The Spotlight Syndrome
Those raised in a ministry home and who are now in ministry themselves have a unique perspective on the relationship of church life and family life. Kyle Idleman is a teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, DesiRae, have three daughters, Mackenzie, Morgan, and Macy, and a son, Kael. Kyle's father, Ken Idleman, has been a both a college president and a minister. Ken now ministers at Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Indiana. We thought you'd benefit from Kyle's perspective …
I've often thought I should be in some sort of support group for those who grew up in a ministry home. I'm Kyle and I'm a PK. Of course, there wouldn't be any real need for introductions because everyone would not only know who I am, they would also know from the sermon illustration that I used to wear Yoda "underoos."
People have long forgotten the compelling point my dad was making, but they forever retain the image of me in my Yoda pajamas. (I'm still looking for a way to work into one of my messages that my dad sleeps in his whitey tighties and black dress socks.)
In this support group, we also would bemoan the discrimination we faced. Always being held to a higher standard. Called on to pray at every youth meeting. Pressured to wear Christian t-shirts (This blood's for you! Yes, I wore that one). Oh, the expectations. For as long as I can remember, I've been asked, "Are you hoping to be a preacher when you grow up?" Actually, I'm still asked that from time to time.
But the real challenge for ministry kids is feeling that your entire life is being played out on stage for all to see. Sometimes referred to as "life in the fishbowl," there is a sense that people are always watching.
The danger is that you grow up associating your faith with impressing other people. Growing up I often did all the right things not primarily out of love for Jesus but because I knew people were watching, and I cared what they thought. Inevitably this leads in one of two directions: to hypocrisy (you embrace the stage and become a professional actor), or to rebellion (if people want a show, you'll give them a show). For many ministry kids it leads to both, rebellion that no one knows about.
My wife and I are now raising four ministry kids of our own. God is patiently teaching us as parents, and we constantly pray for his grace and mercy to cover our shortcomings. Early on I vowed not to use my children as sermon illustrations, which sounds great until it's Saturday afternoon and they've provided you with the perfect story. I've tried to keep them out of the spotlight, but they've already learned that people are watching them.
As they get older, my hunch is that two of my kids will love the attention, and two of them will despise it. I'm equally concerned by both responses. So as I've reflected on my upbringing, several things stand out to help me in raising my own ministry kids.