WARNING: What we say will fire some of you up. Great! Share your thoughts in the comments below. We want to learn from your experiences just like we’ve learned from our own!
Tasha and I started serving in youth ministry while we were still single. We had (virtually) unlimited free time, endless supplies of energy, and very little money to spend doing expensive things. We both had youth groups full of students who loved having a college-aged youth leader, because we spent a lot of time hanging out together. Even after we got married, we still treated the entire youth group like they were our children…which was awesome.
And then we had kids of our own.
After our children were born, we reached out to a lot of veteran youth leader friends and asked them how they navigated the “now we have children of our own” transition. The variety of answers was overwhelming. Clearly there wasn’t a right or wrong way to make this transition, so we prayed, crossed our fingers, and did the best we could.
Fifteen years later, we have two children in the youth group and one less than a year away. Managing the relationships we have with our students while raising children of our own hasn’t been easy, but we survived. And better yet, our children seem fairly normal! (We’ll let you know for sure in about 10 more years.)
Below are some thoughts we have after walking the last decade-and-a-half of youth ministry with children of our own.
- Guard your youth group from your children. Quite a few of our friends brought their children to every youth event they offered. We get it that sometimes bringing your kids to an event is unavoidable, but we’re not sure that bringing your kids to every event is the best route to take. Over the years we’ve learned that students don’t always want youth group to feel like daycare, and if your children participate in every youth event, you may find some students checking out. Sometimes your students need access to you and your spouse without your children around, and you two need kid-free moments with your students.
- Guard your children from youth group. The other side of #1 is the risk you run of reducing the “special-ness” of youth group for your children by letting them participate in everything. We would encourage you to save some of those special moments for your kids. While they’re children, let them experience the wonder and beauty of children’s ministry. When your children are teenagers, welcome them with huge smiles into the awesomeness of youth ministry. One of our fears as parents was that our kids would be “over” youth group by the time they were 14 because they had been doing the whole youth group gig since they were six. Some things are worth waiting for.
- Guard your family story from youth group. Our family has a rule: No Levert story or picture will be posted, shared, or used as a sermon illustration without permission. Children do goofy things that makes great youth group material, however, protect your family story. We feel called to youth ministry, but our children need to have the right to decide what is known and what is private about them. Can we blow your mind? Some of your students will be your children’s youth group peers in just a few short years. When your child is in second grade, your current seventh grade students will be seniors when your child is in the seventh grade. Protect your children’s story from their future youth group.
- Guard your students’ family stories. Tim and I love the youth ministry life, and we want our students to know us. The real us. We believe one of the most important things we can do for our students is be a good example of a healthy family. A decent percentage of our students have never seen what a strong marriage looks like, what appropriate discipline looks like, and what genuine happiness in a family looks like. We want our students to see the way we spend time together at home and in the community and we want to model in words and actions what a forgiving, grace-filled family looks like. You can help your students rewrite their own stories by giving them real #relationshipgoals and offering glimpses of the way your family loves on each other.
The blending of family life and ministry life can be challenging and frustrating, but it can also be amazing and fulfilling. Spend some time thinking through your own family boundaries, even if you don’t yet have children of your own, and help your students and your children experience the best youth ministry has to offer.
– Tim and Tasha