“Can anyone name one of the twelve apostles?”
Ebbing at the altar steps, tiny bodies form a choppy sea that ripples in all directions, a spotlight their temporary sun.
I scan the throng for my child’s face and find it, front and center. Eager, her chin is tilted toward the man giving the children’s sermon, a trusted friend.
She’s thinking. Others are wiggling and waving, but she’s thinking hard, wanting so much to please.
“Hope?” the man asks, calling her out.
Her jaw drops. Her chin tucks.
My breath hitches. She isn’t ready. Anyone with eyes can see she isn’t ready.
Callous or clueless, he presses, “Surely you know the answer, Hope.”
“P-p-paul?” she squeaks, face white, fingers working fast. My ears begin to ring.
“PAUL? Hah! Nooooooo.” Hope hugs her tummy and looks for me. Our eyes meet, and my heart takes the weight of her shame.
The nightmare continues.
“I thought surely the youth pastor’s kid would know.” Looking to the audience for consensus, this trusted brother chuckles.
The man laughs!
Response is mixed. Some chuckle on cue. Others shift, obviously uncomfortable, but no one corrects him in that moment, and the damage is done. A checklist of musts that God did not write is forever tattooed on my daughter’s heart.
I don’t expect everyone to understand the effect this kind of behavior has on ministers’ children and their families, what goes on in their hearts and minds on a daily basis, or the unique burden that these people carry. I truly think you have to live it to get it.
Or be told.
This being true, I interviewed a dozen ministers’ kids who are now all grown up. With their help, I offer the following insight into their shared experience and a few suggestions as we move forward together.
Ministers’ kids are not their parents. They may look like their parents, sound like their parents, and possess some of the same mannerisms as their parents, but they are their own people, complete with their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses, needs, and opinions.
When interacting with them, do not assume familiarity you have not earned. When attempting to build a relationship with them, start at square one like you would anyone else. Ask thoughtful questions. Listen to their answers. Do life with them and build on that common experience rather than on a shared history with their parents that will never mean as much to the children as it does to you and their parents. Give them time. If they seem uninterested in building a personal relationship with you, respect their wishes. Their parents may have a vocational obligation to minister to you beyond what the Bible requires of any other set of spiritual siblings, but they do not.
Don’t pump ministers’ kids for information or use them to manipulate, punish, or get close to their parents. Not only does this not work, as their parents are most likely pros at spotting this behavior and dismissing those who practice it as untrustworthy, but the kids are often pros as well. They may not fully understand nuance or be able to explain what’s happening, but they know in their gut when someone is being fake or using them. At best, they will build an emotional wall meant to keep you out. At worst, they will build an emotional wall meant to keep most people out, just in case, and arm the battalions, preventing healthy connection with people who could have become effective mentors and stunting their spiritual growth.
(To be continued…)