My children see church as their domain. As soon as we get into the building, they pull away and run off. Sometimes I’m not even exactly sure where they are in the church. My dilemma is that I know some things about people in our congregation that make me apprehensive to have my children around them. How do I protect my kids from potential predators at church without scaring them to death or breaking the confidences that I know about people?
Dear Too Paranoid,
The check in your spirit is there for a reason. NEVER ignore it. As Christians we too often explain off the uncomfortable feelings we have when we meet someone who seems creepy because we so desperately want to share the love of Jesus with them. After all, Creeps need salvation too! But Jesus himself warns us that we have been sent out as sheep among wolves. He tells us to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”. (Matthew 10:16)
You have to protect your children. I’ve never broken a confidence about a church member, but I have told my kids that I don’t want them to be around particular people without me present. They were also taught early on that not everyone at church is a safe person. The approach I use in our family conversations is this:
- This is a “Ministry Conversation”. Meaning- “Don’t tell everyone, this is confidential information!!”
- I tell them that I don’t want them to be alone with ______.
- When they ask me “why not”, I tell them that they need to trust Mom and Dad because it’s our job to keep them safe.
- When they ask, “Is _____ not safe?” My answer is always the same. “I don’t know. He/She seems like a nice person, but you know that all people in the church are people with flaws. If we didn’t have sin, we wouldn’t need Jesus. And, we want all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds to be at our church. But you know, just because a person comes to church doesn’t mean that Jesus has transformed them yet. I don’t know where _____ is in that process and I want you to stay by me.”
It’s important to make it clear to your children that stranger danger applies to the church as well. I give my children permission to run, scream, fight, bite, or whatever it takes to get away whether it’s in the church building or not. They need to know that the church building is not some magical land that suddenly becomes safe when they enter the doors.
We live in a fallen world and it is ok for you to do all that you can to protect your children. I unfortunately have known several people who had children molested at church by people who seemed very nice. Their cautions have driven the approach I have taken with my kids. Maybe I’m too paranoid as well… I can live with that.
I recently discovered from my kids that people at school single them out as the “religious ones”. I must have been sticking my head in the sand all these years because I had no idea that they were being treated differently at school. They expressed feeling a lot of pressure from students and teachers to be better than other people. They said that they are frequently told, “Aren’t YOU a PASTOR’S kid?!”, when they do or say anything that might be considered out of the norm for a Christian. I’m disturbed that they are being singled out because of our choice to pursue ministry. How do I protect them from this scrutiny?
Ostrich in Ohio
I’m not sure there is a way for you to protect them from what people say or how your kids are labeled when you are not around. We can’t control other people’s actions; we can only teach our kids how to stand up under the scrutiny.
Some ideas that might help to protect their hearts:
Give them permission to be normal. Let them know that you don’t expect them to be perfect because their parents are in ministry. Tell them you expect them to be perfect so that everyone will know what great parents they have! (jk) Allow them to be who they are, not what is dictated to them by others and empower them to say that to their peers and teachers.
Make your home a “safe zone”. As much as possible, don’t allow your kids to tear each other down at home. They get enough of that at school without having to deal with it at home as well. Promote encouragement. It takes a lot of positive statements to manage the discouraging ones.
Help them make their faith their own. If your kids are going to be singled out as the “religious ones”, it might as well be because of their own Christianity and not because of their parent’s occupation. Ask your children what kinds of things they are singled out for and talk through how they might handle that situation in the future. Challenge what they believe so that they can form their own opinions about faith. Ask them to tell you what their friends believe and let them tell you what they think about that opinion. Don’t tell them what to think, but guide them toward the truth as you discuss. Then, when they are confronted at school, they will know how to express their own convictions about faith.
Keep the dialog open. Now that you are aware of what is happening at school, keep the conversation open. Do periodic maintenance checks to allow your kids to blow off any steam that may have built up over time.
Pray! Unfortunately, when we commit to ministry, our innocent children have to live with the consequences of our choices. Cover them in prayer. They have a target on their back. But here’s the good news, the God who created them in the womb knew that they would be born into ministry and He loves them more than we ever could. We have to trust that He will protect them when we can’t.
I wish there was a way to insulate our kids from the consequences of having parents in ministry. They could have been born to any number of dysfunctional people, but the Lord picked you as their parents! Stand tall in your choices, Ostrich. Dysfunctional as the ministry lifestyle might be, I prefer to believe that the consequences of obedience to the Lord is better than anything the world may offer to our children.
I have three children under the age of six. My husband is a youth pastor at a relatively large church. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of demands on his time. Our children are now getting old enough that they are noticing how often their Dad is gone. How do I explain to them why Daddy is frequently not with us without making them resent the church?
Patty and the Preschoolers
Dear Patty and the Preschoolers,
You have asked an excellent question and have tapped into fears that I have carried with me since the day I said “I do” to my husband. We have all heard the urban legends of PK’s gone wild because they resented the time their parents spent at church. I’m still working this one out myself, but I’ll tell you a few things that I keep as driving principles when explaining ministry sacrifice to my children:
1. Your children will reflect back what you project to them. Those little faces have a way of being the perfect mirror of everything we say and do. If we as spouses are resentful of the time Dad spends at church, our children will be too. Ask these questions of yourself: Do you see time spent at church as valuable, worthy, and meaningful to God’s kingdom work? Is it for an eternal purpose? Is it worthy of sacrifice? If you can say “yes” to these questions, you should have no problem explaining why Dad is not home. He’s a HERO helping a desperate world know Jesus! But if you are having trouble seeing how the annual Whipped Cream Fight has significance in God’s work, you have some talking to do with your husband before you can explain anything to your children. (see post 8/29/11, Alone Again)
2. We are all called to ministry. Whether we are at the church with Dad or not, we are a part of what Dad is doing. One of the ways that we serve and worship Jesus is by giving up some of the time that we could spend with Dad so that he can minister to other people. Include them in the work of Dad’s ministry in age appropriate ways so that they understand that they are a part of what Dad is doing. Whether that is drawing pictures for a teenager in the hospital, helping clean up after an event, or praying while Dad is in a counseling appointment, they need to see that they contribute to the ministry as well.
3. Never take their sacrifice for granted. Now that your children are becoming aware of their own sacrifice for ministry, it’s definitely time for them to experience the same appreciation that any ministry volunteer might expect. Frequently tell them “Thank you” for their patience with Dad’s absence. Have Dad (and the student ministry) write them notes of encouragement and appreciation when he’s gone. And never underestimate the power of a “treat” when Daddy finally comes home. Let them know that without their sacrifice and support, Dad could never serve Jesus in the way that he does.
Finally, I want to caution you that there’s a warning signal in the words, “Where’s Daddy?” Just like those little birds that miners used to take down into the mines with them as an alert to when the air was getting dangerous, out of the mouths of babes comes the reality that our home life is getting out of balance. Heed their warning signals as if your family was running out of air.
I hope this gives you a good start Patty.
Please feel free to give Patty and the Preschoolers additional advice in the “comments” section below!
I need to confess. Sometimes, when we are really busy at church, I feed my kids dinner from the vending machine. There it is…I’m a bad mom! I feel so guilty, but I don’t know what else to do. At least they are getting fed, right?
Dear Little Debbie,
Before I start, I have to admit, my kids have gotten a few Star Crunch dinners in their lifetime too! I don’t think that makes you a bad mom, but I do think it makes you a busy one. The best way to combat those busy times in your life is planning, planning, planning!
Generally, most of us know when the busy seasons at church are going to happen. As you see the busy times approaching, make plans to take care of the kids first. Whether that’s finding babysitters, planning convenience meals, or asking someone to bring food to the church, it’s important to make sure that your kids are not the last thing on your TO DO list. This planning is less about having a candy bar for dinner and more about what you are communicating to your kids when you don’t plan for their basic needs in your busy day. No matter how important ministry is in the lives of those you will touch through your church service, there are no people on this earth that you will influence more than your own children. Pre-planning elevates their status to “more-important-than-church”. Ministry kids are usually pretty flexible. Most understand a chaotic lifestyle and are willing to sacrifice and eat chips and honey buns for dinner occasionally! The problem comes in when we consistently make them second place to decorating for the church social or running copies for VBS. Force yourself to become organized. Bow out of things that other people in the church can do. Focus yourself on the most important relationships in your life.
Plan to make your kids the number one priority over church duties and vending machine dinners won’t be a source of guilt. Those moments will become a treat and a memory-maker.
I have a two year old child and a six month old baby. I am pretty picky about who babysits them. There’s a lady at church who keeps offering to have her daughter come over and watch the children for me. She says she wants to give me a break and that it will be good “practice” for her daughter. I don’t want this girl to “practice” babysitting on my kids but this lady keeps insisting. It’s getting to where I try to avoid her in the hallways so I don’t have to talk to her. I know that she is trying to be nice and give me a break, but I don’t think that her daughter is old enough or experienced enough to take care of two toddlers. I feel really bad for being ungrateful for the offer. I don’t want to hurt her feelings but I’m running out of excuses at this point. I feel like I’m going to have to let this girl watch the kids so that this will end.
Dear Picky Mommy,
You are in no way obligated by mandate of ministry to allow people to practice babysitting on your children. This does not make you ungrateful, it shows your wisdom. These children were entrusted to you by God and just because your husband is paid by the church doesn’t mean that the church people get to do, say, or practice whatever they want on your family. It’s good to draw clear boundaries early on when you have children in ministry. There is no reason for you to feel bad about letting people know what is acceptable and not acceptable in regards to your household. Do you think this lady would want you dictating how her daughter should get to school in the mornings or how she should wear her hair? Do you think for a second that she would hesitate to tell you that you are not welcome to make those decisions for her? Why would you let this woman decide for you who is going to babysit your kids? You do not have to feel pressured to please everyone in the church who has some suggestion for your family no matter how noble the offer may be.
I would encourage you to draw a strong line with this lady. Stop making excuses; she’s not getting the subtle approach. Kindly thank her for her offer but let her know that you are picky about who watches your kids. If you still feel the need to spare her feelings, tell her that you already have a regular babysitter. What would you rather do, save face or protect your children? That pit in your stomach is not going to go away as you pull out of the driveway with the children in the care of this woman’s daughter. Your lack of confrontation will only complicate the matter. Stand up now. Good grief, if you are going to have a reputation for being ungrateful or unkind, it might as well be over something that really matters like your children!
I have a problem. It seems like every time I turn around, someone is asking me to volunteer in the church nursery or the children’s ministry. I’ve even been told by some church people that it’s my “duty” to volunteer since I have children. Oh yeah, and did I mention that my husband is the Families Pastor at church? My issue is that I don’t particularly like babies and kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I love my OWN kids, I just don’t particularly care to play with or care for other people’s children. I don’t think I’m good at it. And DW, I have tried! The last Parents Night Out my husband planned, I was there, doing my “duty”. I came home exhausted, resentful, and feeling guilty that I hated it so much. What am I going to do?! I feel torn that I don’t want to participate in this aspect of my husband’s ministry at all. And I know that there are expectations from church people that I should be involved. My husband said that I could bail on him if I want to. He knows that the Children’s ministry is not my thing. But, I want to be supportive of him and I also know our church- if I’m not there, he will hear about it. So for now, I’m off to the nursery to rock some babies because the regular volunteer is sick. Help me, please!
Kid Min H8tr
Dear Kid Min H8tr-
Listen to me closely…You have permission to quit! Get out now. For the good of everyone, bail on your husband! Would you want a volunteer like you ministering to your children? Would you put them with someone who really doesn’t want to be there but who continues to show up out of obligation? Of course not! God doesn’t want that kind of service from you. He’s looking for wholehearted commitment. You need to be real with yourself about what kind of ministry God has created you to do because this is obviously not it. If it was, you would have joy and peace when you serve, not resentfulness and guilt.
Support your husband in other ways than “direct care” with the children. What gifts and skills do you have that would benefit the church and particularly your husband’s ministry that do not require you to be “hands on” with children? This would be a much better way to support your husband than begrudgingly volunteering in the Children’s ministry. Being a ministry spouse doesn’t mean allowing other people to dictate HOW you are going to serve God. That’s still uniquely between you and the Lord. You and your husband need to set some boundaries with the church and within your family about how you are going to serve in ministry. The church will define your place of service unless you define it for them first (as you have already discovered). You and your husband need to make a clear stand for what you are and are not going to do in the church.
Look, there’s no shame in knowing what you’re good at and living in that sweet spot and there shouldn’t be any shame in knowing what you’re bad at and avoiding it. There will be people who do not understand. But ultimately, the only person you have to please is God. And how can you do that when you’re miserably stuck on diaper duty!
Do you ever want to disappear? Live off the “grid”? My kid said to me the other day that our family was “weird”. When I asked what he meant, he said, “you know, because of the ministry-thing”. I didn’t even know he was old enough to realize that our lifestyle was different from other people much less that he would attribute it to ministry! It made me want to call it quits and be like normal people. Go to church when I want to, not when I have to. Have one boss instead of a whole congregation full of people who think they can tell our family what to do and how to live. Choose where to live based on family connections or how good the schools are in the community not on how close we are to the church.
How easy normal people’s decisions must be…only thinking of what THEY WANT TO DO, not even considering “what does God want” and “where can I best be used”. I know that leaving it all behind is all a fleeting fantasy though because the truth is I’m committed. I couldn’t walk away from what I know God has called our family to do even in my weakest moments. God sacrificed so much for me, the least I can do is give Him my life. Even if it makes our whole family weird!
Dear Mrs. Oddball,
How my heart resonates with yours! And I’m embarrassed to say how often I have to remind myself not to “sit in the seat of scoffers” because their way is not God’s way. I blush to admit that I forget that my “reward is in heaven” and that I shouldn’t “lose heart” because the “momentary affliction” that I experience in this world is not as important as the things that God deems as “eternal”. Or even to confess to you how many highlighted passages I have in my Bible that refer to how God repays those who “secretly slanders his neighbor”.
Yes, I do sometimes share your fantasy of going dark, escaping my commitment to God, and living like “normal” people. Heck, I’d even take living like most Christians! But, just like you, God’s grace always calls me back to reality. And then I think, WHY would I ever WANT to be normal!! How boring that life must be. Never living on the edge of knowing whether or not God was going to perform a miracle in your life today, always knowing that you can do everything yourself without His divine intervention. Choosing your own path and missing the excitement and adventure of letting God lead your steps even though you don’t know where you will end up. Sacrificing every comfort for the sake of sharing Jesus’ grace with the world and being allowed to see God transform a life right before your eyes while you realize that God is using you as His creative tool in that life.
No, I’m not normal. I’m a part of a peculiar people, adopted as God’s chosen one and I’m not willing to deny my heritage for any house in a nice neighborhood with a husband whose job is always stable and affords me to shop at the mall twice a week. I’m gonna let people say what they want to about me and my family because I know that there is really only One person that I’m accountable to in the end. And He says that He handsomely rewards Oddballs.
I’m having a problem with a woman in my church. She really is a nice lady, but she has pushed me too far. I have a five month old baby. He’s my first child. This lady must have a sixth sense because as soon as I come into the church building, there she is whisking away with my baby. A few weeks ago, I thought I saw her feeding him ice cream. Today, I walked around the corner and saw her letting him suck soda from a straw!!! I am fuming mad! She’s a sweet woman who has been somewhat of a mentor to me in the past. I know she loves babies but recently she has just about frayed my last nerve. I’m not sure what to do. I’m finding myself hiding and doing everything I can to avoid her when I see her. I don’t want to lose her friendship and, honestly, I don’t want to offend a church member. What do I do?
Frayed and Torn in Nevada
Dear Frayed and Torn-
Since this is your first baby in ministry, I want to help you with your priorities: Baby, #1, Church Lady #31. You have permission to offend! It’s ok to assert yourself where your kids are concerned. It’s probably not going to be the last time so you might as well practice while your son is still a baby.
I am getting the feeling that the reason you haven’t already dealt with your angst is because this lady is not just anybody in the church. It sounds like she has been someone special to you. Even more important that you approach her about how you are feeling. You don’t want to spend your time hiding in the bushes from someone you admire as a mentor. Approach her about how you are feeling so that you can reconcile with her! If you value her friendship, make sure that this does not become a rift between the two of you. She may not even realize that she has crossed the boundary lines. Might you offend a church member or friend… yes. But your baby, your frayed nerves, and your friendship are worth the risk.
Avoidance is not going to make this better. Face it head on, chin up, and ready to take a blow. However, you may be surprised if that blow feels more like a soft apology and a hug from a friend.
DW~ Matthew 5:22-24
What do you do when your spouse is on the staff of a church and you’re not happy with the children’s ministry? Our church averages about 250 people, is growing, and the children’s ministry is dying. The children’s minister has been with the church for a long time and is very set in her ways. There is very meager security in the nursery wing. Honestly, if I didn’t know the people in the nursery, I wouldn’t leave my children. Also, the children’s programs are dwindling in numbers and very poorly organized. I’m seriously considering taking my children to another church for weekday programs. Is that wrong? I am praying for the ministry, but I also want my children in a thriving program.
Dear Mama Bear,
When it comes to protecting the cubs, don’t ignore your instincts! Your first responsibility and ministry is to your children. If you feel uncomfortable with any issue in the children’s ministry, especially safety concerns, always protect your kids before you protect someone’s feelings. Now, having said that, know that you and your husband will face consequences for that decision. But let’s consider the sacrifice you’re making: kids vs. hurt feelings, kids vs. awkward silences, kids vs. questions from congregation, kids vs. questions from the pastor, kids vs. my husband’s job, kids vs. having to move. In my book, the kids win every time!
I really don’t think that taking your kids to another church for weekday programs will get your husband fired, but it might, so you have to be unified in whatever decision you make. This action will surely bring to light some of the issues in the children’s ministry. Be aware that you will probably influence other people to move their children as well. Protect your kids, but know that you will be disturbing the status quo and since no one has addressed the issue thus far, you are going to ruffle some feathers. There will be fall out and in that make sure that you “keep a clear conscience” by answering questions with “gentleness and respect”. (I Peter 3:16)
In all of this, Mama Bear, I can’t help but challenge you a little bit. I’m glad to hear that you are praying for the ministry, but I’m wondering how you are supporting the children’s minister. Could it be possible that because you see the issues in the children’s ministry that God might be asking you to address some of them? Is your children’s minister overwhelmed and in over her head? How long has it been since she has had encouragement and support? If this was your husband’s ministry that was failing, what would you need from the congregation? While I do think that it’s time for the teeth to come out concerning your kids, please don’t ignore that this minister may be facing some of the same obstacles in ministry that you deal with as a family. In your prayers, be open to God prompting you to act in ways that you aren’t expecting. Taking the kids out of the ministry may not be the only solution.
I just got out of the hospital after having surgery and I will be in recovery for 4-6 weeks. During my three day hospital stay, not one person from church called to see how I was doing. My husband is one of the pastors at church. None of the other staff pastors called either. We have three kids and don’t live near family. Soon, we won’t have any help at home. I’m worried about how my husband and I are going to manage during the recovery. DW, Why wouldn’t anyone call or offer to help? Who’s our pastor?
Wounded 2 Ways in Texas
My heart is breaking for you. I wish I could come over and help! Who knows why people do what they do but here are some thoughts on what might be going through people’s heads:
“I don’t want to bother her when she is sick.”
“I’m sure her family is there to help and I don’t want to intrude.”
“The pastors will take care of it.”
“What if she had ‘female’ surgery-I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.”
“I’m positive that someone has already organized meals for them.”
“I’ll call once I know she’s out of the hospital….oops, has it been that long!”
While service, outreach, and sacrifice probably come naturally for your family (you are in ministry), it’s just not the bent of most people to meet someone’s needs unless they are asked to do so. Should they have known that you needed help…YES! And I’m boggled by the inaction of your fellow pastors! I’m hurt and disappointed for you that the pastors at your church did not reach out to your family during this time. Pastors should be the first ones to respond when someone on their team is hurting and in need. Unfortunately, ministry families are seen as “able to handle it”. There is an assumption by other pastors that “they will understand how busy I am”. In the Good Samaritan story, it was the Priest and Pharisee who walked right past a battered and dying man lying in the road (I wonder if he was a pastor’s spouse).
Wounded, you have 2 ways to handle this hurt. You can carry it around with you and let it fester and infect everything you do in ministry for the rest of your service there OR you can prick it now and let the pain and infection drain out giving you the chance to heal by choosing forgiveness. We all miss it sometimes. People and pastors mess up. You know pastors aren’t perfect-you live with one! I urge you to choose grace in this situation. Holding on to this hurt will only lead you to bitterness.
And, ASK FOR HELP! Don’t assume that people will know you need it. You and your husband need to call, pester and do what you have to do to let people know that you need help. It may surprise you to see who responds and what bonds are formed within the church when the pastor’s family admits that they are human and in need.
My prayer is that healing in all ways comes quickly.