I’m not going to write to you because I’m a parent, but because I’m a son. My father has been in full time ministry over twenty years. We were missionaries for ten of those. We lived, four of us, for 7 years in a one and a half bedroomed flat. We’ve have been homeless twice.
In 1977 my parents sold all we had, (including our toys) put a few belongings into a Citroen 2CV6 and drove to Gibraltar. No home, no job, no school (hey!), no plans. Just God.
Now you might think, years on my brother may still be dribbling in a corner missing the teddy my parents sold. You may wonder if we are desperately insecure over moving to different nations, living on top of each other, losing friends and pastoring a church that grew 400% in ten years.
The answer is that my brother and I are fine. Apart from the odd teddy nightmare we are both doing great. We are walking with God and he’s favouring our lives very graciously. We love and honour our parents and in return they say they’ve got much to be proud of us for.
I say all that to explain that I think they did a good job. Things are turning out fine. That’s not to say we didn’t have our teenage turns. Of course we did. But we are basically quite a tight knit family. We survived church and all it throws at you.
I have friends however, that have pastors for parents and it’s a different case altogether. I don’t know exactly what’s happened, but somehow God, the family and the church all fell apart. Now those friends are doing drugs, doing time, or just doing their own thing; godless and cynical of church.
I can’t even pretend to know the answers (Actually, as a young idealist I probably will, otherwise there’s no book to write). Please let me pass on something of the Cooper Family ideology on leadership and family life. If it helps just one person, then it’s worth it.
Make children feel they are the most important thing
One of the greatest errors of pastors and leaders is to make church the centre of their lives. Pastors sometimes have few friends, no hobby and no life outside of church. They can be a bit one-dimensional (That’s me being nice about it….I could say they are bland, lifeless old hermits who need to get out and party….but I won’t of course).
Unfortunately this translates over to their families. Most pastors homes revolve around the church. The phone ringing, leadership meetings, counselling situations and the ceremonial dissection of the church service over the Sunday roast.
While our house was busy with the church, and we too discussed the relevance of sister Big-Gob’s latest prophecy over lunch, I rarely felt that church took over. Why? A few very small details.
Unplug the Phone
I knew I was more important than church. The phone could, and would be unplugged. There has to be moments when the only reason for disturbance is death. And if they want you then, they can come and get you themselves.
Don’t Counsel at Home
Our home was not a counselling room. All counselling happened down the church. I didn’t have to step over a writhing organist in the throws of having her spirit of lust cast out. Dad dealt with that down the church (mmm sounds bad doesn’t it? I think I’ll leave it in though). If people turned up at the door, they could be turned away. “No” was a very possible answer to a cry for help. Not always, but definitely possible. Even Jesus was purpose driven, rather than need driven.
I vividly remember my mum, in a “don’t mess with me” mood, walking up to my dad, who was graciously counselling some poor soul on the end of the phone, and hang up for him. I guess the “poor soul” outstayed his welcome (He had been on the phone for days, or so it felt). It was naughty I know, but the power was in the hands of the family. My parents were not doormats; they were stewards firstly of a family, then of a church. I knew where the lines were drawn.
I knew, if push came to shove, a meeting could be cancelled. A counselling session postponed. A leaders get-together missed. Why? My brother and I, in fact all of us; “The Family”, were the most important thing in the world.
That sent me a powerful message. More than saying I love you; it proved it. I think if church had been more important than my brother and me, I would have grown up thinking God was more interested in church activity than me. But he’s not. I am the centre of his world, and so He in turn has earned the right to be at the centre of mine. Cool.
Thrown into a foreign culture we were quite naturally forced to be a close knit unit. We would spend days together in nearby Spain, rock climbing, beach combing and coffee shop crawling. We’d hit the Moroccan countryside nearby, journeying cross country, having stupid adventures, that were either more or less dangerous than we imagined.
Dad had time for us. He taught me my first guitar chords. Often on his day off you’d find him stuck half way up a rock face climbing with my brother. We even got him skiing in Spain’s Sierra Nevada. I can vividly remember my mum shouting “isn’t he doing well” as my dad tumbled down a ski slope head first and sat dazed at the bottom, blood streaming from his happy face.
Life was an adventure and we were going to enjoy it together. Our lives didn’t revolve around church. They revolved around our family, and the God that had called us to this adventure in Him.
Children are not trophy’s
Children are not a trophy to prove your spirituality. Pastors kids (or wives for that matter) don’t have to be the most spiritual looking, most extrovert in worship and most fluent in tongues.
This is a real temptation to overcome, because pastor-dad would love to have a prophesying, vision seeing, miracle working, concordance for a son. And when he swears at the elders (yes me), gets thrown out of the worship group for not worshipping (yes me), claims to be the Prince of Wales in a nearby posh church’s visitors book (oh yes me!), sits behind you as you preach making rude signs at the congregation (definitely me) and walks the streets looking for cigarette stubs to smoke (urrgh me); then I suppose pastor-dad is a bit deflated.
But we are not trophy’s; at least not yet. Maybe after the experimental years. The discovery years. Maybe once we have found out exactly who we are you’ll have obvious and visible reasons for spiritual pride in our actions. Until then, we’re just looking for some reaction. Trying to see what fits.
My own brother is a complete worship retard. His idea of dancing is to wiggle his fingers in his pocket. I’ve never seen him raise a hand in worship or do any more than groan the latest Kendrick song under his breath during worship. Quite frankly he was always a bit of a disappointment; especially when the rest of us could give Bewitched a run for their money in the dancing stakes.
I have, however seen him infiltrate and touch groups of young people for the Gospel. I have seen him take car loads of work mates to church, give advice to young people in need, leading them to Christ and explain Christianity to groups of friends at the pub. When he left a certain area where he worked, the pubs lowered their flags to half mast and a crowd of young people gathered shouting and waving to a man that had touched their lives with an authentic Gospel; the love and care of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we look for the wrong things in people. What does Jesus look for?
Jesus said loving him and loving each other summed up the Law. Love is the pinnacle. If I can offer any advice, not as a father, but a son, I’d say “love us”. Show it. If I mean more to you than the church, prove it. Talk is cheap, every fourteen year old knows that. And even when the sulky brat sits like a bag of spuds, barely responding to your efforts at showing you have time for them, understand what touches a teenagers heart is rarely shown. Deep down, under the confused pubescent facade, your child will know he or she is loved. They will subconsciously think that your love and God’s love, your acceptance and God’s acceptance, your time for them and God’s time for them, are one and the same. That’s powerful.
And that’s it. My two pence worth of advice. Be like God to your children. My “gods” were great, thank God.