I'm not sure when my kid started preaching, but I think it was about a month ago.
I was sitting at my desk when Gemma, the four year old, walked in and started asking me questions and grabbing stuff. (Asking questions and grabbing stuff is basically the universal job description of four year olds.)
I was trying to ignore her when she grabbed one of my books. Then she announced that she was going to read the book to me.
Now, Gems is learning her letters but she's not exactly tackling The Hunger Games trilogy as of yet. Which made it sort of eerie when she cracked open the N.T. Wright book in her hands and started "reading" out loud.
Because the words that came out of her mouth were pure gospel.
Ever since I was little, I've felt a sense of calling.
I know that makes me a walking evangelical cliché. A pastor's kid wanting to be just like my dad when I grow up. The son of a preacher-man bitten by the public-speaking-slash-charismatic-leadership bug. But strangely the sense of calling has stayed with me even through a series of other cliché moments: my parents' destructive behavior and repeated ministry failures which then negatively impacted my own ministry. In other words, I have plenty of reason to abandon the call.
It has earned me very little and cost me very much.
I haven't preached a whole lot since we closed our church plant in late 2012. And the opportunities I have had over the last two years have honestly been a little bit awkward, considering this season of life. It's been a kind of a wilderness. A space between. The sort of place where you need to process, not preach.
A desert for a dormant call.
But I'm on the leadership team at First UMC Burlington and have recently felt the calling coming alive again, if only in the initial stages of revival. I offered to preach more frequently when I'm needed. And, as the Lord would have it, I was needed on Father's Day.
"Can I preach with you, daddy?"
The whole book-reading event notwithstanding, this question caught me off guard.
"Well, I mean, I'm gonna do the children's message too, so you can say something then if you want."
"Yes. I want to preach. I will practice."
This led to more conversations about some of the amazing stuff she had said when "reading" the book. We started to form a preaching plan. The Saturday night before she couldn't sleep because she was so excited. She had her pen and paper out and she was getting her little sermon ready. She was also verbally rehearsing from her bed, getting it all worked out. I'll admit, some of the theology I overheard was a little wonky, which had me a tad worried about what might come out during the service...
But when Sunday morning rolled around and it was time for the children's message, the most amazing thing happened. Gemma had this eager confidence, with none of her usual nervousness. And when I asked her our planned out questions, she answered them all perfectly, with total gospel clarity.
She preached the real sermon that day.
If I were to explain my "call to ministry" now, it would go something like this.
If I could choose something else I would. I have thought about it so many times - agonized over it. I've wanted, deeply wanted, to chuck it all and just be a normal person. Live a normal life. Stop pursuing something that entails such a spiritual and emotional burden, and choose a quieter, easier path instead.
But I can't.
Necessity is laid upon me. I feel like I have to preach the gospel. Yeah, there is dormancy in the wilderness. But it's temporary. I know where it's headed. I know what I must do.
And at this point, it isn't about my family of origin - at all. If anything, they have given me every reason to abandon this entirely. The ultimate out. But I only feel fully alive when I am pursuing this call. Because it's God who called me, not a preacher-man.
It's all I can do.
I can do no other.
I don't know if God has called Gemma to preach. That would be amazing, but I will be just as happy and proud and in love with her if she chooses to be an artist or a teacher or a manager at the Gap. It only matters that she knows what makes her fully alive, whether that's her job or not, and does that thing.
But what I do know is that I didn't tell Gemma what to say. I mean, we've been reading her picture Bible since she was tiny and everything, but I never coached her that day with the book. And I didn't give her hints on Sunday morning - the words were all her own, and she knew them deeply. It came from somewhere within her, somewhere I can't explain.
"Jesus died for our sins," she said, with total clarity. "And then he rose from the dead. And that's great news for everyone! Because it means he will always be with us."
Our little Methodist church erupted in applause.
The gospel was preached by my little preacher-kid.
And that was the best Father's Day gift I could ever receive.