November 01, 2015

Several years ago I was sitting around a table with some of the top leaders in the Conference who were talking about their families. One person mentioned that his adult children aren’t involved in church. The person next to him said hers weren’t either. It went around the table, it was immediately clear that none of these United Methodist pastors had raised kids who were active in church. This wasn’t a random sample – these were some of our best pastors.

Not to rank, but if you were going to try, you might put Adam Hamilton near the top of pastors in terms of fruitfulness. He’s lamented publicly that his daughter doesn’t go to church, either.

So the conclusion is clear – raise kids in the Methodist church, and as soon as they are old enough to make their own decisions they will never go to church again.

But wait – that can’t be right. Many of our best leaders are preacher’s kids. It seems sometimes pastors who can grow churches like crazy don’t convince their kids that church is where they need to be once a week, but some do. For enlightenment, I turned to La Croix Executive Pastor Bruce Baxter. I had the privilege of working alongside of Bruce in the Conference office and know he’s a guy who thinks things through. And I heard him mention in a workshop that he’d seen pastor’s kids get so off track that it was enough to make him scared to become a pastor.

But become a pastor he did. And both his kids are not only in church, they have lead roles in church music programs. So in the middle of trying to host a church full of other pastors at Converge (see pages 8-11) I sprung the question on Bruce – “So… parenting… how’d you do it?” Rather than be annoyed at the personal pop quiz while sitting up the room, Bruce was happy – excited even – to answer.

He prefaced his statement by saying he discussed this at length with his wife Audrey, and they were in agreement on their strategy. He even had it broken down into bullet points: 

  1. No undue pressure on the kids: “We decided we would never tell the kids that they couldn’t do something because they were the pastor’s children. They might be told no because we are people of faith, but it wouldn’t be because they were part of the pastor’s family.”  
  2. Don’t let church take all of your time: “In my 30s, a lot of guys in their 50s told me they regretted not spending more time with their kids. No one ever told me they regretted spending too much time with their family, or not enough at work.” He adjusted his schedule for the kids. “From 4 – 6 p.m. was family time – we’d be out in the street playing ball. As a former corporate guy it felt early to me to be off by 4, but I knew as a pastor I’d have other demands on my schedule late in the evening.” 
  3. Be consistent and authentic: “I didn’t want my kids to see me behaving one way at church or out in public, and behaving a different way at home.” 
  4. Don’t drag home church problems: “Every pastor occasionally has rotten things that happen to him or her at church. But if you’re always venting negatively about ‘church people’, you’ll give your children a negative, and distorted, perspective about what it means to be part of a church.”
Although Bruce came at this from a pastor’s perspective, I think the same wisdom could be applied to any church member. It’s no guarantee, but at least it doesn’t leave the kids starting off in a hole they need to climb out of before they can see church as somewhere they might want to be.