Merry Christmas from the Rainer clan!
I don’t blog much about my family, but I want to brag about them for Christmas. They deserve it, even if my wife will never see these words since she checks out my posts once every couple of years.
My family loves (really!) ministry, especially through the local church. Shepherding my family and my church are intertwined. Some might advocate separating the two, but it’s impossible, since my household is part of the local church. When I leave the church office every day, I come home to church members. The call to pastor a church is not an individual decision, but rather collective determination by a family. One of my best mentors taught a seminary class. I’ll never forget his adamant words: “If your wife ain’t called, you ain’t called.” A couple of students chuckled at his lack of academic polish. They were fools.
The five of us will soon be six. Another one is on the way, but my wife is not pregnant. We’re in the process of becoming foster parents. Our community is the epicenter of the nation’s opioid epidemic. Our morgues are full—no place to put bodies. The foster care system is full of infants with no one to take them. The call to shepherd a church is a call to shepherd the community. Don’t call yourself a pastor if you’re not willing to dive into the community’s worst problems and help. If the only place you minister is on the platform, then you’re not a shepherd. The decision to minister to our community affects my family. We’ll soon have another baby in our home. My wife and kids are excited.
I’m thrilled to minister to the bride of Christ with my bride and family. I love my wife. I love my kids. The smallest one causes the most damage. God gave me two princesses and a wrecking ball. We’re in this thing together, and here’s why I am grateful.
My wife and kids love the church. No shoes? No problem. My little ones are quick to kick the flops and run around barefooted in the church. Our children’s ministry builds a culture of training and equipping kids for ministry. All three love it. My wife is right at home in our worship ministry and women’s ministry. She led worship during an interim search period—not out of obligation but out of joy. She didn’t get paid, and she didn’t care.
My church loves my family. We’ve experienced the worst of what a church can do. My wife and oldest daughter were deeply wounded by a previous church, so we’re grateful to have a church now that demonstrates the best of what a congregation can do. God moved us from horror to delight, and we know what we’ve got with West Bradenton—an amazing body of people with a genuine love for my family. There are men in my church who would sacrifice their lives for my wife and children. Their commitment is not hollow, no lip service. They would take a bullet for me because they believe, not in me, but in the cross.
Ministry compels us to sacrifice. The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep. While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. I’ve been nose-to-nose with evil, wondering whether my wife and children will live or die. I will give my all. I will die fighting in the trench—for the unborn person, for the immigrant, for the widow, for my neighbors, and for every tongue, tribe, and nation.
The legacy of my family must continue. My grandfather fought for civil rights in Alabama in the 1960s. He rescued sons from alcoholic fathers. My father has a national ministry but sacrifices to great degrees for the local church and really doesn’t want the details of his sacrifice known. My mother gave up a career for ministry. My wife has done the same. Her grandfather toiled in obscurity among the rolling fields of Kentucky farms, pastoring in poverty without any glory or recognition. My last name is important to me, but only because those who went before me cared only about the name of Jesus.
Ministry is fun. Most days are filled with laughter and fist bumps. My family is happy. My church is happy. We have fun. After walking through a dark valley in ministry, God brought us to the place of royal palms, sunshine, sand, and Mickey Mouse. I shepherd in paradise. Granted, if you scratch the surface of sunshine, you’ll find a bizzaro land of Florida crazies who need Jesus. It can be dark here, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun and certainly never boring. My family fits right in.
I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus. My family will help me limp to the finish line.