On Parenting and Pastoring
God’s grace gave me the courage to raise a daughter and pastor a church—even in my greatest moments of self-doubt
Father, grow our bodies strong, our minds smart, our hearts soft, and our faith sincere in your Son who saves. We love you, Lord. Amen.
I prayed this prayer over my daughter, Miriam, about a year and a half ago, as I held her in my arms before laying her in her crib. It was a prayer I thought I was praying for her, but I’ve since realized the Holy Spirit had me praying with her. I needed to pray it myself.
Why? Because I’m both a parent and a pastor, and I’ve been learning how God is using those roles to continue the Spirit’s work of faith in me. I’ve been a dad for two years now. My daughter, Miriam, is an abundant joy: full of silliness and imagination, new words and the “whys?” (already!). I’ve been a pastor almost twice as long, which is to say I’m still more of a spring chicken than a seasoned veteran in either regard.
With that brief background, may I confess something? Part of me feels incapable of being either parent or pastor. Though I want to be a good pastor and a great parent, the temptation to self-doubt prowls more often than I’d like to admit. I am my own worst critic. But the story of this confession goes deeper than that. The reason I’m comfortable admitting my self-doubt is that I’m starting to see more clearly how God’s Spirit has been at work in my life doing “immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine.” Every day I’m learning to trust Jesus more.
In a strange way, the heart of my self-doubt about being a good father to Miriam and the heart of my coming to know the Lord and my call to ministry are one and the same: an empty relationship with my biological dad. My dad hasn’t been involved in my life since well before I was even Miriam’s age. Truly I’ve never known him at all, as he was absent long before the earliest memories I have as a child. (To her credit, I was raised by my mom, who taught me to love unconditionally and to give self-sacrificially.)
While I don’t have a relationship with my biological dad, my heavenly Father knows me and I know my heavenly Father. From a young age, that has been a tangible reality to me. It’s the story of grace and redemption that God’s Spirit has been writing in my heart and is writing still today.
One night about a year and a half ago, fresh on the heels of those first sleep-deprived months with a new baby, I was feeling the weight of all the unknowns of fatherhood and ministry. How was I going to lead my family, let alone an entire congregation, in this new season? How could I, imperfect and inconsistent as I am, ever do all the right things that good dads do?
It was then that I prayed that prayer, which has stuck with me since: Father, grow our bodies strong, our minds smart, our hearts soft, and our faith sincere in your Son who saves. We love you, Lord. Amen.
It’s just a simple prayer, but as I prayed it over and over again with Miriam after that night, I began to see that God was refining and molding me not just as a parent, not just as a pastor, but as a person. God was reminding me of who I am and whose I am, even and especially in moments of self-doubt. One of the greatest gifts of faith is experiencing forgiveness and freedom, healing and wholeness as we draw near to the heart of God. It’s the heart of a good and perfect and present Father, who loves unconditionally and gave his Son self-sacrificially so that we might know the depths of this gospel in each of our lives.
Somewhere along the way I read that the most important thing, both as a parent and as a pastor, is not what you do but who you raise. That may be the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far—a lesson I’ll keep learning for a lifetime. Wise, experienced dads tell me the lessons and growth of fathering, especially raising a daughter, are just beginning. Wise, experienced pastors tell me the same thing about ministry.
Like a new pastor might help a congregation see their mission and community with fresh eyes, having a toddler helps a parent see the world with a renewed sense of wonder at the works of God’s hand. And every time I stop with Miriam to wonder a “why?” or pause to ponder a “why?” of my own—why has God entrusted me with such a precious daughter, why have I been called to serve a community of sisters and brothers in Christ, why have I received such amazing grace in my life—I’m reminded of God’s promise of faithfulness to me and to her and to you.
Joshua Scheid is lead pastor of Massapequa Reformed Church in Massapequa, New York.
LEARN: Joshua is one of several RCA pastors who are a part of the First Call Initiative, which supports pastors serving in their first call. If you know a recent seminary graduate or your church is considering extending a call to a first-time pastor, email Andy Bossardet at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about supporting new pastors so churches can thrive.