The other day my eleven-yearold expressed her displeasure over the number of times each week church commitments steal me away from her bedtime ritual. Her complaint caught me by surprise because I had only recently curtailed my nightly commitments to two a week. I half kiddingly countered, "Well, Kristin, when you're a pastor's wife, you'll understand."
"Da-a-a-d!" she rejoindered. "I'm never getting married."
"Just you wait!" I beamed, stroking her thick brown hair.
That conversation set my mind to thinking what a joy it would be to have one, if not all three of my daughters, follow my wife and me into full-time ministry. But, I wondered, what would be my part in helping them hear God's call to a life of Christian service? That required a bit more reflection and a journey into the caverns of my memory. You see, I am a second-generation pastor. I determined at an early age that I wanted to be in the ministry just like my dad and mom. And as best as I could determine, God wanted that too. But if God wanted that for any of my girls would He use what got my attention? Perhaps. Now that I have my own children (also P.K.'s), I've been reflecting on what my parents did right, and why I loved being a ministry kid.
1. They loved me. I never doubted my parents loved me. They reminded me daily with words of affection and hugs that articulated their love. Knowing that my mom and dad cared for me caused me to willingly consider the various components of their "world." Their values were instructive (although challenged at times). Church leaders were welcomed visitors in our home (except when they took my dad away from playing catch). My parents' idiosyncrasies were put up with (perhaps even celebrated), and their work was important. Early on I wanted to be like them because they made me feel significant.
My desire to have Kristin, Allison, or Lauren live in a parsonage of their own someday will only be taken seriously to the degree that they understand my unconditional love for them. I must practice daily the art of praising them, taking their interests seriously, and becoming a part of their world. If I discern gifts for ministry in my children and want to affirm them in their giftedness, they will only be inclined to listen if their ears are already angled in a direction they deem essential.
2. They involved me in their world. As my dad willingly became involved in my world I wanted to be part of his. Fortunately, he allowed me entrance into the many chambers of his church-work. Many a day after school I'd pedal my Schwinn to the church where he would be immersed in preparation for Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday evening services. My dad was never too busy to express genuine joy at my unexpected interruption. He'd push back from his typewriter and spend the next few minutes inquiring how my day had gone. Then as he returned to his two finger technique on his Royal typewriter, I'd sit back amazed that my dad had read most of the books that lined three walls of his simple office. Sometimes I'd lay on the floor of his study and play with a wooden toy a missionary from Mexico had given him. Other visits I'd find him cutting stencils or running off the bulletin on the greasy mimeograph machine, He'd let me watch as long as I promised not to touch (but sometimes I forgot). I just wanted to be near him, and he let me. When my dad and mom had calls to make at the hospital or nursing home they'd let me tag along. I felt included.
Because my parents allowed me to hang around them "on the job," I found myself emulating their duties. After evening service my brother and I would wait in Dad's office while our parents visited. We'd take turns sitting at his desk, rifling through his drawers, or typing a "bulletin." During my after-school visits while Dad was lost in meditation, I'd sneak out into the sanctuary and preach to empty pews. The height of the pulpit kept me from seeing much, but my dad could see that I was wanting to be like him.
Dad let me breathe the oxygen of his and Mom's occupation, so I naturally found myself using their vocation as a seedbed for my imagination. From as far back as I can remember, while other kids played army, house, doctor, or Barbies, my brother and I played church. Child's play translated into trying on a possible future and was much more than simply "dressing up."
As they grow up my girls will be more inclined to consider some aspect of full-time Christian work if they are exposed to what. Wendy and I do, find delight in mimicking our ministry, or simply visiting Daddy at the church after school.
3. They made church fun. Enjoying my visits to church between Sundays was a key factor in wanting to do what my dad did, but just as important was enjoying church on Sundays. Going to church was not a have-to, it was a get-to. The music was alive and inviting. The Sunday School teachers cared for kids and expressed their love beyond their hour commitment once a week. Children were incorporated into the life of the congregation and made to feel important. I didn't always track with my dad's sermons, but there was the freedom to draw pictures, leaf through the hymnal to make fun of curious names, or suck on a lifesaver (cryst-o-mint were my favorites). Sunday worship was a positive experience that I hated to miss.
As a pastor and a parent I would do well to lead and develop programs with an eye toward how kids are perceiving what's going on. Creating an atmosphere where my children want to be will enhance the likelihood that they will be in church when God's call on their life is camouflaged as a sermon, a Sunday School lesson, or a word of affirmation from a respected member.
4. They gave me opportunities to serve. I can honestly say that I am in the ministry today because I was given opportunities to test my gifts in my parents' church. At the age of three I was allowed to stand alongside the ushers at the entrance to the sanctuary and distribute hymnals. In our tradition, evening services concluded with a "season of prayer" at the altar, and I was permitted to walk next to my dad as together we "laid hands" on individuals as they "prayed through" issues in their lives. Even as a preschooler I was weighing the mantle and evaluating the fit. When I was ten, my father woke me at dawn to accompany him to the ecumenical sunrise service at the local football stadium. Wearing my sportcoat, slacks, and tie I was charged with the responsibility of passing out bulletins. The pride of being "one of the participants" is an emotion I can easily retrieve thirty years later. It felt right to be involved.
As a junior-high-aged student was given the chance on numerous occasions to give a testimony at the Wednesday night service. As a high school er I was invited to preach one Sunday evening. I'm sure it wasn't a wonderful experience for the people in the pews, but for the kid in the pulpit it was an awesome privilege. That night intensified in my heart the desire to learn how to do it right. My parents also encouraged my participation in church choir tours, short-term mission assignments, and involvement in the Christian Club at school. Each opportunity provided a chance to listen for God's affirming voice as I used my own in ministry settings.
It is not too early to encourage my girls to take on a bite-size task around the church appropriate to their age and ability. Assisting the sound man in setting up the microphones would he a snap for my nineyear-old. Reading the Scripture lesson would be an enjoyable job for my eleven-year-old. My four-year-old might even let me hold her while I give my Father's Day meditation on "The Parental Love of God." As they grow into adolescence there will be Sunday School classes in need of a teacher, youth retreats in need of a counselor, elementary-aged pewsitters in need of a children's sermon, patients in need of a visit, and perhaps even a breakfast meeting in need of a speaker. The call of God is amplified through meaningful experiences in a church context where desires are explored and results are tested.
5. They gave me an education. My parents encouraged me to get as much education as I could. Part of their motivation was based on a desire for their sons to have what their parents could not provide them, but another motivating factor was their astute conviction that a life-long call to pastor would be validated through the discipline of study. If my perceived call was simply emotionally based, it would not stand the crucible of the classroom. My folks spared no expense in helping me finance an under-graduate education at a Christian liberal arts college. It was a school that let me use my gifts while I got my grades, and then I was ready for seminary and Fuller Seminary was ready for me.
Although no call to a life of Christian service ever came through a sheepskin, there is no price tag that can be placed on a quality education. The call from God may not come in textbooks, but it sure is confirmed in the test tube of training. My children will have the best schooling opportunities I can provide.
6. They never pressured me. While at Fuller I struggled my first quarter with whether I had what it took to make it in the ministry. I paid a visit to the dean of students who wisely suggested that if there was anything else I could do with my life other than be a pastor, I should do it, but then he quickly added, if there was no getting rid of the urge, I'd better hang in there.
What I received that smoggy afternoon in Pasadena was the same encouragement I'd received from my parents ever since I had begun to talk about going into the ministry. Never did I feel the strong arm of a preacher-father or pastor's wife-mother when it came to dictating my future. In fact, when I showed some promise as a radio announcer in college, my parents gave me the green light to pursue a career in broadcasting. Knowing I had the freedom to choose what I felt God was leading me to do kept me following hard after my call, not my parent's expectations.
Yes, it would thrill my heart to no end to spend my retirement years as a minister of visitation on the staff of a church pastored by a daughter's husband, but there is no way I will ever lay that trip on any of my girls. I simply am committed to helping them explore their own giftedness and goals in a family setting where the ministry is a fact of their father's and mother's life. In the process I will ask God to use my wife and I as facilitators of His purposes if He should desire for the ministry to be a fact of their lives too.