It is said that marriage and family counseling comprise something around 80% of all counseling issues. This means that the bulk of a pastor’s counseling will be in the throes of the family. It also means that the bulk of the strife, hurt, and pain out there exist in the place where they should be the most scare: the family.
Not a few writers have recognized that. For example, an Amazon search of books pertaining to help with the family serves up some 200,000 hits. Point being: in so many ways, the family is one of the great battlefields. Everyone needs help and equipping for it. But not all that glitters among the 200,000 hits is gold. For all those reasons, it was a joy to read Clint Archer’s newest book, “The Home Team.”
As you might guess, Clint uses the team theme throughout in order to flesh out the structure and happenings of biblical life in the home. Using that unique illustration, nine chapters are given to covering the family dynamics.
I benefited from the book and recommend it for several reasons:
1. It’s biblical.
This isn’t a given in the slough of family literature out there. In fact, it’s probably the vast minority. Clint’s work is an exception.
A sound theology undergirds each chapter. For example, in chapter one, Clint clears the air as to what the origin of the problem for all families: the Fall. This is critical to set up families up for realistic expectations and actual solutions.
Additionally, Clint reminds us that the Bible is the family playbook. We have to start here. God is the designer of the family, so his word is the instruction manual for it. Consequently, Clint recognizes the damage done to families seeking counseling outside of a biblical worldview.
A sound theology of marriage is given, clarifying God’s foundation for a biblical understanding of the family. Marriage was created, among other things, out of God’s desire to create a complementary relationship in which companionship would exist for his glory. “Adam suffered from a systematic inadequacy and required customized complementary companionship” (57). Wives complete husbands in many ways, one being the role in the home. And, regarding roles, the “question…is not what a person can do, but what a person should do to accomplish God’s game plan for the family. It is a question of role or function, not comparative value…” (56). “A wife is God’s gift to help her husband accomplish their God-give responsibilities” (57).
The high privilege and responsibility God has given women is to making the home a home. Though she need not necessarily do all the needed tasks, for “she should wisely manage her home in such a way as all its residents learn the glory of homemaking while sharing the tasks” (61), in addition to serving and using spiritual gifts in ways to benefit both family and the local church.
Clint avoids a common unbiblical error which says that a woman is forbidden from working or serving in ministry outside the home. However, the issue of wives working outside of the home is often not a financial issue, but a spiritual issue. If a mom is going to work outside of the home, her husband needs to provide input here. He needs to see to it that her primary responsibilities in the home are not forsaken.
Families must also see through much cultural fog in order to set biblical priorities. While not calling schools or sports evil, Clint suggests that families beware that schools not usurp family priorities. If it comes down to it, school goes over family and local church. Schools work for the parent and not the other way around. The same is true for sports. They are to be subservient to God’s priorities for the family, which includes the local church. When necessary, parents ought to step in and discuss this with teachers and coaches. In many cases, families will need to take the necessary, though often unthinkable step of opting out of a sport or certain educational option.
Though it is a sound discussion on schooling decisions, some home-school-only’ers may take issue with chapter 8, “Team Supporters.” The family is to be the primary source of a child’s spiritual formation. Parents may carefully outsource things like math and geography without sinning.
2. The centrality of the Person and work of Christ.
Clint positions the reader for gospel lift-off by calling us to faith in the Person and finished work of Christ at the outset. “This is the good news of perfection attained, as well as perfection imputed to every imperfect person who trusts in Jesus” (9). This is critical because we “cannot accomplish any of the principles [of the biblical family] apart from the Spirit of God applying” (9).
As with many parenting books, there can be the error of a good kid becoming a form of pseudo-salvation. But, Clint reminds us that at the end of the day, our kids need something which great parenting cannot ultimately give them: salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. We can, and must, bring them the gospel in as many ways as biblically possible, while adorning it with our lives. But Christ must save them.
The reader is pointed towards God’s greenhouse for families and singles: the NT local church. God’s kind of local church is designed to play the role of nurture, protection, and disciple-making for families. Clint exhorts, “A book like this is merely intended to help you think through issues and spur you on to love and good deeds, but it is no substitute for a local church body or the wisdom of a shepherd to whom God has entrusted you” (10). The church is a non-negotiable support for families which means parents have the God-given responsibility of modeling with their lives a commitment to and love for it.
Yet, Clint understands that the role of the local church is not to replace dads, for example, but equip them. “It is not the church’s job to guard your children and prepare them for life” (50).
4. A clear understanding of the marriage and parenting battle.
Clint does not come at the reader like an armchair theologian. He’s not crying foul from the grandstands. He’s been on the field. He has mud, blood, and sweat on his jersey. You can tell from the advice to the confessions of personal failure that Clint has sincerely been wrestling with the family thing—and combing through the advice out there—since before he’s been a dad. Doing family God’s way is the battle of a lifetime.
5. The approach is gracious.
On several occasions, Clint confesses many battles in the home from the struggle to lead devotionals to a sort of TV-centric home. Doing so proved to be some of the more instructional portions of the book.
Further, the reader is left with solid hope. On many occasions, he gives encouragement by reminding that God’s people already possess all they need for life and godliness. God will not be known as a deadbeat Father, but provides what families need to live lives pleasing to him.
Hope is given for parenting the teen years as well. Parents in this stage will be pointed towards God’s love as the reason behind the various biblical barriers they will have to explain to teens (sexuality, for example). These are expressions of God’s care, provided to protect from ubiquitous hazards.
Finally, we are reminded of God’s grace in parenting: “God does not keep score based on outcomes” (101). We live according to God’s design. God does the rest. “Families are not designed to operate effectively apart from God’s grace” (135).
6. The two chapters on kids are excellent.
The book is well worth it for those chapters alone. Clint systematically shepherds both parents and children in these helpful chapters. A few highlights:
While not crushing kids, he asserts that parents often settle for too less with kids. Sometimes we rob kids of potential by assuming that they are simply just a certain way and can’t change. While every child is different, biblical training with grace and love, kids may be capable of more than we like to think. Clint illustrates the point: “When a puppy comes home, it is a blank slate, waiting to be programmed for either obedience or disobedience. Lazy training leads to untold frustration when a cute puppy becomes a large collection of teeth consuming everything valuable on your patio” (74). “Obedient children are not a result of winning the genetic lottery…” (75). There is potential to shape a measure of biblical behavior in a child, but it’s not without effort and strategy.
Further, a child’s obedience needs to be immediate, complete, and from the heart (75). “If a parent must repeat…at escalating volume, count to three, or threaten punishment in order to get a half-hearted response, he has not merely gotten reluctant obedience, but…a dangerous species of disobedience” (75). Defining biblical obedience will help define biblical discipline. Biblical discipline is God’s loving implement to serve the child by imparting as much self-control and wisdom as possible. It goes beyond punishing wrong behavior, and, when done in love, will move a child away from, not towards, Pharisee-ism.
Also, Clint suggests the “seen but not heard” mantra backfires, stunting a child’s social and spiritual development (78). Kids need to be invited to participate in life by asking thought-provoking questions to form biblical convictions and wisdom. Teaching can’t be compartmentalized to the family’s Bible hour. At the same time, “Young children do not need much say in what they wear,…eat,…or bedtime…God put their parents in charge” (81).
And in all, the family nucleus is not the children, but the parents. “If mom and dad are unified in their understanding of their responsibility before God and in their parenting strategy, then…children will probably experience the happiness and security as a (mostly) natural by-product” (80).
Parents are to be the primary disciple-makers in their kids’ lives. “Christian parents prepare their children to become independently dependent on Jesus. They therefore bear the primary responsibility of preparing their children to eat solid spiritual food and grow in godliness” (88).
Kids are capable, and in need of, grasping more truth than some realize. A friend of mine once remarked that they were waiting until a later age to teach their children about things like hell. In this case, however, the particular age was not too young. It was an age where we would teach our kids about the perils of falling into the river, should we be careless. We warn and instruct them about real dangers because we love them. All the more, then, ought we gently and clearly teach about eternal perils. Clint writes, “Kids can handle hard truths and heavy theology if explained clearly” (137). Along these lines, some great practical suggestions are given for family worship.
The material on teens in chapter 6, “Team Players Part 2,” equips parents for those tricky years.
On tweens and teens, Clint writes, “…we have invented a graded process for maturity with no real beginning and no defined ending: we call the teenage phase adolescence now, which means we can treat young adults like children in many areas while chiding them for their irresponsibility” (95). But that approach to this stage of development backfires, perpetuating childish selfishness and lack of self-control.
One of the few minor issues with the book was with the stated goal of parenting: “to raise children who are independently dependent on Christ” (136). While that is the desire of godly parenting, the goal goes a step further, namely, the glory of God. A parent might glorify God in their parenting, though their child never independently depends on Christ. Knowing Clint personally, I know he would agree. In fact, he emphasizes that greatness is measured according to faithfulness (148). But it might be more helpful to state that the goal of parenting is to parent in a way consistent with Scripture so as to please God.
7. It is challenging.
While full of grace, he necessarily leaves fleshliness nowhere to hide. For example, the chapter to husbands is a firm, biblical call to much of what husband-ing and fathering is all about: responsibility.
Husbands are called to pursue a PhD in their wives: “Wife-ology…is a field of research that you never really get a grasp on because the possibilities for research never end” (43). By way of their God-given roles, husbands are not to outsource providing: “Men who unnecessarily pressure their wives into shouldering part of the income burden are not behaving as true men” (44). Husbands have the responsibility of being followable: “A husband has a high calling indeed, and he should never expect his wife to treat him like a leader if he refuses to behave like one” (68). Finally, dads must assume the responsibility of involvement: “Be involved from the first day, Dad, and then don’t’ back off” (47), followed by subsequent call for dads to stand in the gap for their sons and daughters.
For dads, the call is to rigorous, intentional sanctification. The godliness needed for biblical manhood, whether fathering or preparing for such, is not going to happen by letting go and letting God. By God’s grace, we need to labor for our families by laboring in our holiness. After all, kids will learn from our daily, unfakable life, for better or worse, often more than our prepared devotions (79).
The single men are not left out: “Young men often find themselves tempted to postpone real adulthood, never learning how to take care of house and family but spending hours playing video games and working out…Some men merely live vicariously through multiple leisure activities” (51). In looking for a wife, Clint says something I wish I would have known before getting married, “…don’t marry a woman you can’t lead” (43).
Overall, Clint shows that the bar is set high for families; especially for dads. The kind of life to which God is calling dads, moms, kids, and singles is only going to be livable and explainable by a great God of great grace.
8. There is a focus on both the heart and externals.
Whether a parent’s own personal change, or shepherding their child, the goal is to both inner and outer change. For example, the TV may need to be thrown out, but so does my worship of comfort or entertainment.
On training kids in obedience: “External obedience with a rebellious attitude and disposition honors neither parents nor God because obedience is ultimately about relationship” (77).
And overall for dads, “It’s not about learning techniques but about developing character that can only be forged in the furnace of godly living day-in and day-out…Dads need to become what God wants them to be, not just do what they need to do” (53).
Finally, on teens, the goal is righteous behavior and ultimately hearts that glorify God (94).
9. The chapter on singleness, entitled, “Team Solo,” is gold.
The chapter adds clarity to the single–ology theories out there. Singleness occurs for a variety of reasons: involuntary singleness, temporary voluntary singleness, and permanent voluntary singleness (108).
But much of the exhortation is to marrieds. Clint points out that the unmarried status offers both unique challenges and advantages. Despite some overly zealous matchmakers, singleness does not mean something is wrong with a person. We have to be careful of family-olatry, which Clint navigates well. No righteousness can be attributed to possessing a spouse. Singleness just means, in God’s providence, for example, they are unmarried. There are many benefits of singleness (110-115), which both marrieds and singles need to keep in mind.
Further, unmarrieds “are not missing out on everything good” (106). Rather, they are partaking in an opportune time of both struggle and joy for the kingdom of God. For example, 50% of those deployed in the 1887 China Inland Mission were umarried women (112). So, the modus operandi for unmarrieds is not, “give yourself to finding a spouse,” but, “give yourself to glorifying God.” Whether one has the gift of singleness or not, one’s season of singleness is a good gift. God is the one who provides a spouse, in his timing, “if at all” (108).
As usual with Clint’s illustrious writing, he is able to entertain without forsaking equipping. Here are a few examples for your Twitter arsenal:
“Lawmakers and lobbyists now weigh in on what constitutes a marriage and a family. That is like polling South African soccer fans about who should play for the…Packers” (33).
“A marriage that coasts with no deliberate direction will circle haphazardly like a preschool soccer team” (34).
“Emotions are the thread with which boys unravel girls’ self-control” (48).
“Without the wife executing essential ‘assists,’ the family flounders like aimless players on the court with no point guard to set up the victories” (69).
“Debilitating sloth is by no means a malady limited to youth, but it seems particularly common among those nestled in the warm cocoon of parental overprotection” (93).
“Peter Pan syndrome”: the prolonging of adolescence which perpetuates semi-responsibility into one’s 20’s and beyond (96).
“Parenting is not just an electric fence that shocks kids with consequence when they transgress boundaries…” (98).
“Married people can treat singleness as if it were a disease to be cured or else a distasteful, immature stage one should grow out of” (104).
“The trial of marriage to an ungodly person has no exit strategy” (114).
“Kids aren’t just hard drives; they are processors. They don’t’ just want memory work; they require understanding” (143).
You’ll be edified by the fact that Clint refers to that good kind of football something like ten times, proving its superiority as a sport.
Overall, I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It thoroughly equips for the rigors of family life, while walking the line of neither under, nor over-valuing the family. I not only bulked up my war chest for the battle in leading God’s kind of family, but stowed away several illustrations for my own preaching and teaching ministry. I’ll be recommending it to counselees, while also reading through it with our church leadership team in order that our respective home teams would be better equipped for God’s glory.