Ministry to Staff’s Kids

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“Why are you misbehaving in my class? You shouldn’t act like
this; your father’s the pastor!”

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This is a vivid memory for me. I’d taken a toy from the cereal
box to church on Wednesday night. During the Bible study I took it
out to explore, or I should say play with. Needless to say, I was
caught. The consequences included a visit to the teacher’s home to
make an apology later that evening.

Being a pastor’s kid was sometimes tough, and at times it was
wonderful. People’s expectations of me tended to be different —
sometimes unfairly, but honestly sometimes fairly. Raised in a
pastor’s home, followed by serving as a staff member with children
of my own, I’ve come to realize that the ministry to children of
staff is different, and rightfully so!

How Staff Kids Differ

Kids are kids, no matter who their parents are, but kids of
church staff have uniquenesses of their own that are shaped by
these challenges.

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  • No Choice — These kids haven’t asked to be born into ministry.
    For some, if they had their choice their destiny wouldn’t include
    living in the home of a ministry staff parent.
  • Lack of Privacy — Ministers’ families live in glass houses,
    with little room for privacy, always under the watchful eye of the
    congregation.
  • Transience — Church staffers are part of a transient and
    mobile group of professionals, uprooting their lives when called to
    a new field of labor. Kids have few nuclear family members nearby
    and long for the missing family relationships.
  • Limited Finances — Church staff kids often go without some of
    their wants because of the lack of finances in their family. (After
    all, their parents are working for the Lord, not for money.)
  • Pressure — These kids live in homes where stress and pressure
    are often present due to their parents’ roles. They live under the
    presumption that they’ll live life like their parents and be a
    positive reflection of their parents’ ministry.

What Staff Kids Need

Okay. So they’re different. Unique. What are we going to do
about it? How can we help them on their spiritual journies?

1. Treat them as individuals.

These kids need encouragement to find their identities, talents,
and gifts — apart from their parents. Their role is different
because of their parents’ role, but God has blessed these children
with a personal destiny. Highlight their uniqueness and support
their giftedness.

Keep in mind that sometimes kids who are raised in ministry
staff homes are exposed to and participate in a lot of ministry
programs, events, and experiences. This provides an opportunity for
many to excel in these areas. I taught my first Sunday school class
at 12, led the junior choir at 13, led the children’s church at 14,
and played the organ for the worship services at 15. Having been
raised in the home of a minister exposed me to positive views
regarding the ministry and the call to ministry.

While searching for these kids’ unique gifts and abilities, be
cautious not to expect too much, such as assuming they’ll follow in
their parents’ footsteps with reference to gifts, talents, and
abilities. Allow kids to discover their destinies. Encourage them
to explore.

2. Understand these kids’ challenges.

Because of transitions, which come often in life for church
staff families, be patient and understanding. Having been uprooted
on several occasions during my formative years, I understand the
dilemma of moving to towns of different sizes, complete with
varying ethnic groups. I recall moving from a town of 750 in
central Illinois to a suburb of Chicago, where there were many
culturally diverse students in the school of over 4,000.

It was helpful to me when I had church members or staff members
who took an interest in me and helped me, not expecting too much
too soon. These people endeavored to plug me into the body so I’d
find a place to belong and fit.

3. Shield them from church politics.

Being the child of a staff member also carries with it a lot of
pressure and stress. The parents often carry the load of the
ministry 24/7, taking it home with them and expressing their
concerns, disappointments, and sometimes even anger and resentment
about congregation members. Sometimes the dialogue in the home will
reflect real feelings of the parents, within children’s hearing.
Children can’t control their parents’ conversations, so they can
carry a lot of baggage by knowing way too much.

I recall walking into a church where my dad was serving as
pastor. I was 11 years old. When I opened the door to the
sanctuary, I heard “Shhh, Tony’s coming in. We don’t want him to
hear about his dad.” That comment built resentment in me toward
those individuals. I was pulled between loyalty to my parents and
loyalty to my friends, whose parents made those comments.

Too often, children are impacted negatively because of the
conflicts between adults. Sometimes adults will take out their
negative feelings on a staff member’s child. This type of action
can result in lifelong wounds that threaten the very faith of the
child, family, and even the congregation. In times of church
conflict, it’s important to do everything possible to protect the
children, not abuse them because of their parent’s position.

4. Welcome them home.

Ministry kids often have no place they can call home. The house
they live in belongs to the church and many times is located on the
church property.

To help make the home childfriendly, provide for the tangible
needs of the staff children. Choose housing that’s child-friendly,
located in a safe neighborhood. Providing a play area near the
house with adequate space lets children know they’re welcome. Make
sure the bedroom furniture is child-sized.

When a new staff family arrives at the church, consider having a
welcome party for the new children arriving at the church,
welcoming them to their new home. Activities at this welcome party
can provide the opportunity for getting acquainted and bonding to
the new family. Remembering children on their birthdays or at other
special occasions will also reinforce acceptance and appreciation
of them and will leave a long-lasting, positive impression of the
church.

Living away from nuclear family members, as well as extended
family members, can be difficult. Children miss out on the
opportunity to visit Grandma and Grandpa often. Where possible, the
church can serve as the extended family for the ministry staff.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to designate volunteers who might be
interested in serving as “spiritual surrogates” for staff kids.

April Sturgell, director of children’s ministries at Stevens
Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, has a church volunteer
who helps her with her children when she’s preparing for services,
as well as when the service is over. In her church, a family has
assumed the responsibility to care for her kids by picking them up
after their classes and watching them until she and her husband are
finished with their work.

“It’s often forgotten that being on staff at church is different
from any other job,” Sturgell says. “We’re ‘at work’ with our
children on ‘church days.’ To me, giving them the sense that
they’re loved and cared for with a routine before and after church
is truly ministering to them as well as us, their parents. There’s
no other job on earth in which the parents bring their children to
work with no alternative for their care. We need to step in as
staff and church family and minister to these kids by simply
providing a safe environment with a weekly routine before and after
services.”

“Adopted” grandparents, aunts and uncles, and big brothers and
sisters can visit school functions, remember special days, attend
special events, and even baby-sit at times when the ministry
parents have to be away. In some cases, these helpers can even
assist in funding college expenses because staff salaries are often
low.

5. Balance discipline with loving
relationships.

What about the need for discipline? Does God have two standards
of behavior — one for church staff kids and another for all
others? Nope. The rules are for everyone, whether Dad is a preacher
or a plumber. It’s important, however, that teachers, children’s
pastors, and other leaders who have staff members’ children as
students set ground rules with parents regarding disciplinary
action.

There has to be balance. You can’t allow them to get by with
things. And at the same time you can’t expect too much. There must
be consistency. You need to find them doing good things. Encourage
them in positive ways. And, when needed, there must be correction,
but following the same rules used with the rest of the group.
Building relationships will often prevent breaking of rules.

6. Help them grow spiritually.

It’s possible to raise a good church staff member’s kid who
isn’t a Christian at all. We mustn’t assume that these kids have a
relationship with God just because they live in the home of a
church staff member. Make their relationship with Christ and the
process of spiritual formation a priority. With the parents’
guidance and support, the team can positively impact each child’s
faith in Christ.

7. Give kids and families a break.

I haven’t met too many staff children who couldn’t use a little
more quality time with their parents. Congregational leaders need
to allow and encourage their staff to take regular breaks with
their families. Provide opportunities for ministry staff family
breaks and vacations. Push it!

They need time for doing family stuff together. This will
reinforce their relationships and will ultimately pay great
dividends to the congregation.

Often, children of ministry staff may burn out quicker than
their parents. As you minister to these children, observe and
recognize children’s burnout, signified by behavior change. Then
take action to help the child through a healing process. I’ve heard
it said that 80 percent of pastors’ kids suffer from depression and
often contemplate suicide as a way out. We must provide an
environment where all masks and facades are removed.

Brett Seals, youth pastor at Evangel Cathedral Church of God in
Baltimore, Maryland, remarks, “As ministers, we’re failing to
provide the necessary separation in order for our kids to be
ministered to. The environment we have created (or allowed) has no
distinguishing line between home and church. Our kids live at
church; it’s their home in many respects. We must help the staff
kids to understand that the church is a place where they can be
ministered to.”

The church that has staff members with children is truly
blessed! Why? Children of staff have much to offer. As children of
ministry leadership, they often display leadership qualities. They
many times develop the gift of service because of their experiences
of relating personally with various people groups and cultures.
Many of them are excellent in the role of hospitality. And,
hopefully, they develop and reflect Christlike character. With a
support system in place, they carry on a spiritual heritage, with
the potential to carry on the legacy of their parents.


Tony Lane serves his denomination as International
Coordinator of Children’s Ministry and Christian
Education.

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