I have a wealth of stories that I would like to dive into about my Dad’s years in the ministry. The memories of that time were bittersweet. If I could have chosen a career for my Dad based on my desires, I would have never chosen the ministry. The analogy of a goldfish bowl works perfect. A goldfish is on display for all to see. Sometimes the transparent bowl is placed in the center of the room. Everything that fish does is open for public view. If the goldfish eats, attacks the little castle in the bowl or poops it is visible from all sides of the room. If a normal kid is disruptive in Sunday-School, he is viewed as a normal pain in the butt kid. If the preacher’s kid does the same thing, it becomes a scandal, and the preacher is barbecued along with the chicken at Sunday lunch.
I am writing this with the hopes that you share this blog with people and children of people in the ministry. This is partially due to the fact that I judge my popularity with my number of blog hits. You subsidize my narcissism when my statistics go up on my blog. Truly I mean this particular blog as a source of exhortation, and encouragement for those having similar experiences.
The Bible is clear that a man seeking the office of an elder should rule his house well.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. I Timothy 3:1-7 ESV
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. Titus 1:5-6 ESV
Commentators have spilled much ink over how to interpret these verses. I won’t add my exegetical two cents on the meaning. Often men in the ministry have had to take a hard look in the mirror, and ask the real question, am I disqualified from the ministry? For people vocationally employed in the ministry this becomes the painful question of what do I do if I don’t have my job tomorrow? Somewhere between the point where the preacher’s kid who farts too much in the nursery, and the point he is selling crack on the church steps between Sunday School and Morning Service, the kid can disqualify his dad from the ministry. How do you know when that moment has come? Are your expectations of your kids based in their eternal Spiritual wellbeing, or are they based in your desire to be in the ministry?
For my dad we went from sweet innocent elementary school kids, to total rebellious high school nightmares. The progression was gradual, and our skillfulness at hiding and deception often left them in the dark about our state. Somewhere in my formative years my brother and I crossed a line that disqualified my Dad from the ministry. The scandal that was created by our actions almost totally nullified my dad’s effectiveness. I blame most of this on our own selfish sinful choice. The dilemma of how my dad was going to deal with the situation haunts my memories to this day. The question of why do so many preacher’s kids go wrong befuddles my brain. I would like to offer some insights from my experiences growing up.
When God calls a man to the ministry in some ways the call extends to his entire family. Contrast this with the average lay person in his work environment. A layman can change jobs with almost no impact on his family. Dad disappears for ten hours in the day, and he comes home and the bills get paid for a layman. For a layman’s kid where dad disappears while he is absent is almost irrelevant to him. The preacher’s kid is on display at Dad’s work. He sees his Dad sweating through the sermon. He knows if he acts up in church it affects Dad at his job. If something goes terribly wrong at church, the kid is going to have to pack up and move away from his school, his church and his friends. Whether he likes it or not the preacher’s kid is as called to be a preacher’s kid as the preacher is to preach.
I would exhort those of you making decisions in your vocation to always involve your children in your choices. When my dad went into the ministry when I was seven it resulted in my moving about nine times, and going to fourteen different schools, attending thirteen different churches. Often dad really didn’t have a choice in the matter, but often he did. The scenario of him walking into our bedroom and telling us that we were going to be changing houses, schools, churches was repeated over and over. The impact on my senses of stability was devastating. It would have helped my peace with the situation if one time he would have said, “I have this new idea in my heart. What do you think about it? Are you totally in with me?” I don’t know that it would have ever changed the circumstances, but it would have showed me that he really cared about me in his decision making process.
Always make sure your kids know that they are much more important to you than the ministry. To this day I never doubt that Dad loved me with his whole heart. I built up resentment over the years because in most of the major decisions in life the ministry always took priority. The guilt of “How would this impact Dad’s ministry” was always in the back of my mind. At times I felt like I was disciplined too harshly or unfairly because we were in the fishbowl.
Don’t ever give your kids the impression that they are missing all the fun in the world because they were born in a Christian family. I have a joke that I used to play with my kids when they were growing up. The family rule was, “No fun!” When the kids would ask to do something I would ask, “Would that be fun?” They learned over time to say, “No!” They got the message, that I was laughing at the concept that adults are against anything fun. Were you raised with the concept that God was the eternal killjoy of the Universe? God was against Halloween, dancing, cartoons, cards, Yaht-zee, rock and roll, open-toed shoes, ham, catfish, pants, blue jeans, hippies, snuff, cigarettes, whiskey, beer, loud women, Evolution, public schools, Democrats, streaking, long hair and all women who do. Obviously there are some real Biblical issues with my list, but all things seemed equally as bad. Sometimes I wish we were just allowed to be stupid, and sort out the list for ourselves. This option seems to be out of the realm of possibility for a preacher’s kid.
Allow your kids to be honest with you about where they are spiritually. Most of us have gone through some dark valleys in our lives. We question our faith. Our heart wanders away from God. Many of us know the mercy of a God who has gently called us back with his loving grace. In the end we are better because we have kicked the tires of our faith, and found them solid. If your kids are going through the valley, give them the freedom to tell you, and love them through the dark times. We were sent to a Christian school, and forced to sign (often at virtual gunpoint) a student covenant to conform to a set of rules. The result was that we would not tell what we were actually thinking, and just show up and do what we were told. Most kids who did that turned their back on the church at eighteen and never went back.
On the flip side, I learned so much from my dad. He taught me the joy of helping someone in need. He taught me the joy of sharing my faith. He taught me the joy of seeing the potential of viewing a younger generation. My dad could never walk through a restaurant without making a fuss over the beauty of a child. I used to cringe with embarrassment each time Dad would praise a little child. Mom used to say, “Until you have kids of your own, you will never know how flattering it is to have someone recognize the value of your kids.” Now I can rarely meet the eyes of a child without giving them a wink. Their faces light up with the fact that an adult sees them as the future.
Dad would give you anything he had if it would influence you to see the Christ he loved. I watched an old saint of the church criticize the poor kids because they “Eat like horses!” I remember my dad saying I am trying to teach these kids that my God is a generous God. To this old saint, who was used to giving VBS kids two cheap butter cookies and thin Kool-Aid, Dad was extravagant. Dad wasn’t all that bad. In spite of his failings he mirrored the God he loved. The last thing I would say to those who are in the ministry is to keep your faith real. On this level Dad hit the nail on the head.