Teach & Serve II, No. 40 – Parenting, Leadership and Ministry

Teach & Serve II, No. 40 – Parenting, Leadership and Ministry

May 10, 2017

The great educational leaders, whether they are parents or not, are great ministers. They are ministering to those with whom they journey and they believe (they know) that ministry is a great gift – to they themselves far more than it is gift to those they lead or teach.

Later this week, one of my sons turns 20 years old. My eldest son crossed this threshold a few months back. My daughter will turn 19 years old this fall. I have been in the parenting business for two decades now. If you add the ages of my kids together, that is a collective 59 years of parenting. If one has that kind of experience in a particular task, one should be pretty good at it, right?

I will leave judgements of my proficiency at parenting to my children.

I have been involved in education for the past 25 years, longer than I have been a parent. I believe I have been a good teacher and a good administrator. I think I am good in my current role as well. I also like to believe that I was fairly good at teaching in those 5 years prior to my actually becoming a parent.

I will leave judgements of my proficiency at teaching to my first students.

I do believe this: I became a better teacher the moment I had children. I have no doubt of this.

My children… not children anymore.

I do not contend that those who do not have children are not able to be wonderful teachers and administrators. That would be a ridiculous stance. Many of us can point to tremendous educators who have no children. Some would make the argument that the Venn Diagram overlap of working in education and being a parent is a very big overlap and I would not debate that conclusion, either.

Early on in my career in education, I realized that the work for me was not just work. It was vocation but it was my experience as a parent taught me that my work in education was more than even vocation, it was ministry.

I have written before that great teachers and leaders see their work in education as their vocation. The great ones always do. The extrinsic rewards to the work are not enough to keep someone coming back for me. The intrinsic ones, the ones that come from embracing one’s vocation, are.

Exceptional teachers and educational leaders regard their work as their ministry.

It was parenting that helped me realize this. There is a great line from the wonderful movie Parenthood. Jason Robards’ character, a family patriarch who was not a great father in his time comes to this realization: “it’s not like parenting ends when the kid is 18 or 21 or 41 or 61, it never, never ends… there is no end zone. You never get to spike the ball and do your touchdown dance.” I had no idea what this meant.

Until I had kids.

I had little idea what my ministry in education could be.

Until I had kids.

Again, I am not suggesting the realizations I had upon some reflection on being a parent are specific to parents. They are not. What I am saying is that, watching my children grow, feeling my love for them and my responsibility to them only expanding over time, I understand my commitment to and my ministry in education in a way I never could have when I was 22 and sitting in my first classroom.

The great educational leaders, whether they are parents or not, are great ministers. They are ministering to those with whom they journey and they believe (they know) that ministry is a great gift – to they themselves far more than it is gift to those they lead or teach.

Having children and seeing them become young adults helped me see this. How blessed I am.