My husband and I are partners in ministry. We are both called to full-time ministry, and we both love to serve. In ministry, we have had to wear a lot of hats. We are expected to attend every service and even be early. Generally, we are also the last to leave. I often find myself busy with basic church duties: organizing events, planning meetings, preparing for services, graphics, videos, not to mention serving in other areas of church that are in need of volunteers.
When my son was little—before he could even speak an entire sentence—he hated going to church. I would literally turn the corner a few blocks away, and he would start to cry. But day after day I would drag him there—though he was crying, full of anxiety. I assumed the nursery was the problem. The people, the other kids or maybe that same weekly goldfish snack. At one point I told him, “I know how you feel, buddy. Mommy never liked going to church all the time either.” (Note: I was pastor’s kid.)
DING DING DING! A light bulb went off. Oh my goodness, I was doing exactly what my parents did to me. If I had a quarter for every time I missed a church service as a kid, I would have about, hmmmm … a quarter.
I realized two things that day:
First, I was having my kids at church too often. That was something I did not like growing up, yet, there I was doing it to my own kids.
Second, my son did not just dislike the church; he didn’t’ like who I was at church. I was so busy dragging him around as quickly as possible to tie up every loose end, or stopping to talk to every person with not enough time to run my own son to the bathroom. I was holding other people’s babies and engaging their kids or making copies and setting up power point, all the while pulling my boy around by his arm, frustrated with him for fussing and slowing me down.
I failed to realize that it was me, not the nursery, that was giving him so much anxiety. No wonder he dreaded it. Although I can’t take those days back, I really wish I could. Getting angry and frustrated with him while dealing with a thousand menial tasks to create a seamless service seems so unimportant on a grand scale. My actions gave my son the idea that church oftentimes turned me into a monster. I was too busy meeting everyone else’s needs to recognize the needs of one child—mine. I want my kids to enjoy church and to love learning about Jesus. Never do I want them to resent the church, God or me for that matter.
When I finally realized what was happening, I laid down responsibilities so my kids would have a healthier view of church. I needed to stop the pattern while he was still little. As I backed off from some ministry areas, I actually went through a bit of a slump. I felt like God wasn’t using me … like I wasn’t doing enough. Then the Lord spoke to me very clearly. He said, “Your kids are your ministry.”
What is the use in saving the lost if we lose our children?
I recently spoke with a PK in Oregon who is currently not serving the Lord and is quite bitter toward the church. She has fond memories growing up, but her parents were so involved in church that she was often left alone. She was responsible for watching her siblings most of the time. She told me she wished that her parents had known how to say “no” to other people more.
Here are some words she said still ring in her head today, “Sorry I can’t make it to your game. We have worship practice.” “Can you get a ride home? We had an emergency counseling session today.” “Can you put dinner on? Our prayer meeting ran a little long today.” Though it’s not wrong to ask your kids to pitch in around the house, bitterness may be simmering if they feel that they bear too much responsibility because of your involvement in the church.
We need to recognize those things, and nip it in the bud because keeping our priorities straight is critical. Here are some priorities that need constant attention:
- God. Personally, we must have a relationship with God.
- Your marriage. You are married and must have a healthy relationship with your spouse.
- Your children.You are a parent and have a responsibility to engage in relationships with your children.
- Your church. You are a pastor/pastor’s wife/ministry leader and have a responsibility to your church.
See? Family always comes before the church. And it is important to display these priorities to our congregations. Churchgoers may not understand, but if we only care for the needs of people, we may miss the needs of our kids.
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3: 4,5 ESV).
Read more from Re’na in her book Raised in the Pew.
Published June 1, 2017