Covert-Aggressive Pastor Pressuring Son into Ministry

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Reader’s Question

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for two years now. His dad is a pastor, and my boyfriend has been involved in worship team on Sunday mornings since he was a teenager.

His dad has MS, and so has had to take a leave of absence because it’s gotten considerably worse lately. Since my boyfriend didn’t have a job at the time, his dad asked if he would substitute for him on Sunday mornings, leading and organizing the worship team.

However, something happened this past Sunday that has put a bad taste in my mouth in regards to his dad. My boyfriend isn’t sure what he wants to do as far as post-secondary education is concerned, but he’s musically inclined; he’s often expressed interest in producing music, and being an audio technician. On Sunday afternoon, he calls me telling me he wants to go to a Bible College so he can pursue ministry. He was basically press-ganged after service on Sunday by the pastors and given an application.

His parents are offering to pay his tuition, but I feel like he is being manipulated into this. He’s never expressed an interest in ministry. In fact, he disagrees with much of the church and is frustrated with the people he has to deal with. I don’t see him making a life-long commitment into ordained ministry of his own accord.

I feel like his dad is pushing him into this, sourcing from his own insecurity and degrading health. I think he’s taking things into his own hands and forcing him down the exact same path he went. And my boyfriend, being a loyal individual, would do anything for his family. He doesn’t realize how much they have used him in the past; his dad used to make him pay for car insurance each month, but he later discovered his dad taking more than needed and pocketing the rest. His dad has proven himself to be someone unafraid of manipulating his own son to meet his ends. If this was genuinely what he wanted to devote his life to, I would gladly support him. But I know my boyfriend well, and he’s only been doing this job for three weeks. The fact that his dad is flaunting this opportunity for post-secondary education without expense strikes me as exceptionally wrong. Of course he’s going to say yes: it’s his only option at this point, and he has a hunger to start growing up and moving ahead in life, something his dad is aware of.

If it was any other kind of schooling, they wouldn’t pay for it. I feel like he’s determined to control every aspect of his life through this. It means no more sex, no more girlfriend and early retirement for himself. How do I deal with his dad and help him make his own choice in this matter?

Psychologist’s Reply

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You seem very straightforward and well-spoken. Why do you need to relate to either of them any differently than the way you relate to me in this question? You’re direct, sympathetic, you share your own feelings and preferences and note places where you’re willing to compromise. What is wrong with that approach?

In general, I don’t advise engaging in power struggles. The choice is your boyfriend’s, and he does have choices even if he doesn’t see them now. When you talk to him, you can do what you always seem to do: love him, support him, let him know your fears and preferences. And then let him deal with his own dad. You can’t do that for him. You can’t see how this struggle between father and son will turn out. If you get in the middle of it, I can’t see how it would end well for any of you. His father would call it meddling, your boyfriend would think you lack confidence in him to deal with his own problems, and you would likely lose what you most hope to keep.

What choices does he have? The pressures on him seem to be professional and financial. As for profession, I’ll speak from my own cultural background. In the temple, not everyone is predisposed to be a pastor or rabbi. But that is not the only professional standing in front of the congregation on a Sabbath. There is also a cantor, the lead musician, or the choir leader. Musicians need employment like anyone, and playing for or leading a choir is very respectable work. Would your father pay tuition for him to study church music? If so, then that could be a very easy solution!

If that doesn’t work for him for some reason AND if he decides he would really like to study something on his own, then he needs to have finances for himself. Student loans are hard but available. If you are in the US, the $30K sign-up bonuses for military service might be very tempting these days. I noticed that they are recruiting for the military bands right now. It may be something to consider.

My point in general? There are always alternatives. I respect your boyfriend for wanting to please his father. If he can do that without sacrificing his soul, then he has an easier life ahead of him than many of us. If not, then he will need to find a way to be independent and follow his dream. It will certainly make a difference to him knowing on which path he will have your company, and on which path he will not. You, too, will be able to learn a lot about him from his decision. With luck, he will make the choices that will support you as a couple. If not, then it is good you find out now. But don’t go too far. He may travel down that lonely path just a short way before he looks back to you and his other choices. If you have real feelings for him, you might want to give him some time to choose and then be comfortable with his choice.

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