On Pastors’ Kids and Belonging in Church

I am a pastor’s kid.

Pastors’ kids have a bad reputation, as a group. Sometimes it’s earned; other times it’s not. Many times it’s because we place unrealistic expectations on the children of ministers – and on ministers with children.

When I was in first grade – the age Sophia is now – my dad became a youth pastor. We had attended that same church since I was two and my dad started Bible college, so it was a fluid transition. Having experienced that church as a young child, when I think about what church was like when I was a kid, there is one memory that tops the list:

Tom Ritchie.

Well, not so much Tom Ritchie, as the Tootsie Rolls he always kept in his pocket. As I remember it, all the kids in church knew Mr. Ritchie kept these delightful treats in his pocket and would visit him each week after church.

But the other thing I remember about Mr. Ritchie is that when he gave each child the candy, he would bend down on one knee and look us right in the eye and smile. You see, not many adults do that. Some adults barely acknowledge the existence of kids. Others smile warmly as they run past and remark how cute they are. Some might lean over and ask them what their favorite subject is in school, or what their teacher’s name is.

But every once in a while, you meet someone who kneels down to a kid’s level, looks them right in the eye, and talks to them. Not at them or around them or about them. To them.

I love church people. I really do. God’s people are some of the kindest, gentlest around, if you ask me. And when we all get together? It’s family time – at least, it should be.

What I remember about Mr. Ritchie and his Tootsie Rolls is that, when he handed one to me, I felt like I mattered. That I belonged in church, that I was just as welcome there as the grown-ups.

This is important, more important than we recognize sometimes. Kids – and teens – need to feel like they belong in church, that they’re welcome, that they’re not a nuisance or an annoyance. If we treat kids like they don’t belong – or that they only belong as they are seen and not heard – for 18 years, we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for college and never come back.

So this morning, as the kids and I kissed Jonathan good-bye as we headed to church and he headed to chapel on post, I was nervous about how it would go. What would it be like doing church with kids without being able to tag-team parent?

At our church, there is an early service, then Sunday School, then another service. The first service doesn’t have children’s church, so I knew the kids would have to sit still and quietly.

But do you know what happened? People.showed.up. I mean, they showed up. The senior pastor’s wife – a pastor herself – showed up for first service just to help with my kids. She got them to Sunday School while I cleaned up the mess of crayons and activity sheets and visited with congregants.

During fellowship between Sunday School and church, people offered to help get the kids fed. I asked another mom to sit with my kids for second service until children’s church was released, and she was more than happy to do so. As soon as others saw the need, I got more offers for the future.

And in that moment, I realized how incredibly blessed my kids are. I mean, sure, they have to sit for more church than other kids. And yes, when Lenora sprawled out on the steps of the chancel during the Children’s Sermon in second service she got the mom-glare to sit.up.right.this.minute!

But they have other adults, people who recognize that It Takes a Village… especially at church for kids of those in ministry. We have never lived near family, but my kids have had stand-in grandparents and aunts and uncles everywhere we’ve lived. They have adults in their lives who make them feel welcome at church. They feel loved. They belong.

It can be a delicate balance, sometimes, with offering to help with other peoples’ kids. Sometimes an offer could be interpreted as a judgment that the parents are doing something wrong or can’t handle their kids. I’ll admit, I even have to swallow my pride to ask for – and accept – help. It’s not that I can’t handle my kids. When I offer my help to others, it’s not that I think they can’t handle the gig.

It’s just that – why should we do it alone? If I deny my children other adults to learn from, to watch, to observe, to give love to and receive love from – I am denying them the Body of Christ. I’m denying them things I could never teach them. I’m denying them the chance to learn that, when we’re in the place or the season to help, we need to step up and do so.

One of my greatest hopes for my kids is that they’ll always see themselves as belonging at church. I want them to see themselves as an integral part of the church, and the church an integral part of their lives. And today, as I watched Lenora cuddle with another girl’s mom, I was reminded that I have countless people to thank for the fact that they already do.

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