The Pastor’s Children: Blessing or Curse?

|

“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” (Titus 1:6)

The Role of the Pastor

The pastor stands before God in a uniquely different position than does the lay person, because according to the Bible, the pastor occupies the highest office in the local church. Therefore, the role of pastor brings with it not only high and holy privilege, but also weighty responsibility. For the pastor serves as a role model for his congregation, an example of how to live in this present evil age. He is to be a person of godly integrity, proven wisdom, and a safe guide for the spiritually blind. For this reason, God has established clear guidelines to specify who may become a pastor and who may remain in the office of pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-6; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

The Requirements for a Pastor

There are 24 character qualities, skills, and abilities that one must have to qualify for the office of pastor (elder) in a local church (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). Two of the requirements focus on the pastor’s leadership abilities within his own family.

THE PASTOR MUST RULE WELL HIS OWN HOME (1 Tim. 3:4, 5)

To qualify for the office of pastor one must “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:4,5). A sampling of commentaries produces the following insights:

  • “His family management must provide a leadership model that other families in the church can emulate. The members of the church should want to have families like his” (Robert Gromacki, Stand True to the Charge: An Exposition of 1 Timothy, p. 84).
  • “Paul viewed the well-ordered home as a true test of a man’s maturity and ability to lead other Christians, especially a home that has passed the test of time. When the whole household is committed to Jesus Christ and the wife is dedicated to her husband and grown children particularly respect and love their father, there is strong evidence that this man is spiritually and psychologically mature. He will certainly be able to manage the church of God” (Getz, The Measure of a Christian: Studies in Titus, p. 46).
  • “The way in which a man controls his home reveals his capacity for leadership and government. This ability is most obvious when there are children in the home. This does not demand that an overseer must have children; but if he does, they must be controlled. The administrative ability required to cause a home to function smoothly will also be necessary if one is to superintend a church. Deficiency in these matters at home disqualifies a man from serving in a ruling capacity in the church. When children are in the home, they are to be controlled with dignity. (It is the father who displays the dignity). The kind of father who cuffs his children around will usually treat church members in similar fashion” (Homer Kent, The Pastoral Epistles, pp. 133-34).

THE PASTOR’S CHILDREN MUST BE BELIEVERS (Titus 1:6)

The second requirement specifies that the pastor must be able to lead his own children to the Lord and help them become spiritually established. The phrase “faithful children” (tekna pista) indicates that the children are to be born again and faithfully following Christ, at least while they are at home. Note the remarks of these commentaries:

  • “If a pastor has children, his relationship to his children must be examined. The children must be believers who are not insubordinate (Robert Gromacki, Stand True to the Charge: An Exposition of 1 Timothy, p. 84).
  • “Since older men would be chosen for leadership, it is assumed that the elder would have children. The latter must ‘believe,’ share their father’s Christian faith. The original (tekna pista) may mean ‘faithful children’ but ‘believing children,’ is intended here, referring to those who are old enough to have made a personal decision. If they remained pagans, it would throw into question the father’s ability to lead others to the faith. As professed believers, the children must personally fulfill the ethical requirements of the Christian life. An elder’s inability to train and govern his children would place in question his ability to train and govern the church” (D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, p. 430).
  • “Whose family is converted to God” (Adam Clarke, p. 648). Are we to take these Biblical requirements seriously? Does God really hold the pastor responsible for the spiritual welfare of his children? Although I take these Scriptures very seriously and believe they mean what they say, I am reluctant to address this thorny problem. How can I talk about the responsibility of a pastor in relation to his children’s spiritual condition without adding further hurt to those who are already hurting, or worse yet, increase the guilt, the sense of failure and inadequacy with which they may already be coping? How can I address this important subject without sounding harsh, critical, insensitive, and unkind, or on the other, overly simplistic or smugly sanctimonious? I offer my suggestions prayerfully with the desire to help, not to condemn.

Resources for Rearing Godly Children

Perhaps it would be appropriate to share a little of my own background before I offer these “resources” or suggestions for rearing godly children. My wife and I invested twenty-five years in the pastorate while rearing two sons. I know the joys and heartbreaks of pastoring. People can be demanding, harsh and sometimes cruel.

No one who cares as I do about the emotional and spiritual health of our pastors would want to add to their already heavy load. Without a doubt, it takes God-given wisdom, skill, teaching ability, prayer, plus a lot of discernment and sensitivity, to rear godly children. Here are some brief suggestions for you to pray about and perhaps seek to implement in your family.

1. Make the spiritual health and development of your children the first focus of your ministry. If spiritual success with your children determines whether you stay in pastoral ministry, make sure you take time to encourage, train, teach, and model how to develop and enjoy a personal relationship with God. Teach them that the greatest privilege in the world is to love and serve Jesus. Make this the theme of your life and interlace this concept in your daily conversations with you children.

2. Never suggest to your children that they should dress, behave, or act a certain way because they are the “pastor’s children…and what will people think?” Being a pastor’s child should be presented as an awesome blessing and privilege, not a burden to be borne. Teach your children to dress Biblically, behave properly, and talk kindly because of their love for God and desire to please Him (Col. 1:10). Teach them to do right because it is right. You are seeking to instill godly character qualities in them rather than to teach them to worry about what other people think or say about them or you. Your concern should not be a “reputation” focus. A reputation focus too often translates into duplicity, hypocrisy, or worse yet, resentment and bitterness.

A reputation focus too often translates into duplicity, hypocrisy, or worse yet, resentment and bitterness.

3. Give your children regular and effusive quantities of positive affirmation. Statements such as “You are destined for greatness,” “I am proud of you,” “I’m so glad you are my son (or daughter)” and “I’m glad to be your Dad” should come forth from you lips regularly.

4. Do not unchristianize them when they do wrong. Don’t say, “Christians don’t act like that!” or “You can’t be a Christian and act like them.” Such statements indicate you do not have confidence in your children. Correct their misbehavior or their lying by teaching them about the laws of sowing and reaping. You sow a lie you reap a spanking. However, since God is invisible and normally does not physically appear to your children and reassure them of His love, keep Him out of your discipline and displeasure. Don’t say, “You made God feel bad.” You don’t want your children growing up with a vague but real feeling that they cannot measure up to God’s expectations. Deal with the problem yourself. Keep the focus on you and them. Afterward reassure them that you forgive them and love them and then remind them that God loves them too.

Further, avoid unchristianizing other people: “How can they do that and be a Christian?” Your children are smart enough to infer you evaluate them the same way, even if you never verbalize it.

5. Protect your children from ungodly influences. If you work hard at the job and develop a close happy relationship with your children, you and your wife can be the major influence in your children’s lives until they are married. However, you must carefully screen whom you will allow your children to play with. Either by default or by purposeful intent, parents choose the influences they allow to impact their children.

6. Choose godly examples for your children. Be careful of the music you allow in your home. Be careful of the pictures you place on your walls. Be selective of the toys with which you allow them to play (for example, sexy-looking Barbie dolls should not be allowed). Be careful of the programs your children have access to in your home and in the homes of family and friends.

7. Carefully and prayerfully monitor their spiritual development. If you don’t detect spiritual hunger and growth in your child, enlist some close friends to help you fast and pray for your children until whatever spiritual strongholds or barriers that are keeping your children from spiritual progress are torn down (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

8. Talk regularly with them about their walk with God. Don’t do this in front of others. Once a week make time to be alone with each of your children and ask them,

  • “Is everything okay between you and Daddy?”
  • “Has Daddy said anything or done anything that you think is unfair or has hurt you?”
  • “I love you, and am proud of you and would not intentionally do anything to hurt you, embarrass you, or discourage you.”

Listen carefully and ask God for discernment so you can “read between the lines” and really tune-in to your child’s feelings. If anything is wrong, talk about it and fix it.

Then ask them,

  • “How are you and God doing?”
  • “Is everything okay between you and God?”
  • “Are you reading your Bible every day?” [Get them a picture Bible when they are small].
  • “Are you praying every day?”
  • “Is there anything you need help with?”
  • “Is there anything you need to tell Daddy?”
  • “Is there anything about which I can help you pray?”

This is how you personally monitor your children’s spiritual development. Encourage them every way possible spiritually. Reassure them continually of your love and of God’s love. Remember the charge, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Notice that it says, “Fathers,” not “Mothers.” The father bears the primary responsibility before God for the spiritual character development of his children.

The father bears the primary responsibility before God for the spiritual character development of his children

9. Don’t say negative things about people who profess to be Christians in front of your children. You don’t know who God may use to reach your child spiritually. When my children were little, their favorite preacher was someone who in my opinion could not preach. They loved to hear him and would laugh delightedly at his antics in the pulpit. They frequently looked over at me to see if I was enjoying it with them. I chose to put on a smile and act very positive while I silently prayed for grace to endure. I did not wish to burn the very bridge that God might use to help my child spiritually by negatively influencing my children’s opinion of that preacher.

10. Don’t have unreal expectations for your children. You should encourage them to do their best, not measure up to some unrealistic standard. If they are only average in some areas, praise them for trying and encourage them to keep on trying. All God expects from any of us is our best. Don’t try to live your dreams through them. Don’t try to have them become what you wish you had become (missionary, preacher, sport star, etc.). God has a special plan for them, and you should desire to help them find and do God’s will.

11. Keep your eye on them at church. Although you are the pastor and everyone wants to talk with you, don’t let them get out of your or your wife’s sight unless you know for sure where they are and what they are doing. Check on them regularly and inconspicuously. Teach them that the church sanctuary is not a place in which to run and play, either before or after service. Don’t let them wander about, fingering the musical instruments, the microphones, or anything else that is not their personal property. Teach them to respect other people’s property.

12. Place visual aids around your home that will teach them godly character traits. Teach them truths like “the greatest ability is dependability,” or “finish the job,” or “if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right.”

13. Teach them Biblical answers to their spiritual questions. When they ask you questions about why we dress as we do, or why we don’t do this or that activity that other professed Christian do, find a Biblical answer and show it to them. We must teach them how to think Biblically if we intend for them to believe God really has spoken on such subjects.

We must teach our children how to think Biblically if we intend for them to believe God really has spoken on such subjects

Conclusion

Pastors, remember that God requires you to model the process of rearing godly children, and thus you should make this a top priority in your ministry—supported, of course, by the prayers of your lay people. I am not implying that your children’s periodic spiritual “ups and-downs” disqualify you as a pastor. But if their consistent and persistent attitude and behavior indicate that they are neither believers nor desire to be so, you should consider leaving the pastorate until they are in a right relationship with the Lord.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.