One of the scariest things for me as a young person in ministry is the issues related to a pastor (or staff member, etc.) and his family’s involvement in the life of the local church. I’ve known quite a few different situations and I often wonder what the best approach is for a pastor and his family. Some I would outright reject and but even the ones I consider often raise difficult questions in my mind. Probably some of these relate to parenting philosophy in general, but I’m thinking about the pastor’s family specifically. One of the biggest tensions perhaps is finding that balance between “church is more than daddy’s job; it has to be a personal commitment from each of us, so do whatever you feel like, kid” and “You’re expected to be here every time the doors are open, early, dressed nice, with a smile on your face, and be willing to serve as de facto babysitter/envelope stuffer/general labor at no cost to the church whenever we feel like it.” So here are a couple “models” of pastoral family church involvement that I’ve seen or could guess exist from stories I’ve heard (that would be a great new horror film series: “Nightmares of a Pastor’s Kid, Part 3: Sanctuary at Night”). There are more perhaps, and the whole point of this post is to hear some feedback from those who have actually endured ministry as pastors with families or as the family members regarding advice you’d give to some younger people like me in the ministry.
1. The Indentured Servant Model: The pastor’s wife and kids are resources on loan to the church for whatever they deem necessary. Church members have a right to complain any time they don’t see a family member at a church event or if their appearance/attitude don’t match the stock happy family photo on the church bulletin.
Positive: Kids will be well prepared for military life. Negative: Church is a job, nothing more. Family feels valued for job performance and not themselves. Kids have ridiculous expectations on them which only lead to bitter rule-keeping or drastic rebellion.
2. The Family Commitment Model: The pastor’s family is committed as members to the church. They attend with the same involvement that would be considered “faithful” for a regular member (aka not gone for soccer 6 months of the year), and are allowed to find their own ministry niche. The church is taught not to freak out if the kids aren’t at the 6 am senior adult prayer breakfast. The wife is free to use her gifts and talents within/without the church as she deems appropriate.
Positive: Church commitment and involvement is kept serious for the family. Within that commitment, there is freedom for individual family members to find their place. Pastor’s family can set model for how other busy non-paid church members can reasonably be involved. Negative: Family members may not see a place for their gifts at the church, especially as children’s interests and talents develop as they mature. “Commitment level” may be hard to keep balanced, tipping either up into the “Indentured Servant” level or down into the “Laissez-faire” model.
3. The Laissez-faire Model: For those who slept during economics class, laissez-faire basically means “hands-off.” In this model the pastor adopts a “hands-off” model towards his family’s church involvement. If they want to go, he’ll give them a ride, but he’s not twisting arms or waking people up on a Sunday morning. If they come, they won’t be asked to do much more than fill a pew. Forget ministry involvement; if they want his wife to be involved, they should pay her! And of course, if Junior joins one of those traveling carnivals known as “tournament teams”, then the wife and kids can disappear for 6 months and no one will care as much. If the family is tired on Sunday night, then dad will show up and preach, but it’s Home Makeover time for everyone else.
Positive: Kids can never complain about being forced to go to church. If they are involved it is a credit to their personal interest and effort. Negative: Kids can never complain about being forced to go to church. Tell me which 5 year-old will set their alarm and get themselves ready for church each week, especially if they find out Spongebob is on tv. Some forced activity is healthy for children. And usually this “non-committal” kind of model winds up leading kids to other commitments in place of church, often still not at their own choosing. The pastor’s family may not hate him for taking them to church each week, but they might resent him for sending them to softball games all weekend in 100-degree heat. Dad and family may end up living two totally separate lives. It also sends the message to other church members that if one isn’t paid to be at church, then showing up isn’t important. When the only one of a family who shows up on Sunday receives a check for it, the people in the pews wonder why they bothered to show up and get told about how much more involved they need to be each week.
4. The Intentional Exile Model: This one is rare, but I’ve seen it before. This one might be more common for temporary work like a interim pastor. The family is committed to going to a different church than where the father pastors. Maybe for an interim period (especially if the church is going to require some tough changes), the pastor doesn’t want to burn his family out, or have them switch from the local church they all attended for 5-6 months and then return. Some families may also do this with youth age kids (though the instance I know of, the pastor’s kids were so bad he probably just wanted to stop hearing complaints so he sent them elsewhere.)
Positive: On a temporary basis, this could be good, if the family is committed to a church. Also there may be a rare occasion where a child absolutely needs a change of scenery in order to be involved. Negative: If not temporary, then we have the bifurcation of the family again. Also, pastors should not use this model so they can ignore their own family’s behavior because it’s now out of sight from their church. For a long term pastor, using this approach tells the congregation you’re not committed even to them to bring your family along.
Ok, I came up with 4. There are probably more, and I’m assuming many people probably fit in a shade in between a couple of these approaches. For those who’ve gone through this (or are currently), which model did you gravitate towards? What benefits/negatives did you encounter that I missed? Pastor’s families: which model would you have preferred growing up and why? For those who are not pastors or pastor’s family, what similarities could these approaches have for your own family’s church life? I look forward to hearing!