Glen and Shirley Liston raised their five sons while serving Christ in the ministry of the local church. Five times they sent a son off to Bible college and five times they saw those sons ordained into the Christian ministry. All five sons serve in located ministries. Now Glen and Shirley are preparing to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer with a family reunion near Brazil, Indiana, where they served the church while they were raising their boys. The Listons are now retired, attending and volunteering at New Hope Christian Church in Manvel, Texas, where their son Tim serves as the senior pastor.
What was life like in the Liston home with five active boys?
Shirley: It was fun. Never a dull moment
Glen: We are not experts and were not perfect parents, but we’re proud of our kids. We had a great time raising our sons. It was a real pleasure and I miss it.
Were the boys rambunctious?
Glen: They all played basketball—we were in Indiana, so they had to play basketball! They also played baseball and football.
Shirley: And three of them had paper routes. One worked at the local newspaper as a supervisor. Two worked at sports store. Two worked at a pizza place.
Glen: Even our youngest, Andrew, delivered papers when he was 8 years old. He had about 30 houses on his route so we could stand out in the yard and watch him deliver all his papers.
Did they get along pretty well?
Shirley: I’d say our kids were buddies. They stuck up for each other. If someone picked on one of them, the others would stand up for him.
Glen: There was some peer rivalry but not like you see in some families. They watched out for each other.
Did each of the boys express an interest in spiritual things from an early age?
Glen: Of course the kids went to church and they were in youth activities, like you would expect kids to be.
Shirley: I remember when our oldest son was in sixth grade, he asked if we had to go to church on Sunday night just because their dad is the preacher. I said no, it’s because we’re Christians that we go.
Glen: Church was a part of our life. It was in our DNA. We talked about church things all the time and it was always done in a positive way.
Shirley: One thing the boys all did as they got too old for children’s church was they started assisting in children’s church and toddler worship, and I think that helped them to grow spiritually. They learned that God could use them even at a young age.
How did the two of you approach discussions about things at church that might have a negative connotation?
Glen: We didn’t talk negatively about church or people in the church at all. If we had something negative to say, the two of us kept it behind closed doors. When one of my boys was just under 2 years old he was with me after church at the door of the foyer and walked up to this lady and kicked her, not once, but repeatedly. We got to talking about it later and we realized that the week before I said something at the dinner table about that lady that I shouldn’t have said within hearing of those young ears. So he was standing up for his dad and took it out on her. That taught me that children are not too young to pick up on negative things, so I changed my conduct.
What other ways did you involve them in your ministry?
Glen: I traveled quite a bit for revivals, men’s meetings, and camps. When I could, I took one of the guys with me. They got to see ministry up close and personal that way and saw that it merited their time and energy and talents. They worked in the bus ministry years ago. They served in leadership in youth programs.
Were the boys disappointed when you had to go and they couldn’t go along?
Shirley: When we were at Brazil, and all five boys were at home, Glen would be gone for revivals for several nights at a time. I always told them they were part of Daddy’s ministry because we were letting him go without complaining. I told them, “He’s going to change lives by his preaching,” and they could see how important it was. They never resented it. The boys would pray for him and the people he was preaching to that night as I tucked them in.
Glen: All that is to say, when people ask, “How did you get all five boys through Bible college?” the first thing you do is marry the right woman.
Did you direct them toward a Bible college education?
Glen: Actually we were not intentional. We were intentional about them serving God no matter their profession. We let them know it was an option for their life, but I never suggested to any of them they ought to be a pastor. Both of my older boys said that obviously an example of ministry was important to them, but they would not be in ministry if they had not felt called by the Lord to do it. That’s what they wanted to do and they saw the behavior of their mom and dad. If it was something their parents valued, then they needed to value it too.
What can churches do to encourage their young people toward a located ministry?
Glen: Besides our boys, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 kids from the churches we served go to Bible college. One of the things we did over the years, back when we had Sunday night church, we had youth night where we would put up a young guy as the preacher for the night. That kind of experience can still be given in youth activities and children’s church programs. That experience invariably led young guys to Bible college. Some are preaching, some are in the mission field. Another thing a church could do is to help pay the tuition to go to college. Christian colleges are specialized and the cost is pretty high compared to community colleges. The church will establish value to vocational ministry when it does that. Every church we have served has done that.
Shirley, was it hard to see your first boy leave home for college?
Shirley: A little bit. When we took our first boy to Ozark Christian College, I felt like I was losing our son. But then I saw they come back all the time! When they made the choice to study for ministry there was a speech we gave to all of them, that there is a place in the world that the Lord has for them, so go out and conquer it.
Glen: I wish they would all live down the street from our house, but we’re proud of them for going and doing ministry.
Did the enthusiasm of your older sons work its way down to the younger ones, or was it more a matter of each having a mind of his own?
Glen: It goes without saying that when your older brother does something it’s something you’re going to look at. But I don’t think it dictated it to any of them. It’s amazing how much they’re the same and how absolutely totally different they are. Obviously they lived in the same house, same parents, same set of values, and they all lived under the same set of rules, but they’re all very different.
What’s the best parental advice you can give them in their personal ministries now?
Shirley: Hang in there and enjoy “the trip.” Live each day and fully appreciate it as a gift from God.
Glen: I’ve told them to love the Lord, serve faithfully, and take care of their wife and kids.
Shirley: A few years ago Glen gave each one of the boys an actual baton, like those used in a track relay. It was his challenge for them to run the race.
Glen: I wrote a note to them saying I’m not done running, but I’m in the slow lane. Now it’s up to you to run the race as long as you can.
That’s not just parental advice, that’s pastoral advice.
Glen: One of the joys of my life is to talk shop with my sons on a peer level. A couple of the boys commented that Dad makes ministry look easier than it is. I knew then that they we’re getting their teeth into it.
So what’s the best advice you can give your sons on how to be a better minister?
Glen: The first thing they’ve got to do is to walk with the Lord. If their personal life is inappropriate, it’s going to show in what they do. If their relationship with God is right, he’s going to bless what they do.
What about advice for young ministers’ wives?
Shirley: Love the Lord and realize that your husband is serving him and you’re serving the Lord by helping your husband and allowing a little bit of extra patience in your demands on him.
What can a local church do to support their minister’s family?
Shirley: If the church loves their minister, and the minister’s wife, and their family, that will go a long way.
Glen: “Amen” to that. Churches need to see the preacher as a colaborer, not as a hireling. I’ve been on both sides of that issue and you establish the value of the pastor by the way you treat him. Remember his family on special days and times like Pastor Appreciation Month, Christmas, and annual salary reviews. Take them out to dinner and tell them they are appreciated.
How about the relationship of the leadership to the minister?
Glen: He needs to have room to work, needs to be prayed for, and he needs support. I’ve studied churches where the preacher is not allowed to lead and is not supported by elders and boards; they do not flourish. The man with a dream ought to be given permission to lead. Most of us got into this work because we believed we could make a difference—felt God called us to it. The man who has the dream must have the opportunity to lead or that local church is going to be the loser.
It must be satisfying to see how things have worked out.
Glen: In retrospect, I would do it all over again. There are no regrets. It is a lifestyle that I would recommend to all who know the Lord has called them. The highest calling in the world is to preach the Word and pastor the flock. My only regret is that I have only one life to give to the Lord.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.