Over the past 24 years as a seminary professor, I’ve worked with a lot of students who had a parent who was a minister, but who were at first certain they would never follow in those steps. When I’ve asked what their first objections were, here’s what I’ve most often heard in no particular order:
- “People always watch you.” My students had experienced the “fishbowl” life; some, in fact, used a “magnifying glass” image rather than the fishbowl. Either way, they didn’t want to put their own families through the same experience of always being in the public eye.
- “My parent was always too busy.” It’s been difficult for students who love their parents to express these feelings, but the feelings are nevertheless real. They didn’t like it when church work got in the way of family. In general, young leaders today verbalize such a strong commitment to family first that they don’t want to risk breaking that commitment.
- “Some church people are just mean.” The kids themselves didn’t always experience the meanness, but they saw it when their parents experienced it – even when parents thought they were keeping it hidden.
- “I don’t want vacations and meals to be interrupted.” When I’ve pushed, I’ve learned that such interruptions didn’t happen often, but they were memorable to the kids. They didn’t want to complain, but they also didn’t forget.
- “Ministry is emotionally hard work.” It is hard, of course, but the point is that kids often recognized that truth. They saw how hard their parent worked. They saw the tears, sensed the frustrations, and heard the honest complaints.
- “We struggled financially too much.” It’s tough to watch when your friends have more than you do. It’s also difficult on the family when both parents are required to work simply to pay the bills. Ministry kids who lived that experience worry that their family will face the same struggles.
- “Everybody said I’d be a pastor or a missionary.” Some of my students admit that they rebelled at first simply because they wanted to make their own career choice. They didn’t like the pressure of always hearing what others thought they would do.
So, what can the church do for ministry kids? Think about these suggestions:
- Know their names. Define them by their first name rather than by their position.
- Let them be kids. Give them room to grow.
- Pray for them when you pray for your own kids.
- Love them. Be a friend. Have fun with them.
- Act like a Christian should act. Don’t give ministry kids any reason to be disappointed with the church.
- Guard your pastor’s family time. Interrupt them only for genuine emergencies.
- Give their parents annual time to attend a marriage retreat. A strong marriage will only help minister’s kids.
- Pay your pastor well. More than one generation will be affected by your generosity.
What would you add to this discussion?