Why the Minister Changed His Name: In My Own Words
It’s not often that you get intimate details of a minister’s life and family history. Part of that is because people view and treat ministers as a different species of humanesque form with the responsibility to bear the presence of Christ. Partly, we really don’t know the intimate details of many people’s lives. We pastors have human lives very similar to yours, face similar conflicts, and have details in the background that typically don’t matter much.
So when you find out that a minister (or anyone, really) has had a name change, the natural question is, “Why?!” Seems like a juicy story. Did something bad posted on social media catch up with him? Escaping a criminal history? Trying to be someone different, or have a more marketable moniker? There really aren’t many good reasons for a man to change his name, even if you’re a give-him-the-benefit-of-the-doubt type of person.
My name is Sean, and about a year ago my family changed our last name to King. There is nothing embarrassing on the internet, I have no criminal history, I’m not trying to market myself, be fashionable, or be someone other than who God made me to be. In my family’s case, changing our last name is actually allowing us to be who God made us to be.
To my congregation: you have been faithful, trusting, and loving as our family has been dealing with the fallout of an imploded family line. Thank you. You have been a large part of our healing and I have been grateful for the expectation to live blamelessly and prayerfully in Christ through conflict. You’ve had questions, and though the leadership has been in full awareness and confidence, you have not known more than what was age appropriate for my daughter. It has been on my heart to share more with you in a gesture of vulnerability and transparency.
So why did we change our name?
Scripture warns us in Numbers 32: 23, “your sins will find you out.” In 2017, it was brought to light that my father is a child sex abuser. Simply put, we want nothing to do with that, no ties to it, and make sure our children know that such action is not excusable, ignorable, or acceptable. To not separate from such a sin would have been a bold statement to our children as well.
We did not change our name as a knee jerk reaction, in anger, as a rejection of people and God’s ability to work with and through them, or as a way to hide or ignore the past. In fact, by initiating a name change, questions will be asked, discussions will be had, and through that openness truth has the ability to break cycles and set you free.
Is it Scriptural?
Last names changes are not directly addressed in the Bible, as it was a vastly different world in regards to record keeping, governance, and the expression of family in the community. You could make arguments for and against, but you could not justify a requirement of name change or requirement of keeping a name. But the call for ANY married couple to distance from their parents and focus on their marriage is clear from the beginning (Gen. 2: 24), to protect children (and teach them right from wrong) is a primary objective of parents, and to break destructive and dangerous cycles is the foundational purpose of why God became flesh. New life is a Scriptural promise, and for us it ended up with a changed name (it did not begin with a changed name).
As far as name changes in general, they were not unfamiliar, and were in fact quite meaningful when it happened. Abram and Sarai were commanded to leave their familiar world, and God changed their names to Abraham and Sarah. Jacob (heel grabber) was renamed “Israel” (struggles/reigns with God). Jesus renamed Peter (the rock) to emphasize his mission as a disciple. Moses, Joshua, Naomi, Esau, Daniel, Paul and others were known by other names at another point in their lives.
On the other hand, there were a lot of questionable characters in Jesus’ lineage that God turned for His glory in the end. The “Sons of Korah” were remembered not by their own names, but by their father who rebelled against Moses and God.
So God can do something with a corrupted name, and God can do something with a new name. For us, it was an appropriate new beginning with abundant positive meaning and symbolism directly related to our journey with God.
So, if your family is dysfunctional, should you change your name?
I’m fully aware that as a minister, I bear a responsibility of leading by example. The example I hope to set publicly is that our decision to change last names declares that there was a problem big enough to address, and that breaking cycles is no light matter. The name change is not the example, per se, but it does publicly represent the need to have the conversation about breaking from patterns of evil. It would have been much easier to hide my family’s past if we just kept our old name and moved on with life.
Families are systems, and many systems mirror the broken world. Although not everyone who has a broken family should consider changing their name, everyone who understands the nature of being a disciple of Jesus Christ understands that we are called to be cycle breakers, especially when the cycle is dangerous for you or your children. What this looks like will be different for every family.
Our decision came AFTER years of seeking, learning, healing, and praying. You don’t change your name and things get better. The problems of the past, nuances of family dynamics, and “sins of the father” can still follow you. A name change can’t be an erasure of the past or a “covering up.” When you try to erase or cover up, that is one of the principle traits of a dangerous family system. Our children will know we changed our name, know why, and know the meaning of the name we wear.
There are a lot of questions you’d have to ask yourself before considering changing your name. Are you doing it to run away from something, hide something, make it go away? Again, it might have the opposite desired effect - continuing a pattern of hiding or avoiding issues, making you explain over and over what you wanted to ignore, etc. Also, if you’re ever going to look for a job, it’s going to come up on a background check and could affect your credibility.
Why the name King?
The name King wasn’t pulled out of thin air. Kasity’s father, Kyle King, had three daughters and his good name had ended with him. It was not until we found out that we were having a son (after ten years of trying!) that we seriously considered changing our name. The last name King does not just honor an admirable lineage, but also represents whose we are as Christians - a constant reminder of whose name we wear.
Our son’s first name, Nehemiah, is also significant to our situation and the times we live in. In the Bible, Nehemiah is the one who initiated the rebuilding of the walls in Jerusalem during the Persian reign. In today’s time, we are experiencing the fallout of decades of ignoring the appropriateness and necessity of boundaries. “Paradise” in Hebrew refers to “Eden” and literally means “walled-place.” His placement in our life at this time and our focus on names represents our dedication to exploring the ways we can rebuild and renew families in ways that glorify God for generations.
Has the name change affected our ministry or credibility?
Our ministry? Not at all. More importantly, the trials have amplified our ability to connect with and understand the struggles of an even broader range of people.
Our credibility? Because we have been as open as we can be without compromising the innocent, it seems like people are more open with us because they know we’ve been through something, too. People who have been to hell and back are able to pick up a lot of people on the way. The credibility comes when people can tell which direction you are going, and our lives as Christians are living testimonies to the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I will be continuing the discussion of the deep and meaningful lessons we have learned in our struggle here on this blog including the themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, honoring father and mother, re-discovering the ancient paths, sin, consequence, and heavenly justice vs. human justice.
What advice would I give to someone else going through a similar situation?
Talk to someone, life is too much to do alone. A preacher, a mentor, good friend or trustworthy family member. Talk to God, ask for guidance. Ask, seek, knock. Don’t ignore, hide, distract, or self destruct. None of this is new to the world, but tomorrow has a chance to be. You can even email me if you don’t know where to start!
With the hope and peace that IS Christ,
Sean King is the Pastor for First Christian Church of Cisco.