No Emotional Hostage Taking

In order for a minister’s family to fit with the qualifications that Paul addresses in Timothy and Titus, there has to be a large measure of intentionality in it. Such families do not happen in fits of absentmindedness. The minister and his wife are obviously where it starts, but as the kids get older they become part of the process. By the end, everyone in the family knows how much they like each other, but everyone also knows that this is connected to the Pauline requirements.

But there is a delicate balancing act required here. One the one hand, you don’t want the kids to be oblivious to their position. A minister’s family is an essential aspect of his ministry. To take an obvious example, a minister must be hospitable, and this is difficult if he has three sullen teenagers, glowering at the dinner table. Being a member of the minister’s family is not a church office, but it is a key part of the church’s ministry.

One the other hand, you don’t want the whole matter of elder qualifications to turn into tangled forms of emotional blackmail and hostage-taking. “If you don’t straighten up, young man, your dad will have to resign. Why can’t you think about anybody but yourself?”

The short answer to that question is that he has learned to think about himself by watching his parents closely. When he misbehaves, their first reaction is what it will mean to them. They are not thinking first about God and His Word, or second about what this sin might be doing to their brother and son. No, rather, the first impulse was to ask “how do you think this makes us feel?” But people aren’t shamed into selflessness. If shame could make us good, we’d all be good by now.

Gospel ministry is ministry of gospel. Gospel has moral consequences, of course, and so one of those consequences is an upright life. One of the consequences of apple trees is apples. Morality does not generate happiness. Happiness generates morality.
I grew up in a home where my parents held that Paul’s requirements applied to them, straight across. I was the oldest of four, and if any of us walked away from the faith I knew that my father would step down from the ministry later that afternoon. But I never once felt threatened by this. I never felt like my parents were holding something over me. My kids had the same expectation growing up, and I once heard my son describe it not so much us holding something over him, as it was him being given something that he could hold over us — and which he was expected and trusted not to do.

So rightly cultivated, this standard grants responsibility to growing children. Applied the wrong way, it treats children as projects or exhibits, with virtually no freedom or responsibility at all.

Grace liberates, and all of God’s standards are grace to us. We can receive them (disobediently) as something other than grace, and when we do, things start to go wrong. Law can what condemns. Law can stir up additional rebellion. Law can be the stick that whacks the hornet nest of self.

But the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The law of God is the Word of the God who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. The law of God is the summary of love. Love does no harm to its neighbor and thus love fulfills the law.

This is why — since the standards Paul describes do need to be present in a minister’s home — that home must be a haven of grace. There is no other way for these standards to take root. By the grace of God, a father must give his children the ability to stand upright. Law by itself cannot do this. Standards cannot do this. Uptight rigor can’t do it. Putting on appearances for all the fault-finders in the congregation can’t do it.

Grace is the blessing of God, and this is the only way.

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One comment on “No Emotional Hostage Taking

  1. I like how you’re generally unafraid of putting forth hypothetical cases and thinking through them honestly, so here are some for you: Is there an “age of accountability” for a minister’s children? Would a 5 year-old’s intransigence, stubbornness, or outright defiance be cause for a minister to step down? Maybe a 9 year-old who unrepentantly bullies all the kids in Sunday school? What about a 14 year-old who keeps on sneaking out of the house at night? It’s easy to talk about a 19 year-old son who hates the Church and tattoos himself with skulls, but there are plenty of sullen and contentious 16 year-olds who, by the Spirit’s power and through being raised in a Christian home, snap right out of it by 17. I was one of them.

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