This past weekend I missed an opportunity to participate in a local ministry I’ve been hoping to engage for sometime now: sharing in a meal and fellowship with others facing food insecurities. Who knows if it’s a worthy excuse, but I had my hands full with the kids. Someone will inevitably say, You should’ve gotten a babysitter, but the time spent with my rugrats was much-needed. It’s not the first time—missing a chance to practice discipleship, or having a dueling commitment in my vocation as dad. Honestly, it won’t be the last time this happens either. No complaints. Most all of us, I think, encounter this at one time or another. I know for sure that more people like me—parents of young children—wrestle with this conundrum than are often given credit. I can’t begin to number the times I’ve talked with families who long to dive deeper into one facet or another of congregational life, but struggle with the demands of herding the clan in a unified direction. Getting up and out of the house in time for worship itself can be a miracle. And, on the other hand, some ministries just don’t allow for the immediate presence or accommodate the persistent need of kiddos. The problem is real and the question deserves pondering: How is a person to navigate/negotiate being both a parent of young children and disciple of Christ Jesus?
I mean, in all seriousness, this wasn’t an issue Jesus or the twelve disciples had to deal with in their ministry. Nowhere in the gospels do I recall Thaddeus coming to Jesus and saying: Lord, I really want to be involved in this feeding of five thousand men, women, and children—but my wife’s busy and needs me to watch the kids for the afternoon. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow. Or, imagine Bartholomew saying to the group during dinner: I hate to skip out and miss going to the Mount of Olives to pray, and whatever else you’ve got planned for the night—but little Joseph is at home sick with a fever, and I need to go tend to him. The closest we ever get to this is when people bring their little children to Jesus to lay his hands on them and pray, and the disciples demonstrate their not being parents themselves by rebuking the people. Otherwise, the context is just different than ours today. Even without having children of their own, the disciples are constantly struggling to understand who Jesus is, much less live in accordance to his example. Those with him on a daily basis flounder in responding to Jesus’s call to be disciples. How are any of us, especially any who are pulled in a hundred plus different directions by our families, to answer the call in a remotely faithful way? Do we just wait until the kids have grown up and then plug into discipleship? Do we set everything—including caring for our spouse and children—aside as secondary to following after Christ? Is there some formula by which we can find a happy medium or good balance?
I don’t have the secret. Sorry if that bursts your bubble. This tension of parenthood and discipleship is one I’ve yet to resolve—even as a pastor—though not from a lack of trying. Some days I make what feels like the right decision, and others I’m not confident it’s so black and white. So long as I believe that my vocations of husband and father are as ordained by God as my vocations of disciple and pastor, I’m not so sure there is some divine combination to crack the code. Perhaps there shouldn’t be. What I do know, six years into this ongoing query, is that I have to try to begin with grace and empathy with (myself and) other such parents of young children when I don’t see them involved in the church. Far too many feel unwarranted guilt for either not knowing what to do, or under pressure picking a pathway that appears to others to be the wrong way. The church can encourage, equip, and empathize with those in this group, or continue silently shaming them into leaving altogether. An appropriate response is never found in the latter. Alongside building up gracious understanding, how might the church reevaluate itself so as to create hospitable space for families in their entirety to enter in, engage, and grow each and altogether along the journey of discipleship? The call of Christ begins not when our lives deem it convenient, but rather in the waters of baptism. On the same token, none of us have only the single vocation of discipleship. Maybe I’m watering it down, or missing an underlying truth. Either way, I’m going to keep trying to be both a parent of our young children and disciple of Jesus Christ, and hope God sorts it all out with grace I always need in no short supply.
– Pastor Andrew