Church, Parenting, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Churchmanship 101: Training Your Child to Behave in Church

Originally published January 30, 2015

churchmanship-behave

they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.

After that, there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over. It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.

From Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder¹

A hundred and fifty-ish years ago, this is how children were expected to behave in church. I love a good sermon, but I’m not sure even I could meet those behavioral expectations, and, these days, I certainly wouldn’t expect my children to. But fast forward from the 1800’s to 2015, and think about how you may have seen some children behave in church. It’s quite a bit different from Almanzo’s experience, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t think we need to dial things back a hundred and fifty years, though. A little fidgeting, a Bible dropped loudly on the floor, a few seconds of wailing while you frantically search for the lost pacifier, a bit of jabbering, none of these things are a big deal. But neither should a toddler be allowed to run up and down the aisles of the sanctuary for the bulk of the sermon. Eight year olds do not need to be crawling around on the floor between the pews playing with toys. Twelve year olds can reasonably be expected to stay awake, sit still, and pay attention during the service. We expect our children to obey us (and other adults) and behave properly in a variety of places: school, the grocery store, restaurants, on their sports teams, at scout meetings. Why, when the worship service is far more important than any of these, would we not require them to act appropriately in church? And when we require them to behave themselves in all these other venues but not in church, what are we teaching them about the importance of church, reverence, God?

But, if you’ll determine in your heart to train your child to control himself and behave appropriately during church, you might be surprised at all the blessings and benefits you encounter along the way.

What is appropriate church behavior?

That’s going to vary by age. Obviously, a three year old isn’t going to sit perfectly still for thirty minutes and take sermon notes. But, believe it or not, you can start (and I would strongly recommend) training your child from infancy that church is a place where we sit still, sit quietly, listen when it’s time to listen, and participate when it’s time to participate.

How do I train my child?

The first and best way to train your child is by modeling proper church behavior yourself. Does he see you singing enthusiastically during the worship time? Are you checking your makeup or Facebook during prayer? Are you visibly paying attention during the sermon? Constantly talking to your husband or a friend during the service? Your child will imitate what he sees and take his cues from you as to what is acceptable behavior.

Otherwise, you train your child in church the same way you would train him in any other situation. If you were at a restaurant, and your baby was crying incessantly, you would tend to his needs at the table, or, if you couldn’t, you would take him out to the lobby or outside until he calmed down. The simple act of doing so begins to plant the idea in his mind that a certain level of behavior is expected in that venue.

If your school aged child won’t sit quietly in his seat at school, the teacher administers the appropriate discipline, and, possibly, you do too, at home.

It’s the same way at church. You let your child know what is expected of him behavior-wise at church, praise him when he does well, and administer discipline when he disobeys.

A few helpful hints:

Infants and toddlers:
If your church offers a nursery, there’s no shame in making use of it. As a stay at home mom, I well remember the days when church was the only opportunity I had for a small breather from my children, adult fellowship, and hearing God’s word without interruption.

But if you want to have your infant or toddler in church with you, that’s great! Be sure your diaper bag is well stocked with anything you might need to keep a little one relatively still and quiet. Bottles, pacifiers, small snacks that won’t make too much of a mess, some small, soft toys (such as stuffed animals or board books- maybe even a special one that’s only for Sundays) that he can quietly play with in his lap.

Try to choose a seat on the aisle near a door in case you need to make a hasty exit. Also, try to sit somewhere where any noise your child might make won’t be picked up by the pastor’s (or other) microphone.

Older children:
Sometimes well meaning Sunday school teachers serve sugary snacks or other foods/drinks that might make your child jittery. If so, it may be more difficult for him to sit quietly during church. Check out the snack situation in your child’s class, and serve him a breakfast that won’t give him the fidgets.

Make a bathroom/water fountain pit stop before the service a weekly habit. If your child would benefit from running a lap or two outside before the service to work off some energy, make that part of the weekly routine as well.

Dress your child appropriately, yet comfortably for church. I still remember scratchy lace on some of my childhood Sunday dresses. And sitting up against the back of a pew or chair wearing a dress that ties in the back? Absolute torture when that knot dug into my spine. It’s kind of hard to sit still when your entire outfit is conspiring against you.

Get them started on taking notes during the sermon. Give your preschooler some crayons and paper and help him listen for something in the sermon he can draw a picture of (a sheep, Jesus, an angel, a garden…).

Lower elementary aged children might enjoy taking “tally mark” notes. Make a brief list of words your child is likely to hear during the sermon (God, Jesus, Bible, Love…) and instruct him to make a tally mark next to the word any time he hears it during the sermon. Some pre-readers can even attempt this if you draw a couple of small pictures instead of words (a heart for “love,” a cross for “Jesus,” etc.) Before church starts, try to guess with your child which word will get the most marks. After church, count up the marks and see if you were right. You may even want to do your own tally mark sheet during the sermon to model for your child what you want him to do.

Some churches offer a fill in the blank sermon outline in the bulletin. This is a perfect note taking activity for older children and tweens. They can also be encouraged to turn in their Bibles to all the Scriptures the pastor mentions, copy down a verse from the text of the sermon, or write down any questions that occur to them as they listen.

And, speaking of questions, another fun activity is for each family member to write down a couple of questions, and their answers, from the sermon. Then, in the car on the way home, each person gets to ask his questions. Whoever gets the most correct answers gets to pick what’s for lunch (or bragging rights, or something else fun). It’ll keep EVERYONE paying attention, and it’s a great way to reinforce and discuss the sermon.

Attend church every Sunday. Not only is it biblical to attend faithfully, but children thrive on routine, and it will be easier for them to remember how to behave if they’re learning and practicing those behavior skills weekly instead of in a “hit and miss” fashion.

 

Training your child to behave well in church isn’t easy at times. I know. I have 6 children and we have raised all of them in church. But if you and your husband will invest the time and effort, everyone benefits. Your pastor will be able to preach uninterrupted. Your fellow church members will be able to worship undistracted. Once your child begins to behave himself better, you will be able to focus more on the service and be less frazzled. But most importantly, your child will develop the skills necessary for hearing and paying attention to God’s word being proclaimed, and what a blessing that will be to him now, and for the rest of his life.

What are some things that have worked well
to help your child behave in church?

 

¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy  (New York: Harper Collins, 1933), 90-91

This article was originally published under a different title at Satisfaction Through Christ.
Christmas, Mailbag

The Mailbag: My kid knows the truth about Santa. What if he tells his friends who don’t?

Originally published December 3, 2018

 

We have raised our five year old to know that Santa Claus isn’t real. Now that he’s getting old enough to have conversations with his little friends, how do we explain to him what to say to them when they talk about believing in Santa? I don’t want him to crush their dreams but I also don’t want to teach him to perpetuate the lie for his friends.

This is a great question, and one my husband and I also had to address with our own children, since we raised them to know that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Before I tackle your question, I’d like to address Christian parents who tell their children Santa Claus is real, that he is the one who brings their presents, etc.:

I’m sure you have the best of intentions and only want to make Christmas fun for your children, but when you tell them these things about Santa Claus, you are lying.

Santa Claus isn’t real. If you tell your children he is, or that he is the one who brings their presents, or that he knows whether they’ve been naughty or nice, you’re lying. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, either, for that matter). And not only is lying a sin, it is extraordinarily hypocritical to lie to your children about Santa Claus and then turn around later and punish them when they lie about something. Lying to your children about Santa Claus teaches them that it’s OK to lie (i.e. sin) when you want to or when it would be to your advantage.
Excerpted from: The Mailbag: What should we tell our kids about Santa Claus?

And this reader has raised another ripple effect of your sin of lying. You’ve now put your brothers and sisters in Christ in the difficult position of figuring out how not to blow your cover when their child (who knows the truth) interacts with yours. Do they teach their child to take part in your lie, or do they risk their child telling the truth, disappointing your child and possibly angering you? And think about the pressure on a five year old child to try to keep something like that a secret, knowing someone will be disappointed if he doesn’t. You’ve created a no-win situation for people you are supposed to self-sacrificially love, encourage, and edify.

Our sin always negatively affects others.

We did our best to thread the needle by teaching our children to stay out of it. Every year, we reminded our kids – before family gatherings, play dates, etc. – that some kids believe Santa is real. If a friend inquired, “What did you ask Santa for this year?”, our kids could reply, “I asked my parents for a bike.” If any of their friends asked them if Santa was real, we told our kids to tell their friends to ask their parents.

You might want to give something like that a try, or maybe you can come up with a different solution that’s helpful to the situation. Don’t fret about it, though. Most kids learn the truth about Santa between ages 5 to 10, and most of them learn it from their friends. If you have a friend who freaks out at you because your five year old told the truth about something, it could be time to reevaluate that friendship, or at least the level of intimacy of that friendship. (And if it’s a family member, well…this, too, shall pass.)

However you teach your child to handle the situation, be sure you’re not conveying the idea that we cover up the sin (the lie that Santa is real) of others. We tried to go at it from the angle of our kids telling the other kids, “That’s a topic that should stay between you and your parents.” It’s pretty much the same way we later handled the situation of what to do if your friends ask you where babies come from (“You need to ask your parents about that.”)

Also keep in mind that, even though it may feel like you’re the Grinch if your child spills the beans about Santa, you’re not, despite the fact that others may treat you that way. If you’re humbly doing what is right in God’s eyes and the other person is doing what is wrong, you’re not the problem in that situation.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Christmas, Mailbag, Parenting

The Mailbag: What should we tell our kids about Santa Claus?

‘Tis the season for Christmas-themed Mailbag questions! Got a question about something related to Christmas? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com.

Originally published December 4, 2017

 

As Christian parents, is it OK for us to tell our children about Santa Claus?

Christmastime can be so much fun when you have children. Many of us remember the excitement of Santa, the Christmas tree, and presents from our own childhood. They’re happy memories, and we want to recreate those for our children.

But as Christian parents, our first priority isn’t fun, it’s obedience to Scripture. Yet is there a way to make Christmas merry for our children while still upholding God’s Word? Is Santa patently unbiblical?

No, he doesn’t have to be, as long as he keeps his sleigh parked inside the parameters of Scripture. Let’s take a look at some of the ways Santa can be unscripturally naughty, and how godly parents can keep him nice and biblical.

Santa Claus isn’t real. If you tell your children he is, or that he is the one who brings their presents, or that he knows whether they’ve been naughty or nice, you’re lying. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, either, for that matter). And not only is lying a sin, it is extraordinarily hypocritical to lie to your children about Santa Claus and then turn around later and punish them when they lie about something. Lying to your children about Santa Claus teaches them that it’s OK to lie (i.e. sin) when you want to or when it would be to your advantage.

Don’t lie to your children about Santa Claus. Tell them the truth: he’s a fun, fictional character that we can enjoy reading stories and singing songs about, just like Goldilocks or Superman or Old MacDonald. As for the presents, maybe you’d like to handle it similarly to the way my husband and I did with our children. When they were very small, my husband or I would don a Santa hat on Christmas Eve and say something like: “You know how you like to play pretend? Well, mommies and daddies like to play pretend, too, especially at Christmas! Now it’s time for you to go to bed so we can pretend to be Santa Claus.”

Santa Claus isn’t omniscient. 

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good, for goodness’ sake!¹

Uh uh. No way. Omniscience is an incommunicable attribute of God. He is the only One who has the power to see and know all things, and it is an insult and an affront to Him to even suggest that a mere mortal – let alone a fictional character – has the same power and knowledge that He has. In reverence and awe for God’s preeminence, we should never ascribe to others the things that belong to God alone.

Teach your children about the attributes of God. When you read your children stories about Santa Claus or hear Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town on the radio, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach them about God’s omniscience and power. “Did y’all just hear that? That song said Santa Claus can see you and knows how you’re behaving. Is that true? Who is the only One who always sees you, cares for you, and knows what you’re doing and thinking? Can anybody else besides God do that?”

Santa Claus teaches works righteousness. In St. Nick’s economy, good behavior earns a reward (presents). Bad behavior earns punishment (coal). If you’ve ever shared the gospel with anybody, that will probably sound familiar. Most lost people think that’s what Christianity is. If you’re a “good person” God is happy with you and you’ll go to Heaven. Hell is the punishment for “bad people”: Hitler, murderers, and rapists. This is not what the Bible teaches, either about salvation, or about why children should obey their parents.

Teach your children the gospel. Again, this whole “naughty or nice” part of the Santa Claus narrative is a perfect gospel-teaching opportunity. Take advantage of it! Ask your child to be “nice” for one whole day. At bed time, take a few minutes to talk about the times she messed up and was “naughty” when she was supposed to be trying to be “nice.” Nobody can be nice and obedient all the time, no matter how hard we try. We are all naughty, coal black sinners deserving the punishment of Hell. Jesus came and lived a life of perfect “niceness,” died on the cross to take the punishment for our naughtiness, was buried, and rose again. He did that, not because we earned it with good behavior, but because of His mercy and grace. And then He gave us the greatest gift ever. A gift we naughty people don’t deserve: salvation and eternal life in Heaven. And it is because of our love and gratitude to Christ for saving us that we obey Him, not so that He will give us what we want. Indeed, the Bible tells us that the more obedient to Christ we are, the more persecution we will face.

Santa Claus doesn’t automatically have to be on the Christian parent’s naughty list. There are lots of ways to enjoy the fun of Santa and even turn him into an opportunity to teach your child biblical truth, all while being obedient to Scripture. But if Santa makes you biblically uncomfortable in some way, then by all means, don’t go against your conscience. Whichever way you decide – after prayer, study of the Scriptures, and discussing it with your spouse – do not judge other Christian parents by your personal convictions about Santa Claus. And have a Merry Christmas!

¹Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, 1934.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Christian Women Working, Using Birth Control, and Limiting Family Size

 

I have a question [as] to what your convictions are about a woman working at all in the first place, in reference to your answer to the question “Is it ok for a woman to make more than her husband?

What also is your position on birth control or having a planned family size? You are very openly pro life, and amen to that, but it seems you also are supportive of a woman working outside of her home, and with that I can only generalize and forgive me if I am wrong, that you also support a woman limiting her family size because a mother of many children, which is usually the natural order of things when no contraceptives are used, would very difficultly work and also be able to look well to the ways of her household. Can you clear your position up for us wondering? Thank you Michelle! God bless you!

Thank you so much for your questions and kind remarks. These are important issues that women and their husbands need to prayerfully consider in order to arrive at a biblical conclusion for their family.

One thing it’s imperative to remember is that situations differ vastly from family to family. We can easily slip into a pattern of thinking that “every family is just like mine so every family ought to make the same decisions we’ve made,” and even to consider our family’s decisions as the biblical standard for every family. That’s not the case, and that’s not a biblical way of regarding others. It’s important to broaden our view to realize there are scads of family difficulties, logistics, and situations that we’ve never had to face before and that two families can make different decisions on these issues – due to the unique circumstances God has placed them in – and still both be in obedience to God.

The reason it’s possible for two families to make different decisions on these issues is because the Bible doesn’t give any clear cut commands that women should never “work at all in the first place,” or that family size should never be limited, or that no form of birth control should ever be used. We may have strong convictions about these things, but God does not specifically prohibit them in His Word, and that’s what we have to go by, not only when making decisions about our own families, but also when considering the decisions other families have made.

I took a closer look at what God’s Word says (and doesn’t say) about women working in my Mailbag article Stay at Home Dads? I would encourage you to read that article and look up the Scriptures I referenced, but, long story short, the Bible does not make an across the board prohibition that no woman may ever work to earn income. In fact, we see several examples of women in Scripture working, and God does not condemn these women for doing so. In some circumstances, it is perfectly biblical for women to work.

I think the confusion you may be experiencing stems from the fact that you’re assuming several “facts not in evidence” when it comes to women working outside the home. Your questions seem to be predicated on the idea that “working woman” necessarily means a married woman who has small children and who doesn’t want children to get in the way of her career. That may be the case for some women who work but it’s not the case for every woman. Not every woman is married. God has not blessed every woman with children. Some women have children who are grown and on their own. Some women are single mothers and have no choice but to work. Some women have disabled husbands who can’t work. Some women can work part time from home (or outside the home) and their jobs don’t interfere with raising their children and managing their households. Occasionally, when a couple marries, the wife is already well established in a lucrative career, while the husband hasn’t had the same educational/career opportunities, and regardless of how hard he works, and considering all other circumstances, the wife and husband agree that it just makes more financial sense for a particular season of their family’s life for her to work and for the husband to stay home with the kids. We cannot make a blanket statement that godly women in these circumstances, working outside the home (or from home), are necessarily violating Scripture. As I said, we need to be aware of the vast array of circumstances taking place in various families, and not judge those families by our own.

Your next question was about birth control and limiting family size. Again, we must look to Scripture to see what it says.

Since the Bible was written in a time before birth control pills and surgical sterilization were invented, naturally it does not address those specific types of birth control, or, really, any type of birth control. People have tried to make the case that a couple of passages address the issue of what we might call “natural family planning”:

The story of Onan describes Onan engaging in coitus interruptus (withdrawal) and God subsequently putting Him to death. This passage is sometimes offered as evidence that God is against even “natural” birth control. However, all you have to do is read the passage in context, and it’s clear that it wasn’t that particular sexual act itself that cost Onan his life, but his selfishness in refusing to obey what would later become the law of levirate marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:5 permits husbands and wives to engage in mutually agreed upon periods of abstinence which could be stretched like Silly Putty into a biblical endorsement of the rhythm method (natural family planning), but again, the context of the verse makes it clear that the abstinence mentioned in this verse is not for the purposes of birth control, it’s for the purposes of concentrated prayer, sort of a “fasting from sex” idea.

So birth control, even natural forms of it, is not really addressed in Scripture. It’s neither prohibited nor endorsed. And as a consequence, limiting the size of one’s family isn’t addressed either because that wasn’t normally, biologically-speaking, a realistic option.

The Bible does, however, speak to the issue of abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, so all the biblical passages prohibiting murder also prohibit abortion. This includes any form of birth control that kills an already conceived baby.

Another biblical principle I think it’s important to take into consideration is that the Bible seems to assume that procreation is one of the main goals of both sex and marriage. While God created sex to be pleasurable, gratifying our desire for physical ecstasy is dessert, not the main course of sex, as our libidinous 21st century sexual ethic would have us believe. God created marriage as the boundary lines for sexual activity, and the foundation for creating families. The Bible knows nothing of a man and woman getting married and proactively deciding for fleshly or selfish reasons (career, travel, freedom, spending habits, etc.) not to have children. The Bible takes for granted that married couples who are physically able will form families by having children. That is His plan for propagating human life.

The Bible also views children as a blessing to families and views motherhood as an honor, a vocation worthy of respect and value. I’m very disturbed at the increasing attitude in our society, and even among some Christians, that children are an annoying inconvenience and a hindrance to women pursuing their own personal goals. I remember seeing a billboard ad for condoms a few years ago that featured a picture of a screaming toddler emblazoned with the caption, “You should have used X Brand condoms.” Recently I saw a TV commercial for an IUD that said something along the lines of, “It’s easier to make an appointment with your doctor to get this IUD than to deal with a thee year old.”

And just last night, I saw part of a sitcom in which a stay at home mom comes home from a night out with friends (all career women) and complains to her husband that ever since the kids were born she’s been stuck at home, that her friends are doing exciting things and all she’s doing is raising kids, that she needs to get out of the house and do something. So she decides to get a job. As if being a mother is an unexciting burden and she’s not really doing anything worthwhile.

Children are a precious gift of God and deserve to be treated with love and dignity, to feel like they’re wanted and valued by the person they love most in the world – Mom.

So taking all of these things into consideration, where does that leave us when it comes to making godly decisions about these three issues of women working, birth control, and limiting the size of one’s family?

Here are some biblical conclusions we can draw:

•Christians should not have abortions or use any type of abortifacient birth control. Barrier methods, true contraceptives (birth control that prevents conception), surgical sterilization (tubal ligation/vasectomy), and natural family planning are not sinful in and of themselves, but we need to prayerfully consider whether or not we have sinful or selfish reasons for wanting to use them.

•As with any decision, Christians should examine their motives for wanting to use birth control, limit their family size, and for wanting Mom to work outside the home. Are these motives sinful, fleshly, selfish, based on a lack of trust in God? If so, that’s the root issue that needs to be dealt with, because Christians should have biblical and godly motives for their decisions, not sinful ones. Godly decisions spring from godly motives.

•Generally speaking, in families with children at home, God’s pattern is for Mom to stay home, manage the household and raise the children, and for Dad to support the family financially. For many couples today, that will necessitate limiting the size of their family at least to a degree. The Duggars might be able to support 20 children on Jim Bob’s salary alone, but that is not the case for most families. Most couples will, at some point, have to make a decision as to whether or not they are physically and financially able to care for additional children, or if having additional children will force Mom to get a job, leaving a day care or someone else to raise the children.

•Because God’s general pattern for families is for Mom to stay home and Dad to work, husbands and wives should try to follow this pattern if at all possible. Explore all possibilities of reducing expenses, bringing in extra income, and keeping Mom at home:

  • Cut your expenses- Move to a cheaper area or into cheaper, possibly smaller, housing. Get a cheaper vehicle. Cut extraneous expenses like cable, going out to eat, recreational shopping, buying name brands, mani-pedis, gym memberships, organizations that require dues, lawn and housekeeping services, etc.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to employment. Bringing in income doesn’t have to mean working outside the home 9 to 5 as someone else’s employee. What about working online or starting your own business? Creating/crafting things and selling them online? Taking in laundry, ironing, or sewing? Babysitting? Homeschooling other people’s children? Working a late night or early morning shift while the kids are sleeping?
  • I highly recommend the late Larry Burkett’s book Women Leaving the Workplace: How to Make the Transition from Work to Home. It came out in 1995, before the internet was really a thing, so it doesn’t have much information on working online, websites you can go to, etc., but most of the practical advice he gives is timeless, and it’s easy to think of online alternatives to some of the “analog” things he mentions.

•Christian wives need to remember to obey Scripture’s instruction to submit to their husbands. If your husband does not want you to work outside the home or has made another decision (that does not violate clear Scripture) about one of these three issues, you are to lovingly and graciously submit to that decision. Remember, there isn’t an explicit biblical command (outside of the prohibition of abortifacients) one way or the other about any of these three issues, but there is an explicit command that you’re to submit to your husband.

•Pray. Making wise and godly decisions about things that aren’t prohibited or endorsed by Scripture can be tough, but this is one of the ways God grows us in dependence on Him. Ask Him for guidance and wisdom. He delights to answer such prayers.

•Get counsel. Set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling or contact a biblical counselor. It can be very helpful to get objective biblical advice when you’re working through these issues.

In some seasons of life and family circumstances it can be perfectly biblical for a woman to work, as long as her home and family remain her first priority and do not suffer because of her working. Abortifacients should never be used by Christians, and Christians should carefully and prayerfully consider whether or not they have godly motives for wanting to limit their family size or use non-abortifacient types of birth control. Christian couples need to make certain they aren’t violating any explicit commands of Scripture, seek to align themselves with biblical principles, and prayerfully make the wisest and most godly decisions for their families that they can about each of these issues.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Family, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Stay at Home Dads?

 

What is the Biblical view of men fulfilling women’s roles? I.e. staying home and managing the household, caring for small children, etc. while the woman works outside the home to provide for the family?

Super question! It’s not a cut-and-dried easy answer, though. There are a lot of things to take into consideration.

The first thing we need to consider is, of course, what the Bible says about this issue. And when we look at what the Bible says about human behavior, we need to look at two things: the heart and the actions. The Bible does forbid and command a lot of actions, but God is also clear that He judges the heart. It is possible to do the right thing with the wrong motives and the wrong thing with the right motives. We want to make sure we have right motives that lead us to do the right thing.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. 1 Samuel 15:22-23a

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7b

The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Is there an explicit command that the husband must leave the house and go to work every day to financially support the family, a command that he absolutely cannot stay at home and manage the household and raise the children, or a command that a wife may not work outside the home or support her family financially?”

I have not found any specific, in context, “thou shalt/thou shalt not” commands along those lines. And there’s a reason for that. God beautifully designed the Bible to be applicable and relevant to all people, across all cultures, in all time periods. So there are some universal commands in the Bible that apply to everybody, everywhere, in every time. For example: It is a sin to murder whether you’re young or old, male or female, smart or dumb, ugly or pretty, rich or poor, living in the Middle East or Polynesia or Antarctica, in 3271 B.C., A.D. 0, or A.D. 2019. Murder is always a sin, no matter what.

But God has not chosen to make that same pronouncement about the financial support of the family and who should work inside or outside the home. If we examine all of the Scriptures that mention men and women working, we can see a general overall pattern that points to the wisdom, in most cases, of wives doing most of the household management and child-rearing, leaving husbands free to concentrate primarily on bringing home the bacon, but God has not chosen to make this a universal command.

(I’m sure many readers are thinking, “But what about Titus 2:5, saying women are to be ‘workers at home’?” First, this is not a command that women are never to work outside the home (keep reading for more Scripture about women working and contributing to the support of their families). Second, if you’ll examine that verse in context (2:2-10), you’ll notice that this passage deals with people’s character, not careers. This can be easier to see if you compare Titus 2:3-5 with 1 Timothy 5:3-16, especially v.6, 13-14. Women are not to be lazy, idlers, and busybodies, they are to be hard workers, glorifying God in their work. In first century culture, this nearly always meant marrying, raising children, and managing their households, because this was virtually the only culturally appropriate venue available to them in which to work. Titus 2:5 is primarily about working hard to the glory of God, not primarily about where that work is performed. Does this mean all Christian women are free to abandon their children and homes in favor of working outside the home just because they feel like it? Of course not. As we’re about to see, that goes back to having a godly motive, going with the grain of the way God generally created women if at all possible, and discerning what is pleasing to the Lord in the circumstances in which He has placed your family. Which is exactly the type of character Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5 teach that Christian women are to have.)

Why did God not make this a command? Because in His sovereignty, over time, God has allowed or created different types of cultures to develop at the macro level, and different sorts of circumstances to occur in the lives of various individuals at the micro level.

In our culture, with regard to supporting a family, it is typical for a husband to get up Monday through Friday, leave the house, work for someone else for eight hours, receive a paycheck, and return home.

Although that was true for some families, particularly city-dwellers, during Bible times, it was far less the norm than it is today. Think about the types of work most often mentioned in the Bible. It was a much more agrarian society. Dads usually worked their land and livestock as an extension of their home, and moms and any children who were old enough had their chores around the “farm” as well. The whole family worked together to provide necessary sustenance, and dads had much more direct oversight over their children on a day to day basis than a 21st century dad who leaves home and goes to the office every day.

But even in situations in which there was a family business (such as Joseph being a carpenter) the sons usually grew up learning the business under the direct tutelage of their fathers. And though the daughters were being trained at home to learn how to be good wives, it is reasonable to assume that they and their mothers helped out with the business as needed in a culturally appropriate way.¹ There was much more integration of work and family in that culture, giving fathers more contact with their children during the day.

There are also passages in the Bible that help us to see that bringing in income was not strictly relegated to men and child-rearing was not strictly relegated to women. In Proverbs 31, we see a wife and mother conducting business and contributing to the support of her family. We see Deborah “working outside the home”. We find that Lydia was, in some way, a merchant. And we do not see the Bible condemning these women as ungodly for contributing to the support of their families or performing some kind of work outside the home. Quite the opposite, in fact – the “Proverbs 31 woman” is, to this day, held up as the ideal wife and mother for godly women to emulate.

Furthermore, we often see passages in Scripture that lay the ultimate responsibility for instructing, disciplining, and properly bringing up children at Dad’s feet, not Mom’s. Read the first nine chapters of Proverbs. This is a father, not a mother, training up his son. And take a look at Ephesians 6:4 (Fathers…bring [your children] up) and Colossians 3:21 (Fathers, do not provoke your children…).

So there is no explicit biblical command about only husbands supporting the family financially and only wives managing the household and raising the children. We need to make sure we separate out what is biblical and what is cultural when it comes to the roles of husbands and wives.

As I mentioned, in addition to God sovereignly creating/allowing different cultures on the macro level, He has also created/allowed, on the micro level, varying life situations for various families. Dads who are disabled or have medical conditions that are more conducive to staying home with the children than having a job outside the home. Men who have had very limited educational and job opportunities who fall in love with and marry women already established in lucrative careers. And, especially in these modern times, Dads who are able to work from home while caring for the children. These and other scenarios can be contributing factors when it comes to which spouse works outside the home (If, indeed, working outside the home as someone else’s employee is necessary for either spouse; working from home or starting your own home-based business is an option many families overlook).

So there are a lot of external, and sometimes unavoidable, cultural and personal circumstances at play in each family’s decision-making process. But what about the internal factors at play? This brings us back to the motive of the heart.

What is the husband’s motive for wanting to stay home with the children? Is it because he’s lazy (lemme just take a moment to say this: if you’re lazy, raising children and managing a household isn’t the job for you) and just wants to shirk responsibility? Because he’s so arrogant or headstrong that he refuses to submit to a boss’s authority? Because he wants to live in luxury on his wife’s salary rather than cutting expenses and living more modestly on what he is able to earn so she can stay at home?

What is the wife’s motive for wanting to work outside the home while her husband manages the household and raises the children? Is she a feminist out to make a statement or further an agenda? Does she pridefully feel that the day to day job of wife and mom is beneath her? Is she finding her identity in her position, her income, or the praise of men instead of finding her identity in Christ?

These are wrong reasons for doing what might, financially, actually be the right thing. But as I said, as Christians, we need to make sure we have right motives leading us to do the right thing. And what is the right motive in this, or any other, decision-making process?

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:8b-9

Husbands and wives each need to repent of any wrong motives they may have harbored in their hearts, walk in Christ as children of light, sit down together, pray for God to give them wisdom, examine all the factors at play in their situation, and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord in the situation He has sovereignly placed them in.

For most families in our culture, what this typically ends up looking like is that the husband is the main breadwinner and the wife is the main manager of the household and children. And part of the reason for this is that God has generally wired men to desire to go out and conquer the world, and He has generally wired women to desire to keep the home fires burning. So if there aren’t any circumstances that force a couple to go against that grain, it’s usually wisest for Dad to be the primary financial supporter of the family and Mom to be the primary manager of the family. But there are going to be godly exceptions to the rule, and we need to be sure we’re not assuming people are in sin just because they don’t fit what’s usually the norm.


¹Certainly there were other types of work/employment in Bible times, I’m just using these primary two to demonstrate my point.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.