Mikey has posted helpfully on work and rest in ministry recently (while Al posted on play, generally). Mikey’s “ministry as lifestyle” framework is pretty on the money I reckon. But someone in this picture has to think of the children (he did respond (as did his wife) in the comments on that post with some wisdom).
I like claiming to be an expert on things based on my own personal experience. I’m not claiming to be unique here, just claiming that I have a possibly relevant insight as the “son of a preacher man” – if I can’t reach you, then what hope do you have? My dad is a minister at a fairly successful church, he would also somewhat unfairly be described as a (possibly reforming) workaholic. Both he, and my mum, invested their time pretty heavily into their ministry. It’s taken quite a few years for them to appear comfortable taking holidays (and now they can’t get enough of them – they’re currently blogging their way through Europe). I am not bitter, though I can’t speak for my sibblings, in fact I’m in the process of entering the family business… So if you’re in ministry and you’re asking “how do I get my kids to grow up not hating me for making sacrifices for ministry” then this might be a post for you. I don’t want to endorse everything my folks did, nor paint them as perfect parents the nature of raising a headstrong lad like myself meant there were plenty of “interesting” moments. But here are some things they did that I think were helpful (and some things I would change).
- Make sure your children know the eternal importance of the Gospel – this is a bit of a given, but it will help them to understand why you (possibly) gave up a much more exciting and lucrative career in order to tell people about Jesus. Frame it as a job of eternal significance. As a little kid there’s nothing cooler than thinking your parents are doing something as cool as the guy whose dad is a fireman or rocket scientist.
- Read the Bible together – I’m pretty sure mum and dad test drove some of their Sunday School material on us (including, if I remember our little Bible/craft folders they made for us – the Bible in Ten Easy Lessons/King, the snake, and the promise). You want your children on board (especially as kids) and other kids will inevitably ask them hard questions running around after church.
- Everybody is looking at your family as standard bearers. Everything from the clothes they wear, the shows they watch on TV to how much they know is an area of comparison. And they’re fully aware that this is happening. Other kids tell them. It was my fault that my friends couldn’t watch the Bill, and I was used as a justification in another friend’s campaign to watch the Simpsons. Make it clear to your children that you don’t judge them like other people do, and discourage this paradigm.
- Involve your children in your ministry – ask them for feedback, listen, take their ideas on board – two of my proudest moments as a child are suggesting a lolly jar in church, and spotting something significant (a comparison between Psalm 23 and the feeding of the 5,000) that dad used in a sermon (with attribution). Developing some sort of sense of involvement (though a balance) is useful.
- Try not to talk about them too much – either in the context of your parenting, or in illustrations where they look silly. For a long time if you googled my name the top result was the text of one of dad’s sermons that said “Nathan Campbell has lost his shoes“…
- Make sure your children understand pastoral sensitivity – if you practice hospitality it’s likely your kids will overhear stuff they shouldn’t (especially in a small house with thin walls), or be involved in awkward moments. Don’t leave these unexplained – and make confidentiality a big deal.
- Encourage your children to get involved with their own ministries as they get older, let them know that this makes you proud. Don’t ever take their participation in church stuff for granted. Encourage them to participate as members and as leaders, and let them know that you like that they do.
- Be available – while your children will no doubt want to take advantage of your presence (probably for games of table tennis) take advantage of the fact that you work from home and recognise that your flexible hours free you up to say yes to doing some fun stuff during the day. Particularly do things that allow for conversation. Talk about theology stuff, answer questions, that sort of thing. This is one of the greatest privileges of being a preacher’s kid – you’ve got your minister on tap.
- Give your children access to visiting speakers who are staying with you – access to your own father is a plus, but access to a network of incredibly gifted guest speakers for your own post-event question time is without doubt one of the things I’ve appreciated most. I’ve shared a room with Chappo. I’ve picked the brains of guys like Mike Raiter, David Cook, and dad’s contemporaries, and once I played a game of table tennis with Leigh Trevaskis.
- Try not to make sacrifices on your children’s behalf in every area – One of the things I am the most bitter about is how frugal some decisions my parents made were (they once bought me brown shoes and black shoe paint for school – saving $5 on a pair of black shoes and forcing me to paint them fortnightly). For a long time, I attributed this to the terrible pay ministers get, in hindsight we probably sacrificed in some areas so that we could do extra-curricular stuff like sport and music… which has turned out to be pretty valuable.
On the whole I reckon mum and dad maintained a pretty good balance, we always had food on the table and the assurance of their love. In less lucid and more emotive moments I probably felt a bit ripped off by how much time (and other stuff) their ministry took away from me. But the more I understand point 1 the easier that is to forgive. It’s easy (as a kid) to watch how much time your parents are spending solving other people’s problems and how little they’re spending on yours. So I think it’s pretty important (as a parent) to know what’s going on for your kids and remember that they’re members of both your church and your family.