Serving in ministry has a knock on effect on our families and children that can be both positive and negative. Our angst is sometimes with people in friend groups, congregations or communities who may not treat our children well. At other times we need to recognise some of the tensions in our homes are caused by the busyness and stress from the overflow we carry from ministry demands. That can affect the whole family unit. Our children are ever looking on and will form their own conclusions from our intentionality or lack of it in how we consider them and their needs.
The following article gives us a little bit of food for thought. Hopefully it may even encourage us to prioritise dialoguing with our spouse and children so that we can form healthy boundaries in balancing ministry and family life.
It was at a funeral of a pastor that caused my entire perspective on parenting to change. A 45-year-old youth pastor had just passed away. It was sudden and unexpected. Tim was very loved and respected around the state, and the funeral was packed. The usual funeral elements were there. It was wonderful and meaningful. Then, Tim’s young-adult daughter got up to read a letter to her father. Within that letter, she rocked my pastoral and parental world. It went something like this:
“Dad, I remember teenagers would line up after youth service to talk to you. They would stand in line waiting their turn to share their heart with you. One Wednesday, I got in line because I needed to ask you something and I didn’t want to interrupt the others. What they had to say to you was important and I didn’t want to be rude. You then stopped mid-sentence and motioned for me to come forward. It was then you said, ‘You NEVER have to wait in line for me. You are the most important teenager in my life and in this church.’ Dad, that’s how you always made me feel.”
I hope my memory of this event gave her words justice because they transformed me. I sat in a puddle of tears. Do my kids, Cammi and Ethan, feel like the most important children in my life? Has my parenting ever been second to my pastoring? We’ve pastored a few hundred kids. Anne and I consider them spiritual sons and daughters. But did my kids feel that they were held in higher regard than any one of them?
I want to encourage pastors who are parents. I don’t want to heap on guilt that the enemy would love to use to crush us. At the same time, if this article can be the same kind of wake-up call that funeral was to me, then it will be worth it.
Here are seven essentials for raising pastor’s kids.
- They have more pressure on them than you realize.
I hear it from Cammi a lot. She has people apologize to her for what they do around her. She also gets left out of things (that aren’t sinful) that people assume she wouldn’t or couldn’t do because “her dad is a pastor.” She loves being a P.K. (Pastor’s Kid)—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t frustrate her. People say ridiculous and, in my opinion, stupid things to P.K.s: “You should know better, you’re a P.K.” “Does your dad know you do that?” “I expect more of you because of your dad.”
That leads me to No. 2 …
- Let your kids be kids.
I’m not sure what “normal” is, but let them be kids. I’m not saying to stop parenting. But they need to be allowed to be children and not have to live out a certain persona. Are we, as parents, putting more pressure on them because of what other people are going to think? Is our desire to impress others and/or protect the “office of the pastor” stronger than the desire to allow our children to be, well, children?
- Be there for them.
I’m not saying you have to coach all of their sports teams (even though it’s not a bad thing to be involved in your community … but that’s for another post). You don’t have to lead anything (in fact, I’d encourage you to serve instead of lead in your local schools). But your presence is powerful. Your children being a priority and feeling like a priority (there’s a difference) are crucial.
- Only use them as a sermon illustration IF they give you permission.
I know a pastor who pays his kids $5 per illustration. My kids’ dad doesn’t hold to that policy. But the policy I do hold to is all about permission. I don’t share a story about them unless they know. I even check with them on details of the story. They don’t mind. Why? I don’t make fun of them. I don’t demean them. There’s nothing embarrassing. In fact, they love that they are a part of conveying the gospel. How did that happen? Permission paved the way.
- They should always have permission to interrupt you.
P.K.s know that you are NEVER off the clock. Everywhere you go, you’re the pastor. I’m Pastor Dave at Kfirst, at the mall, at Target, at the park, etc. I get stopped frequently in restaurants. I get contacted messages from people most evenings and have conversations over Facebook Messenger and Twitter. It’s just the reality of the day and age of social media.
BUT … my kids always have permission to interrupt me. Why? They’re more important than anyone in my congregation (with ONE exception: my wife). My kids always walk up and say, “Excuse me,” when they need my attention for something. Why are they polite about it? Because they know they are valued and they reciprocate that value.
- One-on-one “dates” with your kids are not optional.
Just as your relationships with your congregation build the pulpit you preach from, the relationship you develop with your kids will build you platform to speak into their lives. I still go out with my kids on dates. They both need individual time with me and it looks different for each one. Also, they need “collective” time with me. It’s a time where the three of us go out and have time together. You need both. If you don’t have time for that, it’s time to take a fresh look at your schedule.
- Don’t forget: You are “Mom” or “Dad” before you are “Pastor.”
You’re not called to be their best friend. If you try to be that, they’ll lose all respect for you. But you’re also not there to heap the mantle of P.K. upon their shoulders. They already feel the weight.
Be a parent. Love your kids. Show them they are the most important children in the church because, well, they’re your kids. It doesn’t mean they automatically get the best roles in the Christmastime kids’ play, nor does it mean people have to salute them when they walk by. It just means, in your life, they are highly valued and prized.
Please hear my heart: If guilt is what you are experiencing, then recognize it as a tool of the Enemy to anchor you to past regrets. He uses guilt to keep us from moving forward so that we drown in our past. We are all products of grace. We are all learning as we go. None of us are experts, and we all continue to learn.
If your kids are grown-up and outside the home: Call them often, send them messages and love on them. If there are wrongs from the past, repent if there needs to be repentance. If there are fond memories, recount them and celebrate. Continue to foster the relationships you have with them. No matter what, you will always be a parent and they will always be your kids.
If your kids are inside the home: Make sure they know how valued they are. I say the same things to you: If there are wrongs, repent if there needs to be repentance. If there good memories being made, recount them and celebrate. But don’t stop fostering the relationships.
I love being a parent and a pastor. I wish I did both better. But I believe that if we humble ourselves and continue to desire growth, God will continue to help us lead in both of these crucial roles.
(Dave Barringer is the lead pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God in Portage, Michigan, and the author of Mosaic Marriage.)