As a kid, I did a lot of drawing, mostly of baseball cards, and mainly of Ozzie Smith, the legendary shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was my favorite athlete, and I wanted to play ball just like him—everything from wearing #1 to turning double plays without opening my glove. I would draw him at the plate, running the bases, tracking down pop-ups—whatever he was doing on the cards I had in front of me. I drew him because I wanted to imitate him. It’s the same reason my kids draw me. And yours draw you.

Most every dad knows what this is like. Whether it’s a school assignment or doodles during a church service, our young children have a knack for drawing us. Can you recall the last picture your children sketched of you? Do you have it nearby, maybe close enough to study for a minute? Don’t write it off as mere childishness; there’s something deeper going on.

What do you think was going through your child’s mind when they started the contour lines that became your head? Or when they colored in your eyes? Or when they gave that final touch and leaned back satisfied in their work?

Influence by Presence

Dads, it goes without saying that you have tremendous influence in your kids’ lives. The rules we set and the words we speak shape our kids, and they’re important. But at the same time, we should not assume our influence comes merely (or mainly) from our rules or words. Our greatest influence actually comes by our presence. It comes from being around our kids. What kind of man do they see and experience when you are with them?

This is key to fatherhood (and any ministry of discipleship, for that matter). As dads, this is something we can learn from the apostle Paul.  

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul says his relationship with the churches he planted is similar to a father’s relationship with his children: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15). And because Paul understood himself to be like a father to them, he expects them to imitate him. He knew that in discipleship, as in fatherhood, imitation is a key part of how we learn: 

  • “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
  • “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  • “Join in imitating me” (Philippians 3:17)
  • “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9)

And this wasn’t limited to Paul’s example. When he was teaching Timothy how to lead, he told him to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  

Paul wanted the churches under his influence to be like him—that is, to be like him in his “ways in Christ.” This included the things he said, but it revolved around his being around. 

He told the Thessalonians, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Paul explains to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…” (2 Timothy 3:10–11, emphasis added). 

Imitation was central to Paul’s ministry. His strategy for discipleship borrowed from what he knew came naturally to fathers and their children. He wanted his spiritual children to imitate his example, which came from his godly presence. 

On the Mind of Your Kids

And so it is with fathers still today. When your kids draw you, I can tell you what they are not thinking. They are not thinking about that big project you have due this month, or about how much your colleagues respect you. They aren’t thinking about your bank account or what you know. They aren’t thinking about your weaknesses or the worries that keep you up at night. 

Instead, they are thinking about you as they know you from the time you’ve spent with them. They are thinking about the way you hold them when you read books to them. The way you carry them on your shoulders. The way you kneel down to their height to look them in the eyes. The way you respond when food spills, plates break, when rules are both kept and broken. The way you teach them to both swing a bat and put away their dishes. They are thinking about your example when you show up in their lives every single day. And they are drawing what they want to imitate. 

My dad was a bigger fan of Ozzie Smith than I was.

Take Action 

What three things can you do with (or in the presence of) your kids this week that you want them to imitate? Maybe these are things you are already doing! Spend some time praying that you would consistently practice these things and that your kids would grow to imitate them.


Jonathan Parnell is the lead pastor of Cities Church in Minneapolis. He is a graduate of The College at Southeastern and Bethlehem College and Seminary and has served as a longtime writer for John Piper’s Jonathan and his wife, Melissa, and their seven children, live in the middle of the Twin Cities.