A recent reunion with a ministry coworker took a somber turn when he asked me to pray for something. With tears filling his eyes, he related how his college-aged son had recently made the willful choice to walk away from the faith. The story he shared was strikingly similar to others I’ve heard in recent days. Though raised in a Christian home and trusting Christ at an early age, these young adults no longer believe the message of the gospel.
Sadly, children of pastors and ministry leaders are not immune, and when they stray it creates a series of unique challenges and pressures. Ministry is hard enough when things are going well. It becomes doubly difficult when the path chosen by our prodigals weighs heavily upon us.
As a father and a pastor who prays without ceasing for his own wayward children, I know these pressures firsthand. And as I’ve walked this road of sorrow, four principles have provided support and helped reshaped my perspective.
1. Don’t go it alone.
Surround yourself with a band of faithful and prayerful co-laborers—whether elders in your church or a small group of fellow pastors you know and trust. Be vulnerable and remain open to godly counsel and criticism to your blind spots. You will likely find your situation is not as unique as you may have imagined, and that you’re not alone in the pain you feel. As intercessory prayer is offered and coping skills are shared, the path ahead becomes more bearable. The recovery of our children may not be immediate, but there will be sharper clarity of God, in whose hands much needed mercy and grace reside.
It will take courage to be transparent about these trials—feelings of shame and guilt are painfully real when one reads the qualifications for overseers from 1 Timothy 3:4–5 and Titus 1:6 about having “submissive” and “believing” children. But this is a burden you cannot or should not bear alone. Let the body of Christ love and serve you.
2. Don’t fake it with your people.
Be appropriately transparent with the people you serve. Church members tend to elevate their pastors, considering them immune from daily problems. This is especially true in matters of the home. Perpetuating a stereotype of that sort may actually hinder rather than help your ministry.
A wayward child is a burden you cannot and should not bear alone. Let the body of Christ love and serve you.
Protecting a sterling reputation—when we know it isn’t true—can become an idol. We ought not be ashamed or embarrassed to admit our parenting imperfections.
Even the most respected man of God has feet of clay. Be willing to admit those times when you and your family stand in need of prayer. Consider discreetly weaving brief vignettes of your parenting struggles into an occasional sermon.
3. Don’t give up on your child.
How desperately I long for my children to embrace the faith they were taught and I (imperfectly) modeled for them. I’ve waited for years for the Lord to call them to himself, even as I struggle with my sense of failure in their having chosen the course of life they’re pursuing.
Even when our children are far from home, our love for them must not be allowed to fade, nor should it be conditionally dispensed. Warmly embracing our offspring while not condoning their chosen life is an acquired skill, and it must not be faked. It is essential that we keep the communication lines open for the gospel to be spoken and modeled before them.
Warmly embracing our offspring while not condoning their chosen life is an acquired skill, and it must not be faked.
Let us not forget how the Lord pursued us when we were in the far country, and how his consistent love eventually drew us to himself (Luke 15:11–32). We owe our children no less. Above all, let us keep praying the Holy Spirit will quicken them and grant them repentance and faith.
And all the time, be willing to admit that you do not have all the answers. Despite our strong hold on providence, rarely do we discern with clarity God’s mysterious workings in the lives of our children.
4. Don’t let go of grace.
Not even pastors are assured from Scripture that our children will be brought to saving faith. What we do know with confidence is that we serve a God who is good and perfect in all his ways. He is both merciful and just. He alone is our hope; in him alone must our trust be found.
Our hope rests in God as we pray and wait for our children to come home.
In the closing words of Malachi’s prophecy, we are told that the Lord “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6). Similarly, Peter’s Pentecost sermon tells us that “the promise [of salvation] is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). Though these are not guarantees that God will eventually restore every pastor’s child who has abandoned the faith, they do point us to the One who will do the work. Our hope, as always, is in him.
The question that remains for us is whether we will continue to serve the Lord our God despite broken hearts and tear-filled eyes. Our hope rests in him as we pray and wait for our children to come home.