Helping My Children Love the Church
I picked up my pace a little, worried about the man behind me. He wouldn’t stop yelling at me and I was getting scared. The children were content in their stroller as we crossed the bridge overtop the Vardar River in Skopje, Macedonia. We had made this walked hundreds of time before without an issue, but that day I felt like I needed cross the bridge fast. The man sounded intoxicated as he yelled, “America! Hey, America!” I don’t know what alerted the man to my nationality. It might have been the bright green double stroller I had my children strapped into. It might have been that I was out with my small children for a walk, an uncommon activity for young Macedonian moms. Or maybe he heard us speaking English. Anyway, I’d been found out.
Pastor’s children can be a little like I was that day: easy to find. The title of pastor’s kid comes with a lot of connotations, many of which are unfair, and none of which the children ask for. Sometimes our children’s relationship to their father-pastor can make it hard for them to have a healthy relationship with the church. But I know that the church is so important to our children’s spiritual growth.
My husband and I have tried to help our children develop a mutually loving relationship with our church because the bride of Christ is so important to us.
Our children are sinners and the church needs to know that.
One of the ways I try to help my children love the church is by remembering they are sinners who need Jesus just like everyone else. [quote]...remember they are sinners who need Jesus just like everyone else.[/quote] Expectations for perfect behavior will only set them up for disappointing a lot of people. They will likely become bitter about the unfair standards set for them just because of their father’s role within the church. Gently acknowledging their sin to others in my church can help create a tenderness with members as they empathize with my children.
One Sunday morning, my husband was guest preacher and had arrived at the church a few hours before we did. A woman came right up to me as the children and I walked into the church lobby. “You’re the preacher’s family, right?” She narrowed her eyes as she looked the children and me over. “Well, we’re glad you’re here but I’ll be watching you. I like to watch to see if the preacher’s kid behave.” I don’t know what she was hoping to see, but I was the one watching her. I made sure she sat before we did and then we found seats on the other side of the sanctuary. That morning-and every day- I needed to give my children grace for their sins. I remind my children, myself, and others that they are sinners who need Jesus.
My children don’t need their specific sins shared with others.
Church members don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of my children’s sins. I try to protect my children’s struggles similarly to the way I would want my own struggles to be protected. If I need counsel from someone within my church, I choose carefully lest someone holds the knowledge of my children’s sin against them.
I also try to correct my children privately. When I pull my child aside to correct a specific behavior, it allows me to communicate what I need to without anyone else knowing what I’ve said. This protects my child and allows her to reenter social situations comfortably. But when I correct them in front of others, I’ve noticed that other adults tend to start correcting my child also. This could be very problematic within my church if a member takes it upon himself to correct my child.
My children need to develop relationships with different people in the church.
My children make friends easily, but we’ve tried to help them develop friendships with people within our church outside of their age group. These unusual friendships have been some of the richest relationships for our family. Opening up my home and our lives to people within my church has helped my children love the people of the church. We have several older people over to our house regularly for dinner and our family loves having our dinner table full with church members. We have church members who come to our son’s games to cheer him on. On Sunday mornings when these special friends greet my children with genuine love, my heart is warmed that my children have older church members who love them dearly.
My children are involved in ministry.
My children love to be involved in activities with my husband and me. When we work outside, they look for a task to help with. When we exercise, they mimic our movements as best as they can. They are able to make a helpful contribution to the church even from a young age. My girls collect the empty offering envelopes left behind every week so they can be put out again. They’ve helped prepare mailers, pass out invitation cards, set up and tear down… there are a lot of jobs a child can do. Involving the children makes them feel valuable to the church and will help them to love it.
My children need to know church is a priority for our family.
As our children get older, we are finding more and more of their activities interfere with church. The children can’t love the church if they are never there. [quote]The children can’t love the church if they are never there.[/quote] The church body won’t know them if every Sunday they are off with mom at a soccer game. As we thought about how to handle this for our family, we decided our non-negotiable is Sunday morning worship. Our son knows when his soccer team has a game scheduled before one on a Sunday morning that he’ll have to miss it. I have seen how this is communicating to our children that the Lord’s Day is set apart special for our time in corporate worship.
Even with an understanding that parenting pastor’s children can be hard, there are going to be parenting moments that just go wrong at church. One Sunday a few years ago, a child of mine threw a temper tantrum over a piece of candy. When I told her she wouldn’t be allowed to have the candy because of her behavior, the fit grew even louder. One of my other children felt bad for her sibling and started crying. I had to walk through the church with one child throwing a temper tantrum and the other one sobbing uncontrollably. I hope church members always remember that we are a family just like any other family. We love God and we love our church. We need Jesus and we need our church.