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 the shape of leadership

Helping Your Ministry Kids Cope With Loneliness

Four things parents can do

Kristi Northup on January 22, 2019

At different points along our journey, I’ve watched our children walk their own road of challenges related to growing up in the ministry. One that has been recurrent is loneliness. It has come at different times for different reasons, but I’ve begun to realize that it is a common heartache for ministry parents.

From my observations, there are three major issues that cause loneliness for ministry kids.

Transition

Ministry transition comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a cross-country move to a different pastoral position. It can be a parent leaving a pastoral position to teach in a college, or transitioning out of ministry for any number of reasons. The change from the local church to district or national leadership can be jarring, and bring a heavy travel schedule for parents. The change from youth ministry, which always seems to be teeming with people, to adult ministry can feel especially lonely for kids.

I could name a hundred other ministry transitions, each of which can bring unique new struggles. But in the lives of moms, dads and kids, the biggest strain is often a sense of loneliness that can last for years.

Small Pond

When we planted our church in 2011, our kids’ ministry looked similar to those of many other church plants: a full nursery and preschool class but very few elementary students. In fact, for the first two years, we really only had one elementary-age child in kids’ church — our daughter, Libby.

Libby started kindergarten the year we moved and launched the church. It was agonizing as a parent to see her isolation, week after week. Of course, at the time Libby said she didn’t mind, because she got to choose the games. At least Libby could lead herself.

I’ve heard other pastors in rural settings express pain for their children who came from larger, suburban churches to places with few or no children their own ages. 

Worldview

We made the choice to put our children in an excellent charter school. But even as children, they have experienced the loneliness that comes from being separate.

Sixth grade was particularly tough, as students around them began experimenting with their boundaries in ways my children knew were wrong.

Four Ways to Help

As parents, what, if anything, can we do? I’ve learned a few lessons that I hope are encouraging to you.

1. Pray fervently. One night at a leader meeting, we asked what we could pray for that would lead our church to a breakthrough. Several leaders said, “We need a committed family with teenagers.”

I remember it being a special time of fervent prayer, where we cried out to God over this request. Not long after, a family visited from out of state. They had three teenage kids, and an 8-year-old daughter — exactly the same age as my daughter.

I could never have foreseen how perfectly God could answer our prayers.

Miraculously, this family felt the call of God to move and help us. They launched a youth ministry, where dozens of kids came to Christ over the next two years. And the Lord provided a friend for my little girl. She was never alone in kids’ church again.

I could never have foreseen how perfectly God could answer our prayers. But He is in that kind of business. Believe God for your kids, that He will bring them good friends.

2. Seek out good people. You can’t make your kids’ friends, but sometimes a little guidance can help. During that lonely season in sixth grade, my husband and I looked at each other one night and said, “Who is a godly family we know that has a daughter?”

There was a new pastor at another Assemblies of God congregation not far from us. So we called and invited the family to join us for ice cream. A few weeks later, they asked whether we could take the girls to a youth rally. The two ended up going to a district PK retreat together, and developed a close friendship.

It doesn’t always work out that way, but sometimes it does. Sometimes kids just need a little nudge in the right direction. A few young adults in our church have taken our kids under their wings as well, providing mentoring and friendship along the way.

3. Pull together as a family. I was entering my junior year in high school when my family moved to Chile as missionaries. It would be an understatement to say my 13-year-old sister and I had not been close. But when you move 8,000 miles, don’t speak the language and don’t know a soul, you quickly make friends with your family.

My sister became my dearest friend, and is to this day. God can use transitions to pull families closer together.

4. Let God do His work. In every one of us, there is a certain lonely void that only the presence of God can fill. Sometimes it’s not easy to allow our children to discover this, but it is key to developing their own faith in Christ.

In the midst of that lonely time for my daughter, many days I would open her door at 6:30 in the morning and see Libby reading her Bible. Libby’s loneliness created an absolute need for Jesus to be her friend. I hurt over her isolation every day.

Yet I saw Libby growing into a woman of God, owning her faith. By the time she went to camp that summer, there was a special fire in Libby’s heart that drew her to other kids who loved God as well.

Our church recently held its New Year’s prayer service. Each year, we write a letter to God and read what we wrote the year before. We always take a few testimonies, and it’s awesome to hear about the healing and provision the Lord has provided.

In the car on the way home, my daughter said, “Mine was pretty amazing too, Mom. Last year, I asked God to take the loneliness away, and He’s brought me the greatest friends.”

My heart melted. God was able to answer the prayers of Libby’s heart in a way I never could. For that, I am very grateful.

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