Parents who are ministers, ministers’ wives and children relate their prodigal “journey”
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MILLINGTON — A prodigal or child who rebels against the Christian teachings of their parents can bring the strongest Christian to their knees. It is especially difficult for Christians who are ministers or ministers’ wives.
Shame, embarrassment, criticism, and resignations from ministerial positions often ensue.
One child and two parents shared their journeys at “The Good Cup,” a meeting for ministers’ wives held Nov. 9 here as part of the Summit. The Summit is the annual gathering of Tennessee Baptists.
“The issue of dealing with children as they try to deal with the pressures of their churches and ministries kept coming up in our panel discussions,” said Lana Rose of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff who coordinates The Good Cup. “We try to deal with one issue of ministers’ wives each year and this year we decided to deal with prodigals.”
Willing to share their stories were Jonathan Sinquefield, son of Danny Sinquefield, pastor, Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett; Steve Looper, church planter/pastor, Hope in Christ Fellowship, Monterey; and Sandie Hodges, wife of Stephen Hodges, associate pastor/education, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, Maryville.
A prodigal’s perspective
Danny and Rhonda Sinquefield struggled for about 10 years to help Jonathan, the eldest of their three sons.
At one point Danny met with the deacons of Faith Baptist and offered his resignation because he was not being the proper head of his family. The deacons refused his offer, instead praying for him and especially Jonathan. Danny currently has been pastor of Faith Baptist for 21 years. The church draws about 1,500 to Sunday morning activities.
Jonathan, now 30, said via a video that growing up as the son of the pastor of a big church had perks including making some great friends. But the downside for him was that everyone knew his business.
He started drinking alcohol and taking drugs when he was young, he said.
“I was running from the Lord,” said Sinquefield. But he became “sick and tired of living the life.”
Four years ago on the birth-date of his one-year-old son, he decided to become “clean and sober,” and the man God wanted him to be, said Sinquefield. He checked himself into an out-of-state rehab center where he stayed for two months.
“My life has been incredible since then,” he said. One thing that has helped is a connection class he and his wife, Miranda, attend at Faith Baptist, where they are members. Their family today includes two sons.
He advised parents whose children are involved in alcohol or drugs or just being rebellious to listen to their children and be “open” instead of angry.
“They need compassion. They need to be shown love,” said Sinquefield. People who have been through the same thing or just an older person who has time to spend with them also can help them.
“Eventually they’ll come back. They’ll come back to what they know. The Lord’s going to have His hand on them.”
Shame and embarrassment will accompany all of this, added Sinquefield, but “every single family goes through troubles.” When people are transparent about problems, it helps the person who shares it as they learn that many others have similar experiences, which can encourage others.
Also parents should pray for their rebellious or troubled child, he continued.
“For me, being able to be clean and sober these days and to pour into other people’s lives has been awesome. Whether they’re younger or older people, to share my story and to connect with people, … whether it be preachers’ kids or people that grow up in church has been great. I can let them know, we’re going to be alright.”
Hindsight is 20/20
Hindsight, especially with the Lord’s help, “is 20/20,” said Steve Looper of his experience with his son Caleb, who is now 25, married with a child, and associate pastor of college ministry, The River Community Church, Cookeville.
“Let’s see if I can even say this out loud — on this side of the journey what we went through with Caleb turned out to be a blessing,” stated Looper. He referred to Romans 8:28 which promises, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
As a child Caleb was diagnosed with ADD and in his teen years began to struggle with depression. Caleb’s parents believe these physical issues coupled with the spiritual struggles, that seem to be typical for many teens, contributed to the beginning of a six-year rebellious streak. During these years Caleb would often sneak out of their house in the middle of the night to joyride, drink alcohol and take drugs, and run with the wrong crowd.
Caleb’s struggle was “pretty much textbook … . It was simply the enemy (Satan) fighting to destroy us but he has a pretty small toolbox you know.”
Another way Satan worked was that Looper began thinking he was a failure as a father and pastor and therefore had no business advising others as a minister. At times he was tempted to step out of ministry, he recalled.
During the years of Caleb’s rebellion, Steve Looper did move from pastoring a church which he had planted and pastored for 13 years to serving as a youth pastor for four years.
In hindsight one thing Looper struggles with is that his weekly commuting from Middle Tennessee to East Tennessee to serve as youth pastor might have contributed to Caleb’s rebellion. “I was gone a lot,” he admitted.
The experiences were certainly “stressful for both of us,” said Looper referring to his wife Michelle. Both developed anxiety issues that led to panic attacks during this period. “We prayed like we had never prayed before and searched the Scriptures … . … We decided we had to be as positive as possible … .” Eventually, we became “stronger and more secure in our faith.”
Of course, Caleb’s struggles affected the whole family. Caleb is a twin and his brother, Curtis, a fraternal twin, didn’t struggle as Caleb did and often served as his brother’s keeper. A younger sister, Chelsie, also was negatively impacted.
Today, Looper and Michelle and their children are better equipped and able to minister to others who have the same struggles. “This problem is widespread,” reported Looper.
After three years of recuperating and refueling, God blessed Steve and Michelle, along with co-pastor Johnny Bowman and wife Penny of their church. They have seen a fledgling core group become a growing church, Hope in Christ Fellowship, Monterey, which is sponsored by The River Community Church. In a small town of only 2,800 the church draws about 200 people each Sunday morning though it is only about 16 months old.
Looper is grateful to God and the members and staff of The River, especially Jeremy Cook, associate pastor of college and missions, for loving and mentoring Caleb. The Looper family attended the church while refueling for their future in ministry. It was during this time that Caleb was accepted as an intern of the church prior to being called to serve on staff.
“If others can find hope from all this and be encouraged and strengthened, then to God be the glory,” concluded Looper.
Sharing her son’s story
It is especially hard for a pastor’s wife or a pastor to “watch your child as he is slowly destroying his life” because they will face more criticism than they already experience in their positions, said Sandie Hodges of Maryville.
When her only child, Nathan, who was adopted, was 15, he was not happy at their church, which was small. At age 16 the Hodges let Nathan attend a larger church hoping that would help him. But the deceit began as well as his involvement with bad friends, said Hodges.
They developed a contract for their son with help from Nathan’s student minister. When Nathan broke it, they did not allow him back into their home for a period of time. Then her husband, Stephen, resigned as pastor of their church so they could “focus on getting our son back” before he turned 18 in a year, said Hodges with emotion.
The Hodges family joined Sevier Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, and Nathan met Dustin George, single adult minister. George began to “invest in” Nathan, reported Hodge. “Had it not been for Dustin George, I don’t know where our son would be today,” she said in tears.
Nathan met his wife at the church, married, and has two children now. He rededicated his life and “he is serving the Lord there, at that church,” said his mom.
Then Stephen was called as associate pastor/education of Madison Avenue Baptist Church, Maryville, where the couple has served for about seven years.
The Hodges have had opportunities to minister to several families at Madison Avenue who are going through similar situations with their children.
Hodges’ seven long years of struggle led her to Joel 2:25a — “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate.”
Satan was “trying to destroy my family. … We are seeing those years replaced” and that God helped them in every way, she added.
She recommended that ministers and ministers’ wives not forget their children as they minister to others.
She asked Nathan for permission to share this story and he agreed in order to help others or just one other person.
“To God be the glory, great things He has done,” stated Hodges.