I am not so sure I’m qualified to write this article. You see, my wife and I have eight kids but we are still getting counsel, we are still learning from others, and we still read books and articles about parenting in hopes that we can somehow be successful in child rearing.

We were once parents of three busy children, treading the waters of life but barely keeping our heads above the circumstances and pressures of raising a healthy family in an unhealthy world. Then, through a series of very unfortunate events, we were handed five precious children that had tragically lost both parents. Almost overnight our family doubled in size and my crash course in fathering began.

Though we are still, eight years later, navigating the waters of this gigantic challenge, I have learned some things about fathering that I would love to share with you. Since we have eight kids I thought it would be appropriate to challenge you with eight things I have learned while fathering these unique and special children.

8. Every child is different.
This may seem obvious but when you, as a father, understand that God made each of your children unique, it will help you appreciate what makes them different. I have heard many times when counseling or encouraging other fathers that their frustration with their kids is, “They don’t like sports,” or “they don’t get it when it comes to studying,” and the list goes on. Every kid is unique. Even though each child may have come from the same two parents, each one is so distinct. Their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their temperaments, their passions, and their strengths are all different.

Some practical things that can help you celebrate your kids are learning their personality types through tests such as the Myers Briggs or Open Four Temperaments. Learn their love language by running them through the 5 Love Languages profile, and discover their strengths by using the StrengthsFinder test. Shannon and I have used all of these tools to help us discover the uniqueness of each of our eight children. As a father, this has helped me become a better communicator to each of them, become a better provider for them, and, most of all, know how to express my unconditional love for them.

7. Every child is different for a reason.
Myles Monroe says it this way: “You are the way you are because of why you are.” Our job as fathers is to see past the way our kids are to why they are, so we can help mold, shape, and transform them into vessels God can use. My strong-willed kids are designed this way by God because their calling will need a strong-willed person who is submitted to God. The tests mentioned above have helped us “connect the dots” between their personalities and their callings. It helps us see their struggles not as failures but as strengths that need direction not demolition.

6. The greatest struggle our kids will have is with their identities.
Wow. I could write a book on this. This one is so important. Everything our kids face in this world will challenge their identities … who they are. The peer pressures at school, social media, movies, music, and marketing are all aimed at defining people’s identity, and 90 percent of it is aimed at our children.

Romans 12:2 (NLT) says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” It is the Word of God that changes us. This is how Jesus did it. He spent 30 years preparing for a 3-year ministry. He spent 30 years in total obscurity until the day he stood knee-deep in the Jordan River and God broke decades of silence with these simple yet profound words: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased …” The Father’s affirmation. The Father’s confirmation. Jesus was now ready for ministry!

Do this for your beloved little ones. Speak your affirmation over them. Use the “obscure” years of their adolescence as a season where you teach them who they are and why they are. The first words out of the devil’s mouth when Jesus left the Jordan River and walked into the wilderness were, “If you are the Son of God …” The attack was on His identity. The devil’s tactics have not changed and neither have God’s: know who you are and know whose you are!  

5. Stay calm.
Your kids are going to mess up. Surprise! They are going to blow it, and sometimes they are going to make a big mess of things. Two words: stay calm. One of the worst things we can do as fathers is lose our cool. When we do, our response becomes a bigger problem than the one we are trying to solve. The focus shifts from their issue to our issue. When we are calm we hear more and they hear more. It creates an atmosphere in which they feel safe and they can see the real issue more clearly.

4. Invest time.
You can’t really do any of the above without this. The most valuable thing you can give your kids is quality time. Writer and speaker Alicia Chole says it like this, “Time is not really spent. Instead, it is invested in a future we cannot see.” Spending time and investing time are two different things. Recent studies have shown that the quantity of time spent with kids is not associated with positive outcomes for the children. As a matter of fact, the average time spent with children by their parents over the last 30 years has drastically increased without a significant increase in beneficial outcomes for the children. A study by the Journal of Marriage and Family[1] has shown the quality of time, not quantity of time, has a positive impact on children. Get out from in front of the TV and live life with them!

3. Love your wife.
Ephesians 5:25 says it plain and simple: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Your kids are watching and they see how you love your wife. The kind of love God requires us to have for our wives is unconditional, serving, and selfless. It is a kind of love that gives everything and holds nothing back. This is the greatest gift you can give your children as a father and as a couple.

I wish I could say that I have modeled this perfectly for my kids but I haven’t. There have been times when I have been a real jerk to my wife, sometimes in front of the kids. But I repented and asked for forgiveness, and I did it in front of my kids! They saw me act like an idiot so they needed to see me humble myself and admit my mistakes. This has made them see me as a real person, just like they are. Success is not having your kids see you as a perfect dad; success is having your kids see you as a humble dad who loves his wife and family enough to apologize, repent, and change. When they see this, they will feel safe and secure knowing that you are a person that loves them and will do anything for them.

2. Take the lead.
Dads, we need to be the leaders of Bible study and prayer in our homes. We need to be the ones taking the family to church and encouraging our kids in their spiritual growth with Christ. Lead by example in these areas. Let them see you read His Word. Let them hear you pray. Let them see you worship God at home and at church.

You are the spiritual thermostat of the home. Set the spiritual climate in your house and lead the family in purity. Don’t let anything into your house that can contaminate your children’s spirit, soul, or body (2 Corinthians 7:1). Be the leader and take the lead.

1. Show them the Heavenly Father.
I love this quote from John Piper: “Human fatherhood exists to display the beauty of God’s fatherhood. Our highest calling as fathers is to be the image of God’s fatherhood to our children.”[2] I think this says it all. The experiences your children share with you will shape the image they have of their Heavenly Father.

You have a chance to impact the next generation of the Church and the world by investing into the future that resides within each of your kids. The greatest ministry on earth is not found on the mission fields, it is found within the four walls of your home. It is found in the hearts of each unique child that God has blessed us with. Be a father. Show the Father. Take the lead!

Sion Alford is an executive pastor of worship, and his new book, Divine Detours: When God Messes Up Your Plans, is available in the Gateway Bookstore.