A young pastor recently asked for my advice over lunch. His church plant was maturing, and he was looking down the road. His own children are ages 6, 4, and 1. Knowing the problems that pastors’ kids can have, he wisely desired to cast a vision of care for his children.
Too many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.
But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.
What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?
Word to the Congregation
These children running around among us are precious to God. One day they will not be 6, 4, and 1. They will be 26, 24, and 21. In the meantime, they are watching you and listening to you. And by that observation, they are deciding if the gospel is real. Jesus said, “By this all people (including these children) will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What will they say about your church when they are adults? How did you help or hurt their walk with Christ?
1. Give grace to the pastor’s children on Sunday. Sunday is a workday for his family unlike any other person’s workday. While her husband is ministering, a wife is parenting alone. The pastor’s kids are often the first ones to arrive at the church building and the last ones to leave. You can minister to his family by giving his children grace, talking with them, and enjoying them. When his children are young, you can also offer to help his wife.
2. If you have a concern, talk to your pastor about behavior that characterizes the children. But do so with an attitude of loving acceptance. As a shepherd of my family, I wanted to know when my children acted up. But I also knew any report I received was from an adult who cared about me, who knew that children will be, well, sinful children. They did not look at my children as PKs (pastor’s kids), but only as kids.
The issues that should concern us are not individual actions but behaviors that characterize a child. The phrase “managing his household well” (1 Tim. 3:4) refers to the father, not the children. It doesn’t mean a pastor and his children are perfect. It does mean he handles true problems well.
3. Be generous in your praise. Respect is especially important as the children grow older. A pastor’s children will soon figure out that their family doesn’t drive the newest car or take the fanciest vacation. But if others verbally express respect for the pastors, the children’s view of their parents will rise. Men especially who express respect to a pastor’s son can make a substantial difference.
4. Limit church criticism and complaint to private conversations among adults. Every group of people will have problems. Issues will need to be aired (see Acts 6). But know that young people are watching how the adults are handling problems. As a teenager, I was keenly aware of the conflicts and hypocrisy in my church. Make sure you keep those comments among adults. Take any issues privately to the leadership. Don’t make sniping complaints to young people or in the hearing of young people.
5. Be brave and rebuke the critics. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation will follow this suggestion. When grumbling and faultfinding spill over in front of you, speak up. Tell “Nitpicking Nora” not to talk in front of the children but speak directly with those in charge. Remind her that these are just children. The souls of these little ones are precious and need to be guarded. A united elder team can be especially helpful in speaking to any who engages in unwarranted faultfinding.
6. Give your pastors room to deal with their children’s hearts. Older children will go through some spiritual ups and downs. How will you think about those bumps? With care and affection? Or self-righteous judgment? Your pastor’s children are like all of us. They are in a process of becoming like Jesus. You can embitter them with sharp comments. Or you can love and accept them even as they grow into adulthood. Pray for them regularly by name as they make this transition.
7. Give your pastors margin to minister to their families. Children need their father. But many leaders will be tempted to neglect their families to meet the unending needs of the church. Carping and demanding church members will make that temptation even greater. Even as a church member, you can encourage your pastors to care for their families. Are they taking their days off? Are their vacations uninterrupted? Don’t demand that they minister to your crisis at the expense of their own family.
By God’s grace, my children have no bitterness from my 25 years of pastoring. They know their church wasn’t perfect, but they look with admiration and affection on these aunts and uncles in the faith.
Church member, some day the young children in your church will be adults. They will be spiritual soldiers or spiritual casualties. And yes, you will have an influence on that outcome. They are watching you and listening to you. Use that influence well.