Shepherding my family and my church are intertwined. Some might advocate separating the two, but it’s impossible since my household is part of the local church. When I leave the church building, I come home to church members. The call to pastor a church is not an individual decision, but rather a collective determination by a family. One of my best mentors taught a seminary class. I’ll never forget his adamant words: “If your wife ain’t called, you ain’t called.” A couple of students chuckled at his lack of academic polish. They were fools.
Our ministry became our family through the foster system. We adopted a son. We foster other children. The call to shepherd a church is a call to shepherd the community. Don’t call yourself a pastor if you’re not willing to dive into the community’s worst problems and help. And the decision to minister to our community affects my family. The community became our family when we chose to adopt and foster. We’re in this thing together, and here’s why I am grateful.
1. My wife and kids love the church. No shoes? No problem. My little ones are quick to kick off their flip-flops and run around barefooted in the church. Our children’s ministry builds a culture of training and equipping kids for ministry. My wife is right at home in our worship ministry and women’s ministry. She led worship during an interim search period—not out of obligation but out of joy.
2. My church loves my family. We’ve experienced the worst of what a church can do. My wife and oldest daughter were deeply wounded by a previous church, so we’re grateful to have a church now that demonstrates the best of what a congregation can do. God moved us from horror to delight, and we know what we’ve got with West Bradenton—an amazing body of people with a genuine love for my family.
3. Ministry compels us to sacrifice. The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep. While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. I will die fighting in the trench—for the unborn person, for the immigrant, for the widow, for my neighbors, and for every tongue, tribe, and nation.
4. The legacy of my family must continue. My grandfather fought for civil rights in Alabama in the 1960s. He rescued sons from alcoholic fathers. My father has a national ministry but sacrifices to great degrees for the local church and really doesn’t want the details of his sacrifice known. My mother gave up a career for ministry. My wife has done the same. Her grandfather toiled in obscurity among the rolling fields of Kentucky farms, pastoring in poverty without any glory or recognition.
5. Ministry is fun. Most days are filled with laughter and fist bumps. My family is happy. My church is happy. We have fun. After walking through a dark valley in ministry, God brought us to the place of royal palms, sunshine, and sand. I shepherd in paradise. Granted, if you scratch the surface of sunshine, you’ll find a bizzaro land of Florida crazies who need Jesus. It can be dark here, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun and certainly never boring. My family fits right in.
I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus. My family will help me limp to the finish line.
Originally published at Church Answers.
Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida.