Return to filtered list

3 questions with a dad

July 10, 2016

Dr. Richard Johnstone serves as a city coordinator for the North American Mission Board’s work in San Francisco and is an Associate Professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

He has decades of pastoral and ministry experience, but I know him as Ethan, Eryn, and Tessa’s dad. I’ve had the honor of having both Ethan and Tessa on staff and know they are faithful laborers for the kingdom.

I asked Rich specifically how he has seen our college ministry build on the lives of students who have grown up in a Christian home.

What do you think most dads hope for their children, and what role can college ministries play in reaching the goals of godly parents?

“. . . a productive member of society.” That trite statement has always troubled me. Not because it’s an unimportant objective for children. Rather, it bothers me because it misses the mark by aiming so low.

I’m not raising my kids merely to be the next generation of “workers” or “citizens.” These are the goals I pursued for our children. I expect that these goals are common among Christian dads:

  • Identity – To know Christ and be secure in their identity in Christ.
  • Integration – To fully internalize and implement their faith.
  • Mission – To know and to live out their role in God’s mission.
  • Partnership – To pursue their life mission with a life mate.
  • Autonomy – To take full responsibility to provide for and direct their own lives.

Aspirational goals are just that. Along the way I hoped, prayed, planned, celebrated, confessed, and corrected. Rhonda and I tried to maintain a Christ-centric family environment of respect, affirmation, and broad freedoms within a few clear boundaries. We hoped our home would facilitate, not hinder, our kids as they discovered their identity.

I gained confidence as a dad over time, yet an underlying humility was always present.

I have a foundational role in shaping my kids, but not the only role. For a time, the primary role of stewarding my children belonged to me. Yet, growing as a dad meant progressively sharing that responsibilities with others. Others would become increasingly influential.

Until they left home, I was the primary influencer of who would be in their lives. Once they left for college, they chose with whom they would connect.

The two that went to CBU chose to engage in college ministry. Their college minister took them where they were in their spiritual development and challenged them to the next stages of their spiritual growth trajectory. He gave them specific, tangible tracks to run on—to propel them there:

  • Broadened their vision of God’s mission and their place in it
  • Challenged them toward a deep intimacy with Christ. (He guided them to adopt lifelong spiritual habits of prayer, internalizing the Word, and sharing their faith. Our kids carry with them a small card-pack of Scriptures they are committing to memory. Reading the Bible, writing their reflections, sharing their faith, and leading others are now part of who they are.)
  • Provided opportunities to lead people.

How have you seen our college ministry impact your children?

I enjoy dialoguing with young men who are following Christ. In those conversation I often ask, “Who has been most influential in your spiritual growth journey?”

Responses include dads, pastors, teachers, and friends. In addition to these responses, there is another common and striking theme: college ministers.

Here’s an example. I’ve never met Mike McQuitty, collegiate minister at Syracuse University. Yet I could point to any number of young people who are now pursuing missions/ministry because Mike challenged them during their time at Syracuse to live on mission.

On a much more personal level, you [Brian Zunigha] have deeply influenced the two of my children who attended California Baptist University. Both were deeply impacted through learning and leading in the campus ministry at CBU. The key influencing factor was your [Brian’s] personal and sacrificial engagement in their lives.

From a dad’s perspective, but also from the perspective of someone with extensive ministry experience, what would you challenge college ministers to persevere in?

I’m grateful for the deep and wide impact of collegiate ministers. I would encourage them to:

  • Keep sowing the gospel widely. You are taking truth and clarity to environments of moral and spiritual confusion.
  • Keep investing in the few. They are impacting the many.
  • Keep challenging students with high expectations.
  • Keep linking personal discipleship with the overall mission of God.

To my collegiate ministry friends, be encouraged! You are leading in significant Kingdom work! You are developing the next generation of disciples to live on mission. No doubt they will also become “productive members of society” along the way.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can we develop a mentality of partnering with parents in the development of students?
  2. We know not every student has a godly dad like Rich. How can we help students honor their non-Christian parents?
  3. What can we do to live out the charge Rich gave us?