I spent the first thirty years of my life as a pastor’s kid (PK). Then, rather unexpectedly, God called me to pastoral ministry in my mid-thirties. So, this is both written from the perspective of a PK and a pastor, an interesting tension in my life. I speak from personal experience as someone who wanted these things from my dad when I was growing up. I also write for myself as a pastor and dad now, as a sort of accountability.
One of the most important (and most difficult) things to do as a pastor is to know when to remove your pastor hat and put on your parent hat instead. We spend so much time, energy, focus, and emotional and spiritual investment in pastoring a congregation we can forget to change out of our “work clothes” when we get home.
But the reality is our children want a parent, not a pastor. They need a parent at home, and that’s what God called us to first. So, here are six times we often forget to parent instead of pastor.
1. Dinner time
It’s easy for dinner time to become a conversation between you and your spouse about how things are going in the church, who’s up to what in the church, or what’s coming up at the church. Even if this isn’t negative or complaining, it’s a net negative. The church just invaded your home and sucked all the air out of the room. It seated itself at the head of the table and made everyone take notice. You don’t want your kids to see the church that way or to see your ministry that way.
Make dinner time fun. Make it full of laughs. Ask questions to draw your kids out. Tell stories. Spend time talking about the ups and downs of each person’s day. If you are going to talk about church, talk about their interactions with church—friends, classes, learning, retreats, camps. Help them to see their place in the body of Christ and to love it, not resent it because it’s an uninvited dinner guest.
This is simple. Your kids need to have fun with you. This can be rowdy or nerdy or quiet or raucous or athletic or crafty or whatever. You all need to experience the silly joy of playing. When they’re little, be their horse to ride or the monster who chases them. As they grow, play catch or teach them card games. Lose at Mario Kart (or win, even better). Compete with some vigor. Talk some trash. Be a good loser when they finally beat you at something. This is where memories are made. Your kids will absorb what you say, and they will have crystal clear memories in their minds and hearts of playtime.
Your children don’t need a sermon when they sin (or really any time other than Sunday morning). They need correction and consequences. They need reconciliation and assurance of forgiveness. And sometimes they need you to look them in the eye and tell them how much of a screw-up you are and how often you got in trouble as a kid.
Disciplining children is awful—for all parties involved—but it’s a magnificent opportunity to show the loving heart of Jesus. And if you get it wrong–you’re too harsh or lose your temper–you have an even clearer opportunity to display the gospel by asking for forgiveness and showing your need for God’s mercy. It’s hard to imagine anything in public ministry that could shape your children’s relationships with you or understanding of the gospel like loving, fatherly discipline.
When your child is heartbroken, they need a hug and to be held more than they need a Bible verse. When a boy dumps your daughter, she may need you to mutter some … um … strong words about that little such-and-such under your breath just loud enough for her to hear.
And when they’re overwhelmed, they need a listening ear, not a list of reasons it’ll all be OK (even if it absolutely will all be OK). They need to see you as close, as human, as with them. Yes, Scripture informs your hope and gives you strength, and there will be time for that. But in the midst of the rawest emotions, they need a present father—and maybe some ice cream.
Not every story needs to be an allegory, a biography, or have its redemptive themes drawn out. Despite what you may think, great stories were not invented for your sermon illustrations. Some stories are just rollicking good times. Help your kids love great stories. Read to them. Watch movies and shows with them.
If the stories are dumb or have questionable aspects, sure, talk about that. But also, “Did you see that explosion? Wasn’t that fight scene amazing?” Sharing enjoyment of something with your kids, for no other reason than enjoyment, is powerful. It’s teaching them more than you can measure, so you don’t need to make it a lesson.
You’re still a dad when you’re in the pulpit. Speak carefully about your children—only in ways they’re comfortable with and only in ways that honor them. They know all the dirt on you. So why pretend to be anything you’re not? If you’ve been fun, merciful, honest, and present for them, they’ll want to hear what you have to say (or at least they’ll stay awake for most of it).
This is your chance to preach the sermon you didn’t at the dinner table or when you were disciplining them. So preach sermons you want them to hear—from the heart—pointing them to Jesus.
Originally published by Lifeway Research, used with permission.