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Parent First, Pastor Second
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Parent First, Pastor Second

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Years ago, you chose to answer God’s call of ministry in your life and to become a pastor. And your wife either chose to encourage you to step into full-time ministry or she chose to marry you knowing that was where you were heading or already were. But your children . . . they didn’t choose the life of being a pastor’s kid. That was predetermined for them, without their say-so in the matter.

They did not choose to have their dad of all people be their pastor, having to listen to him preach Sunday after Sunday, from topics ranging from sexual temptation to gluttony to the Second Coming. (Please, please, Jesus, come back now, before I have to show myself at school tomorrow, no doubt many pastors’ kids prayed on Sundays.)

Your children did not choose to be a part of your tiny church where everyone knows their names and their daily happenings from their dad’s personal stories shared from the pulpit. They didn’t choose to be part of the megachurch with the television broadcast, where still everyone knows their names and their daily happenings from their dad’s personal stories shared from the pulpit.

And it’s quite possible they didn’t choose to be part of kids’ choir, Awanas, Vacation Bible School, youth choir, and every single kids and youth event they were signed up for and expected to attend. No, you may have been the one who chose that for them.

You think there’s a whole lot expected from you as the pastor? You’re right, but at least you signed up for this. Your kids didn’t. Yet they have just as many expectations thrust upon them as you do, based not on their choices but on yours. So how can you as both their pastor and their father (no . . . their father and their pastor—switch the order) work with them to help relieve some of their load and allow them the right amount of freedom to grow in their own relationship with Jesus, not follow the already-paved-out footsteps they’ve been following up to this point?

Let them make some decisions for themselves. Staying home Sunday morning because they were out too late with their friends the night before is probably not the right decision to let them make. Children, both young and old, need to understand the importance of worshipping as a family on Sunday and fellowshipping with other believers. So in most cases, it’s more than okay to expect them to take part in Sunday morning worship, instead of sleeping in or playing a soccer game.

But must an obedient Christ-following child take part in children’s choir, even if they are absolutely petrified to be in front of a large group or if they despite the idea of singing kids’ songs with others? No, I would definitely say not. Why would you as a pastor want to help in building up resentment between your child and you, just so you can save face and not risk the choir leader looking at you all cross? Remember, father then pastor . . .

Whether it be choir, Awanas, VBS, or even a pizza party at the youth leader’s house, let your children make some decisions for themselves. They need to know that you respect their opinions, their likes and dislikes, and that while you will not slack on your biblical mandate to disciple them as children of God, you know that earning badges for a vest is not what disciples them; it’s you as their parent teaching them at home and investing in their lives outside of church.

Invite them to help you serve in different ways, and start when they’re young. A teenager is more likely to roll his eyes or come up with a list of a million reasons why she can’t help you clean up the church parking lot the Sunday morning after a big storm went through. But ask a child to help you with “a big person job”? You just went from dad to hero.

When your kids are young, instead of getting them involved in every single activity all the other kids are supposedly doing at the church, ask for their help in serving in ways that almost no other child is doing. Sweeping the steps. Vacuuming the lobby. Stuffing Halloween goodie bags. Encourage the servant heart that God has given them as children, and watch how that grows with them through the years. Suddenly, being a pastor’s kid isn’t about being embarrassed or attending every little event or being someone they’re not; it’s about serving others and bringing joy to their heavenly Father by decorating cookies that are going to be given out at the hospital.

Ask them about the toughest parts of being a pastor’s kid. Someone who writes computer programs or practices real estate law or sells life insurance probably doesn’t have to worry about how their children feel about their dad’s vocation and wonder how that is affecting them personally. But as a pastor? Oh yeah, your job is affecting them. Maybe it’s all the time you spend investing in others’ lives instead of theirs. Maybe it’s the lack of family time on Sundays or weekend getaways to the beach. If you have teenagers, it’s almost certainly the embarrassment that can arise having a preacher as a dad, or even the holier-than-thou expectations thrust upon your teen based on his or her dad’s choice of jobs.

The point is, your job affects them in ways that you may not be thinking about right now, and they would really appreciate you asking them about it and respecting whatever they may give as an answer. From the earliest possible stages of their lives, instill in your family a freedom of expression that encourages honesty and openness among one another.

Ask. Listen. Respect. Make necessary changes.

It’s about being a dad first.

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Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, which can both be found here at Amazon. You can also read about his family’s ongoing journey of adoption through foster care at www.OrphanToOrphan.com. Find him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.

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