Thursday, January 30, 2014

PK Parenting

In ministry, it is not uncommon to hear about the struggles of being a pastor’s kid (PK). Certainly being a PK has its unique share of pressures that are difficult for others outside of full-time ministry to understand. Those pressures can come from all angles. Sometimes they come from the congregation, sometimes from the parents, and sometimes (maybe more than we realize) they can come from the PK’s own perceptions of how they feel they are expected to be. I believe even in some instances that further difficulties can be propagated by the continual teaching that there is so much pressure being a PK that they should almost be expected to rebel. I wonder how many times such teaching has manifested itself in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this blog is not meant to focus on the struggles of being a PK as there are already numerous articles and teachings addressing this issue. The angle I intend to focus on is that of being a parent of a PK. Of course, that means I am addressing the pastoral father and mother. I didn’t grow up as the son of a minister so I haven’t been through the PK process. I have, however, gone through the child and teenage years and I am the parent of some PKs. I can candidly say that raising a family in full-time ministry adds a whole new dimension of stresses to the already difficult job of parenting. If you are a pastor, you know this already.

It is tough being a PK, but it is also tough parenting a PK. There are struggles our children cannot yet comprehend as we try to balance the work of the ministry and its demands with raising a family. Your children cannot know the immense struggle you face as a pastor when you are so concerned about a particular difficulty your child is currently facing that you must pull together every ounce of strength you can muster to concentrate on the individual who is sitting in your office in need of counsel. You not only carry the weight of your family and its growing pains, but the weight of every family in your congregation with their growing pains. This is the ministry though. It’s the nature of the beast, as we might say.

In addition to this is the ever present fact that as the shepherds of the local flock, the pastoral family has a huge spiritual bull’s-eye on them. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 26:41 the principle of scattering the sheep by striking the shepherd. What many in the local congregation sometimes fail to recognize is that your pastoral family is many times standing between your family and the attacks of the enemy. If you are not a pastor and you are reading this, let me encourage you to do more fasting and praying for your pastor and family and a lot less time criticizing them.

My intent in this article is to give a little encouragement from one ministerial parent to others. I am by no means an expert. I’m still learning these things and trying to properly apply them. I fail sometimes. Oh God knows how I fail sometimes and it brings me to tears! What I share here is born of those failures and lessons and I hope it brings some edification to a subject, I feel, is often neglected. In our fellowship, the Assemblies of God, our District holds an annual retreat to minister to that special group of kids we call PKs and MKs (missionary’s kids). Perhaps we could use a PK/MK Parental Retreat as well. The Lord knows we just want to be the best parents we can for our kids.

So here’s my two cents…

Your kids must be made to understand that the standards of your household are standards of your Christianity, not standards of your ministry.
All too often PKs are given the idea that the standard of their home has to do with the pastoral role of their parents. This idea can be compounded by the lack of Christian standards sometimes found in other families within the church. It’s a classic case of, “Billy’s parents let him do this.” So of course, when you do not, the blame is set squarely on the fact that you are a pastoral family instead of being on the issue that Billy’s parents may need to step up their game.

Our children need to know that the high standards we hold for them are not simply because of our pastoral role. They should know that the household standards would be this way regardless of what vocation their parents served in because it is the standard of Christ. I believe kids can grow to resent high standards if they believe those standards to be implemented merely because of full-time ministry. They may begin to wish that they could be “normal Christians” who don’t have to live so “restricted”. Remember, before you are a pastoral family, you are a Christian family. Help your kids see that a “normal” Christian family will hold high standards regardless of what Mom and Dad do for a living.

Don’t hammer your kids
PKs live a glass house of sorts, but so do their parents. We always know someone is watching and therefore can easily slip into panic mode when our child acts out of order. When that happens we may be tempted to “show” onlookers in the congregation how good of a parent we are. And it can very quickly morph into a show, where our child is portrayed as the villain before the audience.

When your kids act out of order (which they tend to do from time to time), resist the urge to rush in with the heavy hammer of pastoral justice upon their wretched actions. If their actions require discipline then take them aside to address it quietly. All that the congregation needs to see is you coming into the situation and addressing it. They do not need to be privy to the conversation or the details of the discipline. If someone does feel the need to interfere with your parenting, it might be well to take them aside and offer some pastoral counseling to them.

Don’t favor your kids
Many pastors (and some congregations) are becoming more aware that kids are kids (even PKs) and so there may be a tendency to over-correct and trade the hammer in for a license. In an attempt to not make our children feel they are being unfairly targeted for misbehavior we can unfairly overlook misbehavior. This will manifest into a huge problem when your congregation begins to sense that the pastor’s kid gets away with everything.

This is where the balancing act really comes into play as a parent. You must learn to levy the right amount of correction with the right amount of mercy and it is admittedly far easier said than done. However, just as constantly pouncing on every move your child makes (especially publicly) can embitter them against the ministry, so excusing their misbehavior (especially publicly) may ingrain a false teaching into their minds that the ministry is the place to escape standards and accountability.

Try to show them the benefits of being a PK
Not every part of being a PK is tough. There are opportunities that abound for kids who have parents in full-time ministry. The a fore mentioned PK/MK Retreat that our fellowship offers is one example. However, there are other benefits to be had as well if you are willing to look and take advantage of them.

Access to special speakers and ministry groups who come in to your church is something the average church attendee does not have. My kids have got to spend some extra time with missionaries and even a Christian Power Team because Dad is a pastor. Give your kids the “backstage pass”.

There are opportunities for ministry adventures that sometime pop up because, as a pastor, you know people. My son had the opportunity to travel a few weeks with an evangelist friend of mine. It was an important bonding time for him with another man of God and they had some great stories to share when they came home.

Those are just a few examples. You just have to look for them. The ministry has many good things attached to its workload and stresses. Blessed will be the PK Parent who finds them!

This was certainly not an all-inclusive list. So much more could be added, but this is a blog not a book. So to wrap things up, I will reiterate that PK parenting is no easy task. As a pastor/parent, you realize that there are pressures upon your children that most, if not all, of their peers cannot relate to. You know that they can easily feel isolated (probably because as a minister you have felt that way on more than one occasion yourself). You hunger for them to know the Lord like you do and even to surpass your depth of faith someday. You want them to live strong and true and not buy into the lie that they need to go through a dark rebellious phase simply because they are PKs. Yes, the PK (and the MK) have added pressures due to their parent’s calling, but I want you to know, fellow pastoral families, that the pressures you face as parents are not insignificant either. There may be times where you wish you could just be that “normal” Christian family and escape those difficulties. If I may be painfully blunt; your calling will not allow that. So let us encourage one another as we press in so that our precious PKs will be blessed… and so will you.

Feel free to share any other insights or stories that you may have as a PK or MK parent.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Prayed About It

I was recently told by someone who was in the midst of taking action contrary to God’s word that they had, “prayed about it.” I should clarify that they were not about to undertake something like an adulterous affair (although I have heard “I prayed about it” used in that context as well), but they were certainly disobeying Christ’s clear commands because what Jesus said to do was uncomfortable and difficult whereas what they had decided to do was far more convenient.

This got me thinking about how many times I have heard the phrase “I prayed about it” used to justify and even sanctify actions that are clearly unbiblical. It is a disturbing practice that sets aside the Scripture for personal revelation that almost always satisfies the flesh. I believe, as Christians, we need to stop using prayer as a scapegoat and thereby blaming God for our unbiblical actions.

Before I continue, let me quickly address those who are, for all intents and purposes, biblically illiterate. I do not use that term as some kind of insult, but as an accurate description of someone who does not regularly study the word of God in its entirety. What I would like to point out is that biblical mandates do not come from the biblically illiterate. The idea that someone who is in the world and who does not know Christ can correctly instruct a Christian on what he should be doing or how he should be acting is ridiculous. It would be like me making the preposterous assumption that I could give instruction to an electrician simply because I took a year of electronics in my senior year of High School. So if you are reading this blog and you are not a Christian who regularly studies the Scripture, please be careful not to presume you know what disciples of Christ should be doing. I will not be pointing people to the world which is at odds with its Creator, but pointing people to the Word. I don’t mean to be rude, but this subject requires a measure of bluntness that I normally do not use.

Now that we have gone through that bit of nasty business, let us continue. As Christians, we must get away from the very false idea that every action we take is sanctified by attaching the phrase, “I prayed about it,” or something of similar sentiment. To be sure, we need to pray and receive direction from God, but simply because we pray doesn’t mean we have listened. This becomes especially evident when we refuse to investigate what God has already spoken on the matter in His word or that we believe God has, through prayer, led us in a direction contrary to His word. God doesn’t do that… but our flesh will.

A perfect example of this can be found in Numbers 22. It is the story of a prophet named Balaam. Balaam was given a prophetic voice by God and his words carried power. Therefore, Balak, king of Moab, decided to hire Balaam to speak a curse over Israel. Balak, not knowing God, and not understanding that Balaam could do nothing outside of the Lord’s will, figured he could defeat Israel with the help of some extra power.

So Balak offers Balaam quite a bit of treasure to speak a curse against Israel. Balaam explains that he can do nothing outside of what God tells him to say, but agrees to go pray about it. That night Balaam prays and God flat out tells him that he is not to go with Balak and is not to curse Israel. So the next morning Balaam tells Balak’s men that God said no. At this point, no matter what Balak does next, the matter should be settled for Balaam according to the word of the Lord.

When Balak hears Balaam’s answer he decides to increase his offer. They say every man has a price and this becomes more than Balaam wants to turn away. You can almost see the wheels turning in Balaam’s head as you read the account. “There must be a way to get paid and please God,” might have been the thought process. So instead of saying, “God said no already,” Balaam says, “I’ll go pray about it.”

This time God tells Balaam exactly what he wants to hear. Of course, God did not change His mind. What the Lord did is similar to what many of us have experienced as children from our parents when we constantly ask for permission to do something they already said no to. Sometimes they finally say something like, “Fine! Go do what you want.” We knew they still didn’t want us to do it, but we didn’t care because we received the green light. What we didn’t realize, at our immature age, was that our parents were not giving us permission to participate in the action that was formerly denied, but they were instead giving us clearance to experience the consequences of our deliberate stupidity. Such was the case with Balaam because we read that God became immediately angry with him for going! (Numbers 22:22)

As we see with Balaam, simply praying about something does not automatically cleanse it and make it the right thing to do. In fact, there are times this sentiment is deliberately added because we know we are doing something against God’s will and we want to clear our conscience. It is akin to the nonsensical idea of something not being a sin because one does not feel convicted about it. If God’s word says it’s a sin and you do not feel convicted, it’s because your heart is hardened against the Holy Spirit, not because God has given you a pass.

We must pray and it is imperative that we pray for direction especially on critical matters. But we must come with an attitude to receive direction, not permission. If we are simply looking for permission we will hear what we want to hear. If we are looking for direction we will hear God’s word and do it even if it is not what we want to hear. When we use prayer as an authority creator for everything we have decided to do we cheapen prayer and misrepresent the Holy God to whom we pray. Let none of us be found guilty of such a sin.