My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Timothy Witmer, professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary, is best known for his book The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding In Your Church. Its reviews were so good that I nabbed it—and put it on my shelf to await that glorious future day when I will actually read books I buy.
But when I saw his new book The Shepherd Leader at Home available for review, I decided to read it immediately—because fathering and husbanding are pressing issues for me, a young dad. I assumed that the book was written to tell pastors (I’m something of an outreach pastor, preaching weekly to a group of mostly non-Christians) how to handle the unique challenges ministry presents to a growing family.
I was somewhat disappointed when I began to realize that the book was much more general, written for every Christian husband/father. And, I admit, I was also disappointed when I began to feel I’d heard everything before.
But that’s actually the value of the book. In a straightforward style, in admirably short chapters, Witmer explains what the Bible has to say about a man’s responsibility toward his wife and children. Nearly every paragraph had something to tell me about my responsibility either directly from Scripture or from the wisdom of an experienced, godly man who has lived Scripture out in his home over the years.
Witmer reminded me that knowing, leading, protecting, and providing for my family is my calling as their shepherd. If some of the material in the marriage chapter, for example, sounds a bit hackneyed (it isn’t full of the scintillating insights of a Tim Keller book) the counsel is nonetheless valid: date your wife, thank her for taking care of you and the kids, tell her she’s pretty, let her complete her sentences to you, don’t check your iPad while you’re talking to her.
Likewise the fathering chapter: eat dinner together every day, have a family night each week, spend one-on-one time with your kids. (There was less Bible in this chapter, though the advice seems self-evidently good.)
Likewise the family leadership chapter: a leader is someone who leads followers toward a goal. A Christian leader is one who helps his followers reach God’s goals for them. A Christian leader is also a servant.
Likewise the chapter on the husband’s leadership of his wife: women are made in the image of God; Jesus himself treated them with a respect alien to His culture and time; the Pauline call for wives to submit is not a blanket permission for husbands to coerce their wives, nor is it a command for all women to submit to all men.
I’ll tick off the other chapters even more briefly:
The chapter on leading one’s children focused on the consistent example which is so necessary to avoid hypocrisy.
The chapter on providing for one’s family was basic but included some enriching personal stories and multiple key verses from Scripture.
Th chapter on family devotions had more good, simple advice. One searching question: if someone asked you if you have family devotions could you say yes with a good conscience?
The advice to men on sexual purity was simple, filled with Scripture, and (therefore) utterly sound.
The chapter on protecting children didn’t feel like a pendulum swing away from spanking and into grace; nor did it feel legalistic. It was just standard, middle-of-the conservative-evangelical-road Bible talk about kids. And for once, I think I’ve come across an acrostic I’ll actually use, Witmer’s ABCDEFG process for discipline (I’ll post it up on my blog soon).
The only thing I think I disagreed with in the whole book was his description of marital love as something defined by commitment and independent of circumstances; instead I’d rather say that commitment is one of the defining features of my circumstances. But he did not hang out on this point anywhere near as long as, for example, Tim Keller did in his marriage book.
So my conclusion: this seems to me to be the kind of book that you hand to a fairly new Christian dad. Or a book to dip into when you need to be reminded about the basics of your calling as a husband and father. I’m glad I read it. I pray for God’s grace to live up to the biblical vision it sets.