Ministry can be tough on a family. Just ask Eli. Or Samuel. Or David. We want so much to do great things for God . . . we want to have a successful ministry . . . we want to reach as many as we can with the Good News of Jesus Christ, but too often the spiritual lives of our own children get overlooked in the process. As Christian parents, our first responsibilty in ministry needs to be to our own family. God has placed these precious children in our hands for such a short period of time — we must be just as intentional about reaching them as we are about reaching the kids in our church youth group. Yet full time Christian ministry can bring along with it a unique set of challenges that can make raising godly kids difficult. Who hasn’t heard of the stereotypical “PK” — the one who is a terror as a child, a rebellious teenager, and a wayward adult? Again, consider Eli. Or Samuel. Or David.
This subject is on my mind a lot, probably due to the fact that I am responsible for raising five young men (currently ages 13, 10, 8, 6 & 3) and so I would like to share ten principles that my husband and I try to incorporate to help us raise godly children in a ministry family.
1. Don’t expect your kids to be saints. Remember, the call to ministry was yours — not your kids. They were born into ministry; they didn’t have a choice. The Bible says that “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and that includes your children. They can’t be expected to always behave perfectly. Nor can they be expected to always be the leaders or examples with their peers. Some children do not have the personality to be leaders, so take that pressure away from them. Of course, you don’t want them running around breaking all the rules, but if they do break the rules, extend the same grace to them that you would to any other kid in the church.
2. Don’t expect your kids to participate in every single church activity. This is a principle that we discovered gradually. When we first started out in ministry, we operated by the rule that if there was a church activity, our whole family needed to be there. As we grew in ministry, however, we realized how ridiculous that rule truly was. Not even every adult is at every church activity. Furthermore, the ministry began to grow so that if we followed that rule completely, our kids would be at a church activity four out of seven days of the week. That’s just too much to ask of anyone, let alone a child! We allow our kids to miss activities now, especially if one of their outside activities conflict with it. We still have non-negotiables, such as Sunday morning church, but if it is not a non-negotiable, our children don’t have to be there. Hopefully this will help avoid some of the resentment that could come later in life as a result of having to always be at church.
3. Let your kids choose their own friends. This has been a tough one for me. I see a new kid come through the door of our church and I am quick to want to pair that new kid up with one of my boys. That’s not all bad, but forced friendships rarely work. Instead, we encourage our boys to be friendly with everyone, but they can decide for themselves who their closest friends will be. Friendships are stronger and last longer when they are not forced, so we encourage our boys to build strong friendships with the kids they get along with the best and to learn to be friendly towards the others. (Note: That doesn’t mean that we only invite families over who are close friends with our boys. On the contrary, we invite families over and hope they will hit it off with our boys, but we let our boys choose the friends they want to invite over for special times on their own.)
4. Keep “Family Time” sacred. Wow. This one can be tough. There is always something that we need to be doing in ministry. There is always another phone call to make, person to visit, family to invite over. However, there needs to be sacred family time or the family will drift apart. For us, our current sacred family time is dinner. Just recently, we have had a couple neighborhood kids hanging out with our boys. It has been a great ministry opportunity, but it began to infringe upon our family time during the supper hour. We saw the effect it was having on all of us, so we had to place boundaries and say that no one could be in the house during supper unless they had specifically been invited over to eat with us. As a family, we need that time to relax and just be us. During that time, we are able to connect with each of the boys, laugh together, and make memories that have nothing to do with our church ministry, but everything to do with our individual family ministry. It happens every day and takes minimal planning!!
5. Don’t go to more activities for other kids than you do for your own kids. Kids these days are busy. There are always activities that you can attend to support them. Attending activities is a great way to minister, just be careful that you are not attending so many activities of other kids that are not related to you, that you miss out on the activities of your own kids! Along with that, don’t behave at your own kids’ activities in a way that you wouldn’t at the activities of the kids in your group. For example, if you wouldn’t yell at one of the kids in your youth group, telling them to “get your head in the game”, don’t do that for your own kid! Be an encourager to all the kids in your group, especially your own! Otherwise, your own kids may begin to feel that they are somehow inferior and less important to you than the kids in the youth group, and they will seek encouragement elsewhere.
6. Be just as intentional about sharing the gospel with your own kids as you are with the kids in your youth group. At first glance, this seems ridiculously easy, but it really isn’t. Think through this one and ask yourself when the last time was that you were involved in a spiritual discussion with your child that was not at church. Hopefully, you can come up with an answer right away, but if you can’t, you need to be more intentional. Our kids need to see us living out and talking about our faith on a daily basis — especially when it is not in the setting of the church. One way we do this is to discuss what they did in church every Sunday at dinner. That allows us to see what they are learning (which can be real eye-opening if we were the ones teaching them), and to also get into deeper discussions if the Spirit leads. There are several other ways to do this, just remember — be intentional!
7. Take regular time off with your family, away from ministry related events. In other words, take vacations! Some of our best times growing as a family have been on vacations. Yesterday I found two of my boys looking through scrapbooks that chronicled a couple of our past vacations. This led to a conversation about how much fun they had, and the memories that were made. These are memories that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. It is also during these times where some of the most important gospel discussions can take place. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having this time with your kids. The investment will be well worth it — find a way to make it happen.
8. Don’t expect your kids to always be joyful about “sacrificing” for the ministry. This is related quite a bit to the first principle. Your kids did not sign up for this ministry. Yes, they will learn to sacrifice. Yes, they will learn to volunteer. But they will not always be joyful about it and that’s okay. Along with that, we shouldn’t always expect them to make sacrifices. They should not have to sacrifice their little league game for a church event, or give half of the money they get for their birthday to the church. Teach them to sacrifice and volunteer, but remember, it is not truly volunteering if it is forced. Instead, instill in them a love for God, and let the sacrifice and volunteering develop as a natural overflow of that love.
9. Don’t embarrass your kids in public. Always, always, always get their permission first if you want to use them as an illustration! How would you like someone sharing your most embarrassing experiences in front of a group of people just to make a point? A child’s self esteem is worth more than a good sermon illustration.
10. Allow your kids to find their own place in the ministry. As I’ve said twice before, your kids did not sign up for this ministry. However, hopefully there will come a point where they will fall in love with Jesus and discover that they have a place in the ministry, too. Once they do, use them. There are many, many ways that a child can use his gifts in the church to serve Jesus, so get your child plugged in as soon as you can in a place where he is gifted and where he desires to serve. (If you need ideas, see my earlier article “Eleven Ways to Help Children Use Their Talents in the Church”.)
Yes, ministry can be tough on a family. That is why we need to be intentional about our own children.
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NASB)