June 7, 2006


1516 page6 cap can’t say I have never had anyone laugh at me, but this woman’s delight in the task took me by surprise.
While preparing to speak at a women’s ministry event in a small rural church, I sat with several of the women beforehand to share a meal. We engaged in the usual small talk: Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have children? One of the women then asked me what pastoral duties I was responsible for at my church. I proceeded to tell her: teaching, women’s, and children’s ministries. It was after my mentioning that I had no children yet was pastor of children’s ministries that she looked at me with eyes seemingly bulging out of her head, her mouth opening wide, and a forced “Ha!” spewing from within.
You’re a children’s pastor, yet you don’t have children?”
The silence from around the table was palpable. All eyes were on me. Had I not been so stunned, I would have responded with something clever. But all I could think of to say was, “I have 18 nieces and nephews. Does that count?”
1516 page6I wish I could say that that experience is unique, but, unfortunately, it is not—for me or for many others. I’ve had people tell me that I’m selfish because I don’t have children. I’ve had people tell me that I’d change my opinion on certain political views if I had children. I even had one mother tell me after my sharing with her about my call to ministry that my call is “not as high” as the call to motherhood—as if we can rank calls from God on a scale from 1-10.
I’ve hesitated to write about this for many years because I’ve not wanted to appear defensive. However, I believe the time has come to speak out on behalf of the childless among us.
Yes, people without children can be selfish. They can also be hard-nosed on certain political issues. And, yes, motherhood is a very high calling. But, frankly, self-centeredness, lack of compassion, and irresponsibility are not limited to people without children.
Children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). Raising children offers the potential to purge the self-centeredness from our hearts. Raising children offers the potential to experience glimpses into God’s love for us. And raising children offers the potential to change us more into the image of Christ. But the operative word is potential.
If parents are not willing to make room in their lives and hearts to be present with their children and to teach them; if parents are not open to receive the lessons that children can teach them; if parents are not able to get past their own insecurities and guide their children by their words and actions to be what God calls them to be, then I believe that raising children has lost its positive life-changing potential.      
Conversely, if a person is willing to make room in their life and heart for children; if a person is open to receive the lessons that children can teach them; if a person is able to work through their own insecurities and be a loving role model to help children be what God wants them to be, then they can be transformed by the presence of children in their life—whether they are a parent or not.
Thankfully, God is not confined to one method of completing His work of transformation in our lives. He has a thousand ways to accomplish His purposes. Yet we can be confident of this: that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
The woman who laughed at me approached me after my talk and said, “Now I know how you can do what you do. You have so much energy! If you had kids of your own, you probably wouldn’t have all that energy to give to the kids of your church.” Although my reason for ministering to children goes deeper than my energy level—I love them—I took that as her attempt to apologize for her insensitivity. I accepted.
I think she has potential.

Bonita Joyner Shields is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review