The classic 1961 film The Guns of Navarone is one of my favorites. Set in World War II, it’s about a small group of Allied commandos set ashore on the German-controlled Greek island of Navarone to blow up the massive guns stationed there. The presence of those guns—situated high on a cliff and controlling the surrounding waters—prevent the Allies from storming the island of Kheros where 2,000 British soldiers are stranded. Time is running out for a rescue, but it will be impossible if the guns aren’t disabled.
In other words, the fate of 2,000 men rests on the shoulders of the small group of men sent to destroy those guns of Navarone. No small responsibility.
As the film progresses, American Keith Mallory, played by Gregory Peck, takes charge of the group. At one critical point, he makes the difficult decision to leave one of their wounded comrades behind—in the hands of the Germans—in order to safeguard the success of the overall mission. In his mind, it’s the life of their comrade against the lives of the 2,000 men trapped on Kheros.
It’s a wrenching decision, and the ethics of it could certainly be debated. But in the mind of British Corporal Miller (played by David Niven), it was a reprehensible choice and he doesn’t mind letting Mallory know how he feels.
During a heated conversation near the end of the film, Mallory and Miller are arguing about another difficult decision. Miller obviously has no taste for military officers who have to make the kind of morally ambiguous calls like the one Mallory made earlier.
During the conversation, Miller tells Mallory that he “never let them make me an officer. I don’t want the responsibility.” An angry Mallory retorts, “Then you’ve had a free ride all this time. Someone’s got to take the responsibility!”
Someone’s got to take the responsibility.
That’s the nature of leadership. It’s not always easy, fun, or enjoyable. There are going to be times you’ll want to run the other way. But you can’t—because the responsibility is still yours whether you take it or not.
Men, that’s the way it is when it comes to leading our families spiritually. We may not be called upon to make decisions affecting the lives of thousands, but we are called to shoulder the responsibility of leading our families, nurturing our wives, and teaching our children. The job is ours whether we like it or not. When God hands out responsibility, we can’t shrug it off and say “No thanks.” We’re still accountable.
I need this message as much as the next guy. My wife and I have at least one decision to make right now that isn’t going to be easy, but I have to take the lead in having the necessary conversations, weighing the options, and prayerfully coming to a conclusion. Frankly, I’d rather not. It’s easier to punt, procrastinate, and postpone. (I can be an expert procrastinator!) But the bottom line is, for the good of my family, and to be able to stand before God knowing I’ve done what He called me to do, I have to accept the responsibility.
But it’s not just about the big decisions. We also have a daily responsibility to be the spiritual leader in our homes. And if we don’t do it, who will? If we don’t teach our kids about God and His Word, who will? The youth pastor? The Sunday school teacher? Maybe, but will that really be enough? God apparently doesn’t think so. That’s why He told parents in Deuteronomy 6 to teach our children “diligently.” God wants our children to be taught in His ways with a level of diligence that frankly most of us never reach.
In practical terms, how do we lead our families spiritually? Here are a few suggestions:
- Pursue God yourself, and make sure your family knows you are. I don’t mean we should self-righteously parade our spiritual life in front of our families in a “look at how godly I am” sort of way, but your wife and kids ought to know you’re reading your Bible and praying regularly.
- Attend church with your family. We can’t expect our kids to see the importance of being faithful to church if we’re not doing it ourselves.
- Lead a family Bible time. This is one area where I need to grow. I’m too hit-and-miss. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated. Use an age-appropriate Bible study of some kind, or just read something straight out of the Bible and talk about what it means for a few minutes. Pray together. Maybe sometimes you also sing a song or work on a memory verse.
- Pray with your wife. My wife and I pray together before going to sleep each night. It’s usually pretty short. But once a week (usually on Sundays, either before the kids get up in the morning, or after they go to bed at night), we sit together and pray for our family in more detail. We pray for our kids. We pray about decisions we have to make. Sometimes I’m the only one who prays, sometimes we take turns.
- Pray with your kids individually. This is a habit my wife and I started recently. Every Sunday, we take each of our three older kids individually to talk and pray with them for a few minutes (we alternate—one week I take each child, the next week my wife does it). It’s a good opportunity to have a few quiet minutes with our kids away from the noise and hubbub of everything else going on (when you have four kids ages seven and under, things can get noisy!). Sometimes they share something they’d like us to pray about, sometimes they don’t. That’s okay. We chat for a few minutes, pray with them, then repeat the process with the next child.
- Teach, correct, and encourage your children from Scripture. This is another area I’m working on. When I have to teach or correct my children, I want to use Scripture—not as a club to hit them over the head with, but so they understand what the Bible says about how we should live and interact. But I don’t just want to reach for the Bible when I’m correcting them; I want to encourage them from Scripture as well. We can do that by sharing the hope of the gospel, the promises of God, and the attributes of God such as His love and faithfulness. (They also need to understand His other attributes, such as His holiness, righteousness, etc.)
- Be a positive role model for your wife and children. Again, this is an area of growth for me, but it’s vital that we model the values of the Christian faith in front of our families. This can include setting a positive example in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer (mentioned earlier), as well as giving, serving, sharing your faith, practicing hospitality, etc. We may have to get out of our comfort zone sometimes, but our children need to see us living an authentic Christian life.
Remember: it’s our responsibility as husbands and dads to lead and nurture our families spiritually. Just like Gregory Peck in The Guns of Navarone, we might not always enjoy it. It might be hard and even unpopular at times. But let’s not opt for the seemingly free ride of shirking our call. Because really, we can’t. Responsibility is sticky. When it’s ours, it’s ours, and no amount of ignoring it will make it go away.
Let’s answer the call.