For Greg Austen, Care Net’s Director of Church Outreach and Engagement, fatherhood is a great calling and a sobering responsibility. Austen is the author of Irreplaceable: Recovering God’s Heart for Dads. The book is the culmination of a unique journey that includes seminary degrees, working for eleven years at the National Fatherhood Initiative, and being a parent of three children who are now adults.
“One of the greatest joys in my life was fathering my children,” said Austen (57). In his book, Austen combines a theological foundation with a rich social understanding of the issue of father absence, along with the challenges faced in contemporary culture, notably in chapters such as “James Bond and the Trinity,” “Irreplaceable Moms and Marriage,” and “Patriarchy, The Nuclear Family, and the LGBT Movement.” Whether writing on the topic of “Knowing God as Father,” or teaching readers to properly understand Malachi 4:6 (He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children…), Austen drills deep to the heart of the matter: fathers are simply vital and irreplaceable.
Overcoming Father Wounds
“Without question, the most important ‘pastor’ a child will ever have in their life is a parent,” he writes. “If you are a dad who loves God—you are the primary conduit for passing on His heart to your kids.”
In Irreplaceable, Austen writes candidly about the brokenness in the relationship with his dad in a section entitled “The Father Wound.” One of the foundational principles of the book is that “the painful parts of our story matter to God and can become windows of grace in our healing.”
“The father wound is a pervasive theme in many of our stories….Healing and personal growth are messy and not easily packaged. For example, we don’t miraculously heal from our wounds in chapter one of our stories and then move on to being a good dad in chapter two. As theologian and author Henri Nouwen observed, each of us—even at our best—are still ‘wounded healers.’”
Quoting a line from the band Switchfoot, the book offers readers hope that “the wound is where the light shines through.”
In his senior role at the National Fatherhood Initiative, Austen was the lead for a successful, multi-year project, Engaging Fathers for Successful Reentry, which was funded by the Department of Justice. In Irreplaceable, he unpacks some of the lessons learned there.
“I don’t think most of the Evangelical Church understands the issue of father absence,” he said. “When you look at the research (some of which is included in his book), you will see that fatherlessness is our most consequential and damaging social trend, linking to poverty, incarceration, school dropout rates, gun violence, substance abuse, etc.”
Understanding this data, Austen writes, will help the Church better comprehend the poignant words of the late anthropologist Margaret Meade: “The supreme test of any civilization is whether it can socialize men by teaching them to be fathers.”
This topic has been on Austen’s heart for many years. His (D.Min.) dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary was entitled “Fathering Well: The Neglected Missional Priority of the Church.”
Fatherhood is also a focus for Austen and his work at Care Net. Over the years, he has been a strong advocate of the organization’s Pro Abundant Life mission, where the focus is not only saving babies, but making Christ-like disciples of mothers and fathers and helping families flourish. Father absence and fatherlessness are challenges on both sides of the abortion issue, where men are often left completely out of the conversation or take on a passive role. Austen is hopeful that his book will encourage greater discipleship and empowerment to help fathers engage spiritually with their families.
At Care Net’s Called and Missioned Pro-Life Men’s Summit at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas Texas on March 3-4, 2023, Austen will serve as one of the speakers. The conference, featuring keynote messages from Dr. Tony Evans and Care Net CEO and President Roland Warren, will inspire and equip men to turn their pro-life passion into Pro Abundant Life action in their communities.
Whether speaking at a conference or inspiring action through his new book about the irreplaceableness of fathers and the characteristics of “hero-dads,” Austen has good news for parents—they are not in this alone.
“Understanding our profound need for grace helps us come to terms with our deficiencies,” he writes. “What [children] need to succeed—must be supplied by God in a variety of ways—not just through us.”
Comprehending the mercy and love of the father and passing that fire to our children is a great privilege, Austen said: “Parents and especially fathers—more than any other people on the planet—are in a strategic position to introduce their children to the possibility of friendship with God!”