“Sharon, you girls stop that fooling around now and start listening!” My grandfather’s correction from the pulpit stunned the congregation. Fans stopped waving, bulletins stopped crinkling, restless legs froze and a few women emitted quiet gasps. I felt a hot flame in my cheeks while my father glared at me from his chair on the platform and my mother’s head snapped up from the sermon notes she’d been writing in the choir loft.
In my childhood church, my grandfather, Charles Robins, served as senior pastor, my father as minister of music and my mother as a director of education, who also sang in the choir. Passing notes and whispering during a Sunday morning sermon was risky business with three sets of eyes triangulated towards the pews. My friends and I thought our back row spot served as cover for shenanigans. Wrong, wrong, oh so wrong. Worse yet, my grandfather’s pre-Christ years as a ship builder, pool hustler and boxer trained him to have a booming voice, sharp eye and no fear of confrontation. The teens in our church adored “Pastor Robbie,” for his straight talking style. Normally, so did I. This day, I wanted to go a few rounds with him myself for publicly calling me out this way.
The life of a child in a full time ministry family receives unique scrutiny from others, inside and outside of the church. Sometimes pastor’s children are expected to act far above their peers. Their failings can be gossip fodder. They feel the pangs of neglect when ministry demands cause parents to be absent too much. Without a proper framework to handle the special challenges of their position, many p.k.’s flounder and leave the church entirely. The Barna group reports in a national survey conducted with ministers, an astounding 33% stated they have at least one child who no longer attends church anywhere.
We made our share of mistakes raising our daughter in a pastor’s home. The large ones involved unbalanced energies between home and church. A few things we did pretty well, though, and I humbly share them as ideas and encouragement for other ministry parents.
- We consistently played together. No matter how tired we were, we prioritized fun. Many times we silently cried out to God to give us strength to play Barbies, build sand sculptures or do yet another craft, but we did it. The years when your children want to be with you more than anyone else are brief. The repercussions of over spending yourself on ministry during their childhood can play out sadly when your kids are grown. Listen to “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin, on Youtube.
- We did not discuss church conflicts around our daughter.
Jennifer knew nothing of the heartaches we endured at the hands of others, when she was a little girl. We didn’t want her to struggle with any of the conflicts we faced with individuals whom she saw on a regular basis. These were not her battles to fight. Surprisingly, some people who could find nothing positive to say about us were very kind to our daughter.
- We did not expect her to “perform” for every guest in our home.
Although Jennifer is by nature very friendly and outgoing, she and I both find small talk to be uncomfortable. When we hosted visiting missionaries, pastors, and such, we didn’t insist that she spend the entire time with the adults. We trained her to politely answer questions during meals and to help with hostess duties. Since she is an only child, we often encouraged her to invite a friend over during these times and permitted them to play elsewhere after the meal. Frequently, she chose to stay with us and interesting guests but we respected her need to retreat when that’s what she needed.
- We took responsibility for her spiritual training and education. In their busyness, ministerial families can potentially drop the ball here. You know, the cobbler’s children and the holes in their shoes idea. Sunday school and youth group are great, but we considered all that a supplement to our daughter’s spiritual development, not the main dish. We taught her how to pray and have personal quiet times. We grabbed teaching moments that life provided and taught her to apply the wisdom of scripture verses and stories she learned at church, to everyday life. When we didn’t have a junior church program, she sat by me in church while I drew pictures for her to illustrate her father’s sermon points, rather than just letting her mentally check out.
I am intimately familiar with the pressures and responsibilities of full time ministry but please remember that our first ministry is to our spouses and children. The way we handle our own “p.k’s” and allow the church to treat them will greatly affect how they view the body of Christ for the rest of their lives. Let’s do all we can to keep them firmly connected to their kingdom family.