While it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Mikayla Kennaugh would follow her father into church work, there were some pretty clear early indicators.

For example, during a Service of Tenebrae on Good Friday when Mikayla was just 3 or 4 years old she started to weep when she saw the crown of thorns and the cross. Through tears, she managed to sputter to her parents, “That was all for me.”

A 9-year-old Mikayla Kennaugh poses with her dad in 2010.

According to her father, Rev. Eric Kennaugh, lead pastor at Immanuel Lutheran
Church in Batavia, Illinois, “At that moment, when she was overcome with emotion after realizing what Jesus had done just for her, we knew that God had big plans for Mikayla.”

Despite such a strong start, Mikayla’s faith began to wane during her teenage years. At that time, she was facing tough life challenges, and elected to distance herself from God and her church. She found herself questioning and doubting almost everything about her faith. Fortunately, as she grew farther from the church she grew closer to her father. Through long talks over late nights, he helped her find her way back to Jesus. And now as a junior in the director of church ministries program, she aspires to be fully present with others who are struggling in their faith, just like her father is for her.

“I’m so grateful that my dad gave me the freedom to figure things out on my own,” said Mikayla. “No matter what I said or how badly I felt, my dad just held space for me and listened.”

“We spent a lot of time talking together about who she was, and what her place is in the world and with God,” said Pastor Kennaugh. “She initially had a lot of fear that I would reject her for asking such deep and challenging questions because she put pressure on herself to be the image of what she thought a pastor’s kid should be.”

Their conversations eventually led Mikayla to consider CUW. At Concordia, she said she deepened her reading of the Bible and relearned how to pray. I ultimately learned how to take accountability for my own faith,” said Mikayla. “The more I learned the deeper I went. I wanted to figure out the matrix of Christianity and what it meant to me.”

Mikayla recognizes that the pause in her faith journey was an important step in her ministry preparation. She also credits her honest and open relationship with her dad, and the guidance of many Concordia professors for shaping her into the kind of church worker she wants to be. “How many people in ministry give themselves true permission to step back, reflect, and ask really hard questions?” she asked rhetorically.

Now well into her coursework, Mikayla still feels the growing pains of her youth, but she better understands the value of her struggle and the peace when finally letting go. “God is all powerful, and we are so little in comparison. Concordia reminded me that we have such a limited knowledge of who God is and what He does for us.”

Ever her father’s daughter, Mikayla goes on to share that she hopes to be half as effective as her dad when it comes to connecting with people and sharing the love of Jesus. Her big aspirations understandably make her father very proud. According to Pastor Kennaugh, “When you become a parent, you start to discover a whole other aspect of His love. Mikayla has always been a leader and a strong communicator. Now that she has found her home and her niche, she will be an excellent director of church ministries.”


In addition to its traditional undergraduate director of church ministries program, CUW offers an accelerated option for second-career learners or lay workers.

  • Fully online, 47-credit program
  • Graduates are eligible to receive a call within the LCMS
  • 16- and 31-credit certificate options also available for volunteers currently serving in churches

Learn more at cuw.edu/DCM-certificate.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of Hearts Together, a Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor Special Magazine edition. The fall/winter issue hit mailboxes in early October. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email Jennifer.Hackmann@cuaa.edu.

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