In my last blog post, I explained some of the difficulty pastors’ children have when the congregation expects them to be perfect. In this blog post, I want to give three strategies that may be helpful in raising pastors’ children in the public eye of a congregation as a response to the questions posed by Thom Rainer in his blog post, “Pastors’ Kids: Seven Things Pastors Would Like Church Members to Know about Their Children."
One thing I know for sure is that clergy parents must teach their children about God’s unconditional love for them, a love that will never separate them from God, no matter how misbehaved or how well behaved they are. 1 John 4:10 (NIV) tells us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent God’s son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God was so committed to us that God gave the most prized possession, God’s only son, as a living sacrifice for the love of God’s people. The children must know how precious they are in God’s sight and that they are of worth regardless of what people say to them. They are valuable to God, and they need no approval from anyone else. This knowledge begins at home first, and then at the church. If parents do not communicate this at home, then children are more susceptible to negative influences in the church.
As you tell them about the love of God, make sure you let them know how much you, the parent, love them as well. Let them know you love them so much that they can always come to you before they do anything that makes them uncomfortable because someone told them to. They have your permission to come to you, the parent, first and foremost for advice. Your child should know that you are for them no matter what others are saying about them. True love starts at home first and then is supported by others outside the home.
The second thing I know for sure is that clergy parents must intentionally work to connect with their children. How the connection happens is the choice of each parent. The goal is to be together for a reasonable amount of time to build a solid relationship between parent and child. I think that even when clergy families participate in activities together, there are times when each child needs their own time slot and activity that fits their particular interest, something that the clergy parent does with that one child that is the child’s agenda. This is a good time to talk about whatever concerns the child has, giving the parent opportunity to be available and supportive to the child’s needs. For example, my husband and I have a clergy friend who spends individual time with each of his children, aside from the regular family outings. One child likes riding dirt bikes, another child likes shopping, and the other likes swimming. This clergy friend comes up with various ways to connect with each child according to their interest. There is purposeful time spent away from the ministry to connect with his children, and each child feels important and special. Our friend has a great relationship with all of his children, and they are excited about the ministry and participate willingly because their parent has spent time with them combating what the critics have said. Clergy parents who connect with their children help them to know that family comes first and there will be other times for being with the congregation. My daughter’s experiences in ministry were less traumatic because the family stayed connected and we were able to listen to how she felt about the criticism she heard. When things really got tough for her because of open and painful church conflict, we allowed her to attend another church until she was ready to come back. When she returned to our church, she was older and more mature and could filter a lot of the comments she heard from the naysayers. It was our staying connected and talking through her experiences that helped us to find a solution that would help her not to be scared by the situations she encountered in the church. It is important for clergy children to understand that, even when they are being criticized, they will always receive the support they need from loving parents. It is important that the criticism outside the home is contextualized by the love in the home.
The third thing I know for sure is children must grow through the stages of life. When a child is a child, clergy parents should let them act accordingly. Yes, a two-year-old will throw a temper tantrum, and a teenager will do sneaky things, but I believe if you rush them through life stages too fast, they are bound to repeat those stages at an age when it is inappropriate. I am not saying not to correct them when needed, but understand that at certain ages children will do certain things, and you will have to support and guide them through by helping them to mature as they get older. This is why it is important to teach them about God’s love and God’s principles and commands. Likewise, connecting to build solid relationships helps as each child grows through the stages of life to maturity, so they will know how they should conduct themselves accordingly.
What comments would you like to add?
Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.
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