given to fathers, although it certainly is applicable to mothers as well. Fathers are singled out and the implication is that one day the Lord will single us out too when we are asked about our children. It is not good enough to provide for them by giving them the fish. Teach them to fish so that they are well equipped spiritually not just to be good people, but to exemplify a transformed Christ-centered life!