Years ago, I listened to the grown children of one of the most influential pastors in the country speak to a crowd of thousands of other pastors and their wives.
I will never forget how each of his children took turns praising their father for how relentless he always was to put his family first – A rare and admirable feat in the world of ministry.
And how tears streamed down my face in the parking lot because I realized for the very first time, that wasn’t my story.
Far from it.
In my life as a pastor’s kid there have been church-split(s), burnout(s) and an equal number of sabbaticals to bounce back from said: burnouts and church-splits.
There have been scandals, an affair (countless more rumors of affairs) – and the latest, divorce.
Recently, I went back and watched the sermon my dad preached the day he announced to the church that my mother had filed for divorce.
….shocked…. he would say.
(I was neither, for the record.)
As I watched the man who had patiently taught me how to ride my bike and tie my shoes. Who, was the one who had lovingly guided me through my prayer to ask Jesus into my heart and whose touch had steadied my quivering hands walking down the aisle all those years ago, I found myself staring blankly at a person who was unrecognizable to the father I once knew – the father that with all my heart, I love.
It was during his message that five small words caught my attention. Displayed directly on the screen behind my father as he spoke was the theme of his message for that day: The Cost Of Following Jesus.
Surely, my dad didn’t mean losing his family was part of The Cost of Following Jesus – – – right? But as quickly as I could ask that question, he spoke the words of this verse, “…Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple…” Luke 14:3, The Message.
Moments later, as if on cue, he announced he was getting divorced.
…kiss it goodbye…or you can’t be my disciple…
And just like that, my heart broke. Not simply because of how callous and insensitive it was to use a verse like that after having just lost your family (because believe me, that indeed hurt beyond what words can adequately describe) …But because my father had got it all wrong.
Sadly, I no longer have a relationship with my father at this time, but if I were to speak to him, this is exactly what I would say.
Three Things I wish My Father Had Understood About The Cost Of Following Jesus:
1. Jesus will never ask you to make your family the sacrificial lamb on behalf of your ministry.
The cost of following Jesus is an invitation. Yet it seems my dad misunderstand what he was being invited to.
When Jesus says, “Follow Me” it isn’t an invitation to give up everything you have, it’s an invitation to come and see what only He can do.
Consider for a moment all the miracles the disciples were able to experience – the front row seats they were given to watch the impossible be done and the miraculous unfold!
Unlike my father believed, Jesus wasn’t asking him to make his family the sacrificial lamb on behalf of his ministry; God was inviting my dad to see what only He could do with his marriage and his ministry, when (and if) he chose to put Him first above all else!
I often wonder what miracles we could have experienced as a family had my Dad seen it that way… Had he not chosen to forfeit his family, but instead allowed God to do the impossible, and restore it. How God could have healed the hurts of his children, and breathed life back in to my father’s spirit… even helped him to learn to love his wife again.
How God still could. — If only he hadn’t traded her in for a new one. (Which brings me to my second point…)
2. When your family falls a part, you are not a martyr to be praised, you are a poor manager.
No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to forget my father speaking on The Cost of Following Jesus that day. Nor will I ever forget the times my father looked me straight in the face and acknowledged that, “sometimes a man has to sacrifice his family in order to fulfill the calling God has placed on His life.”
But I will also never forget, how my Heavenly Father responded…
In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 it says, (speaking specifically of leaders in the church) “He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?”
According to the Bible, when a pastor ‘loses his family’ (like my Dad would go on to claim) he is not a martyr to be praised or the victim of a call to ministry ‘so much greater than himself’…he is a poor manager. Period.
I didn’t say that, the Bible did. So if you have problem with that, then I hate to break it to you but you also have a problem with Jesus…
(And speaking of that man named Jesus…)
3. You must love Jesus above all else.
A few years back I was asked what my advice would be for someone looking for a spouse to do ministry with. My answer was simple.
Find a spouse who loves Jesus a whole lot more than they love you.
…if you don’t, your ministry and your marriage wont survive it!
I believe Jesus knew this to be true which is why He said, “…If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life, otherwise you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14:25-26
Jesus understood we may want to be His disciple, but that we can’t unless we love Him more than any thing – or anyone, else!
Maybe, that’s because Jesus knew ministry would be brutal and that while fighting on the front lines against darkness and evil that if we weren’t following God so closely, allowing only Him to be our source of strength, our marriages and our ministry literally could NOT survive it!
And He was right.
…because in the end my family wouldn’t survive it.
And for that reason, you will never find me sitting center-stage, singing my father’s praises for always putting his family first. Again, it’s not my story.
Which is why my heart will continue to break, watching far too many men valiantly leading churches, all while willingly (and ever-so quietly) sacrificing their families. It’s why I refuse to remain silent watching pastor’s who are so quick to ‘kiss it all goodbye’ in order to preach the name of Jesus, all while failing to kiss their ego goodbye enough to ever truly experience Him.
Because sadly, my family isn’t the first to be ripped open at the seams because the leader of their home found more significance in leading God’s church.
And my family wont be the last…
Not until as pastor’s, we accept the invitation to which we have been called — to embark on a journey to follow Him above all else, and fall more passionately in love with Jesus…
…Instead of just settling for a love affair with His church.