As I have worked with and observed people considering ministry, I have noticed that early experiences and parental attitudes can have a positive effect. For example, a love for ministry may be sown at an early age. It could come as a result of a family being involved in a particular type of ministry together, or perhaps an impactful short-term ministry experience led to a call to ministry. It could come from a child growing up surrounded by adults who consistently encouraged them to look outwards. It could even develop when a child who faced hardship determined to stand in the gap and not let others suffer the way he or she did.
Alternatively, when one values other things above service to the kingdom, those material goals can guide someone who would be a wonderful full-time minister to follow a different path. A young adult who has developed a heart for ministry may not follow it for fear of disappointing parents, friends, or the expectations of others. I have had many conversations, both throughout my educational training and as a professor, with people whose parents are against their pursuit of ministry.
The pain of having parents discourage their kids being in ministry is difficult and real. These young adults are conscientious and outward focused. They struggle with what it means to honor their parents, while at the same time they want to follow where God is leading them. Often, well-meaning parents who just want the best for their kids, have a fear-based reaction. However, as parents we must trust that God is bigger than any challenge, and he will not abandon his people. Matt 6:26 assures us that if God cares for the birds, he will also care for us and our children. We need not fear when our kids are called to ministry.
The greatest gift a parent can give a child is permission to become the person God created him or her to be. This is often counterintuitive, because as parents we know our children well. We can see paths that we believe would be appropriate to their gifting. We want them to experience success and stability, and perhaps to have it easier than we did. When a child develops a dream of stepping out and following God into the unknown, parents have not been on this faith journey. Many times, the announcement of a plan that is different than expected will cause parents to begin a faith journey of their own—learning to trust in God’s provision and care for their child. This is especially true when a daughter chooses to enter ministry. There are many questions, both practical and theological, that may have to be answered in the parents’ minds. It can be scary, and different, when a child is on his or her own path. However, it is important to take a deep breath and listen instead of allowing fears to take over. We need to hear the child’s desire to follow God. Isn’t that what we always wanted?
Not being torn between pleasing a parent or pleasing the Lord, is truly a gift. For someone exploring ministry, feeling the freedom to grow instead of having to come up with defenses, is a gift. While launching children may be frightening, parents should endeavor to demonstrate faith and trust through this process. Permission to follow God wherever he is leading our children is the greatest gift we can give them.
Anessa is currently serving as an Assistant Professor of Bible and Ministry at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. She is a graduate of Harding University (B.A. in Psychology), Harding School of Theology (M.A. and M.Div.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (certificate), and Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.). As a speaker and writer, her specialty is female spiritual development and textual studies. She is passionate about helping women discover their gifts. Anessa is married to Tim and they have three high school/college-age children.