The piano was calling my daughter’s name. At a whopping 5 years old, it was all she could do to not pound on the ivory keys and hear the blast of notes through the worship center sound system. I rushed to stop her when I received a glare from the senior pastor. I scolded her. She lowered her head and began to whimper.
I should have been more gentle. It was an expectation to not touch the band equipment, but I was a little too harsh. The last thing I wanted my daughter to feel was that she had to walk around in the place like it was a museum. It wasn’t. In fact, it was a place where the greatest freedom of all was preached. Where love and hope were shared. I wanted her to experience that, even at 5 years old.
In the years since, I have learned some important lessons when it comes to my kids and the church. I don’t want them to grow up hating the church, or even feeling like it’s a place of judgement and restriction, because of the choices I make as their father. As a pastoral family, that’s a tricky balance. You have to lead strong at church and at home. What you talk about so freely and passionately on a Sunday morning has to translate to your family and home life.
Here are some reasons, I’ve discovered over the years of leading my family, but watching other’s lead theirs, that pastor’s kids end up hating the church:
1. What is preached to the masses is not modeled at home.
This is the age-old reason why pastor’s kids grow up hating the church and eventually walking away for a long time or even for good. Remember the scene from the classic 80’s movie, Footloose, when the pastor’s daughter walks into the sanctuary and listens to her dad rehearse his sermon? Then, she challenges him on the fact that he is preaching one message there, but saying and doing something different at home with his family. Wow!
I have been convicted more and more on this one as my children grow older. If I’m going to speak of grace and mercy to people I barely know, I better model it at home. If I’m going to be patient with people who are in need, I need to be patient at home with my family.
There is no bigger reason that pastor’s kids grow up to hate, or strongly dislike, the church than a double standard life.
2. Integrity is fickle.
I’m not necessarily talking about moral or ethical integrity, as is usually assumed when the word ‘integrity’ is mentioned. Sure, pastor’s families fall to pieces when moral integrity crumbles. It happens all the time.
The type of integrity I’m talking about has to do with the courage it takes to rise and meet the demands of reality, as Dr. Henry Cloud defines it in his book, Integrity.
Are you doing what you say you will do? Are you promising one thing to your family, but then doing another? Are you making sure you are always on time for a counseling appointment with a couple, but failing to show up on time for your son’s basketball game? Do you keep your promises? Are you rising to meet the demands at home the same way you are rising to meet the demands at church?
This type of integrity is crucial in preserving your family’s view of the church, and cultivating a healthy home relationship with them. I’ve had to learn this over and over again. The first place my integrity must be lived out is at home with the people who mean the most to me.
3. The church building is a place of restriction, not freedom.
I once heard Doug Fields, a veteran in youth ministry, explain to a crowd of youth workers that pastor’s kids should always feel ownership of the church their parent serves. He went on to say that the highest privilege to any child or student belongs to the pastor’s kids.
I agree. One of the biggest reasons I agree with this is that my children have to share me with the church nearly every day of the week. Because of this, they deserve the freedom to run and play and not feel restricted in the building. They deserve ownership and they deserve more privilege than any other child, bottom line.
Obviously there are boundaries. My wife always has the “you show respect because this is our church, and daddy is one of the pastors,” talks all the time as they walk into the building. We expect our children to take good care of our church. They are not to create messes and leave them for someone else to clean up. They are always to show respect to everyone! But we expect this of them in general, wherever they are.
My family does receive the highest privilege at our church. They are free to run up and down the hallways and play games as they are waiting for us to leave. They are free to play hide-n-seek in empty classrooms and bounce balls around in the gym. They share me with the church all the time. I’m going to do my best to share the church with them.
4. There’s no room for authenticity.
One of the greatest lies my wife and I bought into when we first started out in ministry was that we had to portray perfection. No one was to know that we had struggles. My wife actually had another pastor’s wife say this to her once. I’m serious. We even began to raise our children like this until we woke up. The wake up actually came in the form of leaving that church and moving to another, more loving and authentic church.
When we did, we found something that had been missing from our lives for several years: authenticity and reality. We realized the freedom in being real, in being who we were created to be. This did not mean that we walked around airing all of our dirty laundry to anyone and everyone we came in contact with.
What it meant was that we were no longer afraid that my job was in jeopardy if we shared openly and honestly about our struggles and trials in life. It meant that we could acknowledge that sometimes life stinks and we feel defeated.
Most importantly, our children discovered they did not have to try and measure up to something that was impossible to measure up to. They have permission to have bad days, not be perfect, mess up, or feel sad, and no one was going to judge them for this.
My heart’s desire is that my kids love their church, and the church, universally. It begins with me and my choices. If I am not modeling the love and mercy that Jesus talks about, and that I believe so strongly in, how will they ever see the church, more importantly, Christianity, as anything more than a set of do’s and don’ts?
Pastor’s or church leaders, what else would you add to this list?