Joseph Phillips has proven to be one of the best young leaders that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with in my time in ministry. As a pastor on our staff, he disciples leaders, helps shape our culture and has an incredible heart for Jesus. I asked him to write about his upbringing in ministry and what it was like to grow up as a kid in a pastor’s home. Enjoy. You can continue the conversation with him on Twitter – @josephhamilton – or via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
I detest waking up early. I have never been an early riser. I have hated it since childhood. When I was around 9-years-old my dad informed me that I would have to ride with him to the church at 6am every day for a week for prayer meetings. I wasn’t excited. I have always been a little resourceful (sneaky) though, so when I learned of this torture I was to endure, I stuffed my pillow into my backpack and headed to the church.
My dad (Joe Phillips), at this time, was serving as the youth pastor of a large church in Concord, NC. The sanctuary was sprawling and I found that my ideal hiding place was in the wings of the sanctuary, where the stadium style seating provided the perfect sleeping conditions. There is a very niche crowd that shows up to these types of meetings in southern pentecostal churches–the weird crowd. The flag wavers and the “intercessory prayer warriors”, the tambourine rattlers and the tone deaf singers all converge on 6am prayer meetings. All of those characters prohibited sleep that morning. But strangely, as I look back on times like this, I remember an overwhelming sense of peace present there. Sure, I remember the odd-balls–some of which taught me more about God than any seminary course I took. But I also recall the distinct sense of the presence of God.
On mornings like that one, 80 or 100 souls would cry out to God together. As I attempted to sleep under the pew that Monday morning, I remember feeling like I never wanted to be anywhere else. That is a pretty accurate picture of what it’s like to grow up “in the ministry.” It was intensely weird and strangely beautiful. I saw the best and worst in people. I saw acts of love and beauty that would be impossible to put into words and I saw hate and vitriol that would make your stomach turn.
I feel like a predictable anomaly. I am a pastor’s kid who ended up being a pastor. Predictable because, isn’t that what all pastor’s kids end up doing? An anomaly because, after someone has been through everything ministry has to throw at them, why would anyone sign up for that?
One major reason I didn’t run from what I feel God has called me to is my dad. On the whole, he didn’t shield my eyes from the dark side of ministry. He didn’t try to convince me that it was all beautiful and sentimental. He let me look fully at the rough edges of dealing with people. He didn’t hide the reality of ministry from me but he did protect me from becoming bitter. He didn’t respond in anger to injustices. He prayed for folks who persecuted him. He turned the other cheek when I didn’t want him to. He showed me how to keep a pure heart when the circumstances could easily turn a heart to stone. He modeled what it means to be a pastor for me.
I’ve seen my dad preach to 10,000 people at one time in Brazil (the same trip he preached on a South American TV station to millions across the continent). I’ve seen him pray for the sick and see dramatic healings. I’ve seen countless people come to know Jesus through his ministry. But those aren’t the things that stick out as extraordinary to me. I’m struck time and again by the fact that he still tears up talking about what Jesus has done in his life. I am awed when people from churches we were at 15 years ago call my dad during crisis moments in their lives.
My dad taught me how to be a pastor.