I know a wonderful young minister who is ashamed of his family. At least that’s how they perceive his advice to them to “get their act together.” Even as he leads a growing congregation with grace and kindness, his lack of compassion toward his parents and siblings threatens to permanently alienate them. Only God knows how much of his admonition is motivated by sincere concern for his loved ones or to what extent personal pride is the driving force. Either way, a close look at the pastor’s family reveals some cracks in the foundation. That doesn’t fit with the common supposition that those behind the pulpit come from a tradition of faith.
There is certainly pressure to “look the part.” Just as the angel of death favored faithful Jews in Egypt, most people expect financial, marital, and mental woes to pass over the homes of Christians today. And surely a pastor receives some special dispensation of spiritual power greater than what ordinary laypeople are granted. We want the preacher to be better than us. It’s hard enough to be told things we don’t want to hear when it comes from one granted moral authority through decades of obedience, one whose proven legacy of faith stands solidly behind him.
But those notions are based on the false premise that we can somehow deserve to rank anywhere among God’s people, or that, once justified by Christ’s sacrifice, we are miraculously freed from the consequences of our less-than-ideal upbringing, immature decisions, and traumatic life experiences—all influenced by an adversary who shames us into hiding the fallout for fear of being judged unworthy.
The enemy has more reason to destroy families of those in ministry than to bother with those who aren’t opposing him. The truth is we are all unworthy, each subject to the same failures as everyone else. Pretending it’s not so is foolish and dangerous, feeding faulty expectations that ultimately result in loud cries of “hypocrite” from anyone looking for a reason to debunk the Christian faith.
Scripture contains multiple examples of family failure across successive generations, even among those chosen to carry out God’s covenant promises. Abraham gave in to his wife’s insecurities to produce an heir through a surrogate, whom he cruelly exiled after his wife gave birth to Isaac. Isaac and his wife each favored a different child; the resulting rivalry nearly ended with one brother killing the other. Isaac’s son Jacob then favored one wife and her children over the other wife and her children. Through the same favoritism Jacob nearly cost his son Joseph his life. Dysfunction Junction!
If being reared in or parenting an ideal family is the standard for serving in ministry, then King David, a man “after God’s own heart,” didn’t qualify. David’s oldest son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar and later tried to snatch the throne from his father. It didn’t make David less deserving of his station as Israel’s king and spiritual guide because it wasn’t dependent on David’s family having it all together.
Want a modern-day example? Billy Graham was arguably the most effective evangelist of all time, but he was absent from his family for months at a time and surrounded by staff, even at home. That led to a lack of intimacy and abandonment issues, especially for his daughter Ruth. Four marriages later, she learned to understand and forgive her father. God blessed Billy Graham with a worldwide ministry, and in her own ministry Ruth speaks personally and compassionately to people in need of the same grace on which she and her father relied.
Whether you’re on the inside looking out or the outside looking in, charity (love, grace, understanding) begins at home.