June 18, 2013

Mothers Make Ministers

by Steve Meister

index_DabneyIn the mid 1800’s, Virginia and North Carolina faced an acute shortage of pastors and Bible teachers. R. L. Dabney, Presbyterian pastor and scholar, understood that they were in need of long-term solutions. So in the early months of 1851, Dabney set aside a Thursday to specially address his own congregation in Virginia. He proposed three solutions to the crisis: prayer, education, and mothers. Yep, mommies!

Sean Michael Lucas recounts Dabney’s exhortations in Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life:

‘Christian mothers can do much’ as well. Dabney urged them to ‘teach the child to look upon itself as consecrated to God… In childhood instructing him; in youth wrestling for his conversion; then toiling to pay expenses for education; then in gray hairs hearing him preach; then in heaven, beholding him receiving his crown with many jewels.’

Christian mothers can consecrate their sons to God! Later that same year, Dabney returned to this theme and exhorted his congregation from 1 Samuel 1:27-28:

Dabney urged his congregation to consecrate their male children to the ministry. Dabney claimed that in order to produce young men who desired to enter the ministry, parents should have ‘a distinct, practical purpose… to rear each child, not to be a respectable and pious citizen merely (after the world’s pattern); not to make a fortune in the destined profession; but to rear each one as a workman to labor for souls.’

Parents should examine their sons to determine whether they had ‘natural faculties for the ministry.’ If so, then these young men ‘should be reared from the first to be ministers: but whatever may be their appointed sphere in life, they will be educated especially to be promoters of the kingdom of Christ.’

Consecrate your children, not to make fortunes, but to make disciples. Then even if they’re never ordained as ministers, they will be promoters of Christ in whatever sphere of life they are occupied. That’s sound Christian counsel, friends.

But how were busy, nineteenth-century-parents to pull it off before their kids hit 18? Dabney offered the following practical counsel:

These young men should be taught from their earliest days to minister to their ‘younger brothers and companions’ and to seek to promote the cause of Christ financially by setting apart ‘a portion of his little funds to the mission and the Bible causes.’ And this childhood training, Dabney urged, should then be ‘accompanied with all such education as will best equip him for the glorious work.’ …Dabney appealed to his auditors, urging them to ‘give our children to God and let us educate them for his service, and not for the world.”

I believe that should encourage every Christian parent. You do not have to be a scholarly theologian or an ordained minister to raise one!

Be faithful to sow sound doctrine in the home. Encourage your kids to minister in word and deed to their friends and playmates. Give them an allowance – not as payment for chores, those should be done because they’re members of the household and because you told them to – but to teach them how to steward their resources for the mission of the Church. Then prioritize their education and do so explicitly “for His service, and not for the world.”

It’s always shocking when a Christian parent hesitates or even objects to their child’s desire to pursue a ministry vocation, like the pastorate or overseas missionary work. It happens with a sad frequency. But they do not represent the majority of Christian parents. Sadly, most of us do not even think about it at all.

indexBy their own priorities and schedules, the things they do (and don’t do) with their children, and especially the areas in which they praise their children, most Christian parents communicate that what’s important in life is to make a fortune and retire early enough to spend it all. Oh, and don’t forget to go to church whenever you’re able, so that your “ticket to heaven” is stamped with some measure of authenticity.

Most Christian parents don’t do it intentionally. In fact, most would blush with shame if it ever dawned on them what they’d actually been teaching their children. But it happens just the same because most Christian parents don’t plan or think about how much they can do for the cause of Christ and His Church just by how they raise their children.

Do not ever underestimate the magnitude of raising a child. It’s no small thing. It’s a glorious endeavor.

And the greatness of Christian parenting does not come from the sense of personal satisfaction in your child’s maturation nor even the priceless delights – like spontaneous hugs and unsolicited “Daddy, I wuv you” from your daughter (one of my personal favorites). Rather, our greatest reward as Christian parents lay in the possibility that we may actually be raising a fervent promoter of Jesus’s Kingdom.

Just think of it! Your child could be used as a singular instrument to declare God’s glory in Christ and in the Church “throughout all generations” (Eph 3:21). What more could you possibly do than that?

Steve Meister

Posts Twitter Facebook

Steve is the associate pastor of River City Grace Church, in Sacramento, CA.
  • Melissa Collins

    I really enjoyed this post. I have one son, a daughter-in-law and five grandchildren (so far!) and what you have posted, is their philosophy! They are raising their children toward a goal of eternity with Jesus! My eyes have been opened to what is truly important in this all important task of parenthood. Certainly you want for them to be successful in their lives, but success does not equal money as the world teaches. Success as a parent means you have raised your children to follow Christ and understand that everything we do on this earth leads us to life eternal. Thank you for the post!

    • I’m glad, Melissa. May the Lord bless your children’s parenting with great (and eternal!) fruit. Agreed, no need to hope that our children are vocational failures, but success is not properly measured by status or bank account. Blessings.

  • Sam Van Dyke

    Thanks Steve, that is an encouraging word.

  • GinaRD

    I’m concerned about citing Dabney as an authority on anything, considering his rampant racism. Autres tempes, autres mores, I know . . . but I think the things he said about black people were beyond the pale, even for his time. JMHO.

    • Thanks, Gina, for bringing that up; I was waiting for someone to do that. Yes, let’s cut it straight – Dabney was a racist without excuse, even by the unfortunately low standards of the day. That does not, however, mean that everything he said or taught was wrong.

      The more you study church history, the more you realize how many of our heroes have great blemishes on their character. For example, I’m always shocked by the blatant anti-semitism, bordering on unvarnished hatred of Jews, by many of my heroes. Make no mistake, Christian teachers laid the ideological groundwork for the Holocaust.

      And if we rejected everything someone said because of those blemishes, then we would have no heroes, no theologians to look to, and would be forced to reinvent the faith each generation – only to throw it out again because our generation is full of sin! So, you’d have to ditch the patristic, medieval, Reformational, Puritan eras, as well as the Great Awakening and every other modern era of the church, down to our own.

      We need to be critical of others, like Dabney’s racism, but do not throw out what’s edifying. I find him to be a lucid and biblical theologian and have been much helped by his Systematic Theology. In fact, you may be interested to know, that I’m joined in this by an African-American pastor I personally know who names Dabney as one of his favorite theologians.

      Tom Nettles once addressed this question as follows: “If one studies history and gains interest in persons and nations simply on the basis of personal moral approval of the subject or the era in which he lived, he probably can find justification for the study of nothing and spend his life congratulating himself that he is ignorant of everything” (http://www.credomag.com/2012/01/06/blast-fromt-the-past-thomas-nettles-on-james-p-boyce/). He’s right.

      I would actually encourage you to read Lucas’ biography of Dabney – it’s very well done. Don’t worry, Lucas does not go easy on his racism, but he also shows the goodness of God’s grace through Dabney’s teaching and life, in spite of it. There are only sinners here…

      • GinaRD

        That’s for sure! I know I am. (And perhaps it would have been more to the point had I focused on Dabney’s views about the absolutely HORRIFIC ideas of giving women the vote and letting them own property. 🙂 ) Anyway, thanks for going more in-depth about this. I do tend to hold theologians to very high standards, even though I know we’re all sinners — regardless of the biases of a given era, if a person doesn’t see even the faintest image of the Creator God in every human being, regardless of class, race, or sex, I can’t help but think that something’s wrong somewhere. “By their fruits you will know them.”

        • Thanks, Gina. I’ll leave the discussion of women’s suffrage for another day… my wife may read this. 🙂

          You’re welcome. To be sure, you’re not alone in holding theologians to high standards, see Luke 12:48; Jas 3:1! There was definitely “something wrong somewhere” with Dabney; again, Lucas helpfully sets it in the context of Dabney’s own life and fears – without excusing it.

          Blessings to you. And thanks again for your comment.

    • Gina: Thanks for pointing that out. I agree that conversation about Dabney should include that mention. And Steve: great reply/explanation. I’d love to see that as its own post some time soon.

      • Will do. There are some thoughts rumbling around, also as to how it relates to the leaders, pastors, Christian friends who let us down in the present – this isn’t just a historical issue. Thanks, man.

  • Diane

    LOVE this! Thank you – I’m sharing.

  • Pingback: 5 weeks & 1 day: Big Picture. | hiding place.()

  • Pingback: Mothers Who Read Well | Affected By Truth()

  • Pingback: Mothers make ministers… and some other great links | Evangelicals Now()