From Mentors to Patriarchs
About the Guest
What is a patriarch? Dennis Rainey explores the meaning of a patriarch and tells who is qualified to be one, as well as what a patriarch’s roles and responsibilities are.
What is a patriarch?
From Mentors to Patriarchs
Bob: You may not see yourself as a patriarch, but Dennis Rainey says every man ought to aspire to the responsibilities that a patriarch assumes.
Dennis: A lot of men don’t think of themselves as patriarchs, but there are men listening to this broadcast who know better. In their twilight years they need to be patriarchs. They need to step up and assume the mantle and the responsibility they have. Because you know what? A patriarch is a generational influencer.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today® for Wednesday, September 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk about the characteristics that make a man a patriarch on today’s program.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. Aren’t you a little concerned that the word that we’re going to focus on today – some people are going to hear it and go, “That’s it. I’m not going to listen to this.”
Dennis: That’s a part of the problem, that this word that we’re about to use has almost become a dirty word. It’s so politically incorrect that even for us to begin the broadcast talking about this word, you almost feel like you need to give a disclaimer or two. But I’m going to resist that.
Bob: Did you think about a synonym for this word and think –
Dennis: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Bob: -- “Rather than using this word I’ll find something else?”
Dennis: Oh, there’s all kinds of words. Sage would be one of the synonyms. Someone else has called this phase of life a renaissance elder. That has a sense of nobility to it.
Bob: Right. But the word you picked –
Dennis: Patriarch. Patriarch. Before we talk about patriarch, I want to take you to a breakfast that I spoke at. I’m not going to play you anything; I’m going to read what I wrote in my book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. I’m going to read this because I want you to get the picture of what was taking place in a country club with a bunch of elder statesmen who were getting ready to play golf. But they asked me to come and share a little bit, and, well, it turned out to be the hot topic of the hour. Let me just read this to you.
“About a dozen gray-haired men sat at the table in a prestigious country club, all former executives and highly successful. Leaders. Champions. Bright, intelligent minds. These were the risk-takers who had led big lives, checkered with success and failure. Married between 45 to 60 years, these men clearly had plenty to impart to younger generations.
“As I prepared to speak to them I couldn’t help but think that their gray heads only added to their dignity. They had asked me to talk for ten minutes about what FamilyLife was doing to strengthen marriages and families, and as I unpacked what we were doing, I mentioned that I was going to be speaking a couple of days later at a gathering of executives about the three qualities of a patriarch.
“What happened next was fascinating. It was like I’d touched an open nerve. For 45 minutes they peppered me with questions, peeling back their hearts and sharing disappointments, frustrations, doubts, and desires. They talked about how their adult children were critical of them, pushing them to the fringes of their lives. They were treated as unnecessary, except as babysitters, and they felt their family really didn’t want their influence or involvement.
“They said the only opportunities their church afforded was ushering, serving on the stewardship committee, and giving to building programs. They lamented that the culture had become so youth-oriented that they felt emasculated, like they were done, and treated as though they had nothing to give back.”
Now listen to this summary that I wrote:
“Here were these men who had once been kings of their families, their businesses, their communities. Here they were for the first time in their lives uncertain about what their roles should be. Like broken antiques gathering dust in the attic, they were without purpose.
“But as they interacted, I could see it in their eyes that they longed to be challenged again. War-hardened and savvy, these sage soldiers wanted to fill their nostrils with the smoke of the battlefield and engage in the fight again. They really didn’t want to trade their swords and armor for a five iron and a golf shirt. They realized they were made for something far nobler than watching cable news in a La-Z-Boy recliner.”
Then I conclude by saying this:
“I sat there astonished at what amounted to grand theft. Men, older men, robbed of their glory, no longer dreaming because of a collusion of forces that had cruelly swindled them out of their courage to step up.”
Dr. Howard Hendricks has said, “The day your past looks more exciting than your future is the day you start to die.” Bob, that breakfast had a profound impact in my life. I was there with my son, Benjamin. We were a part of that Bible study and that breakfast for more than an hour, and it just made an imprint on me that, at the end of our lives, we were not designed by God to rust out. We were designed by God to wear out, being in the right battle on the right battlefield, and being extended for God’s purposes.
Many of those men were very involved in various things, but you could see it in their eyes. They longed to be challenged to something far greater and far more than what was currently on their plates.
Bob: So when you’re talking about patriarchy, is it something that you have to have gray hair before you can achieve that status? I mean, we’ve talked about stepping up, and some of it does seem to be tied to age. Boyhood ends, or ought to end, at a season. Manhood doesn’t really begin until you’re at a certain age. Is there a threshold, a bottom level before you can ascend to patriarchy?
Dennis: You know, I don’t know if there is, Bob, although gray hair helps. There’s no doubt about it. But I’ve seen some men in their 40s and 50s who, because of their own fathers being taken out of their lives and their family’s, because of their spiritual maturity, because of who they are in Jesus Christ, they’re assuming the role of a patriarch in their extended family.
Bob: You’d better define, then, what you’re talking about for a patriarch, because again, we said it’s a loaded word and one that has a lot of baggage in the culture. What do you mean?
Dennis: Well, the word “patriarch” comes from a Latin word, patri, which means “family,” and it really means “father of a family.” Immediately when we think of the word “patriarch” and “father of a family” we think of Marlon Brando and the Godfather, and we think of a grizzly, square-jawed, mean-spirited, crusty old man, who’s all about control, getting even, settling scores, and fighting all the way to the end of his life.
That’s not a Biblical picture of what the patriarchs of the Old Testament looked like. I think at the heart of being a patriarch is a man who fears God, a man who loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind, with all his strength, and then he loves others and is attempting to be God’s man until the very, very end.
Bob: One of the things that I’ve heard you say that helped me get a picture for how a patriarch is beyond being just a man or a mentor, and those are noble things – I don’t mean when I say “just a man or a mentor,” I don’t mean to put those down. But I’ve heard you say that a patriarch is somebody whose sphere of influence, his vision goes beyond just his family or just the few people around his life. But he starts to look beyond his family and beyond even his church, and he starts to look at having an influence for Christ in a broader arena.
I think back to your leadership here at FamilyLife. Long before any gray started showing up in your hair, you had a vision for God’s Word being pressed out into the hearts and minds of people all around the world.
Dennis: Not just in my family.
Dennis: This came to me the other day. My nine-year-old grandson, James, who is one of five boys in one family – God blessed my daughter, Ashley, and her husband, Michael – five boys 11 and under! I mean, hello – how’s that for an assignment?
Bob: Wait till they’re five boys all in their teens, you know?
Dennis: Oh, my goodness. And you know what I think – I don’t whether they’ll quite have all five in their teenage years – but anyway, James came to me. James said, “Poppa,” he said. “How’d you start FamilyLife?” Because he’d been listening to some broadcasts –
Dennis: -- and I think you introduced me as the founder or co-founder of FamilyLife. So I explained to James how I started FamilyLife, and I thought, “I’m only going to give him the Reader’s Digest version right now, because he doesn’t really want the Gone with the Wind version?” You know what I mean?
Dennis: But I thought of Psalm 71. You might call this Psalm “The Memoirs of a Patriarch.” The Psalmist declares, “O, God. You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come.”
Bob, I believe the next generation of children and grandchildren need to hear of God’s works, His provision, His protection, how He’s guided an older generation. They need to hear those stories. That’s the role of a patriarch with his family. But beyond his family, I believe a patriarch needs to have his eyes up, looking beyond just his own family to his neighborhood, his church, his community, his state, and if God gives him the favor, his nation.
I see too many things happening in our country right now in prime time TV that ought not to be happening. If enough men in the boardrooms of America would dig their heels in and say “No” to ABC, CBS and NBC about pumping the trash and the filth out in the evening to our families – if the boardroom said “No, we’re not going to advertise on your stations. We want to set a new standard of decency.”
I’m going to tell you something. There are men in the boardrooms of America who grew up in church, who had Sunday school, who know better. In their twilight years they need to be patriarchs. They need to step up and assume the mantle and the responsibility they have, because it’s the only thing that’s going to get the attention of major network TV. It’s got to be advertising dollars, or they’re not going to change a thing.
Bob: You know, the nation of Israel – we think about the patriarchs in the Old Testament – there were a handful of them. This is one of those steps that I look at and I go, “I’m not sure every man can make it to this step, and maybe God’s not calling every man to the patriarch step.” Do you think He is?
Dennis: Well, I think if you live long enough you’re going to be looked to by somebody as a patriarch, certainly by your family members, extended family members in your own clan. You’re hitting on something, though, Bob. A lot of men don’t think of themselves as patriarchs.
I’m going to tell you a cute story. We have a couple here on staff here at FamilyLife who have served for more than 20 years, Clay and Jessica Barber. Clay’s dad and mom have come up here on a number of occasions and visited us, and because Clay lives out in our neighborhood, Mr. Barber has come by our house and we’ve visited together. His name is Bill Barber.
I looked at Bill one day and I said, “Bill, you are a patriarch.” You can see this letter, Bob. It’s quite a letter. It’s on three by five cards and on multiple pages, Bill Barber wrote me back, and I’m not going to read you everything he said, but let me just share with you what he wrote me.
“Dear Dennis: Thank you for telling me I was a patriarch. I truly didn’t know it. I didn’t realize what an important role I had to play, grandfather being one of them. Last weekend I went to Promise Keepers in Dallas. I had men with me ages 16 to 46. Ten of them.” He took them.
Dennis: “The 16-year-old and his brother and the 22-year-old took care of me as well as the others. Needless to say, I grooved it.” He was trying to be younger. “And I enjoyed it. Fact is, I’m really loving this patriarching kind of thing, you know?
And then he goes down in his letter, and I have to read you what he says because this is in my book Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. He says this: “I’ve been called obnoxious, funny, crazy, the Peppermint Man, Free-throw King, opinionated, and like Moses, I stutter. I read a lot of stuff in my talks and I’m disorganized and controversial. Also, a man for all seasons.”
And then he goes on to conclude his letter and talk about “But I really never thought about myself being a patriarch.”
There are men listening to this broadcast or there are men who have older men in their lives who are fulfilling this role in their life. They just have never had anybody call them out and say, “You know what, Bill? You’re a patriarch. You need to behave like one and assume your responsibilities.”
Bob: It really is somebody who gets a vision, again, beyond his family and beyond a handful of mentors, but for his world, for his community, for what needs to happen, and then has the courage to say, “Okay, I’ll step up and do my part. I’ll step in and try to have some influence, some godly influence in this community and try to point my world in a better direction.”
Dennis: The picture, Bob, is a man who is stepping up and looking outward, not curling up and going to sleep. It’s a man who is stretching out to the finish line. I’ve interviewed a couple dozen men who were definitely patriarchs in this phase of life, and I’ve distilled out both Biblically and from my interviews with them what the essence of being a patriarch is.
Number one, a patriarch is a generational connector. He’s holding an older generation to a younger generation. He refuses to let the family fall apart and go its separate ways until that’s the time that it goes. I had one guy who described his dad when his dad died. He said it was like somebody took the lynch pin and pulled it out of the hinge. That family, when the father died, really began to slowly disintegrate.
As long as you’re alive and have breath, I think you’re called to put your family together, called to establish time together and make memories. Frankly, my father-in-law, Bob Peterson, 89 years old, been married 63 years -- we still know where we’re going on Thanksgiving. It’s not even a decision. We go to visit Grandma and Grandpa Peterson. He has been an incredible model of keeping the Peterson family, Barbara being one of them, together over their lifetimes. A patriarch is a generational lynch pin. He’s a generational connector.
Secondly, a patriarch is a generational influencer. This is back to what you were talking about. The picture of this is seen in 1 Kings chapter 2. You remember this scene, Bob. King David kind of puts his hand on his son’s shoulder and he commissions him and charges him to love the Lord his God with all his heart. Let me just read this here.
David said, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn.” Do you think the Word of God was important to David?
Bob: Mm hmm.
Dennis: Over and over again he charged his son, he gave him a commission. He was a generational influencer. This is what really trips up a lot of guys, Bob. They think of the Godfather at this point, and they think they’re a generational dictator. A true patriarch has authority only because other people give it to him, because he’s so noble. He’s achieved a status in life and a place in life that other people respect him.
I’ve watched this happen with Barbara’s dad. We all give him a lot more grace, and yet when he talks we all listen. A patriarch is a generational influencer.
Bob: And that’s where I think sometimes a man, a husband, a dad can feel a little awkward stepping into that role. Once you’ve launched your kids, to try to still exert influence over them and over the extended family can feel a little controlling.
Dennis: It can. And yet what a man can’t do is – the patriarch is not somebody who’s controlling the behavior of his family. He recognizes he’s been given influence by God and he uses it to salt his family down, like a conversation with James, telling him where FamilyLife came from and how that got started. I plan on doubling back on that conversation at a future time.
Bob: And see if he wants to become a Legacy Partner or a donor to the ministry, is that it?
Dennis: Well, maybe. He’s only nine right now. I don’t think his allowance is big enough. The third aspect of being a patriarch, and I’m not going to have a lot of time to talk about this, is being a generational intercessor. You know, the older I get the more I see that maybe a patriarch’s greatest impact is not in his influence, not in connecting people, but his greatest impact is through his prayers, praying for his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren, who may not even be born yet.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing, to be praying for those yet to be born. The Bible is full of those kinds of prayers. But the point is, he has 20-20 spiritual eyesight, and he is depositing investments by praying, asking God to raise up a younger generation who will carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their generation.
I’m not going to tell you what I’m praying for my grandsons and granddaughters, but I just had an “aha” moment with the Lord in the past couple of weeks, where he gave me something very specific to be praying for my grandsons and my granddaughters. I’ve got 17 of them, one in heaven. Molly’s in heaven, but the other 16 are down here. I told Barbara about this the other day, and she’s now going to join with me in praying for our grandkids something very specific. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it.
Bob: Maybe someday?
Dennis: Well, you know, I just don’t want to put any pressure on. I want the prayer to go to the right place.
Bob: The point you’re making here, though, is so good. We can, as men, begin to think beyond our own family, beyond our own wife and children, our church community. We can ask God to give us a vision for the work of His kingdom, not just in our generation but in the generations to come if the Lord doesn’t come back in the next 50 years or so. You’ve painted a great picture for us as men of what the progression ought to look like in our lives as we grow and mature into mature manhood.
This month we want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of your new book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. In fact, we’re trying to make it as easy as we can. If you make a donation this month to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, you can ask for a copy of Dennis’ book. It’s called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood.
All you have to do is go online and make a donation or call 1-800-FLTODAY. If you make the donation online, please type the word “STEP” in the key code box so we know to send you a copy of the book. If you make the donation by phone, just ask for Dennis’ new book when you make the donation. We’ll send it out to you.
We are listener-supported, so those donations are what cover the production and syndication costs of this daily radio program, and we appreciate those of you who are able to help support us. Again, we’d love to send you a copy of Dennis’ new book. So either donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY and be sure to ask for a copy of Dennis’ book, Stepping Up, or type the word “STEP” in the online key code box.
In addition, we are making the book available in an eBook format. If you have a Kindle or a Nook or an iBook reader, you can download a copy of the book Stepping Up from wherever it is you download your book from, and you should find it at a significantly discounted price right now. Between now and October 15th we have the book for $1.99 in most of these locations.
So go online and request your copy of Dennis Rainey’s new book, Stepping Up. Again, it’s available for $1.99 between now and October 15th. We’re just hoping a lot of guys will read the book and that they’ll share it with other guys and pass it around, and that God will use it in a lot of men’s lives to call them up to what it looks like for a man to be a mature man. So we hope to hear from you, and hope you’ll get a copy of the book.
Now tomorrow Dr. Meg Meeker is going to join us. We’re going to spend some time talking about the significant impact that a Dad has, particularly in the life of his daughter. I hope you can tune in for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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