While Mother’s Day is one of the most attended worship services of the year (with pulpits gushing over motherhood), Father’s Day is one of the least. Can you blame fathers who prefer fishing or golfing over going to church and getting ragged on to step up and be a man, whatever that means?
Our culture doesn’t consider men as heads of their families anymore. On television, dads can be pretty goofy, and they go gaga over big toys. Their image in a show like Parenthood fares somewhat better, but for the most part the idea of headship has all but disappeared, discarded on an ash heap of ancient patriarchy.
The fact is, though, that headship is here to stay whether you believe in it or not. The proof is in the prisons, which offer a picture of what happens in the absence of headship. We know that 80 percent of inmates grew up without the consistent presence of a father in the home. Many witnessed a series of male figures with mom and have siblings with different last names. Some don’t even know who their dad is.
The correlation between having an absentee father and landing behind bars is too obvious to disregard. Growing up fatherless digs a deep, dark and angry hole in a heart, a heart that becomes ripe for criminal conduct.
We do believe that God adds a special measure of His grace to families whose dads are absent by no choice of their own. In any church there is an example of a dad who died and mom had to go it alone, but the kid turned out just fine. That extra measure of grace often comes from male role models in the extended family and in the church. Yet this does not change the fact that those who choose to go AWOL on their responsibilities cause dire consequences for the ones left behind.
Embedded in the structures of creation is the need for a father in the home. You can’t fight the structures of creation any more than you can fight gravity. When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos.
Prison ministry reintroduces the creation order to prisoners and their families by professing the love of a heavenly Father. God's intention for the family is taught in Scripture, which is taught by the church through prison ministries. Crossroad Bible Institute, where I serve as president, teaches extensively on God's will for the family. Even before this, however, the church's ministries teach prisoners that there is a heavenly Father who perfectly and completely can fill that void left by an absentee father.
To be sure, the meaning of headship has gone through adjustments over time and across cultures, as it should. Every marriage needs to negotiate and balance the leadership and nurturing roles in accordance with gifting and opportunity.
But headship is here to stay, and we can make the most of it. Its clearest explanation is found in Ephesians 5:25, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Tyrants and serial freeloaders need not apply.
Instead of the prison picture of what happens without fathers, let’s imagine dads (imperfect as we all are) who embrace the spirit of Jesus and remain at their post. I wonder how many wives would object to that kind of headship and how many more kids could experience the love of their perfect heavenly Father.