The Fishbowl, the Birdcage and the Soccer Field
Are you raising kids while serving in a ministry position? Well, we’ve asked kids and teens who are growing up in ministry homes and adult children who grew up in ministry homes to get their take on it. We are tackling this tough issue to share practical ways to navigate this unique parenting journey.
Here we are rolling down the ministry highway teaching kids, training parents, leading a multi-faceted, fast-paced rapidly growing ministry while not ignoring our primary ministry—raising, loving, and leading the kids who sleep under the same roof. Ever wonder how to lead your own kids and dodge the PK stereotypes? When you’re serving on staff at a church, in a ministry position or a key leadership role, your victories and your failures are magnified and quite often on display for all to see.
We want to do it well and do it right. We get it. We understand Deuteronomy 6 where we are instructed to pass our faith on to our kids and we work hard to do just that. But somewhere along the way this primary responsibility gets lost in the demanding responsibilities to the church and our allegiance to the Bride of Christ.
The Fishbowl and the Birdcage
A fishbowl is on display for everyone to see. Its clear glass makes it highly visible from every angle. Our children are the fish, with people watching their every move and grading your parenting based on what they see one hour a week. And, when seen outside the church, it’s even more intriguing and fun for people to watch. Early on, when we were serving on a staff and had little ones, we did our best to make sure our kids were visible and that we were equally as visible with them: instructing, correcting, encouraging and even disciplining when necessary. The idea is that if others see us as normal parents, they will see our kids as normal kids.
Then there’s the birdcage. Simply put, the birdcage serves as a way to confine a bird that was created to fly in a small space so that it can’t. Our kids get caught and trapped by expectations that are put on them by others or that they put on themselves and this keeps them from being who they were created to be. One pastor’s kid answered this way, “They always told me that they wanted honesty and they were forgiving, but I was so scared of letting them down and tarnishing the family name that I just lived two lives—life of church/family and my life outside of my house and the church.” Well-wishing people want the best for our kids and expect them to be perfect. Others want to see them fail and are free to share with others when they do.
Fish bowl and birdcage—each are equally dangerous and damaging for your kids. If we were to change the playing field, though, and hit this from a different angle, we could launch our kids into a vibrant faith and healthy view of the church. Think about a soccer game. There are two opposing teams (us and the enemy) working toward the same thing—getting possession of the ball (our kids) and scoring a goal (advancing their faith walk). Some of my favorite things about soccer are how aggressive each team is about getting the ball, how quickly they retrieve the ball when it goes out of bounds and how easy it is to get the game going again. I believe this to be true about parenting as well. There are lots of spectators (the church and the community) watching the game (us parenting our kids) and we must be diligent when the ball goes out of bounds (our kids mess up) to quickly pick up the ball and throw it back in bounds so the game can resume. So how can we play this game and set our kids up to succeed?
They need their parents.
I’d rather my kids say they had a mom who happened to be a pastor than a pastor for a mom. They need to know that your priority is the family, separate from church. This isn’t excluding Christ as the center of your home but repositioning so the church is not the center of your lives. Ministry happens 24/7 and it is important, but family is priority. You have to maximize the moments you have with your kids and encourage the other pastors and ministry staff to do the same. The last thing we want our kids to say is that we were too busy doing ministry to be there for them.
It’s more about what they see than about what we say.
They want us to speak the Word of God and its truth on a daily basis, but more importantly, we must live it. The whole “monkey see, monkey do” philosophy can be summed up in this: if you’re stressed out, uninterested, and unavailable you’ll find your kids disengaged, frustrated and removed from their faith walk. The way we live at home directly affects the faith they adopt as their own.
It’s not wrong to be intentional.
Make faith a priority. It’s okay to raise them in a home where God and the truth from His Word are talked about everyday. Never stop. This is the very thing they will look back on and be grateful for. While we don’t want to “force it down their throats” we can’t be intimidated by the threat that we will push them away. They will remember the consistency and relevancy of the Truth and will value your willingness to fight for it.
They will mess up.
Don’t expect perfection this side of heaven. We all know how hard it is when we feel like we don’t measure up. Put down the measuring stick and love them through the hard stuff. Lean into God, your spouse and the people around you as you walk through this with them, maintaining unconditional love and acceptance for them while correcting their behavior and dealing with the current issues. One student who grew up in a ministry home said it this way, “When people know you are a PK, people expect more of you. They might not say anything, but sometimes I feel that I am the standard of what a good Christian should be, just because of what my parents do.” Instruction, correction and discipline are all crucial but unconditional love is vital.
We will mess up.
Let your kids have a front row seat to your personal faith walk and your journey through the tough waters of ministry. Don’t try to be perfect in the eyes of those you serve or in the eyes of your kids. Letting them see the good, the bad, and the ugly allows them the opportunity to see you walk in humility, trusting God and giving them the opportunity to pray with and for you.
Hold them accountable.
Just like you, they are accountable to the Word of God, but they are also accountable to the expectations you as parents have set for your home. Share truth with them about who they are and challenge them with the responsibility of their role. Share about their privilege as a part of the body of Christ, not their obligation as a pastor’s kid.
Make it FUN!
Ministry kids are labeled and often thought of as the ones who can’t do ANYTHING. They get overlooked or just not invited to certain events or activities. Open your home to your kids’ friends and be a fun place. Your first ministry is to your kids. Ministry kids are often misjudged that their parents are overprotective and too strict, which translates to NO FUN. Prove them wrong! Create an environment in your home that is welcoming and inviting. Take time for fun outings with your kids and their friends. It’s completely okay to set house rules and not bend on them, but let them see that fun can occur in your home where godly values are core.
There are benefits.
Let the kids reap the blessing of their parents being on staff or ministry leaders. Every kids’ ministry has a candy stash. Give them permission to raid it. When we held an event for our staff kids (SKO – Staff Kids ONLY) we asked them their favorite things about being a staff kid and their answers were enlightening. Some of the top reasons were: everyone knows them by name, they know the pastors personally, they get privileges like going on trips with their parents or going to camp early, and they get free run of the church building outside of regular service times. Help them see the blessings and celebrate them.
Statistics state that 80 percent of pastors say that ministry has negatively affected their family. Many pastors’ kids don’t regularly attend church as adults because of what the church has done to them or their family. PKs are going to fail, mess up, miss the mark. We can either maximize the failure or we can encourage them and teach them through their failure. Talk to them without judgment and condemnation. Fight for the heart. Don’t get so caught up in the actions; they are just the display of what’s going on in the heart. We aren’t responsible for winning our kids to Christ. That’s not our job; it’s all HIS. We are responsible for living out our faith in a way that’s attainable and attractive to them.
The daughter of the King, a wife, a mom, and a friend, Megan is also the NRGen Pastor at New River Fellowship in Weatherford, TX. Her heart beats and breaks for the next generation and those who are pouring into them! She delights in a good laugh, hanging out with family and friends, Dr. Pepper and being a word nerd, while her deepest desire is to reflect Jesus is all that she does!