I remember as a young father hearing stories about pastors’ kids not turning out and being afraid that my children could be among the statistics. I wanted with everything in me to love and nurture my family while at the same time to be faithful to God’s calling on my life for the ministry.
I didn’t always get it right (as Terrie and all four of our children could tell you). But, thanks to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the help of the Word of God, and the assistance of a godly wife, I did learn along the way.
From the hundreds of pastors I’ve counseled with in ministry, I know that many share my fears for their children. If you are among those, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about the ministry and your family.
Dangers of Raising Children in the Ministry
Every Christian home—actually, the home itself—is under attack today. In fact, each of the dangers listed below applies to all Christian families.
In some ways, however these challenges are unique to families in ministry.
Family Neglect—As a pastor, you warn, plead with, and provide marital counsel to parents so they don’t abandon their families. Don’t let your children have an absentee dad just because you’re too busy to see your own family’s needs.
Ephesians 6:4 instructs, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Remember, nurture and admonition take time—so give that time to your children.
A Double Standard—Nothing generates disappointment or rebellion in the heart of a child like an inconsistent model in the Christian life. Beware the admonition of Romans 2:21: “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”
No one is perfect, but don’t set one standard in the pulpit and live another at home. Your children would rather see a sermon than hear one, and seeing one will make a longer impression on their hearts.
Proud Expectations—We in the ministry often speak about church members’ high expectations of ministry kids, but sometimes we are just as guilty of expecting perfection—not because we want to see our kids grow, but because we are afraid of being embarrassed.
To put it plainly, that’s pride. And it hurts both your children and you. So humble yourself, release expectations that are rooted in what others will think, and ask God for His grace. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
False Assumptions—Sometimes we assume that our children will turn out okay just because we are always around. The fact is, it doesn’t work that way—as the Old Testament priest Eli could tell us.
Don’t make Eli’s mistake of assuming that because your children are around church and the things of God, their hearts are secure in the love of God. And don’t assume that just because you love God that your children will too. Spend time with them, pray for them, and purposefully nurture their hearts.
This is in no way a comprehensive list of challenges ministry families face, but these are among the most common.
It’s not all challenge and burdens though. On the other hand, there are some special delights for families in ministry as well, and there are ways you can specifically encourage your children to love the ministry.
Delights of Raising Children in the Ministry
By God’s grace, all four of our adult children love the Lord and are serving Him with their spouses in full-time ministry. There are, however, a few intentional actions Terrie and I took that I believe were helpful to our family life and to our family’s enjoyment of the ministry during the years that our children were in our home.
Have daily family devotions. Regular family devotions knit your hearts together spiritually as a family. It becomes a time when children can depend on the family being together around God’s Word. Don’t lead a ministry spiritually while neglecting to spiritually shepherd the hearts of your children in an intentional way.
Remain available. Back in the day when we had no cell phones, I installed a private landline in my church study that did not ring to my secretary’s desk. My family knew that they could call any time to get direct access to me. Additionally, they knew they could walk in on any meeting or appointment if they needed me.
Abstain from negative talk about the ministry. I truly believe that one of the reasons our adult children are serving the Lord in ministry is because Terrie and I were vigilant about what we said. If a critical church member was gossiping, the Christian school enrollment was down, or the budget was tight, they never heard about it from either of us.
Additionally, when we found ourselves with added ministry responsibilities, we did our best to present them in a positive light to our children. Instead of “It’s so hard to have missionaries come when we don’t have enough rooms in our home,” we tried for, “Isn’t it great that we get to be the ones to have the missionaries stay in our home? And look, you get to sleep in Mom and Dad’s room!”
Talk positively about the ministry. Share with your children the little victories that bring you joy in ministry. When you get to lead someone to the Lord in a counseling appointment, when you get fresh direction for adding ministries, when you receive a thank you letter from a child who rides the bus—share these positive aspects of serving in ministry with your children.
Serve together. One of the best ways to make time for your family is to include your family in ministry. Take one of your children with you when you go soulwinning, make hospital visits, visit your Sunday school class, etc. These times don’t replace family nights, day trips together, or family vacations, but they do allow for regular times throughout the week to spend together doing something you are teaching your children to love.
Share special memories. Invite guest missionaries or preachers to your home for meals. Take your children with you when attending an out-of-town meeting or going on a missions trip. After revival services or missions conference, talk together as a family about the special ways God worked in each of your hearts and the victories won as a church that week. Let your children be part of these memory-making times.
Rejoice together. Celebrate ministry victories as a family. For instance, the first time we had three hundred people at church, we took our family to stay overnight in a hotel and went to the ocean. Not every victory will be an overnight celebration, but many should be celebrated, if simply by ice cream sundaes.
Keep the Big Picture
Sometimes in our quest to fine tune the alignment of family and ministry, we forget to simply do the basics. The truth is, you are a parent. And just like every other parent, your job is to parent!
Yes, there are challenges related to nurturing a vibrant family in a busy ministry, but there are also challenges related to parenting in general. Rather than focusing on the challenges, focus on the basic responsibilities of raising your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Teach and model biblical principles. Guide and protect with prayer. Mold and prepare with patience. This takes time, effort, and great measures of God’s grace, but this is possible with the help of the Lord.
Above all, trust God with your children, and look to Him for guidance and help as you raise them for Him.
This is part one of a three-part series on ministry families. In part two, we’ll look at marriage and the ministry.
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