Tony Woodlief | Author

The ministering parent

Do you ever look on your children, and wish they had better than you?

Back when we were shopping my embarrassingly confessional first book, my agent at the time told me I needed a ministry to accompany it. She said this as a realist, not an enthusiast. You need a platform to sell your wares. If you were selling beachfront properties, you would call this marketing. But because you are selling words to soothe souls, this is ministry.

My marriage was dying and I felt like a fraud, and I found myself identifying with Doc Holliday in Tombstone: “My hypocrisy only goes so far.” It’s good for we of rotting innards to know our boundaries.

But I am not yet lying on my death cot, casting about for my boots. I am no minister, but I am a parent, and those callings have a similarity, don’t they? Day after day these ensouled vessels look to you for sustenance, and no matter how emptied and unqualified you may feel, their little frames must be fed.

Praying with Caroline

Sometimes I wonder if I will fail them, as a false prophet leads his people to destruction, or a faithless preacher his flock into despair or indifference.

I’ve always thought of ministries like church buildings. Some are gaudy, some utilitarian; some are brashly self-promoting, some quietly holy. They become as the men who oversee them, and so what does that entail for the ministry I offer my children?

God save me from ministry. God save my children from me.

The early Christians had few church buildings; ministry was women and men traveling home to home with prayers for the heart-sick, bread for the hungry, washcloths for the plague-stricken. Their ministry to mankind was service, their ministry to God was liturgy. Ministry, in that age, was every God-beckoned person responding to the call with one small, faith-filled act after another.

Little wonder that the book describing the spread of the Church is titled: “The Acts of the Apostles,” not “The Lectures of the Holy,” or “The Church-Planter’s Manifesto.”

I don’t know how to build a ministry, especially in an iFaith age. But I still have enough conscience yet unscorched to discern the small faithful acts that are every parent’s ministry. The prayers for and alongside these little ones. The daily struggle to offer sacrificial rather than conditional love. The memorized psalm and a turned cheek and earnest repentance.

“Dad,” my younger ones sometimes say, “you are the best dad in the whole world.”

I think sometimes they even mean it. But I’m always quick to correct them: “I’m the best you’ve got.”

And that’s the truth of things, isn’t it? We’re the best they’ve got, and the best we can do is the daily liturgy which is one small, intentional act of love after another. This is the ministry within every parent’s grasp. Even mine. Even yours.

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