Raising Emotional Healthy Ministry Kids

Pastors, church planters, missionaries, and ministry leaders know firsthand that the line between ministry life and home life is blurry if it even exists at all. 

This blurry line will often mean that you cannot protect your family from negative fallout of church or ministry conflict, you cannot guard them against the hurtful comments, and you cannot shelter them from the pressure to live up to standards imposed by others. Keeping your family from feeling like they are constantly on display or being critiqued is an exhausting and nearly impossible task.

All this can lead parents to be concerned about the long-term impact the ministry might have on their children. This concern is legitimate, but they shouldn’t carry this concern alone. This article is written for parents who are serving in ministry, and it is for the church. We all have a part in raising emotionally healthy ministry kids. Below are three issues ministry kids face and what parents and the church can do.

Expectations and Judgments

One of the most difficult realities that these kids face is the expectations and judgments of others. Pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders live daily with the reality that their lives are being constantly examined. 

Some people hold a higher standard for ministry kids. While it is good that people look to their pastor or ministry leader as an example, it is important to remember that they are not immune to the common struggles in parenting. Ministry kids are learning, growing, making mistakes, and maturing just like other kids. Often they are doing this with unrealistic expectations from those in their faith community. This adds a burden to their young lives and is exhausting for their parents.

What can parents do?

Communicate your convictions to live as a family who seeks to please the Lord, not people. This does not mean that other people’s opinions do not matter, they do. It simply means that those opinions will take their proper place in your family. Let them know that mistakes are a part of life and they do not need to feel the burden of trying to be perfect. Encourage your kids that as a family you will prioritize following God over fearing the opinion of others (Prov. 29:25). 

Parents should avoid using their kid’s failures or childish behaviors as examples in sermons, lectures, or conversations. Instead, share encouraging stories about your kids. Speak well of them often and in their hearing. There will be times you need to share your parenting struggles as you seek advice, but reserve that for trusted relationships rather than casual conversation or sermon illustrations.

What can the church do?

Consider the impact of your comments. “You let your kids watch that!” “That outfit seems a bit immodest.” “I heard your kid skipped youth group for soccer practice.” Before you decide to say anything, pray. Pray and consider if it even needs to be said. Since expectations are heavily felt, let your comments about your pastor or leader’s kids be expressions of genuine encouragement. Know that there is likely more conversation going on at home about these matters. Your pastor is not immune to normal parenting struggles. Offer grace over judgment. Provide encouragement over expectations (1 Thess. 5:11). 

Cruelty and Rudeness

Pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders wish they could shield their children from the harsh criticisms and insensitive comments they personally have received in ministry. People can be very vocal about their opinions of leaders. What they often forget is that while they are criticizing, correcting, or even insulting their pastor/leader, the children are watching and listening. Children who hear or see the unkind words and actions from people toward their parents find it hard to forget the cruelty they witnessed. The years fade but the words still sting. 

What can parents do?

Prepare them for it. Let them know that there will be those who strongly disagree with your leadership and will be very vocal about it. Negative voices can feel like the majority, but in most cases they are more like the cricket in a quiet dark room. Remind them (and yourself) that for every negative voice there are scores of those who love and support you and your family. The burden of criticism is heavier if they are unsure of how you are managing it. When you can, let them know that you are alright. Then seek supportive counseling for yourself if needed.

What can the church do?

Be kind. It really is that simple. Even if you disagree with your pastor or ministry leader, be charitable. Encourage them in front of their family. Tell their kids how much you appreciate their parents and the sacrifice they continually make to serve. Tell the children how much you appreciate them as well. Be known as one who seeks to love and honor the pastor or leader and their family (Rom. 12:10).

Balance and Limitations

Raising kids in ministry is going to be a continual fight for balance. You cannot schedule a crisis and you never know when tragedy will strike. There are going to be times your kids will have to wait while you attend to the needs of ministry. But balance is necessary for their emotional wellbeing. Fight for balance and prioritize the needs of your kids and family. 

With this balance comes the struggle of limitations. Not only will you face the reality of limited time, but also limited resources. Ministry families often live on a tight budget especially when serving in fledgling ministries. Parents often have to say no to soccer camp, music lessons, or extravagant vacationing.

What can parents do?

Make the most out of what you can. When you vacation, unplug from ministry demands and be fully present with your kids. Leave the laptop and the guilt behind. Because sacrificing comes with ministry, doing something just for fun or splurging for a vacation might feel excessive but it is important to do from time to time. And try to do it without guilt. Your kids will notice any guilt or distress you are bringing so, for their sake, seek to unplug and enjoy life together. Those times go a long way toward sustaining your child’s emotional health.  

What can the church do?

Bless the socks off ministry kids. Consider funding a summer camp for them. Surprise the family with gift cards to restaurants. Drop off fun foods they may not be able to buy. Also, ministry kids often feel like everybody and nobody knows them at the same time. Learn their names and introduce and address them by their names rather than the pastor’s son/daughter. Notice the sacrifice of their parents’ time and attention and thank them for it. Tell them that they are a key part of the ministry. And finally– respect their parents’ day off. Save the text, email, call, or message for another day.  

Much more can be said on this topic, and we need to continue to give attention to the emotional wellbeing of ministry kids. But the blurry lines of ministry and home life are not all bad. Your role in ministry affords opportunities for your family to share in moments of seeing God at work in lives in amazing ways. Your ministry life can mature your children emotionally, ignite their faith, and equip them to navigate life’s struggles as they model what they saw lived out in you and their church family. 

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