As a pastor’s kid (PK), hitting my teenage years meant learning to live a dual life: my Christian life, which was pleasing to my parents and my church, and my high school life, which was pleasing to me. My greatest goal was, “May the two never meet.” Of course, neither life – one of hypocrisy and one of blatant sin – was pleasing to God. I did, however, emerge out of those troubling years and went on to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, become a pastor and eventually raise four PKs who live out a Biblical, Christian world view. I determined early on that, if at all possible, I would not repeat history with my kids.
There are always challenges along the way: the world, the flesh and the devil are hard at work; the free-will of man has no regard for gender or age; and pastors and their families are natural targets for Satan – “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Matthew 26:31).
With an understanding of the risks for PKs, I set out to do whatever I could to present a Biblical world view and protect my children from living the lie I once lived. Nothing is foolproof, but I believe there is much we can do with what God has given us to help our children avoid some of the traps and entanglements along the way. Here are my top 10 parenting tips.
- See your children as His children, not yours. You already know children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3); did you know God sees your children as His? When the Israelites were sacrificing their children to idols, God rebuked them saying: “And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to Me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered My children and sacrificed them to the idols” (Ezekiel 16:20). We are caretakers and stewards of our children, the same way we are of all that God gives us.
- Show your children great respect. Knowing they belong to God – not me – leads me to show greater respect to my children. We often show more respect to people we don’t know than we do to our own family members. Intentionally remembering that these young beings under our care are created in God’s image and actually belong to Him will help us be less harsh, selfish, lax and liberal, and will help us do the right thing for them and for His glory. Look at them as God’s possessions entrusted into our care. Give little distance, less ownership, greater love and immense respect for God’s children. Do the same for your children’s friends and you will find your children will learn to show you that same respect.
- See your children as disciples. As pastors, we preach, practice and teach discipleship to God’s people. The Lord has placed young lives into your hands and under your roof for you to disciple. Since the truest form of discipleship is close association, what better group than your own children! Let them see you in your own walk with God. Let them know that you’re a sinner and that you too are desperate for a Saviour! See your children as a group of disciples that you will launch into the world like a quiver full of arrows, or, as pastor Voddie Bauchan likes to see them, as intercontinental ballistic missiles for the kingdom of God.
- Love your children in the same way God loves you – with grace and truth. The church called you to be the model and example to follow – the church did not call your children. Provide what Dr. Tim Kimmel calls a “grace-based” home. Allow your children the freedom to be different, vulnerable, candid and to make mistakes. They are in training, like any other child. Don’t fall into the trap of behaviour modification or unrealistic expectations simply because they are PKs. Instill in them a secure love, a significant purpose and a strong hope – the three inner needs God created in each of us.
- Be prophet, priest, provider and protector of your family – and let them know you are. Study each role and live accordingly. Explain to your family the role and responsibility God has of you. Let them know that you are for them, not against them – to the point that you would literally die for them. Instill in each child your strong belief that God has an incredible adventure for them, and that your role is to prepare them for their role in what He has for them. Let your children know they’re part of God’s mission in a world that has gone blind.
- Love them evidently and abundantly. There is no greater Biblical mandate than love – physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally. Don’t assume your children know you love them; tell them daily! Since we have a a habit of saying “goodbye” to one another as we leave the house and “goodnight” as we go to bed, why not add three more words – “I love you” – to that habit? Tell them and show them that you love them. Hug them every time they arrive and depart; hugging has no age limit. Thinking the best and wanting the best for them will spill over into your verbiage and actions.
- Pray for them daily. Every morning before my wife Bev and I get out of bed, I pray that our children would glorify God. Every morning just before the kids headed off to school, Bev would pray for each child individually – all through their high school years. You would think our two strapping rugby-playing boys would object, but they never did. It was a special time for them as young men to be with their mother.
- Expect and assume the best, but be prepared for less. Don’t be shocked or devastated when your children fail. In fact, be thankful! How gracious of the Lord to show us our children’s weak areas while we are still in a position to assist them in their spiritual growth. Many if not most young adults think they are “pretty good” morally. Failure is a wake-up call to their need for a Saviour and a parental warning for realignment.
- Teach them to make wise decisions. These are often the two greatest challenges for parents; letting their children make decisions, and letting them live by the consequences. Don’t make all their decisions for them; learn the art of knowing how much rope to let out and when to draw it back in. They will never be responsible if they are not taught how to weigh decisions. Don’t rescue them from the hard things, just the dangerous ones. As Dr. James Dobson would say, “Save your ‘no’s for the things that are important.” I would often remind my children that it isn’t always about right and wrong, but most often it’s about being wise. Teach them to make wise decisions by living out a Biblical world view.
- Be a defender of doctrine as well as a seeker of truth. I could never understand why, when a young adult would leave the faith, it never played into their relationship with their parents. I taught my children that we are seekers of truth and therefore we are not afraid of the questions. God is truth and He is on our side. Along with that I added this to the mix: “If you ever come across some new truth, something I have missed, that would suggest that what we believe is not true, than you need to rescue me. I have laid everything on the line for Jesus. Everything. I am vulnerably out there on the branch, having laid it all on the line. If it isn’t true, if there is something new you discover, then you have got to rescue me. If you love me, you won’t leave me out there all alone.” And so, I hopefully have turned the game around from one where I have to convince my child that God exists and that Jesus is the Saviour, to one where my children, out of love for me, try to prove to me that He doesn’t. After all, why shouldn’t they have to prove He doesn’t exist when I’ve spent a lifetime trying to prove that He does?
- Bonus! It goes without saying that the best thing you can do for your children is for the two of you, as husband and wife, to be one. Love, respect and unity between husbands and wives is a solid foundation for children to grow on. They will have a sense of security and will learn how to serve, love, respect and function relationally as men and women while they watch godly parents committed to one another and living out the truth of God’s Word.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Rev. Stephen Johnson is married to Bev and is the father of two boys, two girls and a daughter-in-law, all who are passionate about following and serving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.