Although my children did enjoy most of what came with being a minister’s kids—instant identity, a chance to serve early, an extended family of believers ready and willing to invest in them and help their parents, the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves, a front row seat to what God was doing in the congregation and community, etc.—they might have been wiling to give some of it up just to avoid all the yuck.
I hate that.
Want to bless the kiddos who are still swimming? Consider the following insights and suggestions from twelve grown ministers’ kids who survived the fish bowl to tell, their love for Jesus and the Church intact.
Ministers’ kids often feel isolated. It only takes a few non-invitations and quickly shushed conversations for ministers’ children to understand they are different and can expect to be left out from time to time. Add to that disappointment a few forced or assumed volunteerings that further separate them from their peers, and you’ve created a lonely kid.
Compound the problem by giving them special privileges they don’t want or need and making an example of them when they fail to live up to your expectations, and you’ve built a wall they must scale just to make and keep friends. In their efforts to scale this wall and prove they are just like everyone else, many ministers’ children overcompensate, further alienating those who work with them and their peers.
Relax. Ministers’ kids are not spies for their parents. They probably tell their parents what they see and hear because that’s what kids do with their parents, but it’s very unlikely they were sent. Their parents have enough to deal with without looking for something else, and if their parents do misuse the information they receive, that’s on them, not the child. Besides, if you can’t say what you were saying or do what you were planning to do in front of your minister’s kid, you probably shouldn’t be saying or doing those things anyway.
Just treat ministers’ kids like you would treat anyone else. Give them time to develop according to God’s plan for their lives without the distraction of a spotlight. Respect their individuality. Most importantly, be real. Invite them to watch as you let God transform you into the image of Christ, polishing that which resembles Christ and chipping away the rest, so they’ll know it’s okay not to be perfect yet even as we aim for perfection together with God’s help.
Minister’s kids are more self-aware than you think and harder on themselves than you’ll ever be. Odds are, if you’ve thought something about your minister’s kids, they have, too, and are just hoping they can work through or cover up what they consider to be glaring inadequacies in themselves before those inadequacies are noticed and yield consequences. They know their actions affect their parents. You don’t have to tell them. They feel it every day and probably hear it more often than you think.
When your minister’s kids need correction and your relationship to or with them makes it appropriate for you to do the correcting, correct them the same way you would any other child. Give yourself time and space to cool off, take a moment to prepare your heart so you don’t misrepresent our just, but loving Heavenly Father, and then say and do only what must be said and done as privately as possible.
Don’t project. Don’t extrapolate, and don’t drag things out. When it’s all over, give your minister’s kids the same clean slate other children enjoy for free. Ministers’ kids who are made to work for that clean slate—and many are—often struggle to believe they are truly free in Christ. Some spend the rest of their lives trying to earn grace, and some just give up. Those who give up often leave the church altogether.
Ministers’ kids may be reluctant to trust. Many have been burned personally. Almost all have watched their parents suffer. Go easy. Don’t force it. Once you’ve earned their trust, you’ll get it.
Listen, friends, whatever else they may be, whatever else they may have done, ministers’ children—of all ages—are just sinners in need of a Savior and the social and emotional space to get to know Him better among brothers and sisters who illustrate His mercy and grace.
Just like me. Just like you.
Please, please, please, “love your (minister’s kid) as yourself” (Mark 12:31).