I love being a dad. Each day pattering little feet greet me at the door when the alarm chime sounds at home. One daughter grabs my leg and another throws her arms around my neck. My sons are too grown up and cool to act excited when Dad pulls in the garage, but each is eager to tell me about his day. The eyes of my children reveal not only where I have come from, but also the legacy I hope to leave behind. Added to these blessings, I am often struck by how grateful I am for the amazing wife by my side and the sheer joy of leading our family.

But it is not always easy. Fatherhood brings burdens and challenges that sometimes rival its opportunities. There are at least two reasons this is true.

My children are sinners. Too often we parents are guilty of worshipping our children. When they are young, it’s easy to forget that the adorable baby we cannot stop talking about has the potential to become a monster! Contrary to contemporary theory, children are not born neutral, nor are they predisposed to good. Actually, the opposite is true.

The psalmist lamented, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).” Rom. 5:19a explains that “through the one man’s [Adam] disobedience the many were made sinners . . . (Rom. 5:19a).” God’s perspective of humanity is even more thorough, “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3).”

As much as I want to believe otherwise, my children are not innocent. No one need teach them to disobey. They are sometimes selfish, disrespectful and rebellious. This is why fathers are instructed to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).”

Kids need discipline

Because my kids are sinners, they need discipline. This word can bear the idea of training and instruction (see 2 Tim. 3:16) or of punishment and chastisement (see Luke 23:16; Heb. 12:5–11). Most likely, Paul intends both in Ephesians 6:4. Discipline requires both instruction and correction when a child errs.

Because my kids are sinners, they need instruction. This word is synonymous with discipline, yet it communicates a more exhortative and motivational tone. Again, the emphasis is on teaching truth and confronting rebellion. The underlying goal of these responsibilities is salvation. Fathers must seek more for their children than behavior modification and moralistic platitudes. I should desire more for my sons and daughters than career promotion, athletic development, or social acceptance. Our ultimate charge as fathers is to lead our children to Christ. Though nothing will guarantee the salvation of our little ones, dads must create an environment where Christ is magnified, the gospel is articulated, and obedience to the Scripture is modeled. While I cannot obtain their salvation, I must be certain that I do not hinder it.

I am a sinner. Often forgotten when discussing fatherhood is the reality that dads are also sinners. The primary reason I anticipate my children’s propensity to disobey God is that they inherited the tendency from me. In light of our depravity, fathers should avoid two extremes that diminish their influence over the spiritual growth of their children.

On one hand, fathers must resist the temptation to be passive. The Old Testament offers a chilling indictment of paternal passivity: “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘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 (1 Sam. 3:11–13, emphasis mine).”

The devastation of these verses strikes a chord of fear in my heart. God forbid that my unwillingness to correct, rebuke, or guide my children would lead to their condemnation.

Tragically, men tend to be spiritually lazy or, even worse, apathetic. Obviously, we cannot lead our children where we have not been. Before God instructs us to teach our sons/daughters with diligence, He insists that we must first love Him with all our heart, soul and might (Deut. 6:5–9). God’s word must be in our heart before we share it with others.

Avoiding passivity

Avoiding passivity means dads must actively refuse subtle disengagement:

Don’t be so distracted by social media that you ignore your family while at home.

Don’t allow your children to disrespect their mother.  

Don’t sit by idly when your children disobey God.

Don’t delegate your children’s spiritual development to others. 

Don’t communicate with your actions that sports, leisure, or money are more important than walking with God.

On the other hand, fathers must resist the temptation to be harsh.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger . . . (Eph. 6:4).” Due to our fallenness, fathers can abuse the authority God gives us. Just as my kids are prone to rebel, I am tempted to overreact and provoke them. Excessive criticism and harshness can be just as damaging as a lack of involvement. By contrast, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “bring them up” with discipline and instruction (Eph. 6:4). The same phrase appears in Ephesians 5:29 when husbands are told to “nourish” their wives as their own bodies.

‘Build up rather than tear down’

With great care and sensitivity, dads should build up rather than tear down. I want my kids to know that I love them deeply and that every correction is intended for their good. The following actions will help dads avoid harshness:

Frequently say, “I love you.”

Embrace your children and assure them of your concern after discipline.

Avoid spanking when you are angry or children don’t understand their sin.

Be consistent when setting requirements and enforcing consequences.

Remember that every child is different, often requiring various means of discipline.

Pray for your children daily.

Loving discipline is necessary, but reckless malice, frustration and punishment are not. You may not be able to control what your children become, but you can provide the right environment for them to grow. Happy Father’s Day!

This article was originally published to the Baptist Paper. Adam Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist in Jackson, TN.