There was a time when I believed my parents’ ministry success was built on the graveyard of my dreams. I longed to fit in, be rooted in one place, establish my own identity; but it felt like everything took a backseat to their “calling.”
It was the calling that moved us all around the globe, made my friendships evaporate, and put me on display at church after church. Don’t get me wrong; it was a worthy calling. For over forty years, my parents were missionaries in India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. But somehow, this incredible calling that advanced the Great Commission also managed to squeeze me into a fishbowl where everyone watched me, but no one really saw me.
Parenting Ministry Kids
Why does it have to be so painful? Why does ministry come with such a costly price tag? Now, as a pastor’s wife, I ask those same questions from an entirely new perspective. I’m willing to pay dearly for the sake of the gospel—to get hurt and stand back up again, to forgive, to endure, to sacrifice. But my babies? Oh God, please no! I don’t want to watch my children suffer because their dad’s a pastor.
Yet on some level I know they will. Being a ministry kid means getting a backstage pass to the messy side of ministry. I knew a pastor’s wife from a mega-church who said her teenage son once Googled his father’s name and was so upset he cried. Her husband hadn’t even done anything scandalous! He was simply a prominent pastor in a sinful, highly critical world.
Not only do ministry kids see the underbelly of ministry, they bear the burden of other people’s expectations. I once heard John Piper’s son, Barnabas, tell a story about getting a technical foul in a high school basketball game. He was so mad he cursed right in front of the whole stadium. Immediately his coach reprimanded him.
“What are you thinking, Barnabas? You of all people should not act like this. Your dad’s the pastor!”
“He was right,” Barnabas later admitted. “I shouldn’t have acted like that . . . but not because my dad’s John Piper. Because I’m a follower of Christ.”
A One-Word Answer
How do we protect ministry kids from having a skewed sense of spiritual identity? From obeying for all the wrong reasons? From becoming jaded toward Christ and His Church? Barnabas tackled these questions in a conference breakout session for pastors and their wives. If I could summarize his advice in one word, I would choose the word “authenticity.”
As parents in Christian leadership, we must be intentional about cultivating and maintaining authenticity with our children. Authenticity means we don’t use the “prayer voice” at home. We don’t talk about being a sinner without ever confessing our own real, specific sins in front of our kids. We don’t paint the ugly side of ministry into a phony, pretty picture, because then we paint away the need for grace.
As parents, we must be authentic. We must listen without always preaching. We must converse without always counseling. We must build vulnerable, intimate relationships with our children that reflect the gospel in personal ways.
In many senses, my parents’ authenticity is the reason I came full circle. I chose to walk back into the world of vocational ministry with eyes wide open. Why? Because for years I watched my mom and dad live out 2 Corinthians 4:8–10. I saw them “afflicted . . . but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In their weakness, I saw His strength.
As parents, our inadequacy is one of the most compelling platforms for winning our kids to Christ. After all, God never promised to reveal His glory through our perfection, but rather through our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Recently, New Hope Publishers released my second book, Hiding in the Hallway: Anchoring Yourself as an MK. It’s the book I wish I could’ve read as a missionary kid wrestling with bitterness over my parents’ calling. It tackles many issues: the dark side of ministry, living in your parents’ spiritual shadow, cross-cultural pride, dating . . . but mostly it teaches MKs how to view their life in light of the gospel. I’d love to give some free copies away! If you’re involved in vocational ministry or you know a missionary family, leave a comment below to be entered in a giveaway.
Being a pastor or missionary doesn’t destine our children to rebel. But it does introduce them to unique challenges. Wonderfully, those challenges can become the fertile soil on which they encounter Christ in real and meaningful ways.