Raising kids to love the church: Jeff Christopherson

By Jeff Christopherson

Laura and I always invested our savings in the next church plant, so we were constantly on a walk of faith, and our kids got to go on that walk with us. We told them all along the way what lay in front of us, and they saw God answer prayers. They saw the church multiplying with no resources. It was just a whole series of miracles, and they saw that. Their faith was really fortified.

It is difficult. Church planters feel like they’re one bad decision away from total annihilation—and most of the time they are. Everything is so fragile, and it can easily become all-consuming if you let it. I took a day off and kept that day off pretty sacred, but I also involved my kids in ministry, and, you know, as a church planter, you end up spending more time with your kids than most people do because you’re doing things as a family that are job related.

I hear about rebellion of pastors’ kids, but I don’t think many planters’ kids experience that to the same degree because it’s not really dad’s job; it’s our family’s ministry together. They were always one age of leadership ahead. So if they were in grade school, they were helping with the preschoolers. If they’re in high school, they’re helping the junior high. They’re always helping with the setup takedown. When my children realized some churches have their own buildings, they were stumped. They’d never seen that.

Church is hard. It’s painful. And I tried to insulate my kids from that, so they never heard us talk negatively about painful experiences that they couldn’t understand. We didn’t want it to color their view of this family that was theirs. I also never used them in sermon illustrations. I would use them once in a while, but they would always look good. I never used them as an example of something funny that would have embarrassed them. I think that’s a significant thing. I tried just to keep those healthy margins.

We had two types of prayers for our kids. We prayed about the normal rhythms of life and we prayed in faith for our kids’ future from the time they were very very little, and we would pray in front of them.

There was a moment in each of their lives where they had to make their faith their own. When my daughter, Kelley, was finishing up high school, she and a childhood friend started becoming close. He was not a believer, and she came up and said, “Dad, Mom, I think Kurtis and I might want to start to date. What do you think about that?” And, she was at an age where I said, “Well, you have been around our home, and you’ve seen over the years how much pain there is when you sign up for that. You know what God’s Word says about that. So this is your decision, and you’re going to have to live with what you choose.” She went to her room and spent an evening crying. It was tough. But she didn’t say, “Well my dad said…” She talked to Kurtis and said, “We can’t do this.” And she gave her own reasons why.

They graduated from high school and went to two different universities. Kurtis started getting involved in Campus Crusade—which is an amazing thing. He went to a school with 45,000 students, and the Campus Crusade group might have been 50. They led him to Christ and discipled him. Now Kelley and Kurtis are married and church planting together. God honored her obedience.

A lot of church planters carry guilt because they maybe moved from a church that basically had Disneyland for kids, and now they’ve moved to a place where there’s nothing for their kids. They think they’re going to screw up their kids because they don’t have all that stuff. My observation, and this an observation over a long period of time, is that Disneyland for kids doesn’t help much. The thing that really helps is seeing that mom and dad really love Jesus, they follow Him and they’re obedient to Him. Kids from church planting families end up in ministry in high ratios, and I think it’s because they recognize early that this isn’t just a job.

Church planters, don’t feel like you’re cheating your children. You’re giving them the best gift you could possibly give them. Insulate them from sin in the church, but reveal to them steps of faith, so when God shows up, you can praise the Lord together. Let those be the stones that you put on the other side of the Jordan to remind you what God has done.

Published October 10, 2016

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Jeff Christopherson

Jeff Christopherson is the North American Mission Board's Vice President of the Send Network. He and his wife, Laura, live in Alpharetta, Georgia.