My family is about to see a fourth generation of ministers.
The first was my great uncle Etril, recently deceased, a church planter and beloved pastor. The second were two of his sons who happened to be my mother’s cousins and my father’s childhood friends (Yes, this is how my parents met). Each one pastored several congregations and one served as a missionary for a time. My father joined his cousins in ministry a bit later in life when he went to work for a bible college. He later joined the staff of a congregation, preaching occasionally and assisting with raising funds for a Christian school connected to the congregation.
The third generation is my cousin Lynn, my sister Gina, my wife Lorie and myself. Lyn pastors a church in Indiana, my sister most recently served as a children’s pastor in Florida, my wife was a Christian educator who now spends significant time walking with fellow cancer patients. I continue to serve as an interim pastor in a variety of situations. The fourth generation will be my son and his bride to be, now finishing their studies as they prepare for a life in pastoral ministry.
I’ve been reflecting on what contributes to this type of legacy. Ministry is not the subject of my reflections so much as the idea of legacy, where offspring desire to follow in the footsteps of adults in their family rather than feeling forced to do so, or fleeing in terror.
Here are some factors I think made a significant contribution to building this legacy:
The ministers in my family were real, human and entirely approachable. This made it seem that a life in ministry would be enjoyable and signficant.
The non-ministry people in my family are faithful supporters of their pastors and congregations, even when they disagree with those leaders. It is difficult and refereshing to find this mature approach where one feels they must dissent, yet remains in loving relationship. How different this is from abandonding a covenant to a Christian community and grouching as one departs!
Our parents held up a ministry career as an honorable career choice. Even if it meant moving away, earning a smaller income or being at the mercy of a capricious congregation, our parents were supportive of our calls to ministry.
We were encouraged to find spouses who saw themselves as full participants in ministry. As a result there was more than love forming these marriages. Similar life goals have made those marriages thrive which means far fewer concerns in one’s own home as one ministers to others.
Significant mentors invited us to consider a call to ministry. In my own case, Bill Klopfenstein, a retired insurance executive in my home congregation, regularly told me he felt God was calling me to ministry.
Having a supportive family, a supportive community and a supportive spouse helps to build any form of legacy. It helps hardware store owners, giants in industry, college professors and mechanics. And yes, it helps those of us in ministry. I have benefitted from the legacy of others but I am not in control of the legacy I have been given. I am, however, in control of the legacy I create.
I hope to report on a fifth generation in twenty-five years or so.
-mark l vincent