Perhaps one of the more frequent comments I hear from ministry wives is their concern for the impact of ministry life on their children.
Will they still love church?
How can I help them see Church as a Gospel-based place to be?
What about when they mess up?
How do I handle misbehaving kiddos in the pew?
Or the deeper question:
How do I handle it if my kids walk away from church entirely?
So, here are my thoughts on PKs, or MKs or DCEKs, or any Ks…
1) Love them. Seriously Love them. This world is a difficult and scary place. Church work kids are probably more attuned to this than many others because they hear difficult conversations, attend more funerals, see the stress of ministry life, and may have a heart for the unreached very early on in life because it flows out of the family unit. Kids don’t know what to do with all that. You can be a shelter from all the giant, scary stuff of the world, whether your child is a church work kid or a kid, period. Loving them means a whole lot of Grace, physical affection, taking time to listen to their stories, and communicating that they are precious little treasures, God’s wonderful masterpieces.
2) Recognize that if you feel lonely, they probably do too. Loneliness seems to be a product of this sojourning life on earth until we get to heaven, but can also be amplified by church work life. Ever feel left out, longing for loved ones far away, endlessly searching for one close and intimate friend, preferably geographically near? Your PK probably experiences all these things too, but may not be able to identify its effect on their heart and how it seeps into their adolescent struggle to find out who they are and what’s important to them.
3) Don’t make them acolyte every time someone doesn’t show up. If they love it, that’s one thing, then by all means let them robe up! But if you get the stink face, let them choose how they would like to serve in the house of the Lord, when it’s not a Catechism assignment. They will connect with something and you can have that expectation that says, “Our family serves. That’s how we roll, kiddos.” Help them sort how that looks for them in particular, though.
4) Let them epically fail at memory work one week. This may be hard for you, because you really want your child to not only be an example for others, but you really do care that they take confirmation and spiritual growth seriously. I would propose, that your PK (or any child really), needs to know that Grace will be there when they fall. This communicates to them that their salvation isn’t wrapped up in the successful memory of Luther’s Small Catechism. That it’s important and eternally valuable, but Jesus came to forgive us in every weakness and loves us not forour perfection, but rather loves His children as weak and weary individuals, in need of Him.
5) Ask what’s hard for them at church. No one loves every aspect of their church, 100%, especially church workers, who know all the dark forty year long arguments and dusty corners of complacency and disgruntlement. Your child probably has their challenges there too. Ask them what’s hard for them, pray about it. Talk about Christ’s definition of Church as a living and breathing and not-so-perfect Body. And pray about it with them some more. Be honest with them- the church isn’t perfect – but, boy, is it worth it!
6) Lastly, and this is a big one…if someone comments on their behavior, defend their complete and utterly inarguable right to be a kid. Did you do stupid things when you were a kid, at two years of age and at 16 years of age? Do you do stupid things now? Why yes, yes I do. There are behaviors that are sinful and unacceptable. There are also behaviors that are not good and require some discipline. There are also behaviors that look more like getting the wiggles out and trying new and exotic hair colors. All of these behaviors, though, should not be amplified or specialized because our children are church work kids.
They get to be children. They get to be teenagers.
They get to be prodigals. Just like everyone else.
We get to pray them back and hug them tightly and whisper words of understanding and forgiveness in their sweet little (and big) ears. Dear parent, please give them this opportunity, and dear congregation, please give them a safe place to grow and learn and just be them.
How do you love on your church work kids? How do you pass on forgiveness and mercy to them? What areas do you struggle with in caring for church work kids? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts!
Know that you are prayed for, your family is prayed for, and your children are prayed for. We are in this together, brothers and sisters. Loving one another, loving our churches, and loving the precious cargo entrusted to us for this short life.