Saturday, June 9, 2012

On the theme of Father's Day, I will be preaching on 1 Samuel 16, with these headings planned at the moment:

1.  God is at work in our children’s lives in ways we do not see

2.  We must see how God sees our children

3.  Every man can be a son, every woman a daughter

And I think I am going to show this Volkswagen commercial, which I found rather touching, sometime during the service.  When you see it, tell me if you don't have a little sniffle...

After a long's a recent article for our local parish magazine:

Looking ahead to Father’s Day on 17th June, I have been thinking (again) about fathers.  In part it is with thanksgiving for my own father, who passed away in recent months; and in part I have read about the rising cost from the diminished role of fathers in society. 

The Council of Europe Directorate General files lots of reports.  It is an odd source to help grasp the place of men in spiritual life of a family or nation.  The Directorate has no stake in promoting Christianity, somewhat the opposite. Their interest is social cohesion -- ie, communities sticking together and getting along.  Religion is a factor.  They don’t care about Christianity itself, but rather what effect it has on society.  The research is startling:

If a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife, only 1 child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between 2/3 and 3/4 of their children will become churchgoers.

This influence stretches to adulthood:  young men and women (into their 20’s) conclude that Dad’s absence indicates going to church is not really a “grown-up” activity.  Where the father is indifferent or just plain absent, children see that church is a “women and children” thing, they will respond accordingly—by not going to church, or going much less. 

This is not a condemnation of any individual, family or even nation.  Rather, it shows the importance of men in the spiritual life of families.  My own family’s situation is an example of this:  my mother’s nominal Anglican belief became living faith when she was a mum with young children; however, only as my father was converted to Christ did the family really began to move in a new direction.

The Baptist Press cites research showing that experience is common.  If a child discovers faith and makes a Christian connection, about 3% of families will connect themselves.  If the mum is first, then about 17% of families will .  However, if a father is firmly switched on to faith in Christ, then 93% of the time, the whole family will follow his lead.

I note those figures without a particular trust in statistics.  I do trust that God in his grace is not troubled by 50 to 1 odds -- he can bring about life in any situation!  Yet if these figures even marginally relate to Cumbria, then fathers can know that they have a big impact.  If the children and teenagers in our villages are going to have a vital Christian faith, then, under God, it is largely down to these men.  If we want the historic vitality of Christian life to ebb from our village in the next generation, then fathers need only stay home.

Dads, meet the challenge!   Come along on Father’s Day, to receive encouragement for the great task and responsibility we have before God.  And to each of us, wherever we are in life, and with whichever family structure or background we have, there is the good news of the Gospel for all:  ‘How deep the Father’s love for us’ (1 John 3:1).  Please pray for fathers.

Warmly in Christ,
Clifford Swartz

Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000
Polly House, Baptist Press, April 2003