Last week I had the chance to meet the adult son of one of my pastor-heroes. (That’s right, I have pastor-heroes…They only sometimes wear spandex and capes in my dreams. They all have superpowers in Greek exegesis and historical theology. In other words, I have no life.)
Because this man was/is a pastor’s kid, and because I am trying to raise four pastor’s kids, I was eager to learn from him about his experience. What I heard was both encouraging and surprising. Encouraging, because many of the things his father and mother did as parents are things my wife and I attempt to practice with our own kids. Surprising, because he was pretty open about the fact that his parents were far from perfect (I blame the spandex). In particular, he shared the fact that not all of his siblings emerged from the fishbowl of their father’s ministry unscathed. Some wandered from the faith for a time, some are still a bit adrift, even into adulthood.
I have to confess that this acknowledgment disturbed me a little bit. Okay, a lot. I was profoundly surprised to hear that this pastor-hero of mine – a man whose teaching has benefit many (including me), whose theology is deep and gospel-saturated, whose ministry practice is impeccable, whose influence is substantial – had not produced perfect pastor’s kids. Now, I know that there are no perfect kids – certainly not perfect pastor’s kids. But I genuinely expected that my hero’s children would be as close as any had ever come to it, mainly because I trusted that his parenting efforts would be as close as any have come to perfect. In other words, I was surprised to learn that even when the parents in question are exemplary, even when they devote themselves to shepherding and discipling their children, and even when their methods are theologically and practically sound, parents still do not have the power to produce good children. I really ought to have known that already – especially since I wrote something along those lines quite recently. But last week I was shaken by the stark reality of what I thought I already knew.
But that has helped me begin to realize something. Deep in my heart lies an idolatry of effort, the worship of which is fueled by a basic assumption: extraordinary effort yields extraordinary results. In much of life, this assumption is true: if you work exceedingly hard in school or business or athletics, you will see results that correspond to your effort. But in ministry, be it the ministry of your church or the ministry of your family, there is often little or no apparent correspondence between effort and results. And though this seems wrong and offensive when a parent’s sincere and diligent efforts to disciple their child seem to go awry, the disconnect between effort and results is actually very good news.
Why? Because it brings us back to grace. At the end of the day, all of our efforts for the Lord are deeply flawed. Sin has corrupted even our best, most-sincere efforts – like our efforts to raise our children in the faith. Our (sinful) “best” is twisted and fallen to such a degree that we shouldn’t want to depend on it for a good return on anything. If all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (see Isaiah 64:6), the best our efforts will ever return is…filth. Instead, we must depend on God’s sovereign grace and mercy; we must depend on the good news of the gospel. God is capable of saving our children, from their own sin and from our own sinful efforts to raise them. Rather than banking on our sinful efforts, let us rely on him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
That’s what a pastor-hero would do.