Written by Pastor Stephen King
A Quote—”The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” —William James
There is no greater legacy the Church may leave and pass down to present and future generations of young believers growing up in the church than to share a message of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ, our love for humanity, and a commitment to faithfully serve all of the people of God. This is what my father taught me.
Every parent wants the best that life has to offer their children. They have an innate desire to see them succeed in whatever career choices and decisions their children make. Christian parents in particular, pray and prophesy over their children’s future and destiny at birth, in hopes that their child might one day become a great leader, engineer, civil servant, or great spiritual and religious leader who will be prosperous and successful. The prayer list is endless.
Fathers and mothers rejoice when they see their prophesy fulfilled and disappointed to the point of confusion when that special child chooses to live his or her life in complete opposite to the life-path they may have chosen for him or her at birth. On special occasions parents will often and proudly share with family and friends their hopes and dreams for their children. However, when they see those dreams discarded and rejected, there is a personal feeling of rejection—and even a greater since of failure as a parent.
I will never forget that day when—unexpectedly and unknowingly—I was summoned by my father into his office on Sunday, February 5, 1984, to tell me he would be stepping down and retiring as pastor, and that I would be installed immediately as the new pastor in his place. He made this decision knowing that his life was swiftly coming to an end. He died July 5, 1985. This is the church he pastored for forty years, and his father founded and was the pastor before him. I’ve written and spoken about this experience many times before over the pulpit, in sermons, in my book and personal memoir, Running Away (Westbow Press, 2015), and in blog articles I’ve written in the past. To put it mildly, it wasn’t a joyful experience or occasion for me. I was neither prepared nor wanted ever to be the pastor of my father’s church or the pastor of any church for that matter.
Some would consider it an honor or blessing for a father to pass down his legacy to his son. At that time, I didn’t see it that way. I saw it more of a curse than a blessing. I had personally witnessed the pain, sorrow, disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and stress of leadership firsthand—and I didn’t want any part of it. I was content being my father’s assistant at that time, and as a local church musician. My dad was my life, literally, and serving him I felt was my calling and duty—and all I was willing and wanted to do.
There have been a lot said and written about generational curses by Christian writers, authors, church leaders—and in particular, by evangelists, teachers, prophets, and pseudo-prophets who love to espouse their personal beliefs and non-biblical opinions—often misleading and in error to the detrimental effect of one’s benefit and spiritual health. Many of these Christian leaders view a generational curse as a malison passed down from one generation to another because of one’s rebellion against God. For an example, if your family line is marked by divorce, incest, poverty, anger or other ungodly patterns, it is more likely you’re under a generational curse.
Hank Hanegraaff correctly writes in his article, “Are Generational Curses Biblical” said, “The Bible says that these curses are tied to choices. Deuteronomy 30:19 says we can either choose life and blessing or death and cursing.” Hanegraaff also states, “Some people even assert that family or generational curses are passed down along generational lines. This belief comes from Old Testament passages which say that God “punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7).
I, personally, do not subscribe, per se, to this view, and I definitely do not believe being assigned to the position of pastor of a church is some generational curse. However, many of my personal experiences in life have left me suspicious and wondering, “Why me?” or “How or why did I allow this to ever happen?” Surely these things didn’t occur by chance or by accident. I’ve asked myself questions like these and others to try to make sense out of my many bad choices and decisions in life (usually after the fact or as an afterthought). By then it’s too late to change the outcome. The damage is already done.
Family has a great influence upon one’s life. And, as Hanegraaff also notes, “. . . just as culture, ethnicity, and gender steer our patterns of sin in particular directions, so do our families.” Who I am as a person and what I’ve done in life has largely been shaped and influenced by culture, family, and the Christian belief system I was raised in and under. I would like to think I inherited some of the positive and good traits my father and mother possessed; however, my personal sins are mine alone. My willful disobedience and failure at times to follow God’s command were by choice, and not because there was some curse past down to me by my parents.
David understood this all too well. His use of the singular objective personal pronoun like, “me” and “I” shows that he took personal responsibility for his sinful acts and behavior very seriously. His sins were his and his alone. When he wrote Psalm 51, he warns us to reflect upon the consequences of our actions when we allow our fleshly desires to control us. We are to remember his song and prayer,
“For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge” (vss. 3, 4).
Jody Michael writes and defines a generational legacy as, “a thought, perspective and/or belief that is emotionally or culturally passed down from our families. It’s the lens through which we see the world that is shaped by our parents, grandparents and key influencers and can also be influenced by culture, ethnicity and events. We pass along through words, actions and attitudes – consciously or not – what we know, or what we believe to be true, even if it’s not.”
The Bible is replete with examples of generational legacies. In Genesis 49 we find the familiar story of the dying patriarch Jacob who imparts his final blessing to his twelve sons. From this example and lesson the message is clear: God wants parents to bless their children. Even if you aren’t a father, the message still applies to you and I, that is, as believers we have a responsibility to be channels of God’s blessing to others. It’s all about our relationships to one another, to our children, and with God. This also applies to mothers or even if one does not have children. Relationship is key.
God has given those of us who are parents a unique and powerful role to fulfill with our children. We influence them greatly, either for good or for ill. Some children grow up and vow that they will never be like their father or mother or even both. They spend their whole lives reacting against their parents (fathers more that mothers). But even then, the father is exerting a strong influence over the child, although he or she may not know it at the time. Hopefully, as Christian parents, we will bless our children with a rich legacy of the things of God so that they will want to follow Him all their lives—even when they choose not to follow us.
The Seasons of My Life
As the season of my life matures, I realize more than ever the influence and power my Dad had in my life. But then too, I look at who he was and realize that I could never measure up to his stature, character, influence, leadership, skills and giftings, as a Christian father, leader, and man. I have fallen short in so many areas in my life, and I have failed too many times to count. However, if I could do one thing in life that would please my Dad, I believe my life will have met its purpose. I could only imagine how Jesus felt after he was baptized by John. The Bible says, “. . . the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16, 17). I am looking forward to one day hearing my heavenly Father say to me, “Well done, my good a faithful servant.”
Faithful. My father was faithful in his commitment to God and to the church. Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Faithfulness was woven into my Dad’s character. He practiced faithfulness. I learned to serve the church by his example. I watched him pray for hours without end over and for the church and the people of God. I observed the manner in which he gave without thinking of himself to those things he strongly believed in—the church and people he so loved. My prayer each day is for God to give me the strength to remain faithful to His church and the work I have been assigned and called to serve.
Who Shall I Send?
So, who then will carry on the work after I have finished my assignment? I wonder daily about who will succeed me in serving the local church? Who will be willing to carry on the legacy passed down to me for two generations? I have no apparent heirs to this ministry. It’s not a requirement, rule, or command that states a child or relative must follow in succession in a leadership position after his or her parent steps down, resigns, or dies, unless it’s written in the decedent’s will, bylaws, or some legally binding agreement or written statement. Even so, it’s not always a good idea to hold a business, corporation, religious entity hostage to such deathbed commitments. (May I interject here by saying I am in NO way ready to die; nor am I writing some subtle last will and testament. I have so much to live for and work to complete. However, I would not be wise to think about the future of the church and its legacy.)
Pastors must also be careful of the appearance of nepotism when choosing his or her successor in ministry less the church becomes divided over loyalties. For example, family churches where one family may be dominant in a congregation because of length of years and their support can be a powerful influencer in the decision-making of who will succeed a pastor when he or she retires, resigns, or dies. Even if a pastor may want his or her daughter or son to succeed them in leadership, a dominant family may usurp control over the wishes of an outgoing pastor and call for someone other than the pastor’s apparent or assumed heir. In this case, generational legacy is at war with church politics and members. The church often loses in such cases like these.
One must also consider, a child or relative may not necessarily have the desire to follow in their parent’s footsteps or carry on a business, church, or other enterprises. Parents who impose their opinions, choices, and will on their children without considering what their talents, interests, and desires are may have a negative effect and consequences on their lives. Resentment, hating the position, no passion for the people or church, and the feeling of being set up to fail are some of the feelings and reactions of a person when forced into positions of leadership where one was not been prepared or called to serve. Parents should instead learn not to force their choices on their children when raising them. They should instead offer them their wise counsel and advice when asked what they should do so as to succeed in life.
Becoming a pastor and being the spiritual shepherd over a congregation is, in my opinion, like no other calling, career, or occupation. If one is looking for monetary success, fame, or fortune, one may want to rethink and reconsider his or her career choices. Becoming a pastor is a thankless and selfless position of service. Rewards on this earth are few; however, an eternal reward awaits the faithful who “endure to the end.”
Mother Teresa said, “God did not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.” In an article written by Dr. Mary C. McDonald about Mother Teresa said,
“It is not easy to faithfully live out a decision. . . Our calling is not to greatness, but to goodness. Our calling is not to success, but to faithfulness. It is a faithfulness that we are called to in our families, in our employment, in our friendships and in our service to others – whatever we do, wherever we are.”
“People like Mother Teresa are all around us. They are those who are committed to a faithfulness that disregards weariness or risk as they live out a decision, a promise, a vow, a commitment. It is a faithfulness that knows how to begin, again and again, until the end,” she said.
To this I can only add, “Amen.”
1. King, U.S., Running Away: The Memoir of a Bishop’s Son. 2015, Westbow Press: Bloomington, IN. p. 326.
2. Hanegraaff, H. Are Generational Curses Biblical? 2020 [cited 2020 September 8, 2020]; Questions and answers regarding Christian living and life.]. Available from: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/are-generational-curses-biblical.html.
3. Michael, J., MCC, BCC, Your Generational Legacy: How to Break Destructive Patterns, in Life. Jody Michaels Associates: Chicago. p. Expert strategies to transform your leadership, career and life. .
4. McDonald, M.C., Called to Faithfulness, Not Success, in Daily News. 2017, Memphis Daily: Memphis, TN.