Many times in my life, people have imagined that I am the son of a preacher. I’m not. Dad was a scientist. Mom was a special education teacher. I guess they thought that because I started expressing a desire to be a minister at the age of 13. I started accepting invitations to speak in youth groups and churches as a teenager and was always focused on that as my future.
Parents, maybe more than anyone else in a person’s life, have the greatest capacity to encourage their children in pursuing a calling to vocational ministry. They also have the ability to crush their children’s aspirations or to seriously hamper and derail the journey to serving in the ministry. Below are a few of the most important things you can do for a child who is expressing a sense of calling to ministry.
- Affirm. Even if you think your child could never make it as a pastor or missionary or whatever kind of calling they are expressing, do all you can to affirm to your child that you believe God has spoken. Many of my colleagues have expressed to me how the doubt of their parents or the discouragement of a father or mother was an obstacle that almost stopped them. Don’t point to an alternative career. Don’t suggest that maybe they can pursue that after some other alternative educational or professional training is over. Instead, affirm that you want to do everything you can to help them prepare themselves for that future.
- Insist on education. Going into the ministry—no matter if it is as a youth pastor or a missionary—will require specialized education. One of the most helpful things my own parents did in sending me to Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, was to encourage me to pursue a double major while preparing for the ministry. In my case, I got degrees in English and in Biblical Studies. This not only gave me additional skills that would serve me well in my ministry as a pastor and missionary, but it also gave me a degree outside of working in the church in case I ever needed to support myself with secular employment. A friend of mine whose children are planning to become pastors is encouraging them to pursue education in business along with theology, as he knows there are many essential skills for ministry to be found in an MBA. Whatever you do, don’t tell your child they don’t need to pursue schooling to minister to others. Part of proclaiming that God is calling you is being ready to pay the price for preparation.
- Point them to a mentor. One of the greatest things that happened in my life as a teenager is that my parents let me spend a lot of time with ministers and their families. Not only did I make some lifelong friends, but I was able to witness firsthand so much of what went on in a minister’s private life and public ministry. This gave me a great foundation and helped me become clearer and clearer about the kind of minister I wanted to be. So, give your child ample time to spend with a minister or a minister’s family that will help them find the way to their own future. Exceedingly important here, of course, is that the mentor is someone who will both be a great example and take an active interest in the person’s calling.
- Keep the conversation going. A person changes a great deal, especially through the journey of adolescence. Your daughter or son who expressed a call to ministry at camp at 8 may feel totally differently at 19 and that’s OK. However, if you never talk about it or ask about what they are feeling and thinking and feeling about that calling you will also lose opportunities to affirm and help them cultivate their lives for a future in the ministry.
- Keep your own heart open. A life in the ministry will likely mean a life of change or moving. Few people end of up ministering successfully in the same context in which they grew up. Some parents do not encourage a sense of calling because they fear that it means their children will move far away. Others dread a missionary as a son or daughter because they think it means they will never see them or their eventual grandchildren again. Mom and Dad—keep your eye on the fact that you want your child to follow God to the end. Far be it from you to keep a son or daughter from following the call that God has for them because of your own dreams. Keep your own heart open.
- Be honest with your child. The realities of life as a pastor or missionary or whatever area of ministry your child feels a calling to need to be voiced to your son or daughter regularly. My own father would remind me often, for example, that most pastors were not financially well off. Spending time with the pastors that I did showed me the realities of time and hard work that the ministry required. If you don’t know much about what life in the ministry means, go talk to a minister about it yourself. So many people drop out of the ministry in the first five years because they were unprepared for the challenges they faced. Whatever you can do to help your child understand that a life in the ministry will involve significant and regular sacrifices along with exciting, fulfilling work will help to prepare them.
A child of mine was recently expressing a sense of calling to my wife and me. We took time to remind them that it is not always easy, may involve significant sacrifice and may be work that is not recognized by others. Still, he said, “God told me, so I need to do it.” That’s a sense of calling I need to nourish. If you’re reading this because you’ve got a son or daughter with the same sense of direction from God, you need to nourish it too!
Know that if God has called your child, he has not called him to a life of frustration and constant difficulty. God will give your child an abundant life serving others through the vocation of ministry.