Parenting as a Pastor, Part 1

All Saints Sunday has long been one of my favorite days in the church calendar, a time to celebrate those who have come before us, living lives of unwavering faith. While those vested with an official mark of sainthood are figures who have endured great challenge and often persecution, All Saints is also an opportunity to acknowledge our own saints–the seemingly ordinary people who, to us, are extraordinary. For my church’s celebration of All Saints on Sunday, the kids created a table cloth for the altar decorated with colorful handprints and the names of the saints in their lives. It was wonderful to see the historical figures the kids named but what I loved even more was to see the names of so many moms and dads.

Anyone who has engaged in the joyful but tiring work of caring for small children will no doubt appreciate hearing that kids may actually see their parents and caregivers on par with the saints. Beyond the obvious and visible aspects of parenting, tremendous amounts of thought and emotion go into raising children. It seems so ordinary because it is largely unseen, and yet it is extraordinary work. For people of faith, this extraordinary work includes nurturing kids to understand, appreciate, and hopefully share the same beliefs and traditions as their parents. We bring our kids to church and Sunday school, read stories and pray at home, and model care and compassion for others.

But what does this look like for clergy families who live at the intersections of work, family, and faith? How does a young child understand all that is religious belief and practice when it is so tied up in their mom or dad’s job? While I didn’t interview pastors’ kids for my research, I heard a great deal on the particular dynamics of raising kids in a clergy family. And like so many aspects of clergy family life, I discovered that parenting in ministry lands somewhere at the intersection of uniquely life-giving and unexpectedly challenging. As Eva (not her real name), a mainline pastor told me,

I think as careers go, if I think about it, I think it’s better than many to be a parent and be a pastor. But it is complicated.

Hope, an evangelical clergy spouse, offered more on the complex tensions of raising clergy kids: 

I guess just knowing how to do things in ministry as a family is a challenge because you want your kids to see ministry, but you don’t want them to…and participate in ministry, but you don’t want them to get resentful that, “Oh we’ve got to go there again.” or “We’ve got to do this again.”  So I think the challenge is trying to find a healthy way that the kids can participate and be who they are and yet not let them feel like they’re being imposed upon all the time.

How does one find the middle ground in all of this? It is one of the most common questions people ask when I talk about my research. The next several posts on this blog will address issues around parenting in a clergy family. I discovered so many examples of parents capitalizing on the hidden benefits of being a clergy family, but I also heard stories of lament. Looking at these diverse experiences together is indicative of the messiness in an integrated life. Continue reading to hear more on how clergy families do the extraordinary.

Lenore Knight Johnson
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