Recently, we had a birthday party for our oldest son, Will. His mother and I planned, prepared, and invited a handful of his friends. We spent a lot of time investing in his party. We expected his reaction to be wonder, enjoyment, and gratitude. What we received was complaint, ungratefulness, and pouting. Needless to say, we spent the rest of our evening attempting to teach our son the importance of gratitude and respect when others do something nice for you. This little experience got me thinking about some of the ways being a parent is like being a pastor.
Sometimes our children are ungrateful. My wife and I were pretty disappointed in our son’s attitude regarding his party. We put a lot of time and effort into making a day all about him and didn’t receive any genuine gratefulness. This sometimes happens as a pastor. We invest, spend time, and pour ourselves into a parishioner or a ministry and receive little or no gratitude. It is easy to take such things personally. But we must not. While we should model gratitude for our children and our churches, we should move past our good deeds for others and onto the next person or assignment.
Sometimes our children are disingenuous. When we pointed out our son’s failure to be grateful, he rather quickly told us, “Thank you for my party.” However, with scant a pause, he followed that up with more disrespect. He didn’t really mean the thank you. If you’ve been a pastor for long, you’ve had church members tell you to your face what you know they don’t mean in their heart. My personal favorite is when they tell you how good your sermon was when it appeared to you during the sermon that they were asleep for most of it. Now, I don’t think most of the comments coming from our church members are disingenuous, but some are. We have to learn to discern the truth and show grace when we hear disingenuous comments. Saying “thank you” and moving on is generally the best thing we can do.
Sometimes our children are disobedient. It is our job as parents to correct and discipline our children, which are important aspects of teaching obedience. If we don’t teach them, then who will? As a pastor, there will be times that correcting a church member will be necessary. As with our children, correction must take place with compassion, deliberation, and consistency. Restoration to obedience is the goal, not pointing out the sin.
Sometimes our children are needy. Sick little ones or those who are hurt may require more time and attention from their parents. This is a necessary part of parenting. Church members are no different. Those who are hurting, emotional, going through difficulty, or sick may need more attention from their church or pastor.
Oftentimes, both parents and pastors feel overwhelmed. The tasks and expectations of parents and pastors are never-ending. Parents, there’s always somewhere else to go with your children, always something to clean, pick up, or fix, always homework or school projects to do, and on, and on. Pastors, there’s always the next sermon, the next lesson, the next counseling appointment, project, mission trip, or task. If we’re not careful, we’ll let our lives be run by our schedules and the next thing on our to-do list.
Our children were created to grow up. Our privilege as parents is to assist the natural growth of our children. They were made to grow. Similarly, those we pastor were made to grow spiritually. It is our privilege to provide systems, ministries, and opportunities for the spiritual growth of those we lead.
Our children bring us unprecedented joy. Witnessing their development, smiles, wonder, love, and dependence is incalculable. I realize that pastors are not parents to their parishioners as they are to their children. But in part, pastors have been tasked with the spiritual development of their congregation. Much joy comes from watching the spiritual growth of people. Seeing the relief and joy on the face of a new believer whose weight of sin has been lifted by Christ is incomparable. Experiencing a counselee apply the Scripture to their situation is spiritually satisfying. Or participating with church members give of themselves and their heart on a mission trip or project is deeply encouraging.
No investment in life is as important as the investment in others, especially our children. When our life concludes, the influence we’ve had on our children will be one of the few things that will last beyond our days on earth. They will carry on our character, our values, and our names by the way they live their lives. While not as directly impactful, the investments we make in the lives of our congregation can also be far-reaching. Like being a parent, a pastor’s influence and impact is not defined by outward success, popularity, twitter followers, Facebook friends, or blog readers. The true impact of a pastor, like a parent, will be found in the relational investment of lives changed, disciples made, and people equipped for ministry.
Ultimately, how our children and our congregations turn out is the Lord’s responsibility. Sometimes, being a parent and a pastor, we think we’re in control of the spiritual progress of our children and our congregations. We’re not. God is. Yes, we partner with God in the process of the spiritual development of those we parent and lead, but we are not ultimately responsible. Learning or in my case, relearning, that truth is deeply liberating and encouraging.
For those who are parents, let your parenting inform your responsibilities as a pastor. And to all, cast the burdens of being a parent or pastor on the Lord who is able to carry them.