Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parenting Adolescent Sons


Well-known pastor and theologian John Piper recently wrote in his little book What’sThe Difference that one of the contemporary church’s most devastating sins is its lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in the church. Piper laments that spiritual aimlessness, weakness, laziness, and a lack of courage characterize today’s men.[1] He asks, “Where are the men with a moral vision for their families, a zeal for the house of the Lord, a magnificent commitment for the advancement of the kingdom, an articulate dream for the advancement of the church and a tenderhearted tenacity to make it real.”[2] Where are these men?

The contention of this paper is the mighty generation of future fathers and spiritual leaders Piper envisions are already in our churches. They are our sons. The question is will our sons achieve their potential, or will they continue to repeat the spiritual sloth and complacency of the present generation? In large part, their success or failure is dependent upon their fathers. Will their fathers repent of their passivity and complacency? Will this generation’s fathers embrace their God-ordained role and fulfill their responsibilities to their sons? This purpose of this paper is to exhort, encourage and equip fathers for this vital responsibility, with a specific focus on adolescent sons.

In what follows, we will briefly review some of the reasons fathers have shirked their parental responsibility to their children, and the subsequent consequences. Then we will carefully examine Scriptural instructions given to fathers and discuss their contemporary application, with a special emphasis on parenting methods and goals for adolescent sons. In spite of the specific focus on adolescent sons, much of this paper will be relevant to fathers in general. Finally, we will address how biblical counselors can come alongside fathers, encouraging repentance, application of biblical principles and establishing accountability.

Reasons Fathers Have Shirked Parental Responsibility

A comprehensive discussion of the numerous reasons father shirk their parental responsibilities is beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to a brief exploration of the most obvious reasons for contemporary fathers’ parental neglect. These reasons are historical, cultural, and spiritual.

Allan Carlson, Ph.D., historian, and family advocate provides exceptional insight into the historical reasons for cotemporary fathers’ parental neglect in America. Before the mid-19th century, Carlson says:

American Protestant Christianity was a home-centered religion. This was particularly true in North America, beginning with the Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay colonies of the 17th century. For over 200 years, daily family prayer, Bible reading, and the religious training of children and servants were central activities for Americans, with the father in the informal role of domestic priest and family prophet. This understanding carried well into the 19th century.[3]

However, Carlson goes on to say, “. . . since the mid-19th century, a series of assaults on the meaning of fatherhood and of manhood commenced.”[4] These assaults included industrialization, numerous court decisions overturning centuries old common law concerning fathers’ custody rights, compulsory school attendance, and government welfare programs. Interestingly, Carlson attributes the roots of feminization in the church to modern industrialization. He says, “In the late 19th century, as men moved into factories and offices, their role as religious leader declined. Paternal leadership of Bible study and prayer became increasingly rare, and mothers—by default—commonly became the religious leaders in the home. Christianity, in general, became less muscular, more feminized.”[5]

A view that validates and supplements Carlson’s is Mary Kassian’s, author of The Feminist Mistake, who writes:

Up until the middle of the last century, Western culture as a whole generally embraced a Judeo-Christian perspective on gender, sexuality, and the purpose and structure of the family. Heterosexual marriage, marital fidelity, and the bearing and nurturing of children in an intact family unit were highly valued concepts and the norm of societal practice. Most agreed that the primary responsibility of the male was to lead, protect, and provide for his family, while the primary responsibility of the female was to nurture and care for her children and manage her home. Differences between male and female were accepted and seldom questioned. [6]

According to Kassian, the Judeo-Christian perspective on gender and the structure of the family came under serious attack during a thirty-year period between 1960 and 1990 by the philosophy commonly known as feminism. This philosophy erroneously suggests that women find happiness and meaning through the pursuit of personal authority, autonomy, and freedom.[7] Additionally, Kassian says, “the cataclysmic consequences will continue to crash on culture’s shores like a tsunami throughout the opening decades of the new millennium.”[8] In her book The Feminist Mistake she details some of these consequences. Certainly, no one can honestly deny that feminism has had a devastating impact on the church and the family. The feminists, both secular and professed Christian, have successfully undermined the biblical view of male leadership in the home and the church.

Intertwined with the historical reasons for father’s parental negligence are those cultural. Due in large part to the historical assaults on fatherhood previously mentioned, and the subsequent deterioration of parental authority, our culture now views adolescent rebellion as normative. In fact, Tedd Tripp, author of a Shepherding a Child’s Heart, describes today’s parents as “part of the generation that threw off authority.”[9] In his view, the protests and antiestablishment attitudes of the 60’s have shaped modern parent’s attitudes toward authority. Consequently, it is no longer culturally acceptable for Dad to be boss at home.[10]

Tedd Tripp’s brother sees the cultural reasons for parental irresponsibility from a different angle. In Paul Tripp’s words, “We live in a culture of cynicism when it comes to teenagers. This cultural negativity has infiltrated the Christian family as well. This cynicism has its roots in a biological view of teenagers that sees them as little more than a collection of raging, rebel hormones, physically incapable of living responsibly.”[11] The idea that our adolescents are incapable of living responsible finds it roots in modern psychology, which essentially says that people are not responsible for their behavior. Instead, they are helpless victims of their environment and unmet psychological needs. Regrettably, this psychological view of people has permeated our culture, including the church.[12] Many of the supposed experts that Christian parents turn to for parental advice are psychologists rather than biblical theologians.

In brief, culture has had a devastating impact on modern fathers because it has undermined parental authority, promoted adolescent rebellion as unavoidable, and exchanged the biblical view of man as a responsible moral agent for the hapless victim as defined by psychology. Admittedly, these are just a few of the many damaging cultural effects on fatherhood. We have not discussed the negative effects of the entertainment industry, media, public education, or political correctness. Nevertheless, it should be obvious to all that the biblical view of fatherhood is under attack.

While the historical and cultural effects on fathers are both real and potent, the most devastating, and indeed the most significant cause of parental negligence is spiritual. As John Piper lamented, the vast majority of this generation’s men and fathers are spiritually complacent.[13] One expects such complacency from those men who have not embraced the gospel, but there is no excuse for those whom God’s Spirit has regenerated and indwelt. So what is the problem?

According to Paul Tripp, we can trace a major portion of the problem to idolatry. In his book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, he defines idolatry as exchanging the worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of created things. Tripp declares that effective Christian parents must deal with the idols of their hearts.[14] Tripp says, “If our hearts are ruled by comfort, respect, appreciation success and control we will unwittingly hunger for our teens to meet our expectations rather than ministering to their needs . . . we will view them as frustrating, disappointing irritants, and we will experience growing anger against the very children to whom we have been called to minister.”[15]

Admittedly, Christian fathers can do nothing to change history, and little to change the prevailing culture, but by God’s enabling grace and their sustained effort, fathers can fulfill their God ordained responsibility. If this generation’s fathers are going to prepare their sons to lead tomorrows’ families and churches, they must repent of their spiritual complacency and idolatry, renew their love for Jesus Christ, and be filled with God’s Spirit.

The Apostle Paul, who exhorted Christians to be filled with the Spirit in Eph. 5:18, wrote that one of the four results of being Spirit- filled is proper subjection to one another (Eph. 5:21). In the verses that follow, he unpacks what this subjection looks like in the Christian family. Especially of note, is Eph. 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (NASB).” In short, a Spirit-filled father will instruct and discipline his children in the Lord. We will soon give this truth the careful attention it deserves, but before we do, it is necessary to unpack the tragic consequences of Christian father’s failure to biblically parent. By now, some of those consequences should be blatantly obvious. For example, we have observed that parental idolatry leads to anger and conflict in the family. However, it gets much worse.

The Consequences of Christian Fathers’ Parental Neglect?

The consequences of negligent fathers in America are well documented and startling. So startling in fact that family advocate James Dobson says that he fears the collapse of Western civilization. In detailing the reasons for his fear, he writes:

“Because we as parents are raising the next generation of men who will either lead with honor and integrity or abandon every good thing they have inherited. They are the bridges to the future. Nations that are populated largely by immature, immoral, weak-willed cowardly and self-indulgent men cannot and will not long endure. These types of men include those who sire and abandon their children; who cheat on their wives; who lie, steal, and covet; who hate their countrymen; and who serve no god but money. That is the direction culture is taking today’s boys.[16]

While Christian fathers are doing somewhat better than the culture at large, they are, as repeatedly noted, failing to exercise faithfully their parental responsibilities. What are the consequences when men of God neglect their parental responsibilities? We shall answer this question with illustrations from the Scriptures and one from contemporary life.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of fathers whose failure to faithfully parent brought devastating consequences to them and their children. Three glaring examples are the generation of fathers who conquered the Promised Land, Eli the priest, and King David.

Judges 2:10-12a describes the generation that arose after those who conquered the Promised Land, “All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD . . . (NASB).” Sadly, it appears an entire generation of fathers failed to heed the Lord’s command to instruct their children as outlined in Duet. 6:1-11, and various other texts. A consequence of these fathers’ irresponsibility was that their children became idolaters, but that is not all. The Bible goes on to say:

The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed Jud. 2:14-15 (NASB).

The lesson is clear. Every generation of fathers is responsible to prepare the next generation to serve God by teaching them his truth and his ways. When fathers are unfaithful in this responsibility, it is almost certain that their children will turn away from the Lord, and therefore become the subjects of his discipline. Instead of their children enjoying God’s blessing, the hand of the Lord is against them for evil. No father wants God’s hand against his children for evil, but spiritual complacency and laziness in instructing them in God’s ways almost guarantees it.

1 Sam. 2:12-4:22 tell the story of Eli the priest, and describe the tragic consequences of his failure as a parent. The narrative begins, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD 1 Sam. 2:12 (NASB).” 1 Sam. 2:29 unpacks the sin of Eli and his sons. God condemned Hophni and Phinehas for their presumption in taking the fatty portions of every offering, which were for God alone. God condemned Eli for honoring his sons over him. Eli scolded his sons (2:23-24), but he took no decisive action to restrain them, or remove them from their office. Eli willing tolerated their sin, and by doing so condemned his sons to death. The Bible says:

“. . . Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever 1 Sam. 3:11-14 (NASB).”

Not only did Eli’s parental negligence lead to his sons’ deaths, but also his own (1 Sam. 4:18), and what is worse, Eli’s progeny lost their privileged status, and were reduced to begging for very humble priestly jobs (1 Sam. 2:30-36).

Amazingly, Eli’s sons grew up in a priest’s home, but “they did not know the LORD (1 Sam. 2:12b NASB).” Admittedly, no father can guarantee the regeneration of his children, but still he must teach them to fear God, and the real-life consequences of violating his holiness. Clearly, Eli failed in this regard, and his ongoing negligence in disciplining his sons was obviously a large part of the problem. As Prov.19:18 says, “Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death (NASB).”

The Bible describes King David as a man after God’s heart in Acts 13:22. Every man of God hopes to have something similar said of him. Unfortunately, David was a dismal failure as a father. The Scriptures repeatedly note his failure to discipline his sons, and in every case, it leads to their destruction.

The first account of David’s parental carelessness is found in 2 Sam. 13. David had many wives and children. One of his son’s, Amnon, lusted after his beautiful sister, Tamar. So much so, that he schemed to get her alone, and then he raped her. After doing so, the lust that he had previously mistaken for love turned into hatred, and immediately he sent Tamar away in shame. The Scriptures say, “Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry. But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar 2 Sam.13:21-22 (NASB).” Amazingly, David said or did nothing! However, Absalom took matters into his own hand. He plotted and carried out the murder of his brother Ammon (2 Sam.13:23-28). Then he fled to another country.

The Bible says David mourned over his separation from Absalom, and that he longed to go to him, but he did not (2 sam.13:37-38). In fact, it is likely they would have never seen each other again without the intervention of a third party, Joab. He concocted a plan to bring Absalom home, which was successful, but David and Absalom were never truly reconciled. It would be two years before he and David actually saw each other. Shortly after, Absalom initiated his strategy to usurp his father, which ended in his violent death at the hands of Joab. Of course, David wept bitterly over the loss of his son, which was large in part the tragic consequence of his parental negligence (2 Sam. 14-18).

The final instance of David’s failure as father is detailed in 1 Kings 1-2. David’s son Adonijah recognizes that David is close to death, and determines it is time for him to be king. “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, "I will be king." So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him. His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, "Why have you done so 1 Kings 1:5-6a (NASB)?"” The Holman OT commentary describes the situation:

He (Adnonijah) apparently knew that Solomon, and not he, was David's intended choice, or he would have been content to let events take their course. But David had not publicly named his successor, so the opportunistic Adonijah decided to make a play for the throne. The description of David's indulgence of Adonijah has an ominous tone, especially combined with the reference to Absalom. Like Absalom who rebelled against his father, Adonijah was spoiled, handsome, and willing to go behind his father's back in a bid for personal power.[17]

Through the intervention of Nathan the prophet, and David’s wife Bathsheba, Adonijah’s attempt to steal the throne is thwarted, and Solomon is anointed king. When Adonijah realizes his plot has been overturned, he seeks asylum at the tabernacle. In response, King Solomon extends mercy, but warns him about the consequences of future rebellion. However, Adonijah fails to learn his lesson and continues to seek the throne by asking for one of his father’s concubines in marriage. Once again, the Holman OT commentary adds insight:

But his request for Abishag, David's concubine (1:2-4), was not the innocent appeal of a man for the hand of the woman he loved. Because he knew that Bathsheba, as the queen mother, had access to the king, he went to her with his request: ask King Solomon... to give me Abishag... as my wife. In the culture of the time, possession of the former king's harem was linked to a claim on the throne (see 2 Sam. 3:8; 16:20-22). Adonijah clung to the idea that he was the rightful king (All Israel looked to me as their king), and almost certainly this was the opening move for another attempt to displace Solomon.[18]

This time, Solomon responds to Adonijah’s intrigue by having his brother executed. Yet another of David’s sons needlessly loses his life. David’s failure as father is one of the primary reasons.

By now, the tragic consequences of a father’s failure to instruct and his discipline his sons’ should be blatantly obvious. If not, perhaps a pertinent and painful illustration from my life will make it so. Like Eli and David, I am father who has failed to faithfully instruct and discipline his sons. I was profoundly convicted of my parental negligence and its consequences during a week this past September when my oldest son came to visit. That painful week is one of the primary impetuses for this paper.

My oldest son’s adult life has been marked by bad decisions and choices. He has reaped some devastating consequences, including being court martialed, dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corp, spending sixteen months in a military prison, and being permanently marked by a felony conviction. Yes, he is responsible for his choices and the resultant consequences. However, it does not change the fact that I failed to fulfill my obligation to him as a father. Looking back, I realize that during one of the most important periods of his life, his adolescence, I essentially checked out. I bought the cultural lies, worshiped the idols of comfort and ease, and went into survival mode. Paul Tripp’s warnings proved true in my case:

Parents with a survival mentality will try to control the child and respond out of anxiety, irritation, and fear. They will respond emotionally and foolishly, try to manipulate the teen into obedience, and initiate unproductive power struggles. Their relations with their teen will disintegrate and the teen’s rebellion will increase. They will finally quit parenting while telling themselves that they did everything possible.[19]

Sure, I sent him to Christian school, made him go to church and took him to youth camp every summer. However, my primary parenting goal was to get him out of the house. How I regret that decision.

Biblical Instruction to Fathers

When the Scriptures instruct about parenting, they always specifically address fathers. Commenting on this fact, William Farley, author of Gospel Powered Parenting, writes; “Throughout Scripture, fathers are the parents, and their wives are their assistants. The wife is a crucial assistant. Parenting is a team sport. It is very hard to do alone. But in a two-parent family, Dad is the chief parent, the one accountable to God for his family. Mom is there to assist him.” [20] Biblical counselors and authors Fitzpatrick and Newheiser agree with Farley. In their comments on Eph. 6:4 they write, “Paul speaks specifically to “fathers. In doing so, he isn’t excusing mothers from his warning. But he was speaking to the head of household…because fathers are the head or the leader of the household they carry the ultimate responsibility to guide and direct the family.” [21]

Although there are numerous Scriptures addressed to Fathers, nearly all of them fit into three basic categories, which are love, instruction, and discipline. The first category, love, is essential because instruction and discipline attempted without genuine love will likely foster resentment (Eph. 6:4). Amazingly, no verse of Scripture specifically commands a father to love his children. Instead, the Scriptures assume fathers will naturally love them. For example, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. Psalm 103:13 (NASB).” In spite of the fact they are no specific commands for fathers to love their children, there is a tremendous amount of Scripture addressed to Christians on the subject of love of loving one another. Nearly every book in the New Testament emphasizes this theme. A verse that wonderfully summarizes the New Testament command to love is 1John 3:16, which states, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” A father should do no less for his children. According to Scripture, a father who truly loves his children will make the sacrifices necessary to instruct and discipline them. For example, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently Prov. 13:24 (NASB).”

The second category of Scriptural commands to fathers is instruction. Instruction involves purposefully teaching children the Word and ways of God so they will develop a biblical theology and worldview. In the Old Testament, the primary passage that addresses the father’s responsibility to instruct his children is Duet. 6. The apostle Paul summarizes this text in Eph. 6:4 when he says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NASB)” Andrew Davis does an outstanding job of linking these two texts together in his article, “Fathers and Sons in Deuteronomy 6: An Essential Link in Redemptive History,” and unpacking their importance. Davis writes:

“A wise Christian father, therefore, will see the word "fathers" in Eph 6:4, take his own responsibility seriously toward his children, and turn to Deuteronomy 6 for practical insights into how to bring up his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But he will do more than that. He will develop the multigenerational vision clearly taught in Deut 6:2 and will prepare his sons to lead their own families into spiritual obedience and lasting fruitfulness for the glory of Christ. . . .The future health and spiritual prosperity of the church of Jesus Christ depends on fathers who will delight in the multigenerational vision of family leadership laid out in Deuteronomy 6 and confidently trust in God's Spirit to prepare their sons and daughters to walk in a law now written on their hearts by faith.”[22]

Notice Davis emphasizes a multigenerational vision for families. His conviction is today’s fathers must “train their sons to love God with all their hearts and to keep his commandments, so that they, in turn, can train their own sons to lead their families in the same pattern.”[23] Davis outlines several steps from Deut. 6 a father should take to prepare his son for family leadership. We can summarize them thus: Fathers must be faithful examples who love and fear God, cherish his commandments, and review his faithfulness. Therefore, they teach their sons to do the same by consistent repetition, in everyday life situations, and by physical reminders, especially taking advantage of teachable moments when their son’s hearts are open.[24]

Obviously, one of the father’s primary goals in instructing his children is their regeneration. Therefore, father must communicate the gospel message by every means available. Certainly, this includes the Bible’s teaching about God, man, sin, and salvation, but it also includes living a life worthy of the Gospel (Eph. 4-6). Additionally, fathers must always remember two parallel truths as noted by William Farley in Gospel Powered Parenting. The first truth is God exercises sovereignty over salvation. As Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matt. 11:27 NASB).” The second truth is that God uses means of grace to draw people to himself, and parents are the normal means of grace God uses to reach their children.[25] We must note a caution by Farley about keeping these two truths in balance. Farley says, “It is fatal to presume upon God’s sovereignty by neglecting parental faithfulness. Yet it is also a mistake to assume that it all depends upon us. It doesn’t. In fact, none of your efforts will prevail unless God bestows the gift of faith on your children. We are utterly dependent and responsible at the same time.”[26]

The final category of Scriptural commands to fathers relate to discipline. Discipline is necessary because children are sinners by nature at birth, and foolishness is bound up in their hearts (see Gen. 8:21, Ps. 51:5 and Prov. 22:15). The purpose of discipline is to mold character, with a primary focus on the heart rather than behavior. Scripture clearly teaches that behavior flows from the heart, for example see Proverbs 4:23, Mark 7:21, and Luke 6:45. Ted Tripp says, “a change in behavior that does not stem from a change in the heart is not commendable; it is condemnable.”[27]

The Old Testament book of Proverbs provides the most specific instruction on the subject of discipline. About a third of Proverb’s teaching is especially pertinent to parents, while the rest essentially deal with one’s proper response to discipline. The Proverbs applicable to parents are 3:11-12; 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15 and 29:17. Proverbs 3:11-12 compares a father’s discipline with the Lord’s, stating the Lord disciplines his children much like a father disciplines a child he delights in. The rest of theses verse exhort parental discipline, note the rewards of faithfulness, or warn about the consequences of negligence, which we have already detailed. We should note that Proverbs commands spanking, but we will not address this subject since our emphasis is on adolescent sons who are normally too old to spank.[28]

Clearly, Scripture commands discipline. Unfortunately, many misunderstand what biblical discipline looks like. According to Ted Tripp, biblical discipline is correction done in love and for the benefit of the child. Parents must not discipline in anger or punitively.[29] In Tripp’s words, “If you correct and discipline your child because God mandates it, then you need not clutter up the task with your anger. Correction is not displaying your anger at their offenses; it is rather reminding them that their sinful behavior offends God. It is bringing his censure of sin to these subjects of his realm. He is the King. They must obey”[30]

In summary, fathers are to love, instruct and discipline their children. They are the chief parents and their wives are their assistants. Their families, by God’s design, are to be the principal learning communities for their children (Deut. 6). Fathers must embrace and live up to their responsibilities as primary teachers and disciplers of their children for the express purpose of producing generations of descendants who love God and live for his glory.

Biblical Methods for Applying the Biblical Instructions to Fathers

Many Christian fathers have a basic understanding of their Scriptural responsibilities as parents. However, they often struggle to live them out in everyday life. Therefore, we have an obligation to address the following question: What biblical methods must a father employ to fulfill his responsibility to love, instruct, and discipline his children? Thankfully, the biblical methodology for parenting is as simple and clear as God’s instruction to fathers. However, this simplicity does not imply that its application will not require intentionality, hard work and sacrifice.

The ultimate example of fatherhood in Scripture is God himself. Therefore, it follows that a father’s methods should image our heavenly Father as closely as possible. One of the primary images used of God in Scripture is that of a shepherd. For example Psalm 100:3, which says, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture (NASB).” Of course, we must also mention Psalm 23, which begins “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want (NASB).” This image as shepherd is the one Tedd and Paul Tripp say fathers should embrace in parenting their children.

The New Testament does not directly support the Tripp’s conclusion, but it does infer it, and here is how. When the New Testament talks about leadership in the church, it often describes it with shepherding terms, for example see 1 Pet. 5:1-4 and Acts 20:28. According to these Scripture, and many others, shepherds lead, feed, protect and care for their flocks, which is exactly what fathers must do. Additionally, the New Testament declares that qualifications for church leadership are godly character, and the proven ability to manage or shepherd one’s home (1Tim. 3 and Titus 2:5-9). Clearly, God’s plan is for fathers to be the shepherds of their homes, which also serve as a training and proving ground for leadership of God’s household, the church (1Tim 3:15).

How should fathers shepherd their adolescent sons? They must seek to exemplify godly masculinity, shape influences, focus on their son’s hearts, continually communicate the truth in love, nurture the father and son relationship, administer age appropriate discipline, be real and undergird all these efforts with prayer. We will briefly discuss each of these.

Exemplifying godly masculinity to adolescent sons is vital. As William Farley notes, “…men are born male, but masculinity is learned.[31] He defines masculinity as unselfish servanthood and the willingness to initiate or lead. Farley says men learn biblical masculinity from two sources. First, they learn it from God, and particularly his son, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who was the ultimate masculine man. Secondly, they learn if from other men whom the gospel has transformed. Thus, fathers must be men who have been radically transformed by the gospel into biblical models of masculinity.

A father is responsible for the shaping influences that affect his children. Shaping influences is a term coined by Ted Tripp, which he defines as the events and circumstances in a child’s developmental years that impact their growth. He says this shaping is not automatic because it depends on how the child responds to these events and circumstances. Shaping influences include things such family structure, roles, values and the like. Tripp warns that positive shaping influences do not guarantee godly children because they respond to them out of their hearts. Nevertheless, fathers should seek to construct biblical shaping influences, and trust God to do what only he can, which is transform their children’s hearts.

Since the heart is the source of all attitudes and behavior, as previously noted, it must be the focus of a father’s shepherding efforts. In Paul Tripp’s words, “The Bible attributes many important functions to the heart. We feel, think, purpose, desire, believe with our hearts. We also receive or reject God’s new covenant for our hearts. If the heart is the steering wheel of the human being, if it’s what causes us to do what we do, then it’s quite obvious that the focus of parenting has to be with the heart of the teenager.”[32] The temptation will be to focus on the behavior rather than the heart, and therefore revert to various behavior modification techniques. Paul Tripp warns:

I can control a child’s behavior through a variety of means. If I lay enough guilt on my child, it will move him. If I manipulate my teen with something he wants, a new car or a new bike, I will be temporarily effective. If I threaten him, he may comply. But the problem is that none of these strategies have lasting effectiveness. The inner person, the teen’s heart, hasn’t changed. The minute the threat or the incentive is gone, the child goes right back to what he was doing.[33]

Fathers have a responsibility to instruct their sons in the truth, but they must communicate the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Father’s must heed the apostle’s words in 1 Cor. 13:1,” If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (NASB).” Additionally Eph. 4:29 which says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (NASB)”

Biblical Goals for Fathers of Adolescent Sons

In addition, most Christian fathers have no clear goals in mind for their parenting, particularly when it comes to their adolescent sons. They have failed to think deeply about what a mature man is and therefore they have nothing to aim at.

Therefore, in this section we will discuss biblical methods for applying the biblical commands and then By no means will they be comprehensive, since entire books have been written on this subject. Again, our specific focus will be adolescent sons.

1. The father must renew his commitment to pursue Christ with passion and to live worthy of the gospel for Christ’s glory. Therefore, he must become consistent in his personal, family and corporate communion with the Lord. He must be intentional and purposeful in pursuing a growing knowledge of God’s Word and obedience to it.

2. The father must pursue forgiveness and reconciliation with his adolescent son. He must commit himself to rebuilding the relationship by expending whatever time, energy and sacrifice that is necessary. At the same time, the father must understand that his that God is sovereign and only he change the son’s heart.

3. The father must commit to obeying the biblical commands addressed to fathers. Hence, he must accept the responsibility that he is to be the primary discipler of his son. He must develop a plan for accomplishing that task.

4. The father must commit to parenting with biblical methods. This means that his parenting must directed at the heart.

5. A renewed commitment to parent with biblical goals

How to Apply Scriptural Instruction and Principles in Counseling Fathers

Paul Tripp provides a helpful ministry model for assisting brothers and sisters in Christ with any shortcoming in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand and companion workbook, Helping Others Change. Four key words, “love”, “know”, “speak” and “do”, summarize this model.[34] We will apply this model specifically to helping fathers faithfully parent their adolescent sons. I personally apply this model to all my counseling and discipleship opportunities.

According to Tripp, God always changes people in the context of relationships based on love. Therefore, we must build relationships in which love provides a context for God's work of change. The question is how do we do establish such a relationship? Tripp says there are four steps we must take. The first and most obvious step is to enter the person’s world through what Tripp calls “entry gates.” An entry gate is not a problem, circumstance or another person; instead, it is the person's experience of a situation, problem or relationship. Therefore, in the case of a father and his adolescent son, the entry gate will likely be their experience of a crisis, trial, or conflict that has arisen due to father’s failure to fulfill his parental obligations.

A second step we must take when entering a person’s world is incarnating the love of Christ. Ministry to the hurting will always mean sacrifice and suffering for us. Like Christ, we must be willing to die to ourselves to see spiritual growth in another person. We must remember that God has not only called us to proclaim his truth, but to be an example of it also. This is especially true when the sins of the people we minister to surface in our relationships. For example, if a father is an angry person eventually they will be angry with us. If they struggle with trust, at some point they will distrust us. When they sin against us, we must model Christ.

The third step we must take when entering a person’s world is to identify with their suffering. Identifying with a distressed father who is suffering due to parental laxity would be simple for someone like myself. I know the heartache and sorrow firsthand. However, such experience is not necessary to minister to a hurting father. As Paul Tripp says, God calls all of us to suffer so that we can be instruments of His comfort and compassion. When ministering to the suffering, we must remember where has God led us through suffering and what has he taught us through it. Then we can use that knowledge and experience to comfort others.

The final step in entering a person’s world is to accept with an agenda. Paul Tripp reminds us that change is God's agenda. His plan for us is to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we love people with Christ’s love, we must hold before them the call to change. While doing so, we must be careful to avoid a critical, condemning or self-righteous spirit. Instead, we must grant them the same mercy, love, and grace that God has showered on us.

The “know” part of Tripp’s ministry model is self-descriptive. This portion of the model requires patience, good listening skill and complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. We need to gather knowledge about the situation; the father and sons’ response to the situation; how they are interpreting it and finally, what motivates their behavior. Therefore, we need to know the answers to four questions. The first question is, “What is going on?” The answer to this question tells what their world is like. It must include both the past and the present. What pressure, opportunities, responsibilities and temptations are they facing? Who are the important people in their life and what are they doing? What do we know about their past, including people and circumstances. From all this information, we need to filter the things that will help us understand their situation.

The second question is, “What is the father doing in response to what is going on?” Here we include the facts that describe the person's behavior. We are looking for themes and patterns. What are the typical ways they respond to their sons and situations? Themes and patterns will give us insight into what is going on in the heart. Are there idols we must expose? Is there pattern of sin we must confront?

Our third question for knowledge gathering is, “What does the father think about what is going on?” In other words, how is the father interpreting his world situation? As Tripp says, people are meaning makers and they seek to understand what is going on in their lives. Therefore, they need to see things from a biblical perspective. Their thinking about their situation must line up with Scripture before real change can take place. The thoughts of the heart precede and determine our activity.

The final question in the “know” portion of Tripp’s ministry model is, “What does the person hope to gain from what is going on?” Include what you learn about the father's desires, goals, purposes, treasures, motives, values and idols. What are they living for? What really rules their hearts? Whatever rules our hearts will control our behavior. Our behavior is always our attempt to get what is important to us from people and situations. Therefore, real change will always include the motive of our hearts.

“Speak” is the third aspect of Tripp’s ministry model. Once we understand the father’s situation, responses, motives and behavior, and have thoroughly examined them through the lense of Scripture, then we are ready to speak the Truth. We must speak the Truth in the love, and with God’s goal of change and sanctification in mind. Our goal is to help the father see himself in the mirror of God's Word, and be God’s instrument to bring him to repentance. A quote from Tripp fittingly describes the how should speak the truth:

My goal is that through the things I say (message), the way that I say them (methods), and the attitudes I express (character), God will change the heart of this person. A mistake we often make is to emphasize the law over the gospel. But Romans 2:4 and 2 Cor. 5:14 show that it is God's kindness and love that compels us to change. The grace of the gospel turns our hearts and forgiveness is abundantly available.

In speaking the truth there are four goals we want to accomplish. First, we want fathers to consider their sin from a biblical perspective. Therefore, we must point them to Scriptures we mentioned in this paper. We should include those narrative passages that describe the tragic consequences of failure. A simple way to do this is to assign them as homework, and request that they answer three simple questions. What is the point of the passage? How does the passage apply to your situation? What is God saying to you about your situation from this text?

Our hope is that when a father measures himself against the standard of God's Word he will see the sins of his heart and behavior he must confess. Confession is our second goal in speaking the truth. A sincere confession according to Tripp is one that “is concrete and specific with no “buts” or “ifs.” The problem is that we sinners often find confession difficult. We want to deny, explain away, blame, defend, and hide. Tripp cautions that we must take care not to confess for someone or to assume confession. Instead, we must encourage a person to make their own confession to the Lord and to those against whom they have sinned.

After genuine confession, we must seek a father’s commitment to God’s agenda for change and sanctification. The question to ask is how specifically is God calling this father to a new way of parenting? To what new ways of thinking is God calling them? What new biblical desires would God want to control his heart? To what new responses is God calling them? In what new ways is God calling them to serve and love their sons? What things must they stop doing? What new things should he start doing? What steps of correction and restitution is God calling them to make? What new habits does he need to cultivate? Is this father committed to these changes?

Once we determine there is a sincere commitment to change, we must aid the father in adopting a definite plan of action to implement the necessary changes in his life. Tripp warns, “It is easy to assume that change has taken place because a person has gained insight and made new commitments. However, change has not taken place until change has taken place!”

What might a definite plan of action look like for a father who is repenting of negligence in parenting his adolescent son? It would likely include the following:

1. The father must renew his commitment to pursue Christ with passion and to live worthy of the gospel for Christ’s glory. Therefore, he must become consistent in his personal, family and corporate communion with the Lord. He must be intentional and purposeful in pursuing a growing knowledge of God’s Word and obedience to it.

2. The father must pursue forgiveness and reconciliation with his adolescent son. He must commit himself to rebuilding the relationship by expending whatever time, energy and sacrifice that is necessary. At the same time, the father must understand that his that God is sovereign and only he change the son’s heart.

3. The father must commit to obeying the biblical commands addressed to fathers. Hence, he must accept the responsibility that he is to be the primary discipler of his son. He must develop a plan for accomplishing that task.

4. The father must commit to parenting with biblical methods. This means that his parenting must directed at the heart.

5. A renewed commitment to parent with biblical goals

The final step in the ministry model is “do.” In this step, my responsibility is to help the person implement a plan of action for change. I must continually encourage them by reminding them of their identity in Christ and the resources God has provided for overcoming sin and living a godly life. Since change is hard and it demands tremendous perseverance, I will provide loving accountability. Tripp says, “Accountability is about providing loving structure, guidance, assistance, encouragement, and warning to a person who is fully committed to the change God is working in his life.”[1]



Dobson, James C., Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Farley, William P. Gospel Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2009.

Fitzpatrick, Elyse, Jim Newheiser. You Never Stop Being a Parent, Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2010.

Fitzpatrick, Elyse, Jim Newheiser and Dr. Laura Hendrickson. When Good Kid’s Make Bad Choices, Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2005

Inrig, Gary. Holman Old Testament Commentary – 1, 2 Kings. Edited by Max Anders. Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman, 2003. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Kassian, Mary A. The Feminist Mistake, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

MacArthur, John F. Jr., Wayne A. Mack and Master's College, Introduction to Biblical Counseling : Basic Guide to the Principles and Practice of Counseling, Electronic ed. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1997.

Peace, Martha and Stuart W. Scott. The Faithful Parent, Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2010.

Piper, John. What’s the Difference, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001

Tripp, Paul David. Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2001.

Tripp, Paul David and Timothy S. Lane. Helping Others Change, Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2000.

_________. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping Others in Need of Change, Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2002.

Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd’s Press, 2005.


Carlson, Allan. “The Decline of Paternity: An American Case Study,” [online]. Accessed 20 Dec. 2010. Available from http://www.profam.org/docs/acc/thc_acc_paternity.htm.

Davis, Andrew M.. “Fathers and Sons in Deuteronomy 6: An Essential Link in Redemptive History,” JBMW Volume 12 No. 1 (Spring 2007) [online]. Accessed 20 Dec. 2010. Available from http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-12-No-1/Fathers-and-Sons-in-Deuteronomy-6.

Mohler, R. Albert. “From Boy to Man–the Marks of Manhood, Part One,” (April 2005) [online]. Accessed 22 Dec. 2010. Available from http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/04/21/ from-boy-to-man-the-marks-of-manhood-part-one/.

Mohler, R. Albert. “From Boy to Man–the Marks of Manhood, Part Two,” (April 2005) [online]. Accessed 22 Dec. 2010. Available from http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/04/21/ from-boy-to-man-the-marks-of-manhood-part-two/.

Tripp, Paul David, “What is "Success" in Parenting Teens?,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2005, pp. 13-20.

________. “Age of Opportunity Leader’s Guide” [online] Accessed 22 Dec. 2010. Available from http://www.wtsbooks.com/pdf_files/age-of-opportunity-leader.pdf.

[1] Ibid., Lessons 11-12.

[1] John Piper, What’s the Difference (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 68.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Allan Carlson, “The Decline of Paternity: An American Case Study,” [online] (Accessed 20 Dec. 2010) Available from http://www.profam.org/docs/acc/thc_acc_paternity.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Mistake (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 8.

[7] Ibid., 7.

[8] Ibid., 7

[9] Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd’s Press, 2005), xviii.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2001) 257.

[12] John F. MacArthur Jr, Wayne A. Mack and Master's College, Introduction to Biblical Counseling: Basic Guide to the Principles and Practice of Counseling, Electronic ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1997), 17.

[13] Piper, 68.

[14] Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, 29

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] James C.Dobson, Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 54.

[17] Gary Inrig, Holman Old Testament Commentary – 1, 2 Kings. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman, 2003). WORDsearch CROSS e-book. 1Kings 1:5-10.

[18]Ibid., 1Kings 2:13-25.

[19] Paul David Tripp, “Age of Opportunity Leader’s Guide” [online] (Accessed 22 Dec. 2010) Available from http://www.wtsbooks.com/pdf_files/age-of-opportunity-leader.pdf.

[20] William Farley, Gospel Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R Publishing, 2009),136-142.

[21] When Good Kids Make Bad Choices p. 144

[22] http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-12-No-1/Fathers-and-Sons-in-Deuteronomy-6

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Farley, 21-22.

[26] Ibid

[27] Tripp Shepherding p.4

[28] Tripp Shepherding A Child’s Heart

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid

[31] Farley 142

[32] Tripp, Paul David, “What is "Success" in Parenting Teens?,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 23,

No. 3, 2005, pp. 13-20.

[33] Ibid

[34] Tripp, Helping Others Change, 1.

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