Rearing children is a great challenge, especially in a parsonage. Now that my children are in college, I can speak publicly about some things I formerly might not have.
One of the hardest parts was people who would criticize them (and me as a pastor) as they were learning. They criticized the regular things, like their social interaction, running in church, music choices, playing ball in the parking lot, and clothing choices. There were lots of reactions that I could have had.
One might have been bitterness. I think that until you are a parent, you really can’t understand the instinct to defend your child when someone is criticizing them. Especially when someone is criticizing their relationship with God. It feels like an attack and it can make you angry to the point of filling you with resentment. This is especially true when you see your child struggling and growing in his or her faith.
The other reaction is probably worse: To force your child to conform to standards prematurely — standards they do not yet understand or own personally. I think that many pastors’ children have been turned off to the church because their parents said, “Susie, you mustn’t wear that shirt. Mr. Jones thinks it’s sinful to do so.” Mr. Jones is not God, so parents should be careful not to place her in that position. If the shirt is inappropriate, then parents should say so, but leave Mr. Jones out of it. If Mr. Jones is vocally persistent, maybe the father should speak to him and say something like, “Hey — I know that my child’s behavior is troubling to you, but can you simply pray with me and my wife that God will help us through this stage. I know God is working and I don’t want to interrupt what he’s doing. Would you please quietly pray for us — that we won’t do anything to injure this ‘little one who believes in’ Jesus?”
I’m not saying that children should not be corrected. I think I told my children not to run in the sanctuary 100 times. Others in the church helped as well — with kindness and gentleness. Their correction was valuable because it was accepted by the children. Why was it accepted? Because they had a loving, gracious relationship with my kids. In that relationship, they counted on God to do the heavy lifting. They did the light work.
Actually, they followed a pattern expressed by Florence Bulle. I am not sure where she wrote it, but I happened upon it while reading online. I would encourage all parents, especially those in ministry to follow the example of those who discipled Ms. Bulle.
How thankful I am for the many spiritual teachers and Christian friends who have counseled, rebuked, encouraged, exhorted, and deepened my understanding of God and his kingdom. But my gratitude is the greater because they dared to trust the Holy Spirit in me. They haven’t tried to usurp control by subtle manipulation or by illicit claims of authority. Rather, they let me learn and grow by making my own decisions–right or wrong. Best of all, they love and accept me even when my choices are faulty. ~Florence Bulle
How thankful I am for those in the church family who befriended my children and accepted them as they were, trusting the Holy Spirit to do his work in their lives.