My heart is heavy this morning. I’ve been watching up close and personal several teenage minister’s kids attempting to live up to the pressure and expectation of living in the “fish bowl” of ministry. I’m not talking about observing them from the congregation, but from personally walking with them through their “behind the scenes” story of attempting to have a relationship with their ministry parents.
The memories flood back from being a pastor’s kid (PK) teenager, sitting in the second row of a church service with sweaty palms, knowing that at some point during the message, I was going to be “blasted” by the speaker.
Let me explain. I grew up in a circle similar to what could be described as “holiness Pentecostalism.” In our circle, when young people were not living right, especially the minister’s kids, they could be pointed out from the pulpit for not living up to some legalistic interpretation of the Bible. Consequently, I and many of my friends walked away from God for a while after we were old enough to move out of the house. I’m forever grateful to God that, in His great mercy and grace, He drew me into true and genuine relationship with Him.
Pastors often parent their “flock of sheep” unselfishly and with a passion, but in most cases, leave the parenting of their own children up to osmosis, or up to the “do as your told and learn from the mistakes of others” approach. Now, I do not want to come off as a bitter person, because with the Holy Spirit’s help, I have worked through the thoughts and feelings I had as a teenager. But right now in our society teens have real needs, and parents who pastor or are in ministry have an opportunity to undergird their teenagers by being intentional in their relationship and letting their kids know that they are more important than their ministry or the perceived image that goes along with it.
Personally, I can look back at that time period in my life and my biggest takeaway is to ensure my kids do not have to endure what I did. My dad was well-known in our belief circle and busy traveling and preaching all the time. I never truly felt protected from having “well meaning” ministers speak into my life in an effort to “guide” me. Some were well-meaning, others were just mean. The pressure is intense as a preacher’s kid to live up to your parent’s expectations, as well as put on a good front for the ministry, especially when you really want to please them and have a normal relationship. Growing up in our home, we saw the good, bad and ugly that Dad dealt with in being the pastor over a bunch of people. I saw my dad pour into people for years, at the expense of time spent with family, and along the way these same people said all sorts of hurtful and untrue things about my parents and caused a huge church split. As a kid, over time I began to associate God with the actions and reactions I witnessed in my dad. I saw the hurt on both sides. All I wanted to do was graduate school, move out and get as far away from ministry life as I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle the stress of it well, and I left my teenage years with ulcers and ended up moving to Tulsa as a very broken man with a lot of bitterness in my heart towards those people. Thank God I moved in with my praying Grandma who really mentored me into seeing that the only person I was hurting was myself and my relationship with God. It was a real turning point in my life and catapulted me toward my destiny in ministry. Now I won’t lie and say that it was easy to forgive and let the bitterness go, but when I did, I saw a turnaround in my life.
When I ultimately made the decision to answer God’s call on my life, I knew it was important to figure out how to protect my kids. Today, being in ministry with teenage kids in my house, I’ve got several key things that I do to constantly take stock of the health of my relationship with my teens. Pastors, ministers, and parents of teenagers close to ministry, here are some points to ponder:
These five points are not to cause shame or embarrassment, but to be a thought-provoker for each of us. Last year right before I hosted a men’s conference, it became apparent that I was supposed to open the meeting up to boys 10 years old and above. As I prayed about it, this is what I heard in my spirit, “These boys are not fighting a junior devil, but they are fighting the same Devil every man in the room is fighting. On the flip side of this, these boys do not have a junior holy spirit, they have the same Holy Spirit as every man in the room has.” The boys needed to be equipped and learn how to strap on their armor just like the men in the room did. I encourage each pastor and minister with teenagers to readjust your thinking and processes regarding your teenagers by doing these five things, which are answers to the five questions I asked you to think about earlier:
1. Be intentional right where you are at – you can’t undo past oversights, but you can go forward from here. Apologize to your kids. Ask them to a breakfast date. Read a book or do a bible study together. LISTEN to them talk.
2. Let your kids know that you will fight for them and stand up for them and protect their hearts…above congregants, ministers, expectations. We are instructed from the Bible to “above all else, guard our hearts.” This is especially important to do this for our ministry kids — that we put boundaries in place to protect our kids from being up-for-grabs from people criticizing them or expecting them to perform. Sidenote: If you have been in ministry for any length of time and have kids of your own, you know that people LOVE to give “words” or prophecies to your kids. It’s awesome when it’s from the Holy Spirit, but ensure that any “words” or prophecies given to your kids by others actually line up. Teach your kids to discard anything said to them that causes confusion, hinders or distracts them from their own relationship with God.
3. Take time to ask your kids their perception of ministry; let yourself be vulnerable and not defensive. Guaranteed you will hear feedback that will let you know what and how you can change.
4. Read books on raising teenage boys such as:
Or on raising girls such as:
5. Invest in learning:
Now this is not an all-encompassing list, but it is a great start to turning things around with your teenager and these books are books I have read and are on my bookshelf. I believe that you can parent your children WELL while in ministry.
Remember pastors/ministers with teenage children, the trail of most “church hurt” begins in the home. Make sure the message you minister from your pulpit, is the same in your home.
Our ministry focus is on marriage and family, and we are here to assist in helping people navigate through the challenges thrown their way. I hope this article ministered to you and brought you Hope in anything you are experiencing with your own relationship with your teenager.
FCF member Joe Dillard