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A Father Like Abraham

Former Michigan Ministry Network Superintendent Bill Leach shares advice and encouragement for fathers.

Editor’s Note: William “Bill” F. Leach served as a pastor and later as the Michigan Ministry Network superintendent from 1988 – 2015. He was the childhood pastor and mentor of General Superintendent Doug Clay.

I come from a dysfunctional family. While I was in elementary school in Schenectady, New York, my abusive dad’s paranoid schizophrenia landed him in New York’s state mental hospital. He never came home.

But God moved one of my dad’s schoolteacher colleagues to help my chronically ill mom raise my brothers and me. Irene invited us to the small Assemblies of God church she attended. She led us all to Christ.

And Jesus changed everything.

At Mountain View Assemblies of God camp in New York, He called me to ministry.

After graduating from Central Bible College, Detroit’s Adult & Teen Challenge (ATC) director invited me to join his staff. One Sunday the ATC director asked me to preach a message at Bethany Assembly in Adrian, Michigan.

Art Clay, Bethany’s pastor, asked me to join his staff and in late 1971, my wife Marilynn and I arrived to serve as youth pastors.

On February 2, 1972, Brother Clay suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving behind his wife, Audrey, and their three children.

I knew what it was to grow up without a father. Marilynn and I committed to do our best to support Sister Clay, her daughter Debbie and sons Rich and Doug, who was only 9.

The Clay and Leach families melded into one. Sister Clay officially joined Bethany’s staff as full-time music director. Marilynn and I attended Rich and Doug’s football and basketball games. We enjoyed holidays together.

As an adolescent, the Lord called Doug Clay into the ministry. Today he’s general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

In my role as father to my own children, Bradley and Betsy, I looked to Abraham as the quintessential image. God founded Israel and the formation of the church on him, promising to make him a father of many nations. God saw in him a man He could trust to instill in his children a love, faith and trust in God so they’d follow Him for generations to come. God said Abraham’s parenting would be so anointed that through his fathering, all the world will be blessed.

His parenting worked.

In Genesis 22 when God commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, not only does he obey, but Isaac also willingly participates. Fathers need to instill in their children Abraham’s belief that God is worthy to be trusted.

My mom operated a daycare in our house when I was growing up, and I helped her from an early age with tasks such as feeding babies, changing diapers, rocking them to sleep, singing Jesus loves me, this I know. I also enjoyed doing that for my own children.

As they grew older, we loved playing video, board and card games. They were athletes and involved in the Assemblies of God children’s and youth programs, including Royal Rangers, Girls Ministries, Fine Arts, and Junior Bible Quiz. I especially loved watching them grow in discipleship and develop a love for reading Scripture.

The Bible is filled with instruction to fathers. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 calls dads to constantly and diligently teach their children God’s law, talking with them about the Word throughout the day. Ephesians 6:1-4 guides fathers to treat their children well and bring them up with God’s discipline and instruction.

The challenges of being a dad have changed over the years. Our culture today has a cynicism about masculinity and what a man is supposed to be. As fatherhood becomes devalued, young men can feel like they’re more the problem than the solution.

The best way to provide spiritual formation for your kids is to experience it personally. It’s caught before it’s taught. Most young fathers were never discipled by their own fathers or by another significant man in their life. Consequently, they struggle to find confidence to lead their own wives and children spiritually.

Social media adds pressure on young fathers to keep up, sometimes leading to filling their schedules with activities that hinder being present with their children. Add to that the need to safeguard their children against digital threats and mental health challenges and the task can seem overwhelming.

Do all you can to build their self-esteem, make your home as happy as possible, grounding it on loving God and preparing them for life. Tell them they’re gifted and called and can do anything God calls them to do. Encourage them to take risks and step out in faith in giving and serving Him.

However, one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage. Invest in yours. A solid marriage also helps ease the transition to empty nesting, as does cultivating hobbies, interests and friendships. Pursue ministry opportunities through your church and beyond.

The Lord always began His work with rest and reflection. Likewise, we should build Sabbath into our lives.

God gave the awesome responsibility to fathers to lead their families so they can build legacies that reach future generations, that through their leadership all the world would ultimately be blessed, much like with Abraham.

This Father’s Day, wherever you may find yourself on the journey, the same God of Abraham is with you, empowering you with his love as you raise the next generation of disciples.

Bill Leach

William “Bill” F. Leach served as the Michigan Ministry Network superintendent from 1988 – 2015.