Like many of you, I have parented differently than my parents did, both as a parent, and as a pastor. Today, family relationships require so much more than the previous generation. The conforming pressure has been cranked up to the red zone, as the lure of temptation is huge, and the evil one continues like a roaring lion looking for whom he can devour. Our children need us more than ever . . . especially “PKs” (Preacher’s Kids).
I am a PK who has begat four of my own PKs, now aged 14 to 23. I have parented my kids as a businessman, a pastor and now as a regional director for Focus on the Family Canada.
Parenting is a job that never ends. Even though our eldest is now out of the house at Bible college, and our second is away working with a parachurch organization, I am learning the truth about it never ending. And how glad I am for it! It is a joy to continue in the role of advisor, encourager, father, friend and spiritual mentor. And this is possible because a pattern was developed in the parent-child relationship early on that is more common today than in our parents’ era.
Protecting your family and the flock
We all struggle with good and evil, and right and wrong. But parenting pastors have a unique challenge, simply based on their vocation. The choice between good and evil is so much clearer than choosing between good, better and best. It is here where many pastors fall short in parenting with the heavy demands of pastoring weighing in on them. Ministry and serving others is all so good, but what should we, as pastors and parents, do first?
We can go through ministry doing our best as pastors, yet forgetting that hidden from sight, a battle rages – one that is not against flesh and blood. Satan wants to destroy God’s Church, and a prime target is the pastor and the pastor’s family: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). One of the best ways he can hurt you is to hurt your family. Let us be defenders not only of the faith, but of our families.
I am no longer pastoring, yet old habits and pastoral methods die hard. So, using the acronym PASTOR, let me share a few thoughts to encourage you as pastors to parent in a way that will allow you the joy of an ongoing relationship with your children after they’ve flown the coop and set their own course.
P is for Priority: Parent or pastor?
I recently received a “thank you” email from my adult son where one of the repeated themes was my attendance to his afternoon rugby games, rain or shine. Nine to five in a downtown office would never permit that, would it? So there are perks to pastoral life after all!
But we have all heard the stories of great men of the past who brought many to salvation, yet lost their own children. We know we ought to make parenting our top priority, next to our marriages (Genesis 2:24), to present the Lord with godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). We want to do this, but as Paul tells us on more than one occasion, we do not do what we want to do (Galatians 5:17). At times, I have found that the work, though good and beneficial for others, has a hold on me to continue in it when I should be attending to my family, putting to practice the Sunday messages I preach. However, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 clearly puts our family life as the template for church leadership, not the other way around. If we then begin with a change of mindset, renewed by the Truth, we can remove our false guilt and great need to maintain both our all-consuming devotion to the church image and that which does not fit with our God-given role as parents.
With so much going on in the evenings with ministry, we cannot always be there to attend the events we would like to. When we prioritize parenting from a spiritual perspective, however, it frees us to live according to a flexible schedule where building relationships with our children becomes as (or even more) important as the relationships with those we are ministering to.
Let’s all remember, parenting is pastoring. The truest form of discipleship begins with us as parents and our children as our disciples.
A is for Aim: Aim our kids at true greatness
There is a great Truth in Scripture that ought to be a sober warning: We are easily conformed to the pattern of the world, and we continually need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Let us never assume that we have arrived (1 Corinthians 10:12), having been thoroughly renewed in our thinking and no longer prone to the conforming pattern of the world.
One of those world patterns at which we unwittingly aim our kids is success as defined by the world, a simple yet profound truth I learned from Dr. Tim Kimmel’s Raising Truly Great Kids conference. When our world defines success as wealth, beauty, fame and power, we can easily find ourselves wanting these things for ourselves and our children. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, nor is there anything wrong with our kids having any of them. But if these are the things we want our children to achieve above all else, we are aiming far too low.
For many parents, the hard reality is that this definition of success is what they themselves are aiming for. But most pastors I know already have an advantage: As pastors called by God, their aim is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Our aim for ourselves and our kids can be so much higher – and better. The problem with success as defined by the world is that it cannot always be achieved; it can be achieved by the wrong methods and can be, for the most part, a selfish pursuit. How much better for us as parents and pastors to aim our children at such things as humility, gratefulness, generosity and a servant heart? These are achievable by His grace, only obtained by right methods, and they are selfless. As a bonus, true success is often obtained as a by-product of having these qualities.
S is for Self
We do well at letting our children see our diligence, perseverance and giving ourselves wholly to the ministry, but what about letting them “see our progress”? The best discipling is, of course, when we live in community and are fully exposed to one another. We do not flaunt our sins, but dare I say, neither ought we present an unrealistic picture of perfection to our kids.
Parenting starts with us, with our own relationship with the Lord. The best thing I can do as pastor or parent for those I love is to nourish myself in Him. “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:15, 16).
It is in my strong relationship to Him, that I will be aware of my relationships with others. How can I pass on Truth to my children if my relationship with the One who is Truth is lacking? There have been times in my Christian walk, in ministry and out of it, when I have had to stop on the narrow path, look around and ask myself, “Where is Jesus?” It is possible to carry on in our Christian walk and yet be out-of-touch with the person of Christ. We need Jesus. It’s as we remain close that we gain His boldness to join with Paul to utter these words to our children who know us best, “Follow me even as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
We are all in process and progress. What a great gift to give your children – for them to know that the Lord loves them, period! Yet one of the greatest things I can pass on to my children is my ongoing dependence and need for a Saviour. This often comes out when I have fallen short, have been less than gracious in some way, have asked my children if they will forgive me, and have reminded them once again, that after all these years of walking with the Lord, I still am in need of such a great Saviour! This, along with a passionate and sincere devotion in my walk with the Lord, brings a balanced perspective of grace and truth for our kids to see and learn from.
In that “thank you” email from my son I told you about above, it was in the first line that I saw how my risk of exposure had paid off, as he wrote: Dad, I have spent 23 years as your son. I have observed some of your best and worst through these years. But I have also seen what is far better than both, as you have given up your best and worst . . . to the Lord’s fire. I am glad that the Lord has given you joy in me. It is a double blessing; both yours and mine.
T is for Teach
“Teach [God’s commands] to your children, talking about them, when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates . . . ” (Deuteronomy 11:19, 20).
“Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
What to teach. Obviously, teach your kids the things of the Lord. However, with a Biblical world view, all things are of the Lord. In our home, we focus on the ABCs:
A is for adventure. We want all of our children to know that a life with God is a life of adventure; that, as we have learned from Narnia, God is good, but He is not “safe;” safety lies in abiding in Him, no matter where He calls you to go. With this in mind, we encourage our kids to live based on God’s call on their lives, not on what others think they should do. This will mean living counter-culturally and may include missions trips, serving others, travelling and thinking globally, or it may mean some hardships, awkwardness and certainly living outside our comfort zone. As Dr. Tim Kimmel reminds us, “God has not called us to raise safe kids; He has called us to raise strong ones.” How awesome God is, when you are brought up to be excited about an adventure with God.
B is for the basics, from reading, writing and arithmetic, to basic Bible stories, from poise and proper etiquette to cultural customs and understanding others. It is laying out a foundation that many today do not have time for. It gives our children a sense of confidence and assurance when they have a solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and a basic understanding of the world He created.
And lastly, C is for character – building into them first and foremost godly character that will carry them through. It is more about who they are and will become than what they will do. It’s about raising our kids with qualities such as honesty, kindness, reliability, discipline, integrity, compassion, perseverance, consistency, trustworthiness, mercy, justice, stability, joy, sincerity – to name a few. We are more concerned our kids show grace, mercy and love to fellow students than whether they beat them in sports or outscore them in tests.
How to teach: I see two methods of teaching our children in the faith: structured and unstructured. When I read the instructions to fathers in Ephesians 6:4 to not provoke our children to wrath or to exasperate them, but to nurture, admonish or instruct them, it suggests to me a more structured style of teaching. Yet in Deuteronomy 6, and again as quoted above in chapter 11, the style suggested here is a more unstructured, on-the-fly approach. Both are intentional in teaching, though “one seems to be taught, while the other is caught,” as the saying goes. I would suggest that both are needed, as God instructs us as parents to do both.
In our home, we have done well at using the Deuteronomy 6 and 11 style in fostering an unstructured, live-and-breathe-it, Christ-saturated home. We talk about the Lord, we ask ourselves, What does the Bible say? What does God think? We pray with the kids before they leave the house, we discuss issues, events and people with a Biblical world view; we open our home up to visitors, and friends, we celebrate joys and we assist during hard times. When the kids talk about friends’ parents being divorced, we reassure them with thanksgiving to God that because we love the Lord, mom and dad will never get divorced; when they talk judgementally about kids at school, we remind them that those kids just need to be loved and need to know who Jesus is. We allow our children to be different, vulnerable, candid and to make mistakes. We show grace, truth and mercy – at least, that’s our goal.
On the structured side, we have not done as well. We have to be more intentional. There is just no time for us after dinner to sit together for prayer or Bible reading. So what we have done is decided to come to dinner half an hour early. So, if dinner is at six, we will come at 5:30. We meet, have tea, and read and discuss the Bible together. All of us have been enjoying this time together. I suspect that some families are better at one method or the other, yet both are useful and are given to us from God to implement. May we teach our children by saying, showing and serving with minds, hearts and hands that are for God.
O is for Observe
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov.22:6).
I was one of those pastors who stood at the door as people left. One Sunday, my daughter Emma’s best friend Jessica was leaving, after wearing her duct tape skirt to church. Yes, you read correctly: her multi-coloured duct tape skirt. It’s just one of the clothing items she and Emma have been making out of duct tape. As I encouraged Jessica profusely, telling her how good it looked and how creative it was, it occurred to me: Why can I be so encouraging to someone else’s daughter, and not my own? Why would I be thrilled with Jessica wearing her duct tape skirt, but I would question Emma for wearing her duct tape shoes? This, along with a few passages of Scripture, reminded me that our children are not ours but God’s: As God rebuked the Israelites for idol worship, He actually calls the Israelite’s children, “my children” (Ezek.16:20, 21). This has caused me to become more objective in my thinking about my children, which has led me to be much more respectful of them and toward them. After all, they belong to God, not to me. Since they are His, I regard them even more so as precious and highly valued; I will therefore not be overly harsh with them, nor will I allow them to take the low road and the easy path.
Taking the role of a coach (as opposed to the owner of the team), I comprehend my purpose as a parent before God so much better now. My goal is to deliver back to God young men and women of faith who are, in the words of George Barna, “spiritual champions.” Barna defines spiritual champions in his book Revolutionary Parenting as those who embrace Jesus as Saviour and Lord, who accept the Bible as Truth and as a guide for life, are obedient to its principles, and have a Biblical world view which impacts their decision making. Spiritual champions also believe they have been created to serve God, hence they invest their time, money and energy in the things of God and continually search for ways to deepen their relationship with Him.
Having a range of four kids from 14 to 23 has made it so easy for us to see how we must customize our approach in raising each unique child. So, it takes time, effort and insight to understand each one, their unique bent and their heart’s desires. As well as asking, inquiring and listening to each one, we used the Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator test for our whole family. Understanding how we think and function, and why, has helped us to better relate with one another, to know our strengths and weaknesses, and be able to celebrate our differences instead of disparaging them.
R is for Respectful Recourse
Like any good pastor, I have tried to squeeze in an extra point here, before I conclude. I honestly believe that the reason I can continue to have an ongoing healthy relationship with my grown children is because of a lifetime of showing them respect. Did I do it perfectly all the time? No. But that only gave me opportunity to ask for forgiveness, and in so doing, show respect to them once again. I am amazed at the number of adults I encounter who, based on a person’s age, determine whether to be respectful or not. Children have an incredible sense of justice. As they become teenagers, their desire to be shown respect becomes even more prevalent. When our children know we respect them, take them seriously and show great interest in who they are, they become more willing partners and participants in this thing called family.
* * *
“God disciplines those He loves” (Hebrews 12:6b).
Our goal as parents, coaches and entrusted stewards of these precious ones belonging to God is to raise them to His glory. This involves recourse, rerouting, redirecting, keeping them on the right path. Disciplining our children is not about punishment as a means of payment for their sinful behaviour, but of keeping them moving in the right direction. Likewise, God does not punish us, His children, for our sin. He punishes us to discipline us. Already He has spent His punishment for our sin onto Jesus, His only Son. All punishment from God, for those of us who believe, is for guidance and direction because of His love for us.
Pastors, there is indeed a battle going on, and you are a prime target. We are certainly not afraid, but we do want to do all we can to guard and guide those we love. Before you are pastor and priest to your congregation, you are first pastor and priest in your own home. I trust that this is your priority. Aim your family well; let yourself be an example, teach them always, formally and by way of a life, to be immersed in Christ. Observe them, learn and celebrate their uniqueness, and respectfully remind them of His and your love for them by redirecting them back to the Cross.
Stephen Johnson served as the regional director for Focus on the Family Canada in southwestern Ontario at the time of publication.