Raising kids is messy! I don't mean teaching them to bake with flour all over the kitchen messy. I don't mean having muddy tracks through the house after playing outside messy. I don't mean the handprints on the wall, crayon murals in the bedroom or a water-logged baseboard around the tub messy. What I do mean is that raising kids in this societal context can be very difficult. How can those in ministry raise their kids to meet the challenges with grace and awareness?
I have been a pastor for 19 years and my wife and I have a 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. We want what everybody else wants and that is to raise our kids to be successful, productive members of society who love Jesus and other people.
But how are we, as ministers, supposed to raise successful, Jesus-loving children when our culture seems so dead set against anything Christian, yet welcomes anything else? How can my wife and I raise them to be socially adjusted in this spiritual climate coupled with the fact that we both work and worship at church?
My wife and I have wrestled with this even before having children. We both were raised as pastor's kids who are now raising pastor's kids. Here are 6 decisions your child wants you to make:
- Shatter the glass house. One of the hardest things I've had to realize is that my calling should not be their concern. God called me to be a pastor and I have answered His call. However, God gave my wife and I two kids who had no choice in the matter. Some argue pastors live in glass houses. I disagree. Put curtains up! No profession should make one's family live in glass houses. There must be separation between vocation and family matters. This is regardless of profession, but especially in the ministry. Our children, and even you, need privacy.
- Work Less. Ministers can be work-a-holics just like anyone else. God gives us kids to keep us grounded. We cannot just take them home, wrap them in bubble wrap and place them on a shelf. Spending time with your kids away from work, office, church events and your phone creates lasting memories. I have witnessed far too many people who have grown up in homes where this did not happen and anger, rebellion and waywardness ensued. The juxtaposition of absence due to work and the work being for God is more difficult than our kids can accept. We must separate in order to be the parents God demands.
- Send them to public school. I believe our natural inclination in conservative church life is to separate our kids from other kids in the community or a secular education. We want to homeschool. We want to send them to private school where they teach the Bible. I believe the more we separate, the more maladjusted our kids become. My wife and I chose to put our kids through the public school system. Are there bullies? Yes. Do kids say vulgar things? Yes. Do we have to discuss issues as a result? Yes. Every time, though, we have a chance to help them understand what it means to live out the Gospel in the manner of salt and light and the way Jesus commanded Christians to live.
- Set Equal standards. Don't hold your kids to higher standards than other kids because you are on church staff. This will result in kids hating the church, refusing to go later in life or walking away from the Gospel. Our kids are just like everyone else's kids. They mess up. We have to be real about this. I will stop talking with a church member and handle my child if needed. I don't care where they are. 1 Timothy 3 implies that as parents, we ought to be actively managing our household well. Our church people need to see that we can do that, whenever it is necessary. On the flip side, we cannot give greater worth to everyone else more than our kids. If it is good for them, it is for you. If it is right for you, it is for them. Be equitable.
- Take your days off and vacation. I am horrible at this, but I am trying to do better! We serve people who have needs all of the time. We serve churches that have events all of the time. But we, as human ministers, do not have the ability to do it all, all of the time. Your spouse needs you at home. If your kids are not yet in school, they need this undivided attention. My wife and I have a lunch date every Friday just to stay in tune with each other. I do my best to be at home for supper each night. If I fail at home, I cannot lead the church.
- Pay attention. I remember when my kids were young. They have no concept of boundaries, procedures or social cues. When they see a parent they squeal and run with reckless abandon and arms raised high. If, when they arrive, they are held at arm's length or ignored, they begin to feel less secure in your relationship with them. If that continues, there will be an emotional wedge, which can lead to greater issues. Pay attention to them! Pick them up and hold them. You can keep talking. If the conversation is so critical, then schedule for a later time. I know that the repetitive nature of, "Daddy..Daddy..Daddy," can be extremely annoying, but please answer them. Please be kind to them. And please pay attention to them.
The kids God has given to us are only little once. They only take their first step once. Their first day at school, award shows, parties and first hit on the ball field will only happen once. In fact, they will marry the kind of person they perceive you to have been to them, so be cautious. The relationship you forge and develop before they are twelve is what will keep you in the loop while they are teenagers and their mind is somehow pickled for seven years! Choose family first and watch them choose you too!
Summers is the lead pastor at Coulter Road Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX. He and his wife, Dulcie, have two children: Samuel and Isabella. To read more from Summers, please visit his personal blog at http://intersect.us or follow him on Twitter @aaronwsummers.