The Family Life of the Christian Leader: A Book Review

Part of the task of the pastor is not only to mine out unfamiliar truths for his people, which is indispensable (Mt. 28:18-19; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16; Heb. 4:12), but also to call them to remember truths that they already knew to be true. Part of the human condition is that we suffer from a certain “spiritual amnesia,” forgetting the vital truths of God in our lives and regressing into the nature of our old self. Therefore, the pastor, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:6), should consistently call his flock to remember and refocus on the perpetual truths of our Lord. As Jeremiah 6:16a instructs us, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’”[1]

While all spheres of life compel Christians toward retrospection, a few that stand out. One area that has benefited from this kind of remembrance is in family ministry. Of course, one must articulate this as a refocus since family ministry has been a hallmark on the Christian family throughout Church history.[2] Yet, without this pastoral act of remembrance, the husband or father may easily forget his important charge. Ajith Fernando’s The Family Life of the Christian Leader is helpful on this charge.

Fernando is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, which he served as the national director for thirty-five years. He is the author of over seventeen books and has been active in multiple capacities within the church, including but not limited to counseling, mentoring, and serving the urban poor. Regarding this book, his most pertinent credentials may be his marriage to Nelun, and his being father to his son Asiri and daughter Nirmali.

Fernando writes not to a niche market, hoping to add to a litany of how-to guides. Instead, he writes from more than three decades of Christian leadership experience, much of which focused on counseling the youth of his community.[3] In many ways, this book seems to be the convergence of three streams in the author’s life: familial counseling, his own family life, and his mentoring/teaching of young Christian leaders. These tributaries lead to a wonderful volume that compliments all areas of family life.

The book itself is comprised of thirteen chapters. Opening where Scripture begins, Fernando’s first chapter is on God, followed by chapters on crucifying self, love, and God’s plan for families. He includes a helpful chapter on sexual love, followed by a chapter on both disappointment/pain, and joy. The following chapters on “the love fight” and unity are well placed within the volume. The book concludes with chapters on delighting with children, fun/tradition with children, disciplining children and instructing children respectively. Fernando makes ample use of illustrations, both hypothetical and real, throughout his book. He not only charges readers with the commands of Scripture, but also visualizes them both positively and negatively in people’s lives.

Fernando relies on Scripture to draw the contours of his book. As he states, “You will see that I don’t deal only with texts in the Bible that specifically address family-related issues; rather, I take basic principles of behavior and seek to apply those to family life.”[4] Beyond simply citing Scripture, Fernando’s consistently places God at the center of the healthy family unit.[5] This not only requires every member of the family to trust and believe in the Gospel of Christ, but to also follow the instructions given within Scripture. As he writes, “Obedience is the key that opens the floodgates of God’s love.”[6]

A much-welcomed element of this book is chapter five, entitled “sexual love.” Fernando carefully and gently untangles the confusion in our culture between love and sex—how they should be separated and re-connected. He begins this chapter by giving a brief “theology” on sex, giving five reasons for why God has created it for us. These include (1) childbearing, (2) unity between husband and wife, (3) giving and receiving from each other, (4) receiving sensual, physical pleasure, (5) mirroring our relationship with Christ.[7] Fernando strives for balance in this chapter, noting “Maintaining a biblical perspective on sexual love is a challenge today.”[8] Even so, he writes, “Christians must learn to look at sex as a holy, spiritual, and physical act that pleases God.”[9] He then compliments this section by giving a series of warnings and instructions in having healthy sexual love in the marital relationship.

The greatest strength of this book, however, is this: it is pastoral through and through. It is written from the heart of a Christian leader, to other Christian leaders, as they seek to lead their families and other families in God’s glorious design for their lives. For this reason, this book will most likely resonate the deepest with pastors, trying to balance the weight and responsibility of shepherding their flock and their family.

Fernando unapologetically relies on Christian doctrine and ethics to develop a thoroughly biblical picture of family life. As Fernando notes, “Christian leaders naturally accept that most important factor in their family life is God; that is, their commitment to God and God’s commitment to them.”[10] Our joy is found in God alone[11], our disappointment and pain in the family is only resolved in the hope of Christ[12], and our marital arguments are only resolved within the biblical doctrine of grace.[13] His instruction for parents is to “aspire to be faithful like their Heavenly Father, who faithfully keeps all his promises.”[14] Yet, all of this biblical truth is spoken in love (Eph. 4:15). Never does Fernando write in a dissenting, guilt-provoking tone, but instead remains encouraging and wise throughout.

While this book may not offer the newest statistics on parenthood or cutting-edge ministry programs, this pastor-author does call us to remember that God is all-wise in His plan for the Christian family. His chapters remind us to place God in the center of our families, to seek joy, while yet crucifying ourselves—because that is God’s plan for your family. Fernando reminds us to instruct and discipline but to also delight in our children. It is this hope to give “the world today… a healthy and practically fulfilling understanding of family life.”[15] In this concise volume, he has done exactly that.

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[1] English Standard Version.

[2] See chapter 2, “Here the Reformation Must Begin,” in Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), as well as Jerry Marcellino, Rediscovering Family Worship (Wapwallopen: Shepherd, 2011) and Marcia J. Bunge, ed., The Child in Christian, Religion, Marriage and Family Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

[3] Ajith Fernando, The Family Life of the Christian Leader (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 13.

[4] Ibid., 14.

[5] Ibid., 30.

[6] Ibid., 47.

[7] Ibid., 63-67. While not exact, these five reasons correlate with Andreas Kostenberger’s chapter, “The Nature of Marriage and the Role of Sex in Marriage: God’s Purpose for Making Man Male and Female” in God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, Andreas J. Kostenberger with David W. Jones, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

[8] Fernando, 65.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 17.

[11] Ibid., 80.

[12] Ibid., 96.

[13] Ibid., 130.

[14] Ibid., 145.

[15] Ibid., 15.

Author: Chris Talbot

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