A Published Homage to My Unpublished Dad
“Fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5
Sons often believe their dad is the strongest guy in the world, let alone on the block. I am twenty-eight-years-old, and I still think that’s true. So, when I say that my dad is an excellent writer, I know that I am biased, but it’s true. He really is.
If he wanted to publish his articles, he would be a well-known pastor of a well-known church. I don’t think I’m exaggerating.
TO HIS CHURCH
But my dad decided not to do that. Instead, he concentrated all his writing ministry on his local church.
Of course, I’m not suggesting every pastor should write exclusively for their church. My dad and I are both so grateful for the pastors who write for a wider audience. We’d be sad if they stopped writing books. God saved me in high school while reading John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. I am glad that Piper didn’t limit his writing ministry to Bethlehem Baptist Church.
I oscillate back and forth whether my dad made the right decision. On the one hand, the larger church would be greatly blessed if they could receive some of his writing attention. On the other hand, his local church has been particularly blessed because they have received all of his writing attention. Names of church members inspire each of his sentences. Behind every paragraph, there is a funeral, a wedding, a conversion, a church discipline case, a Tuesday morning coffee, an inside joke, a hospital room. His weekly emails smell like sheep (1 Pet. 5:2).
Dad may have made the right decision. He may have made the wrong decision. Who knows! I can tell you one thing though. The church cannot wait for his Wednesday email. The members know Dad’s writing is for them. Here’s what his fellow pastor told me:
There’s little question that he could write to a larger audience. There is little question that a larger audience would benefit. But what would be lost is the specificity of care that our body is receiving because he has chosen not to “go wide.” Instead, he has chosen to aim deep in our own church. Our pastor is not platforming anything except the power of Christ’s personal ministry to specific people in a specific place.
—Matt, fellow preaching pastor of the church
Pastor, most members will probably never read Calvin’s Institutes, but they will read your emails. Most members will not read Bavinck on the hypostatic union, but they will read your article on how Jesus is one person with two natures. You will never be Calvin or Bavinck, but you have a voice with your congregation that Calvin and Bavinck do not have.
Even if the saints you shepherd have Puritan Paperbacks lining their bookshelves, they still want to hear from their pastor. You know them. You’re aware when the church needs to hear a word of encouragement or a word of instruction. You’re sensitive to what makes some sheep skittish, fearful, or anxious—and you can navigate around those dangers. Pastor, you are perceptive to words carrying unnecessary baggage, and you can speak truthfully yet winsomely. Like a shepherd with his staff, you can guide the church with your pen like no one else can. You may be surprised by how much your words mean to them.
Each Wednesday our church body receives an anxiously anticipated, unheralded “Weekly Email” from our I-can’t-believe-this-guy-hasn’t-been-lured-away-by-a-mega-church preaching elder. I can sincerely say, week in, week out, myself and my family have our heads directed heavenward by these mid-week emails.
— Vincent, church member
My pastor has a heart for God and the church. He preaches about our dependency on God, but every week he writes about how God reveals himself to each of us through his Word. It may be funny or very serious, but he always points us to Scripture as the basis of our confidence in Christ Jesus. I will always be grateful to your dad for sharing his love of Scripture with me.
— Ms. Pat, church member
TO HIS FAMILY
Earlier, I mentioned that the church receives all of Dad’s writing attention. That’s not entirely true. Dad writes for his family, too. In 2014, Dad wrote an email to my sisters and me every day that year, entitled, “Things I want you to know.” Here’s a sample:
I suggest you keep a stack of important books that you want to read. That way, you can feel no pressure to read every book that people suggest. Just politely say, “Wish I could. I’ve got a pretty good stack that I’ve not gotten through yet.” January 24th
Amy Carmichael describes how Christians live: “The absent are safe in our presence.” February 10th
Relax. You don’t have to be the smartest (or funniest or most insightful or prettiest or bravest) person in the room. April 19th
At almost any point, someone close to you needs encouragement. Be observant and pray for God to use you. July 18th
Relieve yourself of the pressure of getting the closest parking spot. Just park and walk. It’s easier. Trust me. September 8th
See everyone as an interesting book. (Not necessarily a good book, but interesting. So ask questions. Engage. Listen.) November 2nd
I love you. December 31st
We’ve all read and re-read his emails and letters. Why? Because we know Dad’s writing is for us.
What fuels a 365-day project that will only be enjoyed by an audience of four? A man who has presented his body (including his hand to write with and brain to compose with) as a living sacrifice. A hymn-lover, Dad has turned “Take My Life and Let it Be” into a prayer: God, these hands are yours. This mouth, yours. These eyes, yours. That would have very little weight if I could not testify to the effect that Dad’s surrendered life (and surrendered pen) has had, starting from within the walls of our childhood home, extending outward. Because Dad is not his own but has been bought with a price, his kids get to see a picture of what the gospel does in real life.
After a year of receiving “Things I Want You to Know” emails from our dad, my older sister printed and bound a copy for each of the kids. I keep this book on my dresser, and every few days, I will flip to that day’s encouragement. I often smile unintentionally because it’s not the first time I have heard these words. The familiarity and consistency are comforting though. He is not trying to sound impressive or especially innovative. Rather, the peace of Christ fuels his words. I expect that his writing will continue to serve my faith for the rest of my life, and I praise God for that.
Dad, here are a few things I want you to know. No one respects you more than your wife and children. As I lead my own family and begin ministry in a church thousands of miles away, your example could not be any closer. I will be the first to set aside my stack of important books if you ever write a book. “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). I love you.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
What’s the point of this article? Obviously, I love my dad and I’m writing to honor him. But I also want to commend his example to other pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to write letters to your church and family. Scripture doesn’t command that. I’m not trying to convince you to write solely for your church and family (I recognize the irony of this public article). God may raise you up to write books for the encouragement of other pastors and Christians.
But I am holding out my dad as an example of the type of fruit borne by a man who gave up ambition for public notoriety to focus exclusively on the well-being of his sheep. Some pastors need to steward their gifts for the good of the capital “C” church. But, most of us might be able to do far more good by spending ourselves caring for the sheep in our pasture. My dad never published a book, signed a contract, or received a royalty check. But his writings are cherished by men and women in a church who care far more about his Wednesday email than they do about the latest best-seller.
So pastor, consider writing more, not to see yourself published, but as an expression of love for your sheep. Your church and family will know that you’re writing for them.