A few people have asked me lately what it’s like growing up as a minister’s child. The below is a few disjoint thoughts (I wrote a blog on this some time ago, but it’s good to refresh the memory!).
Ministers have a tough job, but tradition has it that their wife’s “job” is just as tough. Ministers are very busy folk. My dad was often away in the evenings with home or hospital visits or Presbytery or Union Commission meetings, so mum was often left to “hold the baby”. Couple that with the expectation that the children are supposed to behave like little angels (it’s there, I’m afraid), I’m surprised my mum never seemed to be overwhelmed by stress. Maybe the matching Sunday morning outfits helped, I’m not sure.
When we were growing up, the older ladies in the congregation doted on us. If we hung around after Sunday School long enough, one of them (she owned a sweet shop) would give us sweets-my brothers and I would spend ages putting the chairs away afterwards to make sure we caught her attention. Prayers were often offered for the “Manse family” (a term I never really liked), and while there’s nothing really wrong with that, it always engendered in me a certain amount of discomfort as I didn’t feel my brothers and I to be particularly “special” in relation to other kids. Though mum was never short of potential babysitters! The downside was that I really struggled with being well-known and not really wanting all that much attention from people. People would constantly ask me if I wanted to be a minister like my Dad and I’d say no, and I’d wonder if I’d said the wrong thing.
I think for me the biggest issues came at Prep school. It somehow came out (probably from me; my goody-two shoes attitude did not win many friends) that my dad was a minister. I guess it was because there was a lot of privilege there and some of the boys, myself included, would feel a sense of entitlement because their father was a politician or a lawyer or what have you. The other boys would say he was a priest (which, sadly, was meant to be an insult) or a paedophile. They’d try and get me to swear (at the time, I thought swearing was the worst thing you could possibly do), look at nude pictures (which didn’t interest me as an 11 year old) or rip me to shreds because I’d never watched a 15-rated film (or, later, go out clubbing). But I would later give as good as I got, since I knew I wasn’t going to be popular either way. In the end, however, I came to realise my problems lay because my identity and salvation were rooted in who my father was and not in Jesus.
I have come to realise that it’s great to have grown up with the gospel, even if I didn’t understand I needed to believe it for myself until I was 21. Every night after dinner, we would have a Bible study. We didn’t enjoy it, especially not the singing afterwards; we’d go through Junior Praise (later Mission Praise) and take it in turns to choose which song we’d sing (we’d start from the last one we sang and choose one from the next ten). Invariably, we would choose the shortest one, so Abba Father (Mission Praise 1) got more airings than I care to remember. I once got sent to bed early for refusing to do the actions to one song (I don’t remember which one; I thought doing actions was lame).
In Romans 3, Paul asks if there’s any advantage to being a Jew (and we can take it as meaning those who know the scriptures) and he responds in the positive: however, he goes on to make the point that having this alone doesn’t save you, and that you need to acknowledge that you are as much in need of Jesus as anyone else. Looking back, this is definitely applicable to every child that grows up in a Christian home, and I would count myself among the worst offenders at dismissing it. Thank goodness, then, for grace.