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 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 am writing to you with bleach-cracked hands and the smell of toilet cleaner in my nose. Our church janitor was fired recently and the leadership committee decided that it would be a GREAT idea for everyone to pitch in and take a shift to clean the bathrooms after each service. Of course, I signed up to take a shift because EVERYONE was going to help out and clean. Well, guess what? Two months later and I am the only one still showing up to clean. I am trying to have a good attitude about this and be a humble servant but I can honestly say that my sacrifice is not wholehearted before the Lord. In fact, I’m sick of it! I don’t know how I get into these situations. It seems like I am always getting roped into volunteering for something I don’t really want to do because I am a pastor’s spouse and I need to lead by example. How do I get out of this habit?
Chained to the Bathroom
Dear Chained to the Bathroom,
What makes you think that it’s a great example for you to be cleaning all of the toilets in the church by yourself? Is it the fumes?! Get out of the bathroom and maybe you will have a better perspective! It sounds to me like you are letting your congregation take advantage of your willingness to serve and sacrifice. Even Jesus said that there is a point to shake the dust off your feet and move on. In this case it’s time to throw down the toilet brush!
Seriously, the church will ask you to do as much as you let them. This volunteering habit of yours will keep you smelling like scrubbing bubbles unless you learn a beautiful two-letter word- “NO”. You will never be able serve wholeheartedly when you are volunteering out of an obligation “to be an example”. You need to start focusing on what God is prompting you to do rather than on what the leadership committee deems is best for you to do. Plus, as long as YOU will do this kind of stuff, no one else in the church is going to step up to do it. The church won’t ever need to hire a custodian because you will be filling that role for them.
A part of leading by example is joyfully operating right in the center of God’s will. Hosea 6:6 says “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Saying “NO” to things that are not God’s will for you is a way for you to show love to your congregation. If you are serving with a sense of resentment, you are serving in the wrong place. You will never be the godly example you desire for your congregation until you do them the honor of serving them wholehearted in the center of God’s will. Anything else and you are doing a disservice to them, yourself, and God.
And I promise you, those toilets will smell much fresher when someone who is called to do it is cleaning them!
Some people might call me a prima donna. Others might call me selfish. I prefer to think of myself as a Princess. Sometimes I want the universe to revolve around me! There’s only one problem, I’m married to a pastor. When we were dating, my future husband gave me a lot of attention. We became best friends and I never wanted to be apart from him. I guess that’s where the selfish part comes in, I miss him. I don’t like sharing him with so many other people. I want him all to myself. He’s my whole universe but I feel like Pluto in his universe. I want to be the Sun. I want to be sitting on the throne next to him, not waiting in his court as one of his many admirers. I want to be his Princess again. Am I a prima donna? Tell me the truth. Is it wrong to be jealous of the time he shares with all those people at church?
The Pastor and the Princess
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be your husband’s best friend, but I wonder from your letter what you thought life would be like when you married a pastor. A part of living with a pastor is sharing his time with other people. There’s servant hood and sacrifice involved in this calling and you are a part of that now. That may mean not always being the center of attention.
HOWEVER, in my encouragement for you to share a little of your husband’s face time with other people, one thing you should never sacrifice is “relationship” with your husband. I am sensing that relationship and quality time are suffering a bit in your situation. Have you discussed how you feel with your husband? He needs to know that you are feeling like you have to “request an audience” to be in his presence. You might not always be able to be the Sun in his universe but you certainly should be closer than Pluto! Let’s shoot for Venus or Mercury even on the busy days in ministry. And you should always feel confident that you are his Princess even when he is not able to spend a lot of time with you.
What do you need from him in order to feel the intimacy and specialness that has waned in your relationship? Have you shared your need for attention with him? And while you are thinking this through, are you being fair? Are your time and attention expectations realistic? It’s imperative that you discuss this with him. He needs to know how you are feeling.
It’s not selfish for a wife to want to have the best part of what her husband has to give. It’s biblical. Husbands should love their wives and give themselves up for her just as Christ gave Himself up for the church. He should cherish her just as Christ cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). Sounds like “Princess” might not be such a far reaching title for yourself! When you feel loved, you won’t have a need to feel jealous. Balance this Princess thing with respect for your husband and you will not be seen as a prima donna to your congregation, instead, your marriage will become a beautiful living picture of Jesus’ relationship to the church.
Just got hired as a full-time youth pastor 8 months ago…it’s my first ministry position and it’s out of state. Also, just got married 2 months ago, so everything is still very new for my wife and me. On top of getting married and moving to a different state, she is also finishing up her bachelor’s degree in secondary education – she is student teaching full-time. Oh and there’s this whole new thing of what it means to be a youth pastor’s wife.
We absolutely love being married…it’s everything we dreamed it would be! However, my wife is having a hard time adjusting to this new life. We are in our early 20’s and like most churches there are very few people our age. We spend most of our free time with teenagers or people who could be our parents!
Our biggest struggle right now is we feel alone. We have no family within 5 hours of us and no real friends within 5 years of us. I hate thinking my job as a youth pastor is hurting the emotional health of my wife. I love teenagers and helping them grow in Christ, but I love my wife more – much more. Any advice for us at this unique stage of our lives would be awesome…thanks so much!
Yep, you have done it! You have just invited the woman that you love more than anything on earth into the front seat of the biggest, baddest roller coaster anyone has ever experienced. And not only do you have her in the front seat, but she’s not sure that the restraints are really locked in place. Coming out of the chute and riding up the hill was kind of fun and exciting. But at the precipice of the first plunge where you both can see the reality of how deep this coaster goes and how long, twisted, and harrowing your ride will be, you start to experience your first thoughts of regret. Yikes! Let me off!!
I’ve been riding that rail for a while now, and let me say to you that it’s going to be ok. Give yourselves some time to adjust. You have experienced enough change in the last few months to overwhelm anybody. Your sensitivity and concern about how your wife is adjusting to the ministry lifestyle is the first step to holding her hand and helping her feel secure during the ride. But also recognize that you can’t secure her in the cart by yourself no matter how strong you are. You can’t be your wife’s only source of support and friendship. If you are going to survive this ride, you both have to develop a support system to help hold you in place when the ministry lifestyle turns you upside down and corkscrews you through the twists and turns of life. I wish I could tell you that once you make it through the first plunge that everything is easy from then on, but, you know roller coasters, on the good ones the ride is usually exciting and unexpected from start to finish. The ministry lifestyle is the same way. Every stage of life will be filled with these kinds of loop de loops.
Below, I have a few questions for you to answer. I hope that they will not only help you to find a support system no matter where you go in ministry, but also help you to figure out how to embrace your wife on the roller coaster ride of your new life together. And if you both can figure out how to hold on tight at the beginning, you might just enjoy this exhilarating and terrifying, heart-stopping, spectacular ride that we call ministry.
- Do you have a group of friends from before marriage and moving that you can connect with via Skype on a regular basis?
- Do you have friends or mentors from your former church families that you can call up when you need to hear a familiar voice?
- Are there any other YP’s in your area that you could invite over for dinner?
- Have you considered befriending a YP from another denomination? (I bet some of them have wives that can relate to your situation!)
- Is there a YP association in your town, neighboring city, or state? (Have your wife check out www.leadingandlovingit.com for a virtual ministry spouse community. Take her to your next YP conference, and let her connect with other spouses. www.conference.youthministry.com has an excellent spouse tract that also continues to meet on FB –“Married to a Youth Pastor-Wives Connect Group”. You can friend the FB group even if you haven’t attended the conference yet.)
- Is it worth one night a week of your busy schedule to join a Para-church Bible study where you can connect with others your age?
- Is there a hobby that you both can participate in that may connect you with other people your age?
- Have you too quickly disregarded the support and influence of the older friends that you have in your church?
- Have you connected with the other staff members and their spouses? Have you considered inviting them to do something social with you?
- Are you taking regular days off? Are your days off truly “black-out” days from church work?
- Are you giving your wife your leftovers or is she getting the same man that she met before you took the ministry position?
- Is ministry occupying every aspect of your life or do you and your wife have very definable boundaries where ministry is not allowed in? i.e. day off, vacations, regular private time together
- Have you ever discussed with your wife what she wants her “role” to be in ministry? Are you helping her to define God’s unique role and purpose in ministry or have you and/or the church been defining that role for her?
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 am writing you as I sit among a mountain of boxes in my living room. I feel like just when things start to get comfortable and familiar, we move. Is there ever stability in ministry life?
You know you have moved a lot when the people around you start commenting that you pack so well you could be a professional mover! Personally, I relate to that scene in The Incredibles where the wife has just unpacked the last box in her house after three years and Mr. Incredible is calling to let her know that it’s time to move.
I’ve known many pastors’ families who have served their churches for many years without moving. Sometimes God plants us in a community and He uses deep roots and longevity of relationship to work in the hearts of people around us. Other families I know have moved numerous times in the course of their ministries and God has used them in special ways “for such a time as this” at each of the churches where they have served.
I don’t know what God has in store for your family, but I do know that while God might not always move us physically, He constantly challenges our stability. Even if you have the privilege of serving in one place for your whole ministry, you might not ever feel completely comfortable or stable. I have some friends who have served at the same church in Youth Ministry for 20 years. In that time, they have had at least six Senior Pastors. Even though they have lived in the same house, there has been nothing stable about ministry life!
Ministry life is about challenge. It’s about the refining of your faith. It pushes us beyond what we thought we could handle so that we finally understand what God can handle. So as you sit among the boxes, don’t long for the comfortable. It’s in the unfamiliar where God works! I hope you grab all you can from Him on your next adventure.
My husband is a full-time paid youth pastor. At every family gathering, we hear the same question, “When is Mike getting a ‘real job’?” How can we make the family understand that this IS a REAL JOB?! Urrrgh! I’m taking someone down if I hear it one more time!
Hittin’ Below the Belt
Dear Hittin’ Below the Belt,
Repeat after me…Serenity now…Serenity now! 🙂 Put away your boxing gloves for a minute and consider something with me. When you were on the other side of the pew as a church member only, what did you think the staff did for work? Did you imagine that they worked more than a couple of days a week? Did anything about the staff EVER cross your mind at all unless they were in front of you during church? The reality is this: unless you grew up in a ministry family, you don’t have any idea how much time, energy, effort, or pizza goes into youth ministry! You don’t know about the midnight crisis phone calls from parents. You would think it was a joke if someone told you that they were “working” while on Facebook. Taking 40 teenagers to an amusement park looks like the easiest way in the world to make a living! It’s on the other side of that church bus key where you discover what it really means to WORK in youth ministry. Give your family a break. Take some hits on the chin for Jesus. The reward for your work is coming from Him anyway and He knows from personal experience how demanding full-time ministry can be.
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24
My husband has been the youth pastor at a church for the last two years, and we have wanted to leave for the last year and eleven months. We tried to find a new job this past summer, but it never worked out. My husband is frustrated and so am I. It is hard to sit through a church service without getting angry at our Senior Pastor. I am tired of my Sunday mornings, the time I have to spend with God, being filled with frustration. Our Senior Pastor is visionless yet refuses to step down. We see problems in every direction we turn, but are powerless to change anything. My husband is looked at and treated like a kid by most of the staff and board. We desperately want to go but do not understand why things have not worked out for us to leave. How do we keep it together when we are at a dying church that we are so desperately longing to leave?
Longing to Leave
Dear Longing to Leave,
I can just feel the frustration radiating from the words in your letter! You are definitely in a difficult place in your ministry and I hear how desolate you are feeling. It’s so disheartening to serve people when you feel unappreciated and dismissed.
Now for some truth…God usually sends pastors to churches that are sick. In Mark 2:17, Jesus said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Sometimes that even includes the Senior Pastor!
Surviving the dying churches and desert places in our lives is dependent on keeping our focus on the reason for our calling. Why did God call you to this church? What is your purpose in being there? What is it that you have that your church might need? Despite how hard this is, what do you have to offer for “such a time as this”? Is there even one person’s life that has changed because you are there? Does that one person matter in God’s economy? Would one life changed make your two years of sacrifice worth it? Spend more time focusing on God’s purpose and will for you in this sick and difficult place and you may be surprised at how peaceful and fulfilling it is to be right in the center of His will. For now, the one place you would rather not be is the place where God wants you. Seek Him first, pursue righteousness, and don’t worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:33-34) While you patiently wait for the next step in ministry, do all you can where you are and look for the unique lessons that God is actively teaching you and your husband. Someday, in retrospect, you may find that these trying years were full of value way beyond what you can see in this moment.