If you are in ministry and have children, you know about the unique challenges that creates. Growing up with a parent in ministry can either make your faith stronger or hinder it. It may sound strange that ministry kids would need to be protected from ministry, but understanding the dangers will better allow us to create a healthy experience for our kids.
This is a reality we need to be honest about. As I raise three boys of my own in and around church, I deal with this daily. I am passionate about making sure ministry kids are taken care of. That means protecting them from some of the potential negatives, while accentuating all the positives.
It’s easy to overlook your child’s spiritual health when you’re looking after the health of so many other people. But the enemy would love nothing more than to discourage and harden the hearts of your kids. I believe one of your greatest responsibilities as a leader is to fight for your kids and shape their hearts for God.
In the first installment of this two-part series, we’ll look at the problems ministry kids face and talk about big-picture ways to insulate them from the bad parts of church life while helping them experience more of the great parts. In the second article, I will share some practical ways to put this into action.
Growing Up in Ministry
As a pastor, you know the benefits of being a part of and leading in a local church. But you also know there are dangers around every corner. If we’re honest with ourselves, those things can affect us and our family. How are you preparing your kids for these unique challenges?
One of the most obvious problems ministry kids face is the incredibly high expectations placed on them. Whether fair or not, people in your church will expect a certain type of behavior from your children. Sometimes that standard can be hard to reach. When kids try to live blamelessly and come up short, it can have damaging consequences.
The expectations are not just in church. At school, in the neighborhood and even on a sports team, your children may be known as the “pastor’s kids.” That comes with all kinds of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. As your children get older, they may be find it hard to connect with others and struggle to a certain degree with their identity.
Your kids feel the inconvenience of ministry more than you do. When dinner is interrupted or a vacation is cut short because of an emergency, it weighs on them. They show up early and stay late at nearly every service. That can be a heavy schedule to keep.
Growing up with a parent in ministry can either make your faith stronger or hinder it.
Their experience within the church is also unique. Whether they realize it or not, people in the church may view your kids as different or special. When they see your kids, they’re looking at a reflection of you. That may not be fair, but it’s true.
While many of your church people will be incredibly gracious and impact your children’s lives in powerful ways, others may not.
Taking Care of Ministry Kids
The answer is not to insulate or remove your kids from church or ministry. But you do need to provide some protection for them. Maybe you never thought about it from their perspective — or, if you have, perhaps you didn’t know what you could do to help them out.
I have learned from experience what it means to be a ministry kid and have ministry kids. I haven’t done it all perfectly all the time, but I have been able to learn a lot. Let me share with you three big-picture ideas to help your kids grow positively in ministry.
Let Them Mess Up
No kid is perfect. When we expect perfection from our kids, that will likely lead to them failing over and over again. Either they come up short and feel condemnation, or think they’ve managed perfection and end up arrogant. Both are dead ends.
Instead, give them lots and lots of grace. Don’t put a higher expectation on them than you would place on any other kid in your church. And encourage your friends and staff to treat them the same. Make the playing field level when it comes to how your kid is expected to behave.
Let Them Miss
Just because they’re your child doesn’t mean they don’t have a life outside of the church. Take a look at the other families in your church. Do they have a perfect attendance record? Of course not. When your kid is expected to be at every event, every week, they may become resentful of church.
Build into your family’s calendar days off from church. I don’t just mean having a summer vacation. Think about taking a Sunday off in the middle of the fall or spring. Let your kids skip a service even if you aren’t with them. This will help them feel a bit more normal.
Let Them Be Kids
Finally, make sure they experience a healthy childhood by just being kids. Try not to let ministry life rob them of normal kid stuff and activities outside the church they may enjoy. Give them freedom to explore and try new things. They’re also going to get into a little trouble, be loud and obnoxious, say some things they shouldn’t, and learn from mistakes.
Don’t put your children in a bubble. Instead, give them space to be kids. Let them experience the things you enjoyed when you were their age. Give them room to grow, and you’ll find that each one will grow into his or her own person.
Our kids shouldn’t be expected to find their identity in our position or occupation. They can only find it in a thriving relationship with Christ. That space you create to let them be kids will also allow them to find their place in Christ.
Next week, we’ll explore some practical ways to create that space. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray for your children, your staff’s children, and the children of your other friends in ministry. The stakes are too high to let your kids slip through the cracks.