Today, I had someone introduce me like this “This is Noah. His dad started the church.” I get introduced this way very often, as do many kids when their parent’s plant and pastor a church.
The reaction of the child can tell you a lot. Most kids are embarrassed and hate the fact they are a church planters’ kid. I love it! My parents chose to dedicate their whole lives to see new churches planted and people love Jesus. That did mean, of course, that I sacrificed having a “normal” childhood, and my parents were terrified that church planting was going to “mess us up.”
That didn’t stop them from doing it anyway! It did, however, make them do five things very intentionally. I hope these can be helpful for you, your spouse, and your children.
1. They treated me as a member of the team
You do not plant churches alone; you couldn’t if you tried. Church planting is hard. That’s why we have church-planting teams. Your kids are part of that team just as much as anyone else. They don’t get a free ride because they are kids or because you are their parents.
My dad was serving as interim pastor of a church in D.C that lost its original planter and was struggling. We pulled up to the home where we were having our first gathering and, as soon as he parked, before he let anyone get out of the van, he looked at us through the rearview mirror and said “Guys, this is going to be really hard. I am going to do everything I can to make sure this church does not die. I can’t do it without you. If I try, this church is doomed. But if y’all help me out, then this church has a chance. I need you to be on my team.” Now clearly God can do whatever he wants with no help from any of us. But in that moment, my siblings and I all bought in to this struggling church and, by God’s grace, that church is still standing – stronger and healthier than any of us could have thought. My dad treating us as part of the team gave him the freedom to focus on the ministry. Not just my dad’s focus, but my whole family’s focus.
2. They made it fun
Being a church planting family has its own special set of struggles, but it also brings its own special set of perks. One January Sunday, the church was having baptisms. We didn’t have a building, so we had a portable baptistry. On the Saturday before, we had the baptistry sitting in our garage and my parents decided to turn it into a hot tub. That night my siblings and I swam our worries away in our cool, new in-garage pool. Before you ask, no … none of us count that night as our baptisms! But it’s a great example of just one of the many of my parents used their unique standing to give us some fun experiences that not every kid gets. They made church planting fun for us!
3. They were honest
The pressures and expectations on church planters weigh heavy. People also have expectations on your children. Your kids might not be the most Jesus-loving people, and they might struggle spiritually for a while. If you are in a healthy gospel community, then you shouldn’t feel you have to hide their struggles. I didn’t get saved until I was 17, and my dad was honest with other brothers and sisters that he trusted about where I was, spiritually speaking. The result was that people in our church felt burdened for me. Many took time to pray for me and also to pour into my life. Before I got saved, a lot of the gospel conversations I had would not have happened if my parents were too proud to be honest about my spiritual condition. One of my friends tells me that the difference between kids who grow up in Christian households and stay in the faith and the ones who walk away is five people, outside of their parents, who take time and pour into the kids’ lives.
4. They let others pastor me
The fact that your dad also is your pastor can be difficult for a child. No matter how hard you try, you can’t separate your dad from your pastor. Sometimes your kids need a pastor and not their dad. Sometimes they need their dad and not their pastor. You need to be willing to take a step back and let others pastor your kids so you can just be their dad. When I was wrestling with my call into ministry, my father knew he needed to just be my dad. He had a conversation with one of our elders who would be the pastoral person I needed to work through it. Looking back, that was the best setup for me to succeed. But it took my dad realizing that the most pastoral thing he could do for me was to step back and just be my dad while other pastors pastored me.
5. They gave me a front row seat
My parents’ whole life and work is centered around their faith. They could have very easily tried to pressure me into the faith, which would only lead to me faking it. Instead of pressuring me, they gave me a front row seat. I got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of being not just a church planter, but a Christian in general. They let me see what real faith looked like. They created a safe space for me to ask questions without feeling pressured. And their faith that God would do a saving work in me was greater than if they tried to speed up the process.
If you are worried that church planting is going to “mess up your kids,” try making them part of the team, make church planting fun, be honest with others about where they are, be humble enough to realize they need both a dad and a pastor – and that you can’t do both well – and give them a front row seat to your faith.
Published November 22, 2021