When our family went out for a celebration dinner recently, it was with a larger than normal group. In addition to my wife, Beth, and me and our three sons, we were accompanied by two grandmothers, two girlfriends, and one new daughter-in-law.
That made our party large enough for a reservation and special table at the local Olive Garden restaurant. And as the host led our tribe of 10 to its table, he asked, “So what are we celebrating tonight?”
We informed him that our middle son Noah had just graduated from college. Our host responded with congratulations, and another question, this time directed at the guest of honor: “So what was your major, son, and what comes next?”
Noah didn’t hesitate to tell the friendly man that he was a Christian Ministry major at Judson University, and that he would begin June 1 as the Youth and Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin.
Our host’s final question took me by surprise. “And do I take it that you’re going into the family business?”
I looked again, more closely this time, at our host to see if I knew him, or if perhaps he knew someone in our family, but neither was the case. I guess he just noted the pride in my smile when Noah told him what he would be doing.
That didn’t stop my mom from treating him like an old friend. “Well, I would never have thought to describe it that way, but you’re right. His grandfather, my husband, was in ministry for years. And this is my son Nate, and he’s in ministry. So yes, I guess Noah is the third generation of ministers in this family, and that’s sort of like going into the family business.”
“I thought maybe that was the case,” our host replied with a smile, and then excused himself to leave us in the hands of our server.
That brief encounter left me thinking about what it means for someone to enter “the family business” of church ministry here in Illinois. My son and I certainly aren’t the first. From time to time I meet sons, grandkids, even great-grandkids of ministers here in Illinois who are now serving as pastors or other leaders in IBSA churches.
“Maybe you know my dad,” they often say. Or sometimes, “I don’t know if you knew my grandfather or not. He’s gone to be with the Lord now, but he served churches here in Illinois for years.”
When I meet multiple-generation Illinois Baptists like that, I usually find I’m in a church that is being blessed with a deeply committed leader, one who serves out of spiritual motivation, but also with a deep sense of family heritage. Their eyes twinkle with the idea that their dad or their granddad would be proud of their church leadership. They are building on the foundation of his life’s service. And they are often raising their own children with the hope that they will lead well in the church some day too.
Not every pastor’s child chooses to go into ministry, any more than every farmer’s child or every coal miner’s child or every teacher’s child chooses to follow in their parent’s footsteps. God leads us individually in our life callings, and the world needs devoted Christians in all walks of life. But there is something unique and meaningful, something to be uniquely celebrated, when church leadership becomes the multi-generational pattern of a family’s life.
Our server at Olive Garden that night didn’t know our family personally. But somehow he sensed that what we were celebrating that night was Christian, and church-related, and multi-generational, lasting, and special. And every time it happens here in Illinois, we should all celebrate.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.