(This picture was taken around 2005, four years after I became the senior pastor at Redeemer. It's a long time before Willow)
My oldest son is now half way done with his senior year. Where has the time gone? We are in the thick of college decisions with him reminding us almost daily his time in our house as we know it is short. After A.J. graduates from high school we have two more sons graduating every other year. It feels like several snowballs are rolling down the hill and all will pass us as the bottom sooner than we are ready. You can’t stop time. At least our little girl is behind the boys by several years. We will need our fully recouped energies for her teenage years (I hear).
Being Christmas time makes me unusually nostalgic, especially about family. My immediate sentiment, especially related to my oldest child readying to leave the nest, is thankfulness for how the church I serve has treated my family.
As I entered ordained ministry over 20 years ago more than a few older pastors and some parishioners warned me about the impact of pastoral ministry on my children. Being a youth pastor for several years before becoming a lead pastor only served to stoke my secret anxieties about my children not doing well in a ministry context. I was worried about being too engulfed in church stuff to spend adequate time with them. I was concerned they would grow to resent the Church (not just RPC, but God's Church in general) and even God, because of my job. I was worried, at the beginning, the church wouldn’t be understanding if one or more of my children were terrors when they were young or rebellious when they grew older. I know the verse about elders being required to have their household under control and their children believers. Another strange fear I have had is how to guide my boys vocationally. I only know pastoral ministry. What does an engineer do? An account manager? A cop? A truck driver? Who would teach them things I know nothing about? So many secret fears about family life in ministry, especially having a very young family when becoming the senior pastor at Redeemer (in 2001 when my oldest was 2 and my second son was just born).
All my children have been born and baptized at Redeemer. I have been here 20 years. My oldest turns 18 in a couple months. This is the only church they know. I realize they are not done growing, but the experience has been a profound blessing so far. I know things can change fast in a church. If I screw up and get tossed…or just get tossed…they’ll likely have a bad taste in their mouth about the church. But based on their experience so far, I hope not. I mean, even if I got tossed tomorrow, they can't deny how good the church has been to them thus far.
People at RPC have been gracious to my children and us. I have never felt like they expect my children to be super sanctified. Any pressure about parenting has come from my own pride, not church people somehow pressing expectations. Shari and I have found rather than pressure on our kids, there has been great encouragement given. Heartening words and assistance have been the norm, far and above any unusual negative focus. Over the years, several men have taken the initiative to speak words of guidance, encouragement, and sometimes correction to my sons. I have never sensed any resentment in my boys for things members have said to them. Instead, I find my children deeply respecting many people in our church.
A year ago I was asking my oldest son what he wanted to do for a vocation. He responded by asking what several men in the church did for a living. Not because of the money he thought they made, but rather because of who he saw them to be as men. He told me in so many words he looked at their families, what they did in and through the Church, the way they engaged others outside their family, their hobbies and interests, and thought to himself- “I want to be like that.” Remember my confessed anxiety about who would teach them about possible vocations? It has proven to be unfounded. Two different guys took him along to shadow them on their job. These experiences helped A.J. decide what major he will pursue in college. I will bet his first “real” job out of college is related to someone he knows in the church. Words cannot express my thanks for the way the people of Redeemer have loved my family. Just this Sunday he was late coming out to the car after church as we were leaving. He texted to tell me a man in the church was talking to him. This brother in Christ knows A.J. is trying to find a way to go to the college he wants affordably so he pulled A.J. aside to share how God provided for him when he was in a similar situation years ago. His message was for A.J. to trust God and work hard. Wow. We are a blessed family to have people love us like this. I know they love us because of how they treat my children...and I really have not even begun to count the ways.
I have no idea what God’s long term plan is for my ministry life, but I know whatever happens, Redeemer has been overwhelmingly loving to us. I have always been willing to spend my life ministering here if God wills, but the brethren’s care for my family makes me earnestly hope this will be so.