As New Song ramps up to plant a church a year for the next several years, I’ve had conversations with five of my key guys about becoming church planters. Church planting is one of the most challenging sub-categories of pastoral ministry. One of my guys confessed recently, “I’m struggling with this potential call. I don’t know if I’m willing for my son to grow up hating the church.”
His statement took me back to dozens of pastoral nightmare stories of PK’s who have walked away from God and the church because they felt forgotten and forsaken by parents who loved the church more than they loved their children.
Do children of church planters suffer for their parents’ sacrifices? I’m sure some do. Church planters, like all ministry leaders, can get caught in the tug-of-war of time competition between home life and church life. After all, we who bear the mantel of ministry are human. We’re often underpaid compared to secular professions with similar hours, responsibilities and education. And we have the same desires – desires to succeed at our life’s work, desires to impress our peers, desires to please God by the work of our hands.
We’re human. And humans make mistakes. Sometimes our progeny pay the price.
In our first two years of church planting, I was so tired that every time we went on vacation, I got sick. It was the only time I dared let down, and when I let down, my immune system stopped fighting. The turning point came when Lori said, “If you’re going to get sick tomorrow, I don’t want to go on this vacation.” I kept my resolve up all week, and when I felt a sore throat coming on, I fought it off. No more vacation colds for me!
In those early days, whenever we left town, a weight was lifted off my soul. Whenever we came back into town, I felt it again within twenty-four hours. Some might think it was all psychological. I’m convinced it was spiritual. We know from the book of Daniel that there are territorial demons. If Satan can stop a church in its infancy, he’ll have saved himself a lot of grief in the decades to come.
In my humble opinion, Church Planters are the Green Berets of the pastoral profession. Starting a church with few (or no) people and few (or no) resources while battling the forces of hell for the souls of men is about as challenging an assignment as there is. In church planting, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. One day someone comes to Christ. The next day, your best donor departs for greener pastures. On average, the core of a new church plant turns over three times during the first three years. Navigating a start-up church to maturity can be like riding a roller coaster on the underside of the tracks!
The Incredible Things God Does for Faith Missionaries
So, do kids suffer? They can. Do they have to? I’m convinced not.
During New Song’s first ten years of ministry, I took a significantly smaller salary than my peers in similar-sized existing churches. Most church planters do this. After all, we’re the most committed members of the church, so we make the largest sacrifices.
Did my kids suffer because of this?
Soon after New Song went public, a long-lost friend happened to be in town and heard about what we were doing. He called me up and took me to lunch. He ran a Christian Camp. I said to him, “Ron, I’m sorry we’ve never come to your camp. As faith-based missionaries, we just haven’t had the money for a vacation like that. I promise, we’ll make it there one day.”
He responded, “Hal, the money we raise for scholarships is the easiest money we raise all year. I’d love to have you come, and you can come for free.” That summer we had an amazing vacation!
That vacation was superseded only by the free trip we took to Disneyland, and the two free trips we took after that to Disney World. Oh, and the free trips to Yosemite, Yellowstone and Puerto Vallarta. The truth is, God provides in incredibly loving ways for faith-based missionaries! I not only know this personally, but I’ve seen it in the lives of my faith-based friends. As a result, our children grew up experiencing the generosity of God, which they know is better than a substantial paycheck.
I have a friend who says, “The great thing about being self-employed is that you can work whenever you want. The bad thing about being self-employed is that you can work all the time.”
When you work sixty to eighty hours a week, your church should give you the flexibility to take a few hours off whenever you need to. Mine did (and does). As a result, I went on field trips with my kids. I attended all their soccer and t-ball games. I even helped coach a soccer team one year – which was an unmitigated disaster (but that’s another story that has nothing to do with time and everything to do with my lack of knowledge of the sport of soccer.) If you surveyed my kids today, they’d say they love the work I’m in because it enables us to do so many things together.
A few years ago, Eric Swanson (of Leadership Network fame) showed me a study that said that the number one factor determining whether children will grow up to love God was whether or not they saw their parents serving at church, and served beside them.
My kids have served beside Lori and me from day one. Five days after the church went public, they were walking neighborhoods with me, dropping invitations on doorsteps. Bryan was five. Amy was four. Amy dropped one on the doorstep of a professional bass player. His wife has led our drama team for the last twenty years.
They both served in PromiseLand as soon as they were old enough. Bryan started our Middle School worship band. Amy painted the high school room. I could go on, but you get the point. Both of my children are in their twenties now, and they love God more than I do!
Three years ago, my son married the daughter of a missionary. This summer my daughter is marrying the son of an Old Testament professor. Both my kids’ father-in-laws have “Reverend” in front of their names. Both of my kids’ mates grew up in ministry families. Both of their mates love God deeply.
Does a child of a ministry parent pay a price for their parents’ ministry? They can. But they don’t have to. And in my experience, the price paid causes them to love God more.
Never hesitate to enter ministry for the sake of your children. In fact, one good reason to enter ministry would be just for the sake of your children!
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