Kids are kids, no matter who their parents are, but kids of ministry staff have uniquenesses of their own that require a careful approach from the adults around them.
“Why are you misbehaving in my class? You shouldn’t act like this; your father’s the pastor!”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 with 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.
Meet the Tangible Needs
To help make the home child-friendly, 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.
Welcome the Family
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.
Build Family-Like Relationships
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 Disciple 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.”
Remember Staff Children Are A Blessing
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 a 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 oversees discipleship ministries, Sunday school, Christian education & children’s ministries for the Church of God Youth and Discipleship Department. He’s the author of Changing Ministry in Changing Times.
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