26 October 2017

4 Surprising Findings About Clergy Family Life

It’s funny how a few simple conversations can be the start of something bigger. This research wouldn’t have started, or been completed, if it wasn’t for two incredible women God introduced me to through our chats with clergy families. The first was a hard-working ministry wife with 5 kids. Exhausted by the need for another ministry move, she explained how much she enjoyed ministry, but was tired of how little people understood the financial, spiritual, and personal costs that often came with it. I’m so grateful for this conversation; she inspired us to learn more about clergy family life. The second woman was an 18-year-old clergy child (PK). When our survey first opened she wasn’t old enough to participate; but she waited until the final month, when she'd turned 18, and told us about her experience. I won’t soften it, she was distraught. She told us how hard it was as a PK to be misunderstood and unseen as the person she was because of the expectations of others. As difficult as it was for her to tell us about her life, I’m continually inspired by her bravery to speak up, even though she was certain no one would want to hear about it.

This research held a lot of surprises and taught me so much about the realities of clergy family life. There are many things I could share with you (and probably would if you got me talking!) but here are four I didn’t see coming:

Home Is Also A Ministry Workplace: When we asked clergy families how their home were used for ministry, we were given almost 1,100 answers! While I expected that they'd list things like sermon preparation or private study, I didn’t expected that clergy homes were used for formal church ministries more than ministry preparation, often acting as an extension of the church facilities. It made me wonder if the clergy family home, regardless of its location or ownership, is considered to be a part of the church building? If that's the case, do churches need to uphold OH&S standards and hospitality budgets for clergy family home ministry uses?

Ministry Isn’t The Best Bit For Everyone:
1.7%. That’s how many clergy children most enjoyed being part of ministry. I didn't expect that at all! That’s not to say that there’s nothing enjoyable about ministry, rather that the aspects of clergy family life that PKs did enjoy related more to their community and personal development opportunities. It reminded me how diverse the experience of ministry is around Australia and how many opportunities it comes with for clergy children, even if ministry itself doesn’t make it to the top five.

Support Vs Informed Support: The support that ministry families reported receiving was incredibly encouraging! While a significant number told us that they weren’t supported, I was encouraged by the great range of supports that were there and the eagerness of the ministry community to offer support wherever they could. What I did not see coming was how few people received what they would have found most helpful. The support was there - just not quite in the right places. It struck me how important it is to provide informed care based on the individual person or family and to ask what might help best, even if it’s a difficult conversation to have.

Difficult Conversations Make The Most Difference: Like other caring professions, ministry has a bit of everything: ups, downs and “in betweens” - sometimes all in one day! While it was clear that there are many misunderstandings about the realities of clergy family life, I didn't expect that so many people would tell us that they not only needed a safe environment to safely process their ministry experiences, but also believed that others in ministry would benefit from counselling. While you might expect that clergy would need to debrief, the need for the clergy families to also have this opportunity made me realise just how integral ministry is to their life. I do wonder what’s stopping them from feeling safe enough to discuss what’s happening in their ministry life. Much like how our research began, perhaps the best way forward is to keep having these difficult conversations so others are able to understand and support clergy families where they need it.

I hope and pray that this research is the first of many conversations and the start of many encouraging things that God has in store for clergy families!

- Rachel

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