A church planter once confessed to me, “I’m struggling with this call. I don’t know if I’m willing for my son to grow up hating the church.”
His statement took me back to dozens of pastoral nightmare stories of PK’s who have walked away from God and the church because they felt forgotten and forsaken by parents who loved the church more than they loved their children.
Do you worry about that for you kids? I did!
I wanted both: a fruitful ministry and children who grow up to love and follow Jesus.
Here’s what we faced and what we did to raise pastor’s kids who grow up to love and follow Jesus. Which of these strategies will help you?
4 Challenges Ministry Families Face
Do children in a ministry home suffer for their parents’ sacrifices? I’m sure some do.
Pastors, like other ministry leaders, can get caught in the tug-of-war of time competition between home life and church life.
After all, we who bear the mantel of ministry are human. We’re often underpaid compared to secular professions with similar hours, responsibilities and education.
And we have the same desires – desires to succeed at our life’s work, desires to impress our peers, desires to please God by the work of our hands.
We’re human. And humans make mistakes. Sometimes our progeny pay the price.
2. Tired…and Sick
In our first two years of church planting, I was so tired that every time we went on vacation, I got sick. It was the only time I dared let down, and when I let down, my immune system stopped fighting.
The turning point came when Lori said, “If you’re going to get sick tomorrow, I don’t want to go on this vacation.” I kept my resolve up all week, and when I felt a sore throat coming on, I fought it off.
No more vacation colds for me!
3. Territorial Weight
In those early days, whenever we left town, a weight was lifted off my soul.
When we got back into town, I felt it again within twenty-four hours.
Some might think it was all psychological. I’m convinced it was spiritual. We know from the book of Daniel that there are territorial demons. If Satan can take down a pastor, he’ll have won a battle.
4. Highs and Lows
Leading a church with few (or no) people and few (or no) resources while battling the forces of hell for the souls of men is about as challenging an assignment as there is.
In ministry, the highs are higher and the lows are lower.
One day someone comes to Christ. The next day, your best donor departs for greener pastures.
On average, the core of a new church turns over three times during the first three years. Navigating a start-up church to maturity can be like riding a roller coaster on the underside of the tracks!
2 Incredible Things God Does for Ministry Families
So, do kids suffer? They can. Do they have to? I’m convinced not. Here are two bonuses we’ve enjoyed as a ministry family.
1. Amazing Vacations
During New Song’s first ten years of ministry, I took a significantly smaller salary than my peers in similar-sized churches. Most church planters do this. After all, we’re the most committed members of the church, so we make the largest sacrifices.
Did my kids suffer because of this?
They didn’t think so.
Soon after New Song went public, a long-lost friend happened to be in town and heard about what we were doing. He called me up and took me to lunch. He ran a Christian Camp. I said to him, “Ron, I’m sorry we’ve never come to your camp. As faith-based missionaries, we just haven’t had the money for a vacation like that. I promise, we’ll make it there one day.”
He responded, “Hal, the money we raise for scholarships is the easiest money we raise all year. I’d love to have you come, and you can come for free.”
That summer we had an amazing vacation!
That vacation was superseded only by the free trip we took to Disneyland, and the two free trips we took after that to Disney World. Oh, and the free trips to Yosemite, Yellowstone and Puerto Vallarta.
The truth is, God provides in incredibly loving ways for ministry families. I not only know this personally, but I’ve seen it in the lives of my pastor friends.
As a result, our children grew up experiencing the generosity of God, which they know is better than a substantial paycheck.
2. Time Flexibility
I have a friend who says, “The great thing about being self-employed is that you can work whenever you want. The bad thing about being self-employed is that you can work all the time.”
When you work sixty to eighty hours a week, your church should give you the flexibility to take a few hours off when you need to.
Mine does, and as a result, I went on field trips with my kids. I attended all their soccer and t-ball games. I even helped coach a soccer team one year – which was an unmitigated disaster (but that’s another story that has nothing to do with time and everything to do with my lack of knowledge of the sport of soccer.)
If you surveyed my kids today, they’d say they love the work I’m in because it enables us to do so many things together.
We know that being a ministry family has special challenges and unique blessings, but how do you navigate and end up with kids who love and follow Jesus?
9 Reasons my Kids Love Jesus
My children are just crossing into their 30’s and I’m happy to say it’s worked out. My son married the daughter of a missionary. My daughter married the son of an Old Testament professor.
Both my kids’ fathers-in-law have “Reverend” in front of their names. Both of my kids’ spouses grew up in ministry families. All four of these young adults love God deeply.
And they have made ministry homes.
How did this happen? Here are my honest answers:
1. Only God knows.
They turned out. He gets the credit. I’m fortunate to be their father.
2. They made great choices.
The truth about child-raising is that every child has free will. Bryan and Amy get the credit for how they turned out. Both of them made great choices and practiced healthy habits. I got to enjoy watching!
3. They have an outstanding mother.
I remember the day we brought Bryan home from the hospital. I thought, “It’s weird that my wife is a mother.” Somehow a miraculous transformation had taken place. The woman I married became a mom.
And what a mom! Because we had had trouble getting pregnant, she never took either child for granted. They were never a burden, in the way, or a problem. To her (and me), they were two of God’s greatest gifts to us.
Lori prayed faithfully, read books on child-rearing religiously, and practiced great parenting almost flawlessly. She gets the credit for how they turned out.
Now’s the part where I may have made a small contribution.
4. We pointed them towards God.
Jesus said that the greatest thing we could do with our lives is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Lori and I have tried to do that all of our adult lives. We’ve tried to make His priorities our priorities. We’ve tried to make our time His time. We’ve tried to make His cause our cause. We’ve tried to let His character shape our character.
It’s a Matthew 6:33 thing: as we’ve sought first His kingdom and His righteous, Jesus “added all these things” to us – including great children.
5. We read the Bible personally.
There are a lot of habits that enable you to become a better person: prayer, church attendance, fellowship in a small group, generous giving, etc.
But nothing can substitute for the transforming effects of daily Bible reading (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 119:105; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 4:4; Ps. 19:7).
By taking in portions of God’s Word each day, Lori and I have become better people. And the better we get, the better parents we became.
6. We talked at dinner about what God was doing in our lives and what we were learning from him.
There is no substitute for time spent talking around the dinner table.
Since we were never great at having some sort of formal “family devotional” time, we made an intentional effort to ask each other, “What do you see God doing these days?” And “What are you learning about the Lord right now?”
Those questions led to a lot of informal dinner-time discipleship. The dinner table is a great time for casually teaching your kids about God.
7. We served at church together.
A few years ago, Eric Swanson, of Leadership Network, showed me a study that said that the number one factor determining whether children will grow up to love God was whether or not they saw their parents serving at church, and serving beside them.
My kids have served beside Lori and me since they were little.
We never went to church for what we could get. For us, going to church meant serving others and advancing Christ’s cause together.
Five days after the church went public, they were walking neighborhoods with me, dropping invitations on doorsteps. Bryan was five. Amy was four. Amy dropped one on the doorstep of a professional bass player. His wife has led our drama team for the last twenty years.
They both served in PromiseLand, our children’s ministry, as soon as they were old enough. Bryan started our Middle School worship band. Amy painted the high school room. I could go on, but you get the point.
The family that serves together tends to grow in love with Jesus and his cause together.
8. We sent them on cross-cultural missions trips.
Every year, our youth group has headed somewhere, not to build buildings, but to lead people to Christ. Our Youth Pastor trains his students to run a full-service Vacation Bible School. He equips every teen to know how to present the gospel.
From these experiences, Bryan and Amy learned two things that are critical to the unselfish formation of character:
- Looking around at impoverished people in Mexico (or Honduras, or Peru, Panama, or Louisiana, or inner city L.A.), they realized they were incredibly blessed from a material standpoint. This built within them a grateful heart and a sense of responsibility to care for others.
- By leading important parts of a Vacation Bible School, they learned that they could be dangerous contributors to the mission of God.
9. We enlisted godly mentors for them.
Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14, every child begins to be cool and have parents who aren’t.
That’s why it’s critical that they have a godly “bridge” person in their lives during adolescence. By God’s grace, a young woman named Brittany adopted Amy as her mentee, and a young man named Michael adopted Bryan.
Both of them were able to say things and model behaviors for our kids that we never could. It really does take a village to raise a great young person to adulthood!
Does a child of a ministry parent pay a price for their parents’ ministry? They can. But they don’t have to.
And in my experience, the price paid causes them to love God more.
Never hesitate to enter ministry for the sake of your children. In fact, one good reason to enter ministry would be just for the sake of your children!
- This is What Makes Pastors’ Families Resilient
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