What Makes a Minister: The Question of Family of Origin

by Grady King

Focus Question: What is your relationship with your Father?

Continuing our look at what makes a minister, we focus on on the father question.  The father question is critical to ministry concerning four interrelated dynamics: authority and intimacy; acceptance and rejection; guilt and shame; fear and anger. These are the essential dynamics related to God as Father and earthly father.

You are your family: good, bad and ugly.  In the words of Henri Nouwen, we are all “wounded healers.” In his work, The Way of the Heart Nouwen rightly identifies that most ministers are driven by anger and greed. The anger is over unmet needs and expectations. The greed is not about money, rather about perceived powerlessness masked as power/control. I am convinced that both of these have many roots in family of origin issues often related to fathers.

Even a minister with a strong father relationship has to work through identity; expectation, and acceptance dynamics.  Many a son waits for his father’s blessing. Some men never receive it. In essence, it is about becoming one’s own person while remaining connected in a healthy way to their father.

In the case of an absent, unhealthy or abusive father, the minister is vulnerable to making the church and/or leaders responsible for being the father they never had.  For example, when a minister expects a “father role” from his elders he tends to act in ways to seek their approval. When they disagree, question, or worse, hold back their affirmation the minister easily labels them as “negative or authoritarian” and feels rejected. It results in an “us vs them” or win-lose mentality. The implications are multifaceted. Suffice to say: unresolved issues with father leaves ministers stuck emotionally and at times, sabotaging their own leadership. Perfectionism, control, blame, shame, and self-deprecation is a leadership trap.   As a teacher once said to me: “Your past may explain you, but it does not excuse you!” 

What do you need to do?

Consider your relationship to God and your father in view of:

  • Authority and Intimacy
  • Acceptance and Rejection
  • Guilt and Shame
  • Fear & Anger
  • Consider the Lord’s Prayer as a model for healthy father processing (Matthew 6.9-1)

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