“You are going to drag your wife and kids across the country to plant a church?”
That question found a regular seat in the living room of my thoughts in the summer of 2012, when I prepared to move from a healthy, thriving student ministry position in South Carolina to plant Essential Church in Seattle, Washington. When we departed, my children were only getting started in elementary school; today, I have a middle school son and a high school daughter.
One of the greatest fears my wife and I have wrestled with over the years is that church planting would negatively impact our children and their spiritual health, particularly when they reached the difficult teen years. During the early stages of our transition to Seattle, I was encouraged by the words of an older, more seasoned church planter who told me, “Church planting has been an amazing part of my kids’ lives. Now, as they move on into adulthood, they can’t imagine being in anything but a mission-minded church plant.”
Life is always about trade-offs. As a planter who is also a parent, I could bemoan the fact that my kids will not get to be a part of a large, dynamic student ministry like the one I used to lead for hundreds of other people’s teens. I could worry constantly about the dangers of pulling my children out of the “safety” of the Bible Belt. It would be easy to be conflicted when pondering the impact of the crazy demands on a church planter and his family. Yet to focus purely on the “many dangers, toils, and snares” would be to completely ignore the unique blessings that parenting teens in a church plant affords.
Here are three unique blessings every church planter should consider when it comes to parenting your teens.
1. Seeing God’s power up close and personal. When you and your spouse step out in faith to plant a church, your children step with you. There is something profoundly powerful about seeing God make something out of nothing, answer prayers, bring unique people into the life of your family, and provide blessings from the most unexpected places. As a planter and parent, be sure to celebrate and recognize God’s power and presence along the journey. In my family, we have celebrated as we watched God do the unbelievable. He has brought people to salvation. God has added amazing people to our church. He has provided us with an affordable place to live, free furniture, and two free cars. The Lord has provided places for our family to go on vacation. Both in our church and our family, God continues to answer prayers and shower us with blessings.
2. Ownership and opportunity. Teenagers who grow up in a church plant naturally have a higher level of ownership in the mission and work of the church. Just like you, they have some “skin in the game.” This will produce great kingdom fruit in their lives as they look back on what the Lord allowed them to accomplish. In addition, your kids will have a lot more opportunity in a church plant setting. Whether it is assisting in leading worship, serving in children’s ministry, heading up a teen outreach, going on unique trips, or meeting special people, your teens will benefit from the experiences along the way.
3. You set the schedule. Don’t forget, that as the church planter, you establish the culture and you set the schedule for your church and your family. In my family, we work hard, but we also play hard. While July is often a blur of church activity with mission teams, interns, Bible camps, and outreaches, August is designated for family and rest. Every August, I set aside time to get away with my wife for our anniversary. I also have established a special camping trip with my son and a father-daughter trip as well. This is in addition to our family vacation. Throughout the year, we will go on small excursions, visit family, and carve out special times together. As a planter, you can adjust your schedule to coach games, attend your kids activities, go on field trips, and just go get some ice cream. Your teenage children will be out of the house before you know it, so make time to make memories.
Church planting is hard. Parenting teenagers is hard. Don’t forget to celebrate and enjoy the unique blessings that come with each of these rewarding callings.