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Parenting at the Parsonage
By Wilma Kirk Lee, MSW, LCSW

Parenting does not come as an easy task, and in today’s world it is definitely a challenge.  

I thought when our children were growing up, it was tough, but adding the technological impact today provides different and more complex challenges. The additional factor of being a pastoral family who is scrutinized by others regularly adds to parental challenges.

Here are some important points pastoral families need to remember to help make the journey of the children into successful adults much easier.
  • Jesus saves
  • Ages and stages
  • Each child is an individual
  • Listening is key
  • People-pleasing is not for childrearing
  • It’s not about you
Jesus Saves. The first thing ALL Christian parents need to realize is that their job does not include saving their children. It has always been the work of the Lord to save. He even has some words for parents, “For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children” (Isaiah 49:25, NLT). When we realize God is responsible for our salvation and the salvation of our children, we can relax and allow God do His work. This certainly relieves some of the pressure of parenting to know salvation is not part of our job description.

Ages and Stages. I do not know of any involved parents who do not want their children to be perfect. Sometimes the drive for perfection erases the reality of who our children actually are and where they are in life. To expect that a child between the ages of 0 – 3 will come to church and not make some type of sound is unreasonable. As long as the child is not crying, then we accept their sounds as praise. Children should feel comfortable in their participation in worship, and, as parents, we should recognize this as important. When we tell children to sit down and be quiet, we raise unrealistic expectations. Besides, who said all worship will be quiet. “I saw something like a sea made of glass, the glass all shot through with fire. Carrying harps of God, triumphant over the Beast, its image, and the number of its name, the saved ones stood on the sea of glass. They sang the Song of Moses, servant of God; they sang the Song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3, MSG). When we get to Heaven and we worship, there will be noise. Maybe we need to practice for the Heavenly Choir here on earth.

When children get past the age of three, there should not be walking in and out of church and talking. Children can sit through a church service without going out numerous times during the service. Of course, if children are not required to sit and maintain themselves at home—it certainly will not happen at church.

Knowing about ages and stages will help parents understand when children start to push back as they become older about why they are required to be a part of the church community. Parents must realize it is normal and not take it personally. This will also help parents allow their children to have a personal relationship with the Lord. It will not look like theirs, but it’s important that children, especially pastor’s children, develop their own relationship with the Lord. That relationship is the only way they will stand on that sea of glass with Jesus.

Every child is an individual. One of the challenges of having multiple children in a family is realizing they are not alike. Each child is different with their own unique personality. We are created in the image of God and He continues to be so awesome that He needs all of us to reflect His image in this earth. At creation, God created male and female in His image—because He needed both to represent Him.

Our children need to be free to develop all facets of their personality. They are given talents and abilities that are theirs alone. They are given to us to train up, not replicate us. We should never try to live out our dreams in our children. We need to encourage and help develop who they are because they are God’s unique creation.

Listening is key. Pastoral families are subjected to far more outside pressures than most Christian families. However, a number of pitfalls can be avoided if parents learn to listen. How many members are quick to come to the pastor or his or her spouse to report on their children’s behavior is amazing to me. Yet, those same parents do not stop to listen to what their own children say. Pastoral parents must remember, people may mean well but they do not always do well. Members will tolerate the same behavior in their children, which they feel the pastor’s children should not do.

If you become the parent who never listens to their children, you can be assured that, by the time they are teens, they will not be talking with you. You will have no idea of what they are thinking and where they are spiritually. Listening parents are the parents who have a relationship that lasts. These parents are trusted when challenges arise in the children’s lives and they need to talk to someone.
Listening parents model the attentive posture of our Heavenly Father. Our children develop confidence in the concern and empathy of the Heavenly Father when they know their earthly father listens not only with his ears but with his heart. He always has time to stop and listen to the concerns and cries of his child. Often there’s not a need for a solution, but when children can verbalize their feelings and needs, they can work out their own answers because their parent listened. Listening means you care.
Conversation Starter:
What did Andrew’s dad learn from listening to his son. What did Andrew learn from listening to his father?

People-pleasing is not for childrearing. When you live in the pastoral fishbowl, you are conscious of everyone looking, analyzing, criticizing, and second-guessing everything you do. This is especially true when it comes to childrearing. Everyone seems to be an expert on how you should raise your child. Congregants may want to correct what they did wrong when they were child-rearing or they have learned more now that their children are grown. Nevertheless, no one else is responsible for your children and their development and nurture but you. Proverbs 22:6 says,”Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his or her individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).[i]

Parents are charged with the responsibility of training their children according to their gifts and personalities. The Lord knows how far we have yet to come, and He still feels we can train our children for His Kingdom. When we realize for Whom we are preparing our children, then the voices from outside our home will become “strangely dim.” We need to prioritize our time, energy, and life in such a way that our children will be confident they are important to us. They will realize they are not an afterthought, but their parents have a calling to minister to others. They will also know when discipline is necessary; parents will know them well enough to offer the appropriate structure for their individual growth and progress toward the Kingdom.

It’s not about you. Finally, parents need to realize their children are not given to them to make them look good, fulfill deferred dreams, or glorify them. Often when speaking with pastoral parents I hear, “I don’t understand why our children aren’t interested in the church. Don’t they know it makes their father look bad.” Yes, it does. However, not for the reason they think.

Often pastoral families try to have “trophy children.” They want their children to be perfect, excel at everything they do, and come to church and participate and lead out in everything. They are not aware of the uniqueness of their children and where their gifts and talents reside.

Children are young and in the home such a short period of time. If we do not cherish every moment – they will be gone from our home, churches, and lives, never to return because they want to be known as their own person and not a reflection of their parents.
Parenting from the parsonage fishbowl is not easy, it is not an easy job in any home. Pastoral families need to remember they are families first and their primary responsibility to the Lord is to train up their children to walk in God’s ways. Parents have to decide where their priorities will lie and what that will look like in their home. Each family will work things out differently because every family is different. Yet, they will be held accountable for their families first when the Lord comes.

I also realize that some conferences are not very pastoral family-friendly. The focus on the members is so strong that pastoral families feel their families must not expect primary attention. Yet, when the model is consistent from the pulpit to the door of the church, we can then reflect our Lord and how He expects the gospel to become practical godliness.

The servant of the Lord tells us, “The mission of the home extends beyond its own members. The Christian home is to be an object lesson, illustrating the excellence of the true principles of life. Such an illustration will be a power for good in the world. Far more powerful than any sermon that can be preached is the influence of a true home upon human hearts and lives. As the youth go out from such a home, the lessons they have learned are imparted. Nobler principles of life are introduced into other households, and an uplifting influence works in the community."[ii]

We need to stop and think about how we will answer the question, “What have they seen in your house?” Time is short – it’s inventory time.
[i] Additional wording in brackets is from the author.
[ii] Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 352.