This is the final installment of a three-part post on ministry families. Part one was on parenting in ministry and part two on marriage and ministry.
I’ve always believed the Bible is true. But it wasn’t until my two grown sons were in ministry that I experienced the depth of feeling behind 3 John 4—“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
As a dad, there is simply no greater joy to me than that my children would love and follow the Lord. I’m grateful for God’s call on their life for the ministry, and I’m thrilled to see how He is using and blessing each of our four children and their spouses.
Both of our sons are preaching God’s Word weekly. Our oldest son, Larry, is an assistant pastor here at Lancaster Baptist Church and leads our student ministries. He preaches to hundreds of teens weekly, has led many teens to Christ from our local public schools, and is an anointed preacher who is being greatly used by God.
Our younger son, Matthew, has launched out by faith to plant a Baptist church here in California. God is using him and his wife, Katie, to lead people to Christ on a weekly basis—they have seen over seventy people trust Christ since January of this year—and God is blessing the church.
On a recent Saturday morning, I texted all four of our children to say I loved them and was thinking of them. All four texted back that they were out soulwinning with their spouses. To see all of them fervently serving the Lord and being used by God in ministry is an incredible joy to Terrie and me.
In recent blog posts about family and ministry, we looked at parenting while in ministry and marriage and ministry. As we conclude this series, I’d like to look at what it is like to be a pastor with your grown sons in ministry. Specifically, I’d like to point out three priorities for maintaining a strong relationship:
The Priority of Connection
Your children may live near, or in states (or countries) far away. Do everything you can to stay connected with them.
Terrie and I are grateful that all four of our children live within driving distance and are always willing to come over for a family dinner or to barbecue on a holiday as their schedules allow. Not only is it a blessing to us to spend time with our kids, but we want to stay connected with our grandkids as well!
Love them, spend time together, and maintain openness for questions. Obviously, once your children are grown, they may do some things differently than you do. You can’t control your grown children’s choices or insist they resemble you in every way, but you can still love them and be close to them.
The key word here is relationship. Whether it is in person or over FaceTime, do what you can to invest in a relationship with them.
The Priority of Communication
The foundation of all healthy communication is truth spoken in love: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
So speak honestly with one another. My favorite people to “talk shop” with as related to ministry are my sons. We don’t always agree, but we enjoy discussing and sharpening one another.
Furthermore, I would rather have an honest conversation in which we disagree than to have only surface communication avoiding all subjects in which we don’t fully agree. Part of Christian growth as well as life maturity is to be able to have honest discussions without complete agreement.
James 3:17 tells us that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated….” I want to be approachable and easily entreated to younger men in ministry.
Truth be told, it used to be more difficult for me to enter conversations where there may be questions raised or disagreements voiced with younger pastors, staff, or even my own sons. But I’ve learned that honest, back and forth communication is a vital part of development for younger men in ministry.
I remember taking Larry and Matt to a Giants game in San Francisco when they were still in Bible college. We stayed up most, if not all, of the night discussing ministry philosophy and personal standards. We talked about standards they agreed with and ones they didn’t understand. We talked about contemporary theology and ministry philosophy. And we had a great time doing it. Those kinds of conversations are important, and we’ve had many of them over the past several years.
Having this kind of honest communication also means that my sons also call to ask for my advice. They call with Bible and ministry questions and just to let me know how they’re doing. Actually, I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t communicate.
That is a blessing to me. And it is a blessing I both cherish and guard.
The Priority of Consistency
Not every son who was raised in the ministry will share the exact ministry philosophies and methods of his dad. (And those who know my son, Matt, know that he uses some methods I do not use.) But I believe that a father’s consistency in truth and methodology over the years is important for his son.
I’ve seen this go the other way, however, in which fathers will begin questioning their own ministry methods and align with their sons’ methods. The disappointing thing about this from my perspective, is that often their sons are actually still sounding out their ministry philosophy. They need their dads to remain consistent.
I know that Matt appreciates my consistent position and practice. (In fact, he actually asked me not to change the ministry philosophy of our church and has communicated respect for the consistency he sees in me.)
On the other hand, because West Coast Baptist College students seek ministry experience in a traditional Baptist church, we require them to serve here at Lancaster Baptist or an established church of like faith and practice. We want to continue to model consistency to those we train for ministry.
A couple weeks ago, my friend, R. B. Ouellette, preached for Matt. He commented to me afterward that, while it was more of a relaxed environment, the spirit in the singing and responsiveness to preaching was very encouraging. Matt’s doctrine, Baptist distinctives, commitment to the KJV position, and love for souls is fervent. So, although we don’t agree on everything, I want to encourage him while at the same time remaining consistent in the church I pastor.
I believe a trademark of spiritual maturity is Christ-like love with people who are getting the gospel out. I may not teach or practice a few methods some men use. I’ll not have these methods taught at WCBC. But I can rejoice in the victories of soulwinning, Baptist, doctrinally-sound preachers.
I love Matt and rejoice in every soul he has seen saved. He rejoices as God uses me. It’s my heart’s desire to remain consistent for him.
Maintaining a Strong Relationship
Being a parent of adult children in ministry is in some ways different than I envisioned. In particular, it’s better.
Terrie and I cherish the strong relationship we share with our children. As I already mentioned, both Larry and Matt are preachers of God’s Word. Larry serves with me on staff here and helps me with insightful perspective on various issues. Danielle and Kristine are godly women who have a real walk with the Lord. They are not only actively serving with their husbands in ministry but are providing a godly home for their children. We know that our children’s walk with God and relationship with us is only by His grace, and we’re thankful to Him. And we’re thankful for how He has helped us understand the importance of pursuing these three priorities—connection, communication, consistency—in this phase of life as parents. I have been criticized by men whose own children never reached the marriage altar in purity or who still have children at home. I believe true independent pastors would be wise to focus on their own families and ministries, rather than constantly trying to put others on a slippery slope.
If you are a parent with grown children serving the Lord, I encourage you to place a priority on your relationship with them. You may not agree with everything they do, and you should remain consistent in your own position. But pursue a connection with them, and keep an open spirit in communication.
If you have children who love the Lord and desire to serve Him with their lives, you are blessed.