Seven Keys to Loving and Leading our Kids Well as Pastors and Church Leaders
While many of us have heard nightmare stories of "Preacher Kids" growing up in the church just to rebel and turn their backs on God when they get older, in my experience, these cases are far more often the exception than the rule. In fact, I have seen countless children of pastors and church leaders grow up to love Jesus and the church, often becoming leaders in a congregation themselves when they get older. I truly believe this: Raising our kids in the church should not be a threat to their wellbeing but a huge opportunity to help them grow in their love for God and their love for the body of Christ. But how does that happen? While there is not one magic bullet, let me share seven keys I've observed over the years to loving and leading our kids well in the church.
# 1. Give your children a God-saturated vision of the world.
Our kids need to see the reality that all of life is about and for God, and that is the joy of being a Christian. We aren’t just going through the motions on Sunday morning. This isn’t just the job where dad collects his paycheck. This is our life. We serve as an overflow and an expression of our love for God, who is everywhere. We want our kids to be amazed at God, and if they are going to be amazed then He is going to use us to show them just what is so amazing about Him.
How are we connecting our kids to God? In everything that we do as a parent—when we talk as a family over dinner, or when our families are watching TV—do we pause and use that as a teachable moment? What do they think about what they are seeing? What does that teach us about our image and about God? All of life needs to become about connecting our kids to God.
When we’re in the car together, when we’re listening to music, when we pass a car accident, how can we use that as a time to pray for people? In the way that we spend our free time, in the way that we spend our money, in the car we drive, in the house that we live in, in the clothes we wear, in the furniture that we buy, and in the way that we talk about others—these are all teachable moments that we need to be mindful of. They are opportunities that connect our kids with the reality of a good, loving, sovereign God.
The question that my wife and I continually visit is this: “Do our kids see our desire to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31: ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God?’” That was the first verse our family memorized, and my kids still say it all the time, because ultimately that’s what we want to be about. By God’s grace, we want to be a family that seeks to bring glory to God in all that we do.
#2. Do all you can to show your kids that you love them more than the church.
We need to help them to see that we love them more than our churches, because it’s not always obvious. Many times when a pastor’s family is struggling with rebellious kids, it is because they have failed in this area. The children feel neglected. Our children should never feel like they are in competition with the church. “I’ll lay the church down for you, my son/daughter. I’ll lay it all down for you. You’re my kid. There is no competition. And if I have let you feel that way, forgive me. I don’t want you to feel that way because that’s not the truth.”
We are called to shepherd our kids first, before the church, and they need to know that. They need to believe that. In fact, according to Scripture, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 says caring for your kids and leading your children is a qualification for eldership. If we can’t lead our kids well, we have no business caring for the church of God.
#3. Teach your children to pray by praying with them and for them.
The most powerful impact that you can have on your kids is to pray with and for them. From the time they are little, they should never go to sleep without us putting our hands on them and praying for them, hearing that they are loved. Even if your children are older and you think you’ve missed the boat, it’s not too late. Start now. Your kids may think it’s weird. So what? Start shepherding your children, now. Pray for them and pray with them. Teach them how to pray for others by asking them to pray for you. That’s a powerful way to humble ourselves and show our kids that we need prayer too.
Augustus Strong, who was a Baptist seminary president at the end of the 19th century, told this story:
One of the earliest things I remember is my mother taking me into a dimly lighted closet every Saturday afternoon after the day’s work was done, and kneeling with me beside a chest while she taught me how to pray. I remember her suggesting to me the thoughts, and when I could not command the words, her putting into my mouth the very words of prayer. I shall never forget how one day, as I had succeeded in uttering some poor words of my own, I was surprised by drops falling upon my face. They were my mother’s tears. My mother’s teaching me how to pray has given me ever since my best illustration of the Holy Spirit’s influence in prayer. When we know not what to pray for as we ought, he, with more than a mother’s skill and sympathy, helps our infirmities and makes intercession within us, while Christ makes intercession for us before the throne.[i]
What a beautifully intimate picture of a mother praying. Those are the kind of parents we want to be, by God’s grace.
#4. Develop a culture of God-centered praise and worship in your family.
What kinds of praise and worship are our kids catching from us? Our kids need to see that we love God, that we are worshipers in our home, and that we love to praise Jesus together. Passionate praise and worship are more caught than taught. Not only is it caught during Sunday morning worship gatherings, although that is part of it, but it is caught in our homes and cars. If we want our kids to be passionate worshipers, we have to be passionate worshipers ourselves.
#5. Intentionally seek to cultivate fun, goofy times with our children—laugh together a lot!
One of my mentors has been a pastor for 40 years. He has four adult children, who all love Jesus. I’ve asked him many times, “how did you do it? I dream of my kids loving the Lord and loving people that way.”
He says, “You know what the biggest thing was? I pursued a relationship with each of them, and we had a lot of fun together. And we never stopped having fun, from the time they were little.”
Sometimes parents are good about having fun with their kids when they are little, but as they get older they lose that. Don’t lose it. We need to have fun— to laugh. Our kids need to see joy in us. They need to see that we relish them, that we love them, and that we love to be with them. Kids can tell whether they are a joy to their parents or just a chore. As dads, we need to communicate that we cherish them and can’t wait to spend time with them.
#6. Give your kids regular, undivided attention.
They want your attention. They need your time. Your kids look up to you more than anybody else. What they need from us is our undivided attention. This means we need to intentionally put our phones away and limit our screen time, among other things. What do you need to put aside in order to give more undivided time and attention to your kids?
#7. Hug them and encourage them consistently and continually.
May our kids never know a day that they weren’t hugged and encouraged by their mommy and daddy. They need to hear our words and they need to feel our touch. Consistently. Continually. What a privilege it is to love our kids with the love of Christ!
__________________ [i] John Piper, Sermon, “Raising Children Who Hope in the Triumph of God,” desiringgod.org, May 8, 1988, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/raising-children-who-hope-in-the-triumph-of-god, (accessed January 24, 2022).