The Blessing of a Love for Ministry
The Blessing of a Love for Ministry

By Rusty Russell

My parents, Bob and Judy Russell, raised two sons who love the church and are involved in ministry. I’ve served as lead pastor at New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, since 2010. My brother, Phil, is a deacon and on the worship team at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville where we grew up. My parents’ seven grandkids all love the church. Their oldest grandchild—my 22-year-old son, Charlie—is a graduate of Johnson University and is in full-time ministry in Chicago.

On one hand, it’s not surprising that I was drawn to ministry. I grew up in a great church, surrounded by great people, and I had great modeling.

On the other hand, I had a front-row seat to the high expectations, criticisms, time pressures, staff headaches, and pastoral demands associated with a growing ministry. As Paul wrote, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). I had a lot of reasons to think twice before entering the ministry.

Yet from an early age I knew ministry was in my future. When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would say, “Either a professional athlete (basketball, baseball, football—doesn’t matter) or a preacher.” God in his providence made me 5-foot-8 and slow, so my options in athletics were limited.

I don’t recall that my parents ever said, “You should enter the ministry.” Rather, it was through the example they set that I came to consider ministry as a calling and a career.

 

They Modeled Integrity (and Still Do)

My parents’ authentic living helped attract me to ministry. If they had gotten divorced, or bickered constantly, or griped about the church in private but pretended all was well in public, or mistreated my brother and me, I would have taken a different career path (maybe golf—the PGA has some shorter guys).

Instead my parents modeled integrity.

I remember my mother answering the phone one New Year’s Day when I was a teenager. After hanging up, she announced some old church friends were back in town and would be stopping by.

My dad complained: “Judy, this is a holiday. I was looking forward to doing nothing. I wanted to watch football all day and relax.”

The family soon arrived and stayed for two or three hours. I felt so sorry for my dad! As they were leaving, Dad said, “Thanks for coming. It was really good to see you!”

“Dad, you’re a hypocrite!” I exclaimed after they left. “You were so upset about them coming, and then you told them it was good to have them!”

“Oh no, Son,” he said, “after they got here, I really was glad they came. I had a nice time. I shouldn’t have complained so much.”

The one time I thought I caught him being a hypocrite, I was wrong! A complainer, yes! (He repented.) But a hypocrite? No.

Hypocrisy is a major turnoff to kids. Had my dad been two-faced, I’d have chosen a different path in life. Instead, my parents modeled integrity—and still do. My dad was faithful to the same church for 40 years with no scandal. I can tell you there are no skeletons in the closet. What a joy it was to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago. I’m proud of their faithfulness, their “long walk in the same direction.”

 

They Treated Ministry as a High Calling (and Still Do)

My parents’ respect for the ministry spoke volumes to me.

I’ve often credited my mother as the reason I’m in ministry today. She never sowed negative seeds about my father’s work in the church. I never heard her complain, “Your dad is out at another meeting. I swear he’s married to the church. I’m sorry he’s not here for you.” Instead, she took every opportunity to remind my brother and me it was a blessing people wanted to hear my father preach and that so many great things were happening at our church.

I had a couple bumps in my young adult years and was out of ministry for a while. I wasn’t sure I’d return to full-time ministry. During that time, I learned my parents would love and support me even if I wasn’t a paid preacher, and that was reassuring. But I also learned something about “calling.” Three months after I left full-time, paid ministry, my dad invited me to teach an Adult Bible Fellowship class at Southeast. I led the class as a volunteer, and I loved it! That experience taught me ministry is a calling—a high calling—and is worth doing even if you didn’t get paid for it. I am called to ministry.

To this day my parents are great encouragers of my calling. I’ve made it through several more rough patches in ministry and stayed the course because of their encouragement. I won’t lie, it’s pretty cool to be able to call Bob Russell whenever you want, and vent! It’s reassuring to hear him say, “It’s a flea bite. Don’t worry about it.” And it’s incredible when he texts me on Sunday night or Monday morning and says, “Listened to your sermon. Another outstanding message. Keep preaching the Bible; you’re on a roll!” It blows my mind that such a skilled preacher chooses to encourage rather than dissect and critique his son’s sermons.

 

They Loved the Church (and Still Do)

I could cite many other reasons I’m in the ministry today—my parents’ genuine love and support outside of church, their relational connection with families who had kids our age, their personal walk with the Lord—but here’s the simple reason I love the church and want to be a part of it: My parents genuinely love the church.

My mom’s life has been centered around church relationships and church activities. She was in women’s Bible studies and the adult choir, she oversaw the Wednesday-night suppers for years and later ran my dad’s “Living Word” tape ministry. One of the reasons she wasn’t at home complaining about my dad being gone so much is because she was at the church building too! And so were my brother and me. We were “church rats.” Too many parents worry that their kids will resent the church if they’re always at church. If you genuinely love the church, most likely the opposite is going to happen—your kids will love the church too.

My parents still love the church.

The music style might not be their favorite, and their worship style is more reserved than most of our folks here at New Day, and my mom wishes we still dressed up . . . but when they visit us in the winter, they sit on the front row with us and sing every word of every song. My dad often sits through both services just to observe and be supportive. And every week when they’re not with us, they call on Sunday to find out how things went.

My dad has been retired from Southeast Christian Church for more than a decade now, but he is still doing great work for the kingdom. He still preaches somewhere just about every Sunday, he conducts elders’ retreats and he mentors young preachers. I couldn’t be prouder of the work he is still doing.

Mom and Dad are in their mid-70s and still in good health. They typically visit us in Port Charlotte every January. They stay the whole month, visiting with three of their grandkids and playing golf—it’s a lot of fun. He preaches a couple of Sundays and the attendance goes up by about 200 people those weeks. Incredible.

I’m really proud of my parents and I’m thrilled to be following in my dad’s footsteps. They gave me a wonderful blessing by passing along their love for the ministry of the local church.

Rusty Russell serves as lead pastor with New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte, Florida.

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