Introducing four categories of shepherding (knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting), Witmer offers biblical counsel and practical direction to help men lead their families well.
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About the Author
Timothy Z. Witmer (DMin, Reformed Theological Seminary) is professor of practical theology and coordinator of the practical theology department at Westminster Theological Seminary. He has served as senior minister of Crossroads Community Church since 1986 and is the author of The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church.
Read an Excerpt
An Introduction to Knowing Your Family
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.
As we begin walking through the four foundational shepherding functions of knowing, leading, providing for, and protecting your family, it is important to recognize that they represent fundamental human needs. For example, the concept of knowing and being known speaks to the fundamental need for relationship. Research has demonstrated an infant's need to connect with his or her parents early on in order to be properly adjusted, or even to survive. For most of us, something as simple as an invitation to an event or gathering raises the question, who is going to be there? Why do we ask this? We are concerned because we want to go somewhere where we have the connection of relationship, where we know and are known. On the other hand, some of the worst experiences people can have are described in terms of loneliness, isolation, or alienation. These terms are just a sample of the large glossary of words that express missing or strained relationships.
Think about it. Being made in the image of God, man was made first to be in relationship with his Creator. Unfortunately, this fellowship was broken when man sinned. Things changed from that point forward. The good news is that, from the very beginning, the Lord took the initiative to restore that relationship. The relational element in God's redemptive work is clearly seen in the shepherding metaphor. "The Lord is my shepherd" (Ps. 23:1) highlights this covenantal privilege of relationship and mutual knowledge.
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Ps. 100:3)
As the consummate shepherd who comes into the world, Jesus describes the mutual knowledge between a shepherd and his sheep that characterizes his relationship with his people. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:14). This shepherd knew that this vital relationship with God could be restored only through his death and resurrection.
One of the greatest fears when it comes to relationships is the fear of transparency. If you really knew me, would you still love me? My friend Steve Brown used to announce to his listeners, "If you knew me the way I know me, you wouldn't want to listen to me preach." He would quickly add, "If I knew you the way you know you, I wouldn't want to preach to you!" Remarkably, the Lord knows everything about you and he loves you. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Jesus still knows all about our sins, doubts, and fears and he still loves us.
One of the greatest privileges we now have is to grow in our knowledge of him. For the sheep, this is foundational for every benefit of belonging to him. "Now this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). This is a great place to start. Can you see how much he loved you in the indescribable gift he gave that your relationship with him might be restored? The health and wholeness of our human relationships find their source in the wholeness of our relationship with the Lord through Jesus. I might add that strength, wisdom, and love for others are fueled by the vitality of our life in the Lord. His work on our behalf enables us to grow in our relationship not only with our God, but also with others, especially our wives and children.
Knowing and the Family
Let's go back to the very beginning and take a look at how fundamental this concept of relationship is to marriage. After all, marriage and the family were God's idea. Marriage did not originate in the primal horde or primitive society dominated by the violent primal father, as Freud suggested. Neither was it, as some anthropologists assert, a desperate human invention by "noble savages" designed to bring some order to an otherwise chaotic loose association of males and females. No, marriage was designed by God to bring blessing and order to his creation. Together with the creation ordinances of work and Sabbath rest, marriage would provide a rhythm to life. Therefore, we must affirm that he ordained foundational principles not only for the natural order but also for the moral order of his creation.
There is both structure and purpose. This order is the foundation of creation (cf. Prov. 3:19). We tend to consider the "foundation" in terms of the physical, material, and biological world on which Genesis 1 focuses, but to restrict creation order to these dimensions would be absurd. What kind of a cosmos would it be in which the physical sciences were a worthwhile enterprise — because they look for structure that is there to be found — but in which the fields of personal relationships and morality were undifferentiated chaos? This would be a world in which personhood was still "formless and void," waiting to be given shape by the subjective whims of each person or succeeding culture.
The shape of marriage has not been left "formless and void," as we will see from the following seven foundations of marriage established by the Creator.
Marriage Is Designed to Meet the Need for Companionship
As we consider the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis, the refrain we hear regularly is "it was good." The Lord saw the result of his creative power and was pleased. However, there was something that was not good. "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18a). This seems strange, given that Adam was in relationship with his Creator. A few verses later we discover the sense of his aloneness. We see the first man hard at work naming the cattle, birds, and beasts, "but for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him" (v. 20). Man was in desperate need of someone with whom he could relate. Simply put, he was the only one of his species! Zebras and chimpanzees were not going to provide what he needed.
The Lord would not allow that need to go unmet. The Lord said, "I will make him a helper fit for him" (v. 18b). The Hebrew word translated "fit" is found only here and means "suitable for" or "corresponding to." The word indicates an equality of personhood inasmuch as both are made in the image of God.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)
This does not mean equality of roles, as we will see in our subsequent study of leadership. Adam would need someone like him who could come alongside him in the work of the garden and the service of the Lord. This need was met in the creation of the first woman. Gordon Wenham explains, "The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides." This fundamental need for man to know and to be known was to be experienced not only through his knowledge of God but also with another person with whom he could relate. This dynamic has its roots in the very nature of the Godhead. Our triune God exists in perfect interpersonal relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with one another. Adam's need for someone like him, someone with whom he could relate, reflects the mysterious relational dynamic within the Trinity itself. The Lord knew Adam's need and met it.
Therefore, it is not as though Adam's need for relationship took the Lord by surprise. It is not as if he looked at what he had made and exclaimed, "Oops!" and then added Eve. The narrative may appear this way, but its inspired form highlights the importance of Adam's relational need and the wonderful way it was met in Eve. This explains why marriage has been described as a covenant of companionship (cf. Mal. 2:14).
In the marriage relationship we desperately need each another. Take a few moments and thank the Lord for the relationship he has given you with your wife. Think about how miserable you would be if you were alone.
Marriage Is Designed to Provide Help in the Tasks of Life
You will also notice that God saw that man really needed help! When most people think about Edenic paradise, they usually don't think about work. But the Lord gave Adam a lot to do. In addition to taking care of the garden and naming the animals, he was given larger global responsibilities.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Gen. 1:26–28)
You will notice that these "global" tasks are given to the couple. In fact, it goes without saying that the charge to "be fruitful and multiply" would have been impossible with Adam alone! In addition to this they were called to have dominion over all that the Lord made. The woman was created to come alongside Adam to be a "helper" for him and to complement him in accomplishing these tasks.
If you are married, in order to accomplish what God has called you to do, you must understand that each of you brings strengths and weaknesses to the relationship for the benefit of one another and for the marriage. One vital aspect of knowing one another is knowing and understanding one another's strengths and weaknesses. It is important not only to know what these are but also to learn to yield to each other's strengths and help with each other's weaknesses.
For example, early in our marriage it became clear that Barb didn't do so well navigating with a map. This was long before GPS technology, so I was dependent on her to look at the map and tell me where to turn, or whether to turn at all. This led to many occasions of frustration for her and for me as we would get lost with the map right in front of us! On the other hand, Barb has an uncanny ability to remember details about every place she has ever been. I remember one dark and stormy night in particular when we were trying to find our way to visit friends on the hilly roads outside Pittsburgh. We had been there only once before, but (without a map!) she remembered exactly which way to turn, and we arrived safely at our destination. If it would have been up to me, we would have been hopelessly lost.
The lesson, among many others, is that I can trust her directional instincts, but the map reading should be left to me. You may think this is a silly illustration, but when you compound all of the various factors of strength and weakness in marriage, learning and adjusting to them will be a great blessing to both of you. On the other hand, failing to take these into account will result in regular frustration.
Another example is Martin Luther, who was not as handy as his wife was. Martin didn't pay much attention to money and often found himself in debt. But Katherine was very attentive to these matters and managed their household quite well, even developing household industries that kept the Luthers not only in the black but quite profitable. Martin had no problem yielding to his wife's strengths in these areas.
The Lord knew what he was doing when he put the two of you together, too. The point is that if you are to complement one another in the tasks of life, you are going to need to know one another. Have you paid attention and yielded to your spouse's strengths? Have you been honest about your own weaknesses?
Marriage Is Designed to Be the Primary Human Relationship
Another reason that the relational basis of your marriage is so crucial is that marriage is designed by God to be your primary human relationship. In fact, it is the most important relationship you have in this world. This is highlighted in Genesis 2:24, where God says that "a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife." While the parent-child relationship is important, the husband-wife relationship is even more so. The husband is told to leave the household of his parents. This doesn't mean that you no longer respect your parents. It means that when you marry, a new household is established and that this now becomes your priority relationship. It means that the opinion that you value the most is that of your spouse. It means that the counsel that you yield to is that of your spouse. Of course, this doesn't mean that you no longer seek the counsel of your parents. That would be foolish. It does mean that it is clear to your spouse that her wishes and happiness take priority over that of your parents.
Failure to recognize this principle has caused a lot of stress in marriage relationships through the millennia. For example, when it came time for our children to go to school, we determined that we would send them to private Christian school. This wasn't an easy decision for us, but it was even more difficult for my mother to hear since she was a public school teacher, and she tried to persuade us otherwise. Her thought was, "Public school was good enough for you, so why not for your children?" I made it as clear as I could to her that our decision was not casting aspersions on my parents' choices or her occupation. The point was that, as strongly as my mother felt about this and expressed herself about it, Barb and I were consulting together, yielding to one another, and responsible for making these decisions for our children.
Is it clear to your spouse that she is the most significant person in the world to you? Do you tell her that she is? Do you act as though she is? Sometimes it's not only parents who are in the tug-of-war for a spouse's affection and loyalty. It might be coworkers or members of your bowling or softball league. In no case should there be any doubt about who is most important to you. There is certainly a place for appropriate friendships with "the guys," but there should be no doubt whom you would like to be with the most and, therefore, who is most important to you.
The primary nature of the relationship between husband and wife is emphasized when the Lord says that a man should "hold fast to his wife" (Gen. 2:24). Another translation of "hold fast" is "cleave" (KJV). It is the familiar tandem of "leaving and cleaving." The English word cleave is interesting because it has one sense of "dividing," as in a meat cleaver. Yet the sense in which it is used here is "to cement together." The Hebrew word is used "of physical things sticking together." Think of the strongest bond imaginable. Think about two things welded together or objects attached with superglue. It also "carries the sense of clinging to someone in affection and loyalty." This provides a natural transition to the principle of the permanence of marriage.
Marriage Is Designed to Be Permanent
A key implication of the language of "holding fast" is that the marriage relationship is designed to be for a lifetime. Nothing is further from the thoughts of most people these days, even some ministers. When Barb and I were preparing to marry, one minister advised us that "sometimes things just don't work out." Perhaps he understood that I was "marrying up"! Though his phrase might represent the experience of many, what terrible counsel to give to a young couple convinced that the Lord called them together for life!
One writer, Dave Sloan, vents his cynicism by suggesting that the standard wedding vows expressing a permanent commitment be replaced by a more "flexible" approach: "I often get betrothed folks one on one and ask them whether they really believe the vow they are about to say, the one that concludes with the words till death do us part. So far, the results have been overwhelming. Almost no one believes it." He suggests the following "True Vow": "We promise to each other the depth of our dreams and the height of our hopes, the tender treasures and the hidden recesses of our hearts. We promise to strive in every way to strengthen the permanence of our love, which is our greatest love." Sloan actually suggests resisting the old vow and rewarding the "True Vow."
We ought to boycott weddings with the old vow, unless we have good reason for believing those two unusual people actually mean the old-fashioned promise. For weddings using the True Vow, we should buy double or triple the dollar value in gifts, to encourage those who make promises they really mean at the moments when it matters most.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shepherd Leader at Home"
Copyright © 2012 Timothy Z. Witmer.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 The Shepherd Knows His Family
1 An Introduction to Knowing Your Family 17
2 The Shepherd Knows His Wife 32
3 The Shepherd Knows His Children 47
Part 2 The Shepherd Leads His Family
4 An Introduction to Leading Your Family 63
5 The Shepherd Leads His Wife 70
6 The Shepherd Leads His Children 87
Part 3 The Shepherd Provides for His Family
7 Material Provision 97
8 Spiritual Provision 107
Part 4 The Shepherd Protects His Family
9 Protecting Your Marriage 123
10 Protecting Your Children 140
Afterword: Less Time than You Think 155
Appendix: Resources for Family Devotions 159
General Index 167
Scripture Index 170
What People are Saying About This
“Dr. Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader has been a huge encouragement to me and to my elders as we seek to be more faithful shepherds to our congregation. Now comes this helpful book: The Shepherd Leader at Home. In it, Witmer provides biblical, complementarian, practical direction for knowing, leading, providing for, and protecting our families. As a pastor, one of the five principle things I aim to do is to 'promote family religion.' That is, perhaps, a quaint way of emphasizing that godliness in the home is vital to the health of the local church. This book is a useful aid to that end. I commend it to you warmly.”
J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor, CEO, and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary
“With marriage and the family under present-day pressures, it takes a wise man to think and write well about being a husband and father under God. This book reveals Dr. Witmer as just such a wise man, and makes his wisdom available to us all. Highly recommended.”
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
“Another book on marriage and family life? Yes, but this one is different. It is short, but not easy; practical, but also deeply realistic; honest, but also warm. Also, thankfully, for all that Dr. Witmer isseminary professor, preaching pastor, author, father, and husbandhere is one thing he never pretends to be, namely Guru! Perhaps that's why this is such a wonderfully encouraging book.”
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Teaching Fellow, Ligonier Ministries
“I deeply appreciated reading The Shepherd Leader at Home. It provides a great approach for leading a family by practicing the ancient shepherding principles of knowing, leading, providing for, and protecting. I love the biblical foundations, the warm illustrations and the practical suggestions for caring for the flock at home. I highly recommend this book by Dr. Witmer.”
Scott Thomas, Founder, Gospel Coach; coauthor, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God
“Reading Dr. Witmer’s new book is simultaneously greatly encouraging and deeply convicting. Encouraging, because it’s saturated with the truth and hope of the gospel. Convicting, because there’s no greater measure of a man’s success that the way he loves his family. The Shepherd Leader at Home is devoid of cliché and filled with practical instruction on how to reveal the servant love of Jesus to our wives and children.”
Scotty Ward Smith, Pastor Emeritus, Christ Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee; Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee
“We can be thankful for many books written to help Christians raise godly families. Dr. Witmer takes aim at a specific kind of Christian familythe family of the ‘Shepherd Leader.’ And his aim is truehe hits the bull’s-eye! This is a book that is carefully biblical but also practical and realistic and is based in what Tim has experienced. This is a necessary compliment to Tim’s earlier book on shepherd leadership in the churchmaybe this one about the home should be read first.”
Stephen E. Smallman, Assistant Pastor, New Life Presbyterian Church, Glenside, Pennsylvania; Instructor, CityNet Ministries of Philadelphia; author, Spiritual Birthline, Forty Days on the Mountain, and The Walk
“We are faced with a serious global crisis in the collapse of the biblical familya crisis, which will eventually lead to the collapse of the church and the society. Dr. Witmer, who already introduced the idea of shepherd leadership in the church, now explores shepherd leadership in the home from his ministerial experiences, with the hope of enabling us to overcome our contemporary crisis. His book is profound, coherent, and practical from the biblical perspective. It provides biblical and practical guidelines for the happiness of the family. If you want to keep your family happier, you should read this book.”
In Whan Kim , Professor Emeritus, Former Professor of Old Testament Studies and President of Chongshin University and Seminary, Seoul, Korea
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Practical Guide to the Bible’s Principle’s of Shepherd-Leadership in Our Homes In his recent book "The Shepherd Leader at Home: Knowing, Leading, Protecting, and Providing for Your Family" Timothy Witmer gives us a practical vision for what it looks like for a man to care for his family under God through the lens of the shepherd-leader. An examination of an actual shepherd shows that they know their sheep, they lead them, they protect them and they provide for them. Witmer divides his book into those very sections: Knowing, Leading, Protecting and Providing for our families. Under each of those sections he first walks through it's principle and practice in marriage and then moves to parenting. As a young man, husband and father of two I found this book incredibly helpful. Over time I've picked up things here and there from different friends, pastors, and teachers on how to be a husband and father, but there have inevitably been certain practices and principles I've missed. Maybe I knew the principle, but hadn't thought through it's practical outworking, or conversely maybe I been taught a practice but not connected it to it's principle. This book helped me here even though I'm surrounded by what I consider to be some of the best guides to godly parenting. It was helpful, because all in one place, it laid out a vision for shepherd-leadership, gave me practical instructions on how to implement it, and showed numerous examples of those practices played out. It's always good to read multiple books on parenting, some that are heavy on theology and principle others that lean towards particular practices so each person will need to consider this in light of his own family and situation. I found this one to lean more towards the practical side of the spectrum and it was one that I needed. It's time that we men learned what it means to be true men in relation to our wives and children. That we grow in our ability to identify our own sin, selfishness and laziness and lay our lives down for our wives and children. So often we men think we are "leading" but it's a leadership not characterized by service. Really we are just doing whatever we want and leaving it up to our wives to handle the rest. Or, we "lead" by driving our families like a dog-sled. Bearing down on them, pointing out their problems, and enforcing strict codes of conduct all the while never getting at the heart, never truly knowing, and never affectionately communication our desire to provide and protect. The call to servant-leadership is a tall one. And the author sounds it for us and seeks to guide us in it. This call may cost us our hobbies, our free time, our self-indulgences, nights of sleep or moments of relaxation. But it is worth it. When we stand on the brink of eternity, looking back over our lives, what will matter most? Those "things" we spent all our time and money on? The job we were consumed with? The moments of pleasure we risked it all for? Or, a family that has flourished because of our leadership? A family that still loves us during our dying moments and gathers to see us off? A wife who was tenderly loved and lovingly led? Grown children who knew their father loved them and set an example for them in word and deed that will impact generations to come? Children who heard the gospel preached and saw it lived out towards them? I'll take the latter. In Christ, God has made us for this. He has given us fresh hope and new life in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He is gradually conforming us into the image of His Son who is the Shepherd-Leader. The One who perfectly knows, leads, protects and provides for His sheep. And God graciously has given us the power by His Holy Spirit to walk in that same way. May God freshly work in us to make us men who are willing to lay down our lives for our wives and children. To serve in the big things... and in the small things. Men who realize what matters most in life. Men who take the time to know our families, men who take care to nourishingly lead our families. Men who fiercely (and warmly) protect our families. And men who gladly provide for our families. And may God be pleased to use this little book to help some of us to do just that. I commend it to you.