We’ve all seen it too many times. Pastors’ kids who grow up resenting the church and walk away as soon as they’re out of the home. According to a study conducted by the Barna Group, “one–third of pastors (33%) say their child is no longer actively involved in church.” What accounts for these massive numbers? Certainly, a factor is hurt from the church. But I’d like to suggest that another reason is that many Pastors prioritize ministry over their family. This is often the case during the holiday season.
This year, with rising numbers of COVID cases and new restrictions, Pastors are feeling more pressure than ever. None of us are sure what Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services will look like. Yet, that’s the Superbowl of the church calendar! Even with your stress, be attentive to how anxious your kids might be feeling.
The numbers of kids wrestling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders during these unprecedented days have been on the rise. As Pastors and ministry leaders, how do we shepherd our kids well while at the same time trying to shepherd our congregations?
Create Space to Listen.
Pastors are often driven by their calendars. Schedule an appointment with each of your kids for a one-on-one date. Set aside 15-20 minutes per day to listen attentively to each child. Use this time to check in with them about their feelings. Put your phone away so you can be attentive. This is not the time to correct or criticize. Listen with a heart to understand! As a ministry professional you might be wired to “fix”. Let go of that desire and focus on understanding your child. Author David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable” (David W. Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard). This is especially true for children and teens!
Prioritize Playing and Relaxing with Your Kids.
Often younger children process their feelings through play. You can learn a lot about how your child is feeling by getting on the floor and playing with them. Even older kids will often process their feelings while doing an activity with you. Get outside, go for a hike, throw a football, do some artwork or kick a soccer ball. The more you enter their world, the more they’ll open up.
Give Them a Voice in Shaping Traditions.
This holiday season is wonky. Things are going to be different. So, prioritize some family traditions, but also create some new ones. Ask your kids to help you decide what would be fun.
When our kids were little, we had multiple Christmas Eve services. We wanted our kids to love church and not hate it, so we spent time brainstorming and asking the kids how we could make it fun. We opened stockings and Christmas PJs after services. I kept my purse filled with candy and treats for during services. We ate pizza and all manner of junk food between. The kids ended up loving Christmas Eve!
The truth is, the more your kids feel heard and loved, the less chance you have of them walking away from faith. Make it a priority to lead out of the strength of your home. Create the space to listen to your kids, prioritize playing with them, and give them a voice in holiday planning. If they feel heard now, they’ll want to spend time with you when they’re grown, and they may make their faith their own without resenting yours.
Steve and Becky Harling are veteran church ministry leaders, authors and speakers. Certified by the John Maxwell Team the Harling’s have served as Pastors both nationally and internationally. www.harlingleadership.com