1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)Paul does a pretty god job of fleshing out the ideal candidate for the position of overseer in the young Christian church. And perhaps on a church polity blog I would write at length about the type of person who makes a good elder or deacon. On another night I might reflect on the laundry list of desired positive qualities cited and weigh myself against each item. But given a desire to focus on parenting, I can’t escape this one sentence:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.There are a few things to get past. A woman is just as qualified to hold a church leadership post as a man. A man is not alone in managing a family — that needs to be a partnership. In modern society, it’s presumptuous to assume all adults would have a family in need of management. A single adult could be qualified to lead, as could either half of a childless couple. All that considered, when viewing the message through those filters, it’s not difficult to agree with Paul’s larger point: someone who is a lousy family member is probably not a suitable church leader.
But what I really like about this verse is the qualifier at the end. Yes, the elder must manage their own family. Yes, he (or she) should have a reputation for raising obedient children. But neither of those is worth anything if the person accomplishes either goal in a disrespectful fashion.
Though I struggle to recall specific examples, I clearly recall a good deal of grade school playground discussion revolving around parenting strategies. We didn’t see it as such at the time, but at the core, that’s where the gossip originated. Which of our peers had a crazy early bedtime? Who was allowed to watch certain shows or movies? Whose parents offered paid incentives for good report cards? Who got grounded routinely, and for what infractions?
This kind of discussion continued well into high school as the permissions and punishments got more severe. In college, surrounded by people we never knew until they turned 18, we shared even more openly the stories of how our parents, or those of our friends back home, ruled with either an iron fist or a noticeable lack of interest. Several factors were at play: birth order, age of parents, the type of town or school environment and so on.
When I was younger, the tales of what certain friends enjoyed were of great interest. Be it the type of toys under the Christmas tree or how much the tooth fairy paid for a molar, I was sure other kids had a much cushier ride through life than I enjoyed. As I got older, though, I started to question why certain parents would be so lax on curfew, or what business a sixth-grader had watching R-rated movies on the family VCR.
Shortly after I became a parent myself, I developed a severe distaste for the practice of judging other parents of any age. Not that I’ve scrubbed the bad habit entirely, but it does not take long for an open-minded parent to realize each child deserves his or her own parental approach. What works for your kids might not work for mine for about eighty-seven billion reasons, and we’re all going to be better parents if we support each other in the pursuit of doing what we feel is right for our situations — situations we know better than anyone else.
As such, parenting in a manner “worthy of full respect” is not clearly quantifiable. There are some tactics most folks can agree run counter to the notion of respectable parenting, but the finer points are perhaps best left to the parents to decide with each other. For families where faith is a component, it’s a good bet prayer, meditation and trying to seek God’s will are key ingredients in the process. For me, the goal is being worthy of God’s respect. If I can approach that goal, humanity’s respect should follow. And even if it doesn’t, I’m only here to serve one master anyway.
Further, my takeaway lesson is parenting is not a “by any means necessary” exercise. The ends do not always justify the means. That’s enough clichés for now, but the point is made: try to figure out the right way. As with so many things related to this monumental task, it’s good to know I’m never alone.
A prayer for May 22:
Lord, thank you for trusting me with these children. They are such joys to be around, filled with so much energy and potential and zest for life. Please help me to be the kind of father they deserve, to become the best dad my gifts and talents allow. Help me be kind, loving, fair and forgiving. Help me be patient, respectful, humble and uplifting. Help me to always see them as not just my gifts but as your creation, unique and special in their own ways — ways you saw fit. Show me, in all circumstances, how to live a life worthy of you.