Another new year is upon us. Do you dread it or look toward it with anticipation? Are the decisions you are making for your family consistent with the Lord’s direction for your family this year? Are you endeavoring to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord with all your strength (Ephesians 6:4)?
Dad is the leader and sets the course for the family. Often he will make global family decisions that become family “policy,” so to speak, setting forth consistent behavior for the family members. Making family policy decisions are not only helpful but also great safety-nets.
The best policy a dad could make is to have family Bible time every night. If this is a policy, then it has a place on the schedule, and it will happen every night. Dad never has to answer questions from his children about whether or not they will be having family Bible time or when it will be. Everyone knows family Bible time is on the evening schedule and expects it to happen at the scheduled time. For more information on how to do family Bible time, please see the two-CD set Feed My Sheep.
Here is another family policy example. Ever since we moved to Kansas, we had the family policy that the children didn’t participate in sleepovers. That saved me from having to make some difficult decisions involving whether or not our children would be allowed to spend the night when invited to do so. Families tell us of struggles they face when their children are invited over to homes for sleepovers where they don’t want their children to go. They don’t know how to say “no” to the requesting parent without offending him. Since we have a policy set, I don’t have to make individual decisions based on the family, and not participating in sleepovers avoids the bad fruit we experienced when our older three were young.
Some policies could be primarily implemented for the children’s safety. The no sleepover policy was partially motivated by concern for our children’s safety. Another safety policy that was in place for the boys during their years of lawn mowing was that they were never to go into a customer’s home alone.
A practical family policy is that we don’t buy things from unknown door-to-door salesmen. If we don’t know the person, we simply tell him that we’re sorry, but we have a policy not to buy from anyone who is not from our neighborhood. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the person accepts the decision and walks away.
We have also adopted a policy of not watching movies. It’s been close to twenty-five years since we abandoned watching TV (the Beast), but for around five years after that decision, we would watch an occasional movie. However, we found movies to be inconsistent with our biblical goals for our family, so now in addition to a no TV policy, we have a policy against watching movies too.
From overhearing conversations at our conferences, I can tell that families are quick to recommend videos to other families. “It’s a great movie. You have to see it!” However, everyone has different tastes and biblical goals for their family so what is good to one might be highly objectionable to another. The only way to know if it is a bad movie is to watch it. At that point you have invested your precious time, likely your family has seen what you didn’t want them to see, and it’s too late to undo harm done. So for us, it is simple! What a blessing. There are no decisions to make. Since we have a clear policy, we aren’t tempted to stray. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).
Family policies can be very helpful, but they do have an aspect that should be considered before making one. It is important that Dad establishes policies only after carefully hearing from the Lord so that it is unlikely you will have to rescind it. We have observed families with policies about clothing, head coverings, music, and activities who later reverse those policies. If the justification in making the policy is that it is Scriptural, what does it mean if it is later changed? It is possible to cause your children confusion and even resentment if you make and then rescind a policy that the Lord didn’t direct.
The basis for making the policy is important especially regarding those policies having to do with the spiritual realm. Be clear when sharing the policy with the family as to why it is being instituted and how long it is to be in place. One way of phrasing it to the family could be “This is the best of my understanding of what Scripture instructs us to do.” That would be a very reasonable basis because we are all growing in the Lord, and we can expect our understanding to deepen as time goes on.
There is an interesting example of a family policy that is found in Scripture, and yet it is a surprise to me. “But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever” (Jeremiah 35:3). Jonadab made a policy for his sons having to do with wine and lifestyle. This particular policy was one that was to be adhered to forever for this family. I don’t see in Scripture that it is my place to make a family policy that extends to the children after they leave our home and begin their own families. I believe that God-directed policies will be for the children’s good as long as they are in our home. I think as the children become adults and see the value of our family policies that they will possibly carry them over into their families. Obviously, the Lord led Jonadab to make a command that extended beyond his children’s lives in his home; however, I want to be clear that I don’t feel that is an option for the New Testament father.
An example of a poor policy and rescinding of it, resurfaced this New Year’s Eve. Just prior to our family prayer time that evening, the Lord impressed me to ask John’s forgiveness for an event that had happened several years ago.
Eight years earlier I had made a decision that grieved John’s conscience. He would have been eleven years old at that time, and we were on a several week-long speaking trip. We were driving a van with a small trailer behind it, and our meals consisted of sandwiches out of a cooler or eating at restaurants.
A few years previous to this time, I had made a family policy that we would stop eating at restaurants that served alcohol because of the bar atmosphere and customary immodesty of the serving staff. John’s heart had fully embraced the policy even though it meant seldom eating Mexican food that was a family favorite.
I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but during this particular trip, I made the decision that we would eat at a Mexican restaurant. I knew the restaurant would serve alcohol so this would reverse the previous policy. I decided that I would go in and evaluate whether the restaurant had a bar atmosphere, or if it was simply a restaurant that served alcohol. Eating at that restaurant was a struggle for John because he knew it violated the policy that I had set in place. In looking back, I shouldn’t have made that policy in the first place, and then I was wrong to make the change because I was aware that it was difficult for him. It would have been better not to have eaten at restaurants that served alcohol then to reverse the policy and disappoint my son.
The Lord expects fruit from us, and family policies can be tools to help keep us on the right path. With day-to-day decisions coming fast and furious to Dad, it can be a welcome relief to have policies in place so that some of those decisions are already made. However, there needs to be caution in what the policy is and the justification for it. May we know how the Lord is directing us and follow Him wholeheartedly. Then as we look back on 2011, there will be no regrets. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psalms 119:2).