Editor's note:

Richard Foster’s book The Chal­lenge of the Dis­ci­plined Life: Chris­t­ian Reflec­tions on Mon­ey, Sex and Pow­er offers wis­dom and insight for these three pow­er­ful are­nas that often unveil and shake the core of our char­ac­ter. In the last sec­tion of the book, Fos­ter offers prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions for the are­na of pow­er. He cen­ters in on power’s clos­est ally The Vow of Ser­vice. Fos­ter asks, Do you sin­cere­ly want to engage in the min­istry of pow­er? Do you want to be a leader who is a bless­ing to peo­ple? Do you hon­est­ly want to be used of God to heal human hurts? The min­istry of pow­er func­tions through the min­istry of tow­el.”[1]

Fos­ter applies prac­ti­cal knowl­edge to many aspects of our lives and even to the great­est human social con­text that we will ever engage in … our fam­i­lies. Our fam­i­lies are places of immense pow­er. They are places of pow­er used right­ly and places of pow­er in strug­gle. In his sec­tion on The Vow of Ser­vice in the Fam­i­ly, Fos­ter casts a vision of a com­mu­ni­ty gov­erned not by pow­er but by mutu­al respect, by com­pas­sion, by hon­or, and by love. When I read this pas­sage, it reminds me of the Trin­i­ty — anoth­er com­mu­ni­ty of Lov­ing Per­sons cen­tered in love, gov­erned by mutu­al respect and sub­mis­sion to one another. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spir­it, help us Lord to trust you, to release our mad grab of pow­er with­in our fam­i­lies and instead pick up the min­istry of the tow­el.” Amen. 

[1] Richard Fos­ter, Chal­lenge of the Dis­ci­plined Life: Chris­t­ian Reflec­tions on Mon­ey, Sex and Pow­er. (San­Fran­cis­co: Harper­Collins, 1985228.

—Lacy Finn Borgo

Excerpt from The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

If the vow of ser­vice is to func­tion any­where, it must func­tion in the fam­i­ly. With­in the fam­i­ly unit, the min­istry of the tow­el must be mutu­al and rec­i­p­ro­cal. Respect and com­pas­sion should per­me­ate all acts of author­i­ty and sub­mis­sion in the Chris­t­ian home.

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them by pro­vid­ing pur­pose­ful lead­er­ship. Chil­dren need wise coun­sel and con­crete guide­lines. They need lov­ing cor­rec­tion. To lead is to serve. 

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them through com­pas­sion­ate dis­ci­pline. Chil­dren are ren­dered a seri­ous dis­ser­vice when we fail to estab­lish rea­son­able but clear bound­aries for accept­able behav­ior. An ear­ly bed­time is impor­tant because sleep is impor­tant. Good nutri­tion is impor­tant because our bod­ies are impor­tant. House­hold duties are impor­tant because self-worth and a sense of con­tribut­ing to the wel­fare of the fam­i­ly are impor­tant. Dis­ci­pline is no small task, but it is one way we serve our children. 

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them by giv­ing them a grow­ing self-gov­ern­ment. We need to train our chil­dren for increased inde­pen­dence. We do not serve them by plac­ing them under rigid rules until they reach the age of eigh­teen and then shov­ing them out the door. Ear­ly on, we teach chil­dren how to dis­crim­i­nate good from bad. We walk with them through life’s deci­sions, grad­u­al­ly giv­ing them oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn from their own mis­takes. At some point in their grow­ing self-gov­ern­ment — cer­tain­ly by age twen­ty-one — we relin­quish all parental author­i­ty. We are avail­able for advice and coun­sel, but only if they ask for it. Pro­vid­ing the atmos­phere for a grow­ing inde­pen­dence is serv­ing children. 

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them by being avail­able and vul­ner­a­ble. The cliché that it is not the quan­ti­ty of time but the qual­i­ty that counts is sim­ply false! Qual­i­ty in large mea­sure depends upon quan­ti­ty. We need to give time to our chil­dren, and when we are with them we need to be trans­par­ent. To go to a child and say, I was wrong, I’m sor­ry,” is not a sign of weak­ness but of strength. 

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them by respect­ing them. Observe any large gath­er­ing of peo­ple, and see how chil­dren are sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ignored. Their opin­ion is nei­ther sought nor appre­ci­at­ed. Indeed, after­ward, most adults would not be able to name any of the chil­dren in the room. We, how­ev­er, make a point of get­ting to know chil­dren. We lis­ten to what they say and val­ue their con­tri­bu­tion. We do not make light of their con­cerns. The loss of a pup­py for a child, or the breakup of a romance for a teenag­er, is a mat­ter of gen­uine con­se­quence and should be treat­ed as such. 

How do we as par­ents serve our chil­dren? We serve them by intro­duc­ing them to the spir­i­tu­al life. If we can be vul­ner­a­ble enough to share our own pil­grim­age of faith, it will go a long way toward mak­ing the spir­i­tu­al life real to our chil­dren. And it is our job to instruct them in bib­li­cal faith; it is a vital ser­vice we owe our chil­dren. We must not depend upon the church to do the job of teach­ing for us. 

The oblig­a­tions of ser­vice are rec­i­p­ro­cal. How do our chil­dren serve us? They serve us by being obe­di­ent. They obey not just because the Bible says to obey but because it is good to do so. Chil­dren can­not always under­stand the rea­sons for what we ask of them, but they can always be assured that their best inter­est stands behind all we ask. They obey even when it hurts to obey, though, as we shall see present­ly, obe­di­ence can­not be giv­en when it is clear­ly destruc­tive to do so. 

How do our chil­dren serve us? They serve us through respect. Respect is due the office of par­ent even though some­times the per­son ful­fill­ing that role is a great dis­ap­point­ment. Par­ents whose lives show that they are not deserv­ing of respect place a ter­ri­ble bur­den upon chil­dren, and it is often a cause for their stum­bling (Matt. 18:6).

How do our chil­dren serve us? They serve us by meek­ly refus­ing to do what is clear­ly destruc­tive. We par­ents need all the help we can get, and we can learn from our own chil­dren, if we are teach­able. Chil­dren run a ter­ri­ble risk when they engage in this min­istry of ser­vice. They risk our anger, and, more impor­tant­ly, they risk los­ing our love and sup­port. We must always assure them by word and deed that our love for them is stronger and deep­er than any tem­po­rary dis­agree­ment. It is an uncon­di­tion­al love that is not depen­dent upon what they do or do not do. The one thing that is more impor­tant than their obe­di­ence to us is their obe­di­ence to the Voice from above. 

How do our chil­dren serve us? They serve us by car­ing for our needs when the depen­den­cy roles are reversed. For every­one, the time comes when Mom and Dad need help. Aging par­ents may need their chil­dren’s finan­cial help, and they need their emo­tion­al help. It is not wrong for chil­dren to place par­ents in a nurs­ing home, but their respon­si­bil­i­ties do not end there. They also need to give their time, their pres­ence, their atten­tion, and, most of all, their love. Chil­dren have an oblig­a­tion to serve par­ents in this way. In Jesus’ day peo­ple tried to get out of this ser­vice to par­ents with reli­gious excus­es (Mark 7:9- 13). It did not work then, and it does not work now. 

All that I have said about the vow of ser­vice between par­ent and child also applies to the rela­tion­ship of spouse to spouse and child to child. We serve each oth­er in the Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly because we fol­low Him who took on the form of a ser­vant (Phil. 2:7). In mod­ern soci­ety, one place where a Chris­t­ian wit­ness to the grace of God is des­per­ate­ly need­ed is in the home. The vow of ser­vice can help real­ize this witness.

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