By Shan Caldwell
I was born a preacher’s son. As such, I felt it was my duty to help my dad out as much as I could. I thoughtfully provided sermon illustration fodder for the first 16 years of my life. I enlivened dull sermons by whispering or passing notes, obliging my father to interrupt his message by calling me out—by name—in front of the whole congregation.
My dad may not have always appreciated my “help,” but I did (and do) appreciate growing up in a preacher’s family.
My dad traveled in evangelistic work for the first six years of my life; when it was time for me to go to school, he accepted a located ministry. Goodbye nightly pitch-in dinners; hello homework. I guess he was tired of moving around, because he stayed at that church for 36 years, until he retired in 2010. He and my mom both enjoy good health today and are busier than ever in ministry.
Now I’m a minister myself. And yes, I use my kids as sermon illustrations. So does my dad. (All granddads like to brag; preacher granddads just have a bigger captive audience.)
I’m glad I was a PK, and I hope my kids are glad to be, too. Having lived through it myself, I’ve got a few things I want to pass on to my boys about growing up in a minister’s family.
Love and see the scope of the church
I was taught that church was important because the church is the institution through which God chooses to work. Church is not about putting in your hour or two on Sunday morning. Attending church, for us, was always about spending time with the family of God in worship of our creator. It was a place to encourage and be encouraged.
This meant that on the night of the Super Bowl (remember Sunday night church?) we missed the beginning of the game (much to my chagrin). This meant that when we went on family vacation, we never went a Sunday morning without finding a church—somewhere—in which we could worship. Those lessons stuck with me when I went to college and was on my own and had the choice to sleep in or go to church. There wasn’t a question. I was in church.
I also love the fact that I had the opportunity to be introduced to many wonderful Christian leaders who stayed in our home or spoke at our church. My parents did not banish me to a kid’s table for these meals. I had the opportunity to speak with, and ask questions of, people from around the world who had surrendered their lives to God.
Today, any chance I get, I expose my kids to godly people with whom we have the privilege of crossing paths. It gives them—and me—a picture of the global scope of God’s work.
Church conflict is for the adults
Fact: Humans have conflict. Dealing with it in a godly way strengthens spiritual maturity. But only for someone mature enough to handle it. Often, children can’t handle it, and hearing about too many church conflicts can warp a child’s view.
I never knew about church conflict while I was growing up. All I knew was how wonderful it was to worship with other believers. There came a point when I learned about conflict and how to deal with it, but I never developed bitterness toward the church because of conflict, thanks to the shielding my parents provided. I do my best to do the same for my boys.
My future is God’s
I was encouraged from a young age to do whatever I wanted to do vocationally. There was never an expectation that I would go into ministry, and I didn’t plan to. I dreamed of being a pilot, a professional baseball player, or a National Park Service ranger. My parents recognized that God had made me into who he wanted me to be. They made it clear that I could serve God in whatever profession I chose to follow and that I would be supported in that decision.
Though I’m on display, I can’t be perfect
The preacher’s family is typically watched closely, like fish in a bowl. It’s easy to cave to the pressure of watching eyes and unattainable expectations. My parents did not play that game. They expected me to be in church, to love God, but not to be perfect.
It was only as I grew older that I learned my parents knew more about my mistakes than they let on. Why didn’t they call me on those mistakes? Because they knew I couldn’t be perfect, and no one should expect me to be.
Being exposed to ministry at a young age can be wonderful
I remember visiting the sick in the hospital, the elderly in the nursing home, and those who were hurting with my mom and dad many times throughout my childhood and adolescent years. I’m sure my parents were careful to make sure the visits were age-appropriate, but I was not overly shielded. It was an education I needed in order to see the realities of life and the ways in which God uses Christian brothers and sisters to encourage each other.
Be there for your child but don’t use your authority to intervene
My dad didn’t always agree with the view or approach of all who were teaching or leading me at church, but he didn’t come in with the senior minister hammer and make it conform to his way. He respected the fact that other leaders can lead effectively without agreeing with him.
Likewise, he respected me and how I would feel if I knew he was intervening in my education and social life.
I was taught to love being with other Christians
The church was larger than our small community on the west side of Indianapolis. I loved going to the North American Christian Convention, the Indiana State Men’s Meeting, the National Missionary Convention, and other social and educational Christian events. I learned this was not only fun, but also that the church is larger and stronger than what I would see on a typical weekend. The encouragement and learning experienced at these events made for a stronger ministry at home and a more global Christian family identity.
The church is your family
As I grew older, I went to the adults who led in my youth group when I didn’t want to go to Mom or Dad. My parents put their trust in people they knew they could trust. I pray every day that God will lead people into youth leader positions to help and guide my boys—and other children of the church—when they don’t reach out to Dad for everything anymore.
I also saw real love in the people of the church, both for my family and each other. I saw this time and time again when unconditional love was given in the midst of both good and bad circumstances.
Loving and caring for those already in the church is not enough
Though the church was our family, there was always room for more. It was an important lesson that those who were not church family needed God and should be our friends, not our enemies. Whether it was the neighbors on our street or the mission downtown or the church on the other side of the world or the homeless person we encountered, we responded to both the physical and spiritual needs of those people because they were important. I pray my boys never forget the first part of the Great Commission: to reach the lost.
There is no more important communication than prayer
We talked to God at mealtime. We talked to God at bedtime. We talked to God to celebrate and when we mourned our losses. We prayed with church leaders and we prayed with those who did not know Jesus. We believed—because it was true—there is no more important relationship than the one you carry on with Jesus throughout the day.
More than anything else, I pray that my life shares this truth with my sons.
Shan Caldwell is husband to Lise and father to Jack (10) and Will (8). He serves as executive director of programming ministries at Indian Creek Christian Church (The Creek) in Indianapolis. His parents, John and Jan, work with John Caldwell Ministries, and live in Plainfield, Indiana.