Family Matters: Families in Ministry

In the Beginning…

There always seems to be special ‘moments’ in ministry that stand out. For me, one of these moments took place during the first retreat that my wife and I decided to bring our two young children along with us. While we may have had quite a few questions on how this would work out logistically, we were open to balancing the roles of ministry while being parents at the same time. It was a delicate balance between being present to the teens that were on the retreat and present, as parents, to our own kids. The moment, however, came during the second night of retreat during Adoration. I was completely filled with joy and awe when, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I looked over to where my wife was cuddling with our two girls on the floor of the retreat center, both of them laying in her lap asleep. When asked after the retreat what their favorite part of the retreat was, they both, without hesitation and unprompted, said, ‘Adoration.’ It was a beautiful moment and one that prompted us to include our children in ministry from that point forward.

This past year, my oldest daughter started middle school. That thought for some people who work in ministry is very exciting, but at the same time, it can be very scary. For anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time, it is one thing to minister to hundreds of teens that come through our programs over the years, and quite another thing, when those teens become your own children. This is not the first experience, however, that my daughter has in ministry. She is eleven years old and has been to more Core Team meetings, retreat planning meetings, and a handful of retreats, both with teens and core leaders, than most girls her age. In fact, both of my daughters have been in and around ministry their whole lives. From being in car seats on the floor of Life Nights to bringing the pack-n-play on retreats when they were younger to now having an active part in ministry while starting to attend the programs as participants, ministry has truly been a ‘family thing.’ My kids constantly listen to worship music. They look forward to retreat planning meetings, and one of their favorite things to participate in is XLT’s (Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament), as mentioned above. While this is very much a blessing to be able to minister side by side with my family, it is something that takes extra special time and attention to be able to include your family in ministry.

As I got involved in ministry, I observed certain families struggle due to the parent or parents being in ministry. Long and inconsistent hours, family dinners that consist of pizza with the core team, weekends away for retreats and trips, and attention given to other people’s children often lead parents in ministry away from their own children. I had watched kids of ministers become resentful, rebellious, and pure terrors in church that would compete against any unruly and unpredictable middle schooler. There was a point that my wife and I knew that someday, we would be those parents who were involved in ministry with our children. That being said, my wife (who has also been very involved in ministry with me) and I had decided that we would carefully approach how we would maintain being involved in ministry and allow our children to be a part of this journey and experience with us. There were a few things, however, that we had to put into perspective.

Keep Holy the Sabbath

Attending Mass together without having anything ‘to do’ at Mass should be a priority for any family, but mostly in families who are involved in ministry. There are plenty of other Masses in which we all have tasks to do, whether that is leading the teen worship band, organizing teen readers and lectors, or even serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. While Sunday is a ‘workday’ for most ministers, it is essential that we, as families, find some type of Sabbath, as this time, as a family is very important. We need to be able to receive as a family before we can give, as people in ministry. This applies to us as individuals, but also to those who have families. As we celebrate the source and summit of our faith each week, we must celebrate this together with our families.

“Conceal, don’t feel…No, reveal, and feel”

Working in youth ministry is quite different from most jobs in that, while the nature of the job is different, some of the ‘rules’ of the job are different as well. Any workday in ministry seems like it can become a ‘bring your child to work’ day. Youth ministers with children are very familiar with setting up a crib in their office, holding their kids while giving a Proclaim at a Life Night, or tending to their crying child during a staff meeting. Kids become very visible in ministry, and everyone seems to be alright with that. There is, however, a balance when allowing our children to be visible in our ministry or even while we minister. While it may be very acceptable and welcome to have our kids present, we do so in a humble way, knowing that it is not the time to ‘show off’ or ‘spotlight’ our kids, but a time to authentically care for them as needed.

From the head to the heart

Children learn the best from experience; in fact, most of us learn best from experiences. It is one thing to talk about or read about something, but better to experience that firsthand. The same is true for prayer. Prayer and prayer experiences are a central part of youth ministry. While there may be a certain amount of fear that parents in ministry have about their kids ‘disrupting’ a prayer experience, involving your kids in these experiences are vital. Not only do they learn how to be reverent, but in their amazing way, they start to develop their own relationship with God. One of the most amazing things that I have witnessed as a parent is seeing my children kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament and knowing exactly who they are kneeling in front of and how much he loves them.

We can do that!

A few years ago, when we brought our daughters on a retreat for the first time, I vividly remember the night we came home. Right before bed, my daughter turned to me and said, “I have a few ideas of some things we could do next year on retreat.” I knew from that moment on that my daughters were ‘hooked.’ They were part of something bigger than they had ever experienced, and they wanted to see and experience more. As ministry has inadvertently become an everyday discussion around the dinner table, allowing an opportunity for our kids to contribute has been important. Not only have they come up with some ideas, suggested songs, and constantly show their support, but they have even offered feedback on certain things, have given their opinion on what color of Core Team shirt to get, and have even suggested who should (and who should not) be a part of Core Team. But more importantly, through their involvement in ministry, they, too, have had a transformation of heart, seeing, observing, and experiencing firsthand the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ministry with your families can be tricky, but it can also be one of the most life-giving blessings to your life as a family. Remember to approach this with humility, gentleness, and a grateful heart, knowing that ministry with your family can truly be incredible.

Photo by Sarah Medina on Unsplash