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Parenting as a Church Leader

Church leadership can be beautiful and challenging, particularly in this season of church shutdown.  Between leading online church, facilitating home education for our children, pastorally caring for congregation and community, and trying to be a family, it can be hard to feel confident as a parent.  Parenting for Faith's Rachel Turner, author of a new book from BRF entitled Parenting as a Church Leader, shares some encouragement.   

Parenting as a church leader is a unique circumstance. It’s hard to describe to others who aren’t doing it the various pressures of parenting in a goldfish bowl, the interweaving of our home space with our workspace, the underlying expectations of congregations and our own hopes and dreams of what our family would look like in leadership.  Many of us can become worried that our call as a church leader may bring a cost to our families that will be steep to pay.   

The good news is that our children can not only survive our ministries but thrive within them.  Being a church leader’s child brings with it enormous opportunities along with the struggles.  Church leader’s children get to see the reality of what God does in ministry. They are exposed to a beautiful range of people from different experiences and backgrounds.  They get to be loved by people of all generations and be a part of God’s great plans for a community.  While there are very real potential downsides, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that the possible positives are significant.   

It all comes down to how we coach our children through their experiences.  Recent research has shown that in order for church leader’s children to thrive, they need to feel four things.  

  1. They need to feel connected to us.   Emotional connection, not just affection, is a powerful tool through which we can journey with our children’s experiences and shape how they experience and think about the ministry life they are in.  
  1. They need to feel prioritised.  Our children can find themselves in a competition with the needs of the congregation.  When we learn how to ease that competition not just in our daily choices and conversations, but in our children’s hearts and minds, then our children can enjoy the church rather than feel stressed by it.  
  1. They need to feel covered.  Our children are easily exposed in church life.  Their stories and identity are often known by a wider group of people than they personally know.  If we want our children to feel secure in our family, church, and community, we need to cover our children from exposure.  
  1. They need to feel empowered.  Our children are not just “children of church leaders”.  They are members of our congregation, and as such need to be free to go on their own journey of faith.  We as parents can grow in how we help them on that journey as parents and as church leaders we can help them find their place as powerful members of the body of Christ in our church.  

This season of lockdown has shifted our working pattern slightly and in doing so, allowed us all some space to look at how our home life is working for us and our children.  Here are a few opportunities this season opens up for us.  

A chance to build connection with our children.  Our children can grow and change quickly.  Being trapped in our homes with them allows us space to notice how they have changed and get to know them in this new season.  What makes them angry?  What brings them joy?  How do they handle their emotions, and what annoys them about church?  What do they do that makes you laugh?  What do you value about their character and personalities?  Church leader’s children long to connect with their parents and have that companionship time that they often feel is missing in normal ministry life.  It’s a gift.  The relationships you are building and reconnecting with now will pay off massively in this season and the seasons to come.  

An opportunity to have the big conversations.  Often we end up talking with our family about the stresses and successes of ministry life when it becomes a problem: when our kids have had it with endless evening meetings, or our spouses are exhausted from feeling abandoned on Sundays.  This season gives us the opportunity to ask the important questions when everyone isn’t feeling deeply emotional about them.  Take time around a meal, or when you are den building to ask.  “I really want you to know how important you are to me as my kid.  With my job at church, do you ever feel unimportant to me?  When?  What can I do to change that?”  Or explore with your family while setting up a movie, “I always want you to feel that I won’t tell your private stories to other people at church.  Do I ever do anything that makes you feel that I’m not protecting your privacy?  I want to know and get better at that.”  Or even “What are we doing that is great as a family in this lockdown season that we want to make sure we keep doing once school and church start up again?”  Capture your great successes as a family and make it a priority to continue when you go back!  

God loves your family, and when he asked you lead within a church, he didn’t ask you to sacrifice their wellbeing for the sake of the church’s.  He called us to one whole call that integrates all that we are.  Each of us are parents, siblings, daughters or sons, friends, and colleagues and yes, church leaders.  Jesus came to give us life to the full, and so we can be the parents and church leaders he has called us to be.  

Rachel Turner is the Parenting for Faith pioneer. Her latest book Parenting as a church leader is out now. 

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