What My Father Taught Me
Leaders who followed their fathers into full-time ministry share how their dads inspired them to tell people about Jesus.
Often overlooked amid the stereotypes of pastors’ children who rebel are the stories of ministry leaders and pastors whose love, passion and godly example inspire their children to devote their lives to ministry as well. Here you will find stories of six people who followed their fathers into full-time ministry. Although these accounts focus on the unique relationship between a biological father and child, strong spiritual relationships independent of family ties also can result in influence and legacies that are equally special.
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Pursuing a Life That Matters
Lead Pastor, Fellowship Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.
Son of Crawford Loritts, senior pastor, Fellowship Bible Church, Roswell, Ga.
Best advice your father ever gave you: “Without a doubt, my father’s constant advice on the importance of character and integrity—godly character and integrity—over preaching and ministry has proven to be gold. … Ministry and preaching is best done from the overflow of a life that is connected to the Vine. This is what Dad taught and modeled for me.”
The images I have of my father’s ministry moments that marked me were every time he preached and the response of those who listened to him, both during and after the message. There was always a sense of divine power that could be felt when I heard my dad. Even as a little boy, I picked up on this. Dad’s ministry has always been a diverse one, so sitting in African-American churches, I could tell immediately how the message was impacting them because in our culture, a preacher never has to guess if he’s connecting, if you know what I mean. But with white audiences, where there isn’t that much of a verbal response, you could still tell that the Holy Spirit was using my father. There was a sacred hush, and at times there would be more demonstrative signs, like clapping. Beyond the responses of the audience, after the messages, even today, decades later, I encounter people who recall significant turning points in their lives and link them directly to a message that my father preached.
Dad was always careful to not push any of us into vocational ministry. He always wanted us to live for the glory of God and with a passion to serve Him no matter what we decided on by way of career. In fact, Dad would go to the extreme and push us away from vocational ministry. I think he knew the struggles we would have if we chose to follow in his footsteps and become preachers. He was sensitive to us having our own sense of identity.
In spite of all his attempts to steer us in different directions, I still became a preacher. Certainly I attribute this to God’s will and doing, but nonetheless, my father was instrumental, not so much for what he said, but the example of his ministry and life. Watching my dad preach, I was profoundly struck with the thought, What he’s doing matters and is so much bigger than this life. I want this same sense of mission and influence. This was very encouraging to me.
My most memorable moments with Dad at [ministry] events [together] aren’t the events, but it’s just getting to hang with him. You know, the long rides to and from the airport and the meals together. His schedule is so crazy, and mine is getting there as well, that seeing each other is becoming more and more of a challenge. But to be truthful, I don’t enjoy the times of ministry together as much as people may think. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re not a burden or a chore to me. It’s just that a part of the manhood journey is wanting to leave your own mark, to forge your own path, and preaching with my dad places me back into the roll of Crawford Loritts’ son, and not Bryan Loritts, his own man. … I find that people are really reluctant to let you grow up. However, I do it to honor my father and because I really do believe that people are inspired and encouraged by seeing the legacy, so this forces me to come out of myself and to die to my fleshly impulses. So it’s a good thing.
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Embracing a Passion for Evangelism
Kevin Palau, 48
President of Luis Palau Association
Son of Evangelist Luis Palau
Best advice your father ever gave you: “Be faithful and godly when no one is watching, and trust God to open doors in His timing.”
It’s not a coincidence that three out of the four of us Palau sons are in full-time ministry together at the Palau Association. Though it’s not, as some might assume, a result of any expectation or pressure to work in the “family business.” The influence came simply from our observation of my parents’ godliness and passionate pursuit of God’s call on their lives. … I quickly realized that my dad’s passion for evangelism was also my passion. God began to show me that I could accomplish more for the kingdom by working together with my dad than I could doing my own ministry elsewhere. … I will never forget standing on the festival stage in the heart of the city [Buenos Aires, Argentina], on the widest avenue in the world (22 lanes), with more than half a million people in attendance. That very real juxtaposition of [Dad’s] childhood in a small community to then years later sharing the Gospel with the entire nation is indelibly imprinted on my memory. To see his humble beginnings and his nationwide proclamation on the same trip will remain with me as we continue to work together for the kingdom.
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Making Everyone Feel Important
Matthew Barnett, 34
Senior Pastor, Angelus Temple and Los Angeles Dream Center
Son of Tommy Barnett, senior pastor, Phoenix First Assembly of God
Best advice your father ever gave you: “Never quit!!! Stay in the battle long enough, and something good is going to happen.”
I remember one night, 4,000 people attended the service. The service was over, and my dad shook everyone’s hand for nearly two hours after church. I saw the joy in his eyes as he got a bigger rush talking to people one-on-one than preaching to thousands. It was that kind of personal love for people that would become the foundation of my ministry. It’s easy to want to be in ministry when you wait after church for a dad who won’t leave until he makes everyone feel that they are the most important person in the building.
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Loving the World for Which Jesus Died
Anne Graham Lotz, 62
Bible teacher and founder of AnGeL Ministries
Daughter of Evangelist Billy Graham
Best advice your father ever gave you: “Pray! Pray! Pray! And live life in such a way that there would be no retreat, no return and no regrets.”
My father gave me not only an example of genuine faith, but he also gave me a wonderful worldview. He has always been keenly interested in world affairs. … While he can converse with great interst about the weather or a neighbor’s family or the exploits of a great-grandchild, his conversation and even his prayers are peppered with his conscious awareness of what is taking place in the world around him. It is almost instinctive for me to feel some personal responsibility to do something about the world and the primary problems that face us all.
But by far the greatest impact my father has had on my life comes from his example inside and outside of the home. He genuinely loves Jesus to the extent he has been willing to serve and obey Him sacrificially. His faithfulness to answer God’s call, obey Him and keep His focus on evangelism for his entire lifetime is truly remarkable. While I am not called to be an evangelist, God’s call in my life is one I also am trying to answer and obey, while remaining faithful and focused. … While I have never “partnered” with my father in ministry, he and I share the same heart. We love God. We love God’s son. We love God’s Word. We love God’s Gospel. We love God’s people. And we love the world for which Jesus died.
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Replicating a Godly Lifestyle
Carlos Whittaker, 37
Christian recording artis, blogger and pastor
Son of Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention
Best advice your father ever gave you: “There are only three things in life that will get you into trouble: women, money and pride. Stay away from all three.”
One Sunday in particular, we were at a Hispanic church somewhere in downtown Atlanta. [Dad] was preaching, and the room just felt dead. I remember being 10 and wondering, When can I go home? And when he got done with his message, I remember almost 50 percent of the room getting up and coming down and getting on their knees to receive Jesus Christ that morning. I remember looking at my dad and thinking that the power God has given him or is using through him is amazing. That was the first time I remember realizing that my father was a man of God. … Even though I didn’t pursue ministry, it pursued me. Everwhere I turned, I was being asked to do ministry. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was because I was replicating the lifestyle that my father showed me.
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Focusing on the Heart of Ministry
Greg Surratt, 55
Senior Pastor of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Son of Hubert Surratt, former traveling evangelist, pastor and missionary
Best advice your father ever gave you: “Always err on the side of generosity.”
Dad never pressured me to follow in his footsteps. I used to kid him about the fact that I wanted to go into an honest profession, maybe sell used cars or something like that. Actually, the thing that probably propelled me toward ministry, other than God’s leading, was the fact that Dad was honest and sincere about what he did. I saw models of ministry that I felt were otherwise, but Dad was the real deal. … After my mother died, Dad did some missions work in India. My son Jason and I were able to go and spend some time with him, and it was very memorable. Dad is kind of old school. Not too touchy-feely or all that culturally sensitive, but the people loved him. It was fun to see him in an environment different than what I was used to. You could tell that the Indian people understood his heart. It makes you wonder if we spend too much time worrying about technique and not enough time concerned about the heart of ministry.
Jonathan Merritt is the son of James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2000-2002). Inspired by his father’s integrity and passion for the Gospel, Jonathan has become a prominent faith and culture writer, author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, teaching pastor at Cross Pointe, and contributor to Outreach magazine and other publications.
Read the full stories from Kevin Palau, Matthew Barnett, Anne Graham Lotz, Carlos Whittaker and Greg Surratt in the January/February 2011 issue of Outreach magazine.
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