As you may or may not know, my wife Sarah and I are expecting a little baby boy in mid-May! Yes, we’re super excited and even started keeping a daily journal to write to him. The hope is that he’ll read it when he’s older. We’ll all cry from all the love. It’ll be a great day.
Being our first child, there are so many questions that we have about parenting and much of it can really be overwhelming.
Although the due date is a few months away, I’m writing my first actual parenting article today. One of the most common questions that I heard before the pregnancy (besides “So, when are you guys having a baby?”) was, “Wouldn’t it be great if your child were to grow up to be a pastor?” I’m sure that these inquiries are well-meaning and said with the best of intentions. Being a pastor’s kid myself, though, there is a lot of baggage that gets brought up internally when I hear that question.
I happen to think that question itself is the wrong one to be asking in the first place. So, here are three reasons why I would answer “no” to the question of “Do I want my child to be a pastor?”
1. My child should not feel pressured to live up to, or make up for, my ministry.
As a kid, I used to be called “el pastorcito” or “the little pastor” because my dad was a pastor. I’m sure that other people thought it was cute, but it wasn’t cute to me. Somehow, people in church had (and in many cases, still carry) a false notion that pastors’ kids should be noticeably more spiritual and well-behaved than the rest of the kids at church. For example, I remember back when by brother and I were younger and decided to grow our hair out and get braids (back when I had hair). The fact that we were pastors’ kids seemed to make this simple choice of hairstyle equivalent to the unpardonable sin.
I’ll never forget my dad’s response to one critic that came up to him and started complaining about the example my brother and I were giving to the rest of the kids at church. He looked at this person in the eye and, without missing a beat, said:
You let me worry about raising my own kids, you worry about raising yours.
I remember thinking something along the lines of…
This is an example of excellent parenting. By sticking up for us, he let us realize that we were not under any obligation to live up to or maintain his image. This was very empowering because we were free to grow in our own way, free of the constraints of what other church members thought. That principle drives me to my second point.
2. My child is not going to be a target for people’s projections of pastors.
Going back the expectations that I noticed as a kid, for as long as I can remember, there was always a perception that pastors are supposed to be models of perfection in their dress, speech, marriage, parenting, driving record and, really, everything else. I remember another experience growing up where one saint scolded me for playing catch with a friend on a Sabbath afternoon. I wondered why she was so adamant about correcting my supposed misbehavior, when her own child was a terror in church. I’ve come to realize that, in many cases, people project their hopes and fears onto the leaders in church (and by default, their kids).
Now, I’m aware of the Bible’s guidelines for elders/pastors. It says that spiritual overseers must be examples for the people they lead (1 Timothy 3:2). However, in that description, we must not forget that pastors are human, and their children are, too. I think we set pastors and their families up for failure by elevating them to a platform of perfection that belongs exclusively to God. Could it be that being an example to others includes admitting your failures as a parent, but learning to work through your shortcomings as a human being in constant need of God’s grace?
But going back to the question at hand, in my mind, when I hear the question of “Wouldn’t it be great if your child were a pastor,” something keeps coming back to mind. The belief of the priesthood of all believers tells me that you are a priest and minister in your home and in your workplace. Therefore, your child should also be expected to be a minister. So, why isn’t that question asked of every parent in our churches, whether or not one of the parents happens to be in full-time ministry? Of course, a child would not want to be a pastor, and much less a Christian, if he/she is seeing un-Christlike behavior from professed believers in the home…
What it all really boils down to is this:
3. My main concern as a Christian parent should be to foster the relationship that my child has with God, not their career.
Before anyone starts to get any wrong ideas, I love being a pastor. I’m getting paid to do something that I would gladly do for free. Sure, it has its highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
However, understand that full-time pastoral ministry is not simply another vocation or career; it’s not a “family business” where children are automatically expected to continue in their parents’ footsteps. It is a deeply personal calling that is initiated and fueled by an active relationship between you and God. Neither my parents, nor the church, called me into ministry; I felt that God Himself opened the doors for me to do what I do.
As a parent, I don’t have the guarantee that my child will chose my same path or even chose to believe the same things that I do. So, my job as a parent isn’t even to worry about their salvation; that is something that is their choice, and is something only God can do as their Creator and Redeemer, not you as a parent. My duty as a parent is to introduce them to this God who deeply loves them more than I ever could, and do what I can to increase the chances that they’ll get to know and love Him as much as I do. My very best weapon as a parent is prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to move in their lives.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Note, the Bible is referring to boys and girls in its use of the word “sons.”
Why would God tell parents to teach their children about His love and character through their example? Because parents are the first exposure to an authority figure in their lives. If parents have an active faith, model Christian behavior, and teach their children to not only know God but also love and serve him, then whatever vocational calling they chose to answer will be the work that God has called them to do (and at any age!). So it won’t matter if they go into medicine, education, law, technology, or even full time-pastoral ministry; they will still be ministers in whatever field they find themselves in! And I’ll be happy in knowing that I’ve fulfilled my duty as a Christian parent.
The reality is that as a pastor, in ten years the people who you work with and go to church with will not remember the times that you put church before your children. However, you can be sure that your children will. So, if you have to make a few people angry, so be it. I, for one, refuse to sacrifice my family on the altar of career success or misguided expectations.
My responsibilities are to my God, health, family, church and community. In that order.
Care to share any thought or advice on raising your children to know and love God? Share below!