I can still remember, as our kids were in diapers and growing up, wondering how my own involvement in children and youth ministries would impact them. What kind of stress or expectations would they experience living in the fishbowl? Would they come to resent the church? How would their resistance impact my role as a leader in ministry? What can we do or say when they are young to help them mature in Christ and face the various “soils” as growing seeds of faith? These and many more questions plague parents who work with youth in the church and are raising their own children at home. So when the opportunity to work on this topic came up I jumped at it. What an opportunity to support and encourage current parents of children who are also working in youth ministry! What a chance to gather pearls of wisdom from other parents who have also struggled through these concerns and not only made it to the other side, but by many indications their children have matured into Christian adulthood.
An inquiry on the National Association of Directors of Christian Education’s (NADCE) Facebook group with mature parents who have raised their own children while involved in youth and children’s ministry netted a good response. Thus drawing upon their collected experience and wisdom, we have pearls of wisdom, perks and honest challenges. All of these experienced parents unanimously shared appreciation for the permeation of God’s grace all along the way. This grace came in so many shades over the years that one may be tempted to title this artice “50 Shades of Grace.” George wrote, “God’s grace has been amazing as flawed (parent) vessels have tried to pour into other flawed (children) vessels.” And Mike exposed a particularly challenging disorder often leading (90% of the time) to divorce, yet after 36 years of marriage, two faithful daughters and two granddaughters, “who add an abundance of joy to my life on a daily basis is truly a testament to God’s grace and goodness in my life.” We know and believe God’s grace is at work, but all too often it is best observed in hindsight. As we unpack the 14 pearls of wisdom shared by these parents, more shades of God’s grace become apparent. Rather than expect to tackle all 14, pick 1 to 3 you want to incorporate into your home life.
Pearl #1 – Parents should develop and maintain a united front. Children, at a very young age, learn the battle strategy of divide and conquer. Moms, dads, and other family members can communicate and present a unified presence and agreement on what is right and wrong as well as consequences and expectations, thus providing stability for the child. Any attempts to divide Mom and Dad can be met with firm resistance and possibly negative consequences.
Pearl #2 – The support of a spouse is a must. The unusual demands of working with children and youth in a parish impacts one’s home environment. A supportive spouse is a blessing beyond measure. Polly writes, “Having a supportive spouse is everything to a church worker.”
Pearl #3 – Clearly prioritized values. George suggests “#1) God needs to be the center of your life. #2) Spouse comes next… #3) Family (children) comes next… #4) DCE work [youth work] is last on this list.” These can be shared with family members and congregation, but also clearly practiced and modeled.
Pearl #4 – Listen, listen, listen. Listen to your kids and spouse came though loudly in a variety of places, but here it matters that we make time (we’ll not find more time) to listen. Tim shared, “Listen to their stories, talk about God things in the car, pray together about things important to them…be approachable and not judgmental when they ask questions or express opinions.”
Pearl #5 – Model forgiveness and humility. If we believe and teach that all of us are sinful and struggle with failure then it is powerful to model seeking our children’s forgiveness when we as parents say something hurtful out of frustration or when a punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Tim shared a humbling experience when one evening at the bedside of his young son, he intentionally had to model confession as he told his elementary age boy he was sorry for a previous hurtful remark. Modeling humility and confession as a parent is an important skill to pass on through practice.
Pearl #6 – Speak well of your congregation and pastor at home. You want your kids to love their church and respect their pastor. Speak well of them, share your positive views and excitement for worship. As the children grow it may be necessary for youth to know the church is made up of forgiven sinners, but your faith and excitement about worship and the community of faith is contagious. Polly noted, “I tried to model the excitement of working for the Lord, the excitement of going to worship.”
Pearl #7 – Integrity and congruency. Seek ways to make connections between church, home and faith life. Jim shared, “Connect what you do at church with what you do as a family. Be honest and humble.” It’s okay to seek ministry ideas, honest feedback about topics and activities, and use kids as ministry sounding boards. This allows them an “insider” posture. Work to implement family devotions, leading in the faith at home as well as at church, earlier as a family is better, but later can work. Teach growing children to lead parts of the family devotions.
Pearl #8 – Involve them in mission/servant trips and activities. This encourages a missional mindset and servant heart. If you are leading, be sure another spouse or adult can be responsible for your children.
Pearl #9 – Treat your own kids equally when they are involved. Be careful not to show favoritism or give special treatment among other kids. George said, “You don’t want to cause any issues in youth groups because your child gets different treatment.”
Pearl #10 – If you want to use your family or kids as illustrations, get their permission first.
Pearl #11 – By far most of our contributing parents expressed concerns early in their parenthood experience for the potential resistance of one’s children to worship, Sunday school, youth group, etc. All of these veteran parents were very thankful the resistance did not materialize. Likely due to God’s grace, their clear and genuine desire to worship and be with God’s people and positive modeling of these values at home.
Pearl #12 – Connect your own kids with adult role models inside and outside the congregation. Place them in small groups led by another adult rather than yourself. Get to know and support their teachers, coaches, band instructors, etc.
Pearl #13 – If your kids go to public schools, help them live out their faith in the public realm. Share your stories, use TV and movies to discuss how genuinely to be “little Christs”, bring individual situations to the Lord in family prayers. Polly shares, “We impressed on them how important it was to live their faith out at schools and to pick really good friends, but also look for someone who needed a friend.”
Pearl #14 – Pray often, formally at devotion times, bed times and impromptu opportunities. Seek God’s guidance and grace together. Confess and receive forgiveness together. Pray for your children’s friends, role models and future spouses.
Along with these pearls of wisdom from those who have gone before are some “perks” of having parents who serve congregations also surfaced. Already mentioned is the advantage of being on the inside, in-the-know, when planning activities. This can feel like a back-stage pass to your favorite band for a child. Another bonus is the results of what the parents learn by preparing as a leader (reading books, articles, attending workshops, conversations with other parents) to do ministry. This understanding of young people can also be utilized at home. A third advantage is getting to know kids in the youth program who may become outstanding babysitters for your own children. You get the pick of the litter of young responsible teens to watch and interact with your kids. A potential fourth perk is what one family enjoyed – free preschool for his kids. When serving a congregation with a thriving preschool and kindergarten, his own kids were invited in for a total of five tuition-free years of quality preschool for his two children. And lastly, a plus for your kids is to be taught the faith and led in religious activities by their own parents in Sunday school, VBS, confirmation, youth programs, etc. And it is influential for the kids to see how important growing in Christ is for you as their parent.
We all recognize the challenge of managing time, busy calendars and over scheduled lives. Parents need the support of other adults in prioritizing their days and weeks, to put the Lord and one another at the top of their list. Tim shared his appreciation of an older DCE, Ralph, who encouraged him when his kids were young. This veteran parent was patient; he had read to the end of the parenting book and offered calming wisdom. Such a mentor is a gift, a shade of grace, indispensable for those working in the church and raising kids. Keeping the long view in mind, young parents can appreciate Jim’s comment, “The best advice I ever heard, that reflections this Biblical wisdom, is this: ‘the goal of parenting is not to raise children; it is to raise adults.’”