I try not to tell my kids how great I think they are.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the things my children do are brilliant. I think they are clever and funny and talented and wonderful. But the thing I want them to know more than anything else isn’t how great I think they are, but how much I love them.
Hearing that you are loved is different from hearing you are great. Throughout Scripture, do we see God reiterating how great He thinks we are? Or rather, how loved we are by Him?
I’m in the thick of raising those four clever children. We are in the sowing years of planting, tending, weeding, nurturing. They range in age from three to eleven and their personalities couldn’t be more different from each other. But my children aren’t regular kids, at least not by the perceptions of some. No, I’m raising the pastor’s kids – also known as PKs. There’s something about being the child of a pastor that tends to bring more criticism as well as more praise than the average child. It comes out in all forms.
Some say this means their obedience to authority should be without fault. Some say this means their hair is to be a certain length, color, and style at all times. Some say this means they should be serving and participating in each and every church event available to them. Some say this means daughters should set their sights on my sons for marriage. Some say this means they should only ever listen to a certain style of music and watch certain movies. Some say this means they are doomed for rebellion.
As my oldest son nears his teenage years, I’ve been thinking a lot about why these stereotypes exist within the church, and how I can best shepherd my children as they grow up in this unique position. The thing is, as women who love God and long to obey Him, we naturally strive to pour God’s wisdom and morality into our children. And when we see the fruit of that labor, we rejoice, of course! We accept the compliments for our well-mannered children. Our five-star babysitters and post-potluck chair stackers. Oh, what sweet kids you have with their verses memorized and prayers spoken aloud!
That is all wonderful fruit and something to cherish, for sure. But what about when they’re not so sweet and shiny? What about when they ditch Sunday school and hide in a parked car causing mass panic and a search party? Or escape the nursery to come tearing down the center aisle smack dab in the middle of your husband’s sermon? Or take a black sharpie to every pew in the sanctuary? If those examples sound a little too specific it’s because they’re as real as the ninja turtle pajama pants my son wore to church for three weeks straight.
I see a precarious tension arise when we praise our PKs for what they do instead of loving them simply for who they are. Not only are we placing these precious children on a wobbly pedestal, we are allowing their identity to become wrapped up in their performance. We are unintentionally crowning them king and queen of their own little kingdom rather than directing their eyes to the true King they are called to bow down before and humbly worship.
Pastor’s kids don’t need to be told how great they are. They need to be told how loved they are.
Loved by you, loved by God; and, I certainly hope, loved by the congregation.
They need to know they’re loved for more than their achievements in Awana. More than their role as Mary in the Christmas play. More than their rendition of Amazing Grace at the piano recital. More than their clean pants and tucked in shirts and shining faces. Because these kids are going to fail. Just like all children, PKs are not perfect and shouldn’t be held to that standard. We need to teach the congregation that PKs are not the pastor; the pastor is the pastor. The congregation cannot look to the PK to shepherd them or their kids. They can’t expect the PK to be a status symbol for their pastor. Remove the P from the K and see that child for what he actually is: a lowercase “k” kid.
When our kids know our love for them isn’t dependent on their works, we become the safe place for them to run towards in repentance instead of away in fear of condemnation. We show them what the unwavering love of their heavenly Father looks like.
Not only does love over praise set our kids up for grace over legalism, it also ushers in the freedom to be who God uniquely created them to be instead of Precious Moments figurine clones. We remove the intentional or unintentional mold that kids of pastors seem nudged to fit into.
Right now one of my kids has an 8-inch high mohawk. The Sunday morning after that haircut, he couldn’t wait to walk into church. Not because he was ready to stick it to the man, but because he knew Larry, our 70-something worship leader, would tell him how cool it was. Oh sure, I’ve gotten a few off-handed comments about my little punk rocker. People are entitled to their opinions. But my heart swells at the thought of my son being ok with who he is and unafraid to show up to church fully as himself.
When we balance the freedom to be ourselves, with the truth that God’s best is where abundance can be found, I think, hope, and pray we raise PKs who value the body of Christ. PKs whose hearts belong to God and whose identities are anchored in Christ’s love for them.
When we as PWs (pastors’ wives) live this out, we are paving the way for a church centered on grace. Not ourselves, not our kids, not our husbands. We can divert the attention from horizontal to vertical. It’s when our eyes are turned upward that we best serve the ones around us, including our children.
May we live in grace, for God’s glory, and for the good of others.
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