**Occasionally I read something that makes me stand up from my desk, march around the room, and shout out loud in agreement. This blog from @Renovatuspastor did just that for me, and I hope it will do the same for you. Enjoy, or squirm, whichever you need to do.
I am a man profoundly blessed with mothers and fathers in the faith.
I have a wonderful father who has beautifully reflected the love of God in my life. He’s also an administrative bishop in our denomination. And one of the things I appreciate most about him is how he, now at 66 years old, is so completely supportive of me and my ministry. Especially considering the era that he grew up in within our tribe, the way that he is able to embrace not only me but many young pastors–his openness to learn and grow and change and do things differently, is just unbelievable. He will never know all that it has meant and continues to mean to me for him to always be in my corner. Renovatus does not have a more enthusiastic supporter. He and my Mom have adopted this wonderful perspective of being spiritual grandparents to our young church, and it is a thing of beauty.
And of course I have been blessed with spiritual fathers and mothers and grandparents as well–people like Dr. Rickie Moore and Margaret Gaines. I’ve received a lot of encouragement from current leadership in our denomination, including people on our current executive committee and council. That means the world. I have remarkable mentors at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. There is a long list of wonderful ministers in my home state of Western North Carolina who have made an incredible mark on my life—I would not be doing what I’m doing today without them! It is because of their legacy that one of the hallmarks of Renovatus is our claim that “we are your grandmother’s church. And your great grandmother’s church. And your great great grandmother’s church.” I don’t take any of these remarkable people for granted, and I want my life and ministry to honor them.
All of that said, I have become increasingly aware of how often this not the case for young leaders, especially among pastors. I have never been more acutely aware of just how much young ministers, especially within my tradition, are longing for the blessing of spiritual fathers and mothers, and yet feel it is withheld from them. These are things that I have observed for years, but was hesitant to speak to. Mostly because I felt like I was too young. And because I have always been blessed with such fathers and mothers in the faith, I never wanted to be perceived as that young whiny pastor begging to be noticed by his forefathers.
But at this point, I’m 34, which is on one hand not old at all. But I often think my 34 is like an NBA 34–guys like Kobe Bryant and my beloved aging Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) who might be still young in broader culture, but 82-game seasons made their bodies age very quickly. I have often said the Church has aged me in dog years. The point is I am not quite so young of a son anymore, and feel comfortable to speak about these matters more so as a peer.
I see a pronounced Saul streak among a lot of pastors and leaders. If they see a young man or woman with a call and anointing on their life, instead of celebrating and cultivating those gifts, they feel threatened by them. They are afraid the day might come when the crowd sings, “Saul has slain his thousands, David has slain his ten thousands.” Because of their insecurity, they eat their young.
When their sons and daughters come asking legitimate questions–if they see the world differently–they are judged, labeled, discarded. Many sons feel like people are rooting for them to fail rather than succeed. They can tell when they walk into the room and feel not the tenderness of spiritual fathers but the hostile gaze of competitors. Any open weakness is blood in the water. Any question is a challenge to authority. Any way they do ministry different is a perceived indictment against the fathers’ way of doing things. Because they are threatened by their sons, the fathers will believe anything negative they hear about the sons, because believing the worst rather than the best about your sons is what insecure leaders do. You don’t give the benefit of the doubt to “the competition.”
Many of my little brothers and sisters don’t hold up well under these experiences. To the extent that I have little brothers and sisters, because the self-protective streak among some of my peers is so pronounced that their anointing and gifts are often aborted. This of course by men who would unilaterally agree that abortion is murder in the created order, but have no problem aborting spiritual sons.
I can feel the defensiveness rising up already, especially within my tribe where you get an easy amen for talking about how kids today just don’t have honor and respect for authority. The disposition is, “if I felt honored by the sons and daughters, then I would honor them back.” I do in fact believe that my generation and the one behind me has lacked honor at times, and I try to speak into this wherever I go. But ultimately, sons and daughters will always test the boundaries in the ways all children do to find out whether or not they are truly loved, and that is not unique to any generation. The failing of the fathers is this: it is unrealistic to judge your spiritual sons and daughters as if they were your peers.
The fathers would often say that if they were asked for a blessing, they would give it. And of course the sons are not explicitly asking for the blessing of spiritual fathers—but if you had any sense you’d recognize that just beneath the surface that is all they are asking for. That many of the challenges and questions and even arguments are those of sons and daughters that desperately want to know if they are truly loved by their fathers.
Insecure leaders of course can’t recognize this, because they are too busy nursing their own adolescent egos, trying to figure out whether or not they are being appropriately honored and deferred to. Not because they are evil but because they are blinded by their own insecurity…when their sons come asking for bread they are given a stone. When their sons come asking for fish, they are given a serpent. All in the name of Jesus.
I can’t speak to how it works in other traditions, but I can tell you what I’ve seen at times in my own: sons who show up to hear about how young people today don’t do enough of this or that, or how bad they are for not putting the denominational name or logo on their church sign. Daughters who show up to hear their gifts and calling mocked and minimized. I’ve seen preachers work a crowd up into a near frenzy attacking sincere attempts by their sons to reach their own generation with the gospel they have received. And don’t miss that—they are not attacking their peers, they are publicly shaming their sons and daughters (the handful of them in the room to begin with). But boy, we sure taught them a lesson! And the fact that it was said loudly and got applause must mean their rebuke was anointed by God. There will always be people who will cheer when sons and daughters are publicly ridiculed for the same reason there was an audience at the Colosseum in Rome to watch Christians fed to lions—the sheer mob instinct that turns bloodshed into sport (it is hard to believe there are people who could confuse this with the Spirit of God).
When sons and daughters don’t want to come around for such a reception, it doesn’t mean they are rebellious. It is in fact the sons and daughters who love and esteem their fathers the most that are most unable to bear their rejection. They keep their distance not out of indifference, but of heartbreak.
Of the sons and daughters who have survived, I see many more reasons for encouragement than discouragement. For one, I am impressed by the extent to which so many of them simply want to know God. It is precisely because they hunger for God and the things of God are not be easily pacified with mediocre men who talk endlessly about denominational politics, who got this church or that church, who is getting preferential treatment or being slighted by leadership. They are too interested in God to care about any of that. It is not insolence that makes them unsatisfied with these things, it’s anointing!
I’m a little too old and a little too tall at this point to come knocking at your door looking for a blessing that I’ve already been given. But I will look you eyeball-to-eyeball as a peer and a pastor whose lived enough and dug out enough of a work of my own at this point to plead with you: stop eating your young. Don’t be so threatened by the world that is changing around you that you turn your own flesh and blood into an enemy. Don’t be threatened by the offspring that is your only hope of survival in a volatile world.
The concerns that the gospel cannot thrive in North America among the generation that is coming up is greatly exaggerated. Culture will never get so dark nor will the world become so difficult that the Church cannot thrive. The world is not the biggest threat to the gospel in our time. The much larger threat is insecure spiritual fathers who do not bless their sons and daughters.
God’s people are resilient and can bear up under a lot of things. But the moment that within a church or movement sons and daughters are looked at as competitors? Turn the lights out; game over.