It was the first question they asked.


The class of church planters who asked about fatherhood, praying for me.

“You’ve been in vocational Christian work all your life. Tell us what kind of father you were.”

13256035_10208381392225138_4017520326281948543_nTen men wanted to know. They were 30-somethings. They too were fathers in vocational Christian work. They were church planters.

I was teaching my course “Theological Foundations for Ministry.” A professor goes into a course with a certain curriculum. I expected to teach specific ideas, move in particular directions.

But not this time.

They did not wait. Right out of the gate they wanted to know what kind of father I had been.

13321935_10208381392145136_185517863459033422_n“If there is one thing I’m proud of in this life,” I answered, “It is that I have been a good father to my children.”

The men were dumbstruck.

“We have asked this question of every professor, pastor, and disciple we have had,” one spoke up. “No one has ever said that to us before. Christian leaders have said if they could do something over in their lives it would be the time and attention they gave to their children.

Follow up questions continued the conversation.

What did you do that could help us be good fathers?”

How did you balance the needs of your family with teaching?”

Why do so many men struggle with fatherhood?”

My responses continued to surprise my students in comparison to what they had heard.

July 2016 family (2)“I did not have a good father,” I began, “And I promised myself that I would be different.” Many of the young men with me had grown up in stable, Christian homes.

I do not believe in spending ‘quality time’ with children,” the men’s eyes went wide hearing this. “You don’t make appointments with your children in a day-timer. You spend time, you are with your children.”

And I don’t believe in ‘balancing’ life.” This statement also caught them off guard. “I believe in tension. My responsibilities in teaching do not invade time with my children. Preparing to teach and teaching was time I spent while they were sleeping or at school. Nothing interfered with family time.”

Sam & C (2)American men in vocational Christian work struggle with fatherhood because there are so many demands placed upon their time and energy.” They waited, knowing I was not finished. “Fathers allow themselves to be co-opted by their work because raising children is even harder work.

Tyler November 2016I told them story after story about times, events, episodes, and situations in the life of our family.

“All of what I’ve told you today,” the Q&A was drawing to a close, “Is that your work on behalf of the next generation begins at home.”

Jesus said “love your neighbor.” Your closest “neighbor” lives in your home.

Scripture teaches learning is coupled with living. Teaching children means being with children.

Teaching is easy. Training is hard. The teaching must be constantly reinforced with training.

Life is full of pressures. Knowing what is most important in your life will relax the pressure.

Men need you to provide an example of a good father.

One of the men from the class called me the other day. “Doc, I need your help.”

M.A. Cohort Boca 2017Being a father to my own children now allows me the opportunity to be a father to my other children, my students, the next generation (1 Thessalonians 2.11-12, Psalm 71.15-18).


Rick Alvis & I 26 April 2017 (3)Mark will be 60 years old next month. Dr. Mark Eckel believes his responsibility now is to train the next generation. This essay will be included in the upcoming book Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice. Find out more about Mark and his work under “Mark’s Bio” on this page.

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  1. “If there is one thing I’m proud of in this life,” I answered, “It is that I have been a good father to my children.” Amen. I have a lot of failings, but I know that my children would answer in the affirmative. To create that outcome takes what I’ll call, ‘determined love’ – a conscience and continuous effort to show the love of Christ to our children. Good parenting doesn’t happen by accident.

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