God's Advice to Dads: An Interview with James Merritt
The late Margaret Thatcher once commented that she owed almost everything in life to her father, Alfred Roberts. Growing up, her dad was a Methodist preacher and politician who, despite being raised by a Liberal family, stood strong as an Independent. After winning a seat in the British Parliament, Thatcher commented that what she learned while growing up in her modest home and specifically from her father were the very things that won the election. I guess I feel a lot like the Iron Lady. Any modicum of success I have or will achieve in my life, I owe in part to my father.
My dad, James Merritt, has given me two of the greatest gifts any father can offer their child. First, he introduced me to Jesus, a gift which has changed everything for me. Second, he's always believed in me. When things have been difficult in my life, I've been held together by my deep faith and the love and support of my Dad. That's why I decided to interview him this Father's Day week about his newest book, What God Wants Every Dad to Know.
James Merritt is pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA and host of Touching Lives, a television broadcast ministry that can be seen in all 50 states and 122 countries. He served as President of America's largest protestant denomination from 2000-2002, and has been interviewed by major news outlets including TIME, ABC World News, Fox News, MSNBC, 60 Minutes, and The New York Times. Here, we discuss the challenges of modern parenting, common mistakes dad make with their children, and the book Rick Warren said you should buy "for every father you know!"
JONATHAN: You take a fascinating approach to fatherhood in What God Wants Every Dad to Know, using Proverbs as a template for the discussion. Why did you choose this ancient book?
JAMES: After having my first child, I began scouring the bookstore for parenting books to help guide me in my new life as a dad. Hundreds of pages later, I didn't feel any more prepared for the task than when I started. Then early one morning, I was reading a chapter in Proverbs--something I've done every day for years because I want to live a wise life. While reading this book, I noticed the phrase “my son” popping up over and over. Turns out, that phrase is used 27 times by the author of Proverbs.
As I pondered this, a thought occurred to me: contrary to what I had always thought, Proverbs was not just some serendipitous collection of pithy witticisms penned at random by a smart, ancient king. Rather, it was a letter written from a father to his son on how to live a fulfilling life of wisdom. That's when I realized that the book of Proverbs contains what God wants every dad to know.
JONATHAN: You've been a dad for more than three decades. If you could get in a time machine and go back, what are some things you'd do differently?
JAMES: That honestly could be the subject of another book! First, I would be far more patient and in better control of my temper. I look back realizing I was too hard at times and too demanding---much the way my dad was with me. Understand, I loved my dad and do not use him as an excuse but the old saying is often true: "like father, like son." Second, I would have spent more time with each son individually and really tried to get inside both their heads and their hearts. We did a tremendous amount of things together and had some incredible experiences, but I wish I had spent more one-on-one time with each son than I did. Third, I would definitely have travelled less, spoken less, and spent more time at home. Period.
JONATHAN: What challenges do young dads face today that you didn't when you were raising young kids and what advice would you give them?
JAMES: No question—internet and the social media. It is a phenomenon that can at times overwhelm parental influence early on if not controlled and monitored. One of the best things dads can do is to be educated on new technology, conversant with his children, and able to monitor closely both the time and energy given to this, especially when the kids are young.
JONATHAN: As a pastor, how would you advise churches who want to support and equip fathers to go about doing it?
JAMES: Make sure that your pastor remembers that his family comes before the church. Give him time off each week, each quarter and each year for family activities and investments. And don’t hold his children to a higher standard than God does.
JONATHAN: In your book, you talk about the importance of imparting practical wisdom to children on matters like finances, communication skills, and discipline. What is some practical advice you think God wants every dad to know?
JAMES: Here are seven of the top pieces of wisdom I think God wants every dad to know:
- No matter how hard you try, you will end up feeling like you failed as a parent in some way. You will never think you spent enough time with them, gave them enough or did enough for them. Ask for God’s grace to be a good, Godly dad and then receive God's grace when you make a mistake.
- Priortize time with your family, both corporately and individually. It's much easier for a father to have children than for children to have the dad they really need. Be there early and often.
- Model your faith consistently. Be the same man on Sunday that you are on Monday. The way they see in Jesus in you as a child will shape their image of Jesus for the rest of their lives.
- Allow your kids to think on their own and to disagree with you respectfully. You didn’t always see things the way your parents did and neither will they. When the time comes, they'll be better prepared to let their inner-child sit down and their inner-adult stand up.
- Show great love and affection for their mother. Early on, kids need to see a Godly marriage portrayed and the husband-wife relationship modeled in a Christlike way.
- Never be afraid to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” when you blow it with your kids. They will see you as bigger for it, not smaller. The process of tearing down barriers and building up bridges is a never ending one. Own up to your failures and remind them constantly that your love is unconditional.
- Finally, give your kids to God—they ultimately belong to Him.