It breaks my heart when I see other pastor's kids grow up resenting the church. In some of these situations I've had a front row seat and have learned some lessons from these failures. I've also seen the mantle of ministry passed down from one generation to the next and have learned lessons from these successes. Jenny and I want our children to love the church as much as we do when they grow up. This one goal has guided us in a lot of our decision making. Here are some of the principles we've adopted to pass our love for ministry on to our kids.
Don't drag them to church all the time. Kids all have to go to work with their parents from time to time, but I try to not do it more than anyone else. I also try to give them the choice if possible. There was a time when they wanted to come to church because they could play on the air hockey table and shoot baskets in the gym. When it comes to work places our church is a pretty fun place for kids, but familiarity does breed contempt. At some point they said, “No, I’ve been there enough.” When that time came (and they were old enough) I let them stay home. This was particularly tricky when my wife was working at the church as well. It meant we were both there a lot and the kids had to come in tow. We intentionally staggered our schedules so the kids could stay home with one of us while the other worked.
Be clear on what's work and what's worship. I know everything is worship, but if you're always going to church then kids associate the church as taking you away. When I go to church on Sunday I say, “I’m going to church.” When I go to church during the workweek, I say, “I’m going to work.” Everyone has to work and sometimes church work pulls you out at odd hours. Saying “work” instead of “church” communicates work tasks was a necessary and normal adult activity. It also meant the kids didn’t hear me say, “I'm leaving you for the church again.” It's subtle, but important.
Know the church's expectations for your family. We’ve aways made sure we clearly understood what the church expected from my wife. Some churches want a 2 for 1 deal with a pastor and his wife. My wife likes to volunteer and has invested many hours over the years, but they’ve been by choice. During our interview I specifically asked, “What do you expect my wife to do?” The answers was, “What every other church member does.” If you’re looking for a church and want your kids to love it, make sure you know what’s expected of everybody.
Watch what you share. Church work can be frustrating and church people can be downright mean! When I’ve been in seasons of frustration or struggle, I kept it between my wife and I. Now, as the kids have gotten older I’ve been more transparent if they’ve asked. Maturity allows us to share more, which gives them a clearer picture of church leadership. There are still some things people in our church have done or said that my kids will never know about.
Expect of them whatever you would from any other kid. This is especially true if you’re a youth minister or work with kids. I would let my kids eat only ice cream for dinner if we were at a youth rally. Why? Because I wouldn’t be the diet police for the rest of the youth group, so why would I rob my child of the experience.
Make a deal with them to tell their stories. Your kids are part of your life and it's good to share about them! It's natural to tell stories on your family in sermons to show how you're grappling with God's word in your life. The problem is no one likes to be embarrassed or always the illustration - especially your kids. I never tell stories on my kids that would embarrass them and I always pay them $1 for each story I tell. We started this when they were young and they loved getting a dollar! It made me more mindful of what I said and created a positive feeling about sharing.
Plan around your family. Make sure you get your family events on the calendar and then plan church events. There is never going to be a day great for everyone, so if you’re running the event make sure it’s great for you! Set events at times less likely to interfere with your family’s schedule.
Let your kids visit other churches. There have been seasons when a group of our kids friends were at another church and they wanted to attend a youth event or VBS with them. If it was convenient the answer was always, “Yes!” I let my kids know attending church is so important, and it doesn’t have to be our church. They may grow up and become baptist, methodist, or catholic. I’m fine with any of these choices because I want them to go to a church they love.
Involve them in the work of ministry. Do what's fun for them. Our kids have loved handing out candles every year at Christmas Eve. We started this when they were young and now it's become a family tradition. Take your kids with you when you deliver meals or help out in your community. If your kids like to work on projects, bring them along when you're helping with a work day or hands-on project. Let them contribute to the work in a way meaningful for them.
Parent with humility. As my children have gotten older I've told all of them at least once, "I'm learning how to be a parent as I parent. I'm sorry but I am making this up as I go." I've also had to apologize to them, because I'm not a perfect father (only God is!). This is why we pray for our kids and process the real life issues they face with curiosity. I learn so much from listening to my kids and their perspective on the church. They have taught me about how this new generation perceives certain moral issues. Sometimes their opinions and mine don't align. I'm at peace with this because we are in dialogue - learning together how to face the future with faith.
God has given us some great kids and I'm thankful they love the church. As they grow they love the church in new and more mature ways. I want to help them explore new ways to serve and lead, because one day they will be in charge of the church we both love.