“Now, it came to pass that when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel…. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (I Samuel 8:1-3).
Let’s talk about the offspring of the Lord’s shepherd, those sweet little lambs birthed into his beloved family in order to enrich their lives, to bless the church and to provide a fresh palette on which the preacher and his lady can demonstrate all it means to grow up in the fear and nurture of the Lord.
Those little monsters who terrorize the congregation with their out-of-control behavior.
Those darling babies and toddlers who are smothered by the loving attention of the entire congregation, and for whom teenage girls compete as babysitters.
Those juvenile delinquents who run up and down the aisles of the church and treat the sacred buildings as their own personal playroom.
Those teenagers who look so angelic on Sunday and test their parents’ patience during the week, the subject of ten thousand stories in deacons’ homes, who exasperate the seniors in the church hoping for a little peace and quiet this Sunday.
They put the gray hairs in their preacher-dad’s head and the great stories into his sermons. They put the the lines in their mom’s brow and the thrill into her heart.
They occupy the major portion of their parents’ prayers day and night.
God bless ’em. We love our PKs. Our preachers’ kids.
As Paul said, “And such were some of you” (I Corinthians 6:11).
So, you know.
Biblically, PKs didn’t do so well.
Scripture mentions very few PKs (“prophets’ kids”?) who turned out well. I can’t think of any who succeeded their fathers in the ministry. (Franklin Graham and Donnie Swaggart, take note.)
When the toddler Samuel was growing up in the tabernacle, the sons of High Priest Eli were breaking his heart. “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord” (I Samuel 2:12). Those with the stomach for this sort of thing can read for yourself what they were doing in that chapter. “Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (2:17).
Eli is not spared his share of the blame for their actions, for the Lord said the high priest was honoring “your sons more than Me” (2:29).
Eli’s sons met an untimely death and brought great sorrow to Israel for generations.
Think of David’s children, particularly Amnon, Absalom, and Solomon. Not exactly role models. Then again, with his multiple wives and concubines, David’s home life was not exactly conducive to rearing godly offspring.
As for the Old Testament prophets, we are not given enough information on their children to make any generalizations or draw conclusions. Same with the apostles.
However, based on the three mentioned above–the children of Eli, Samuel, and David–we might conclude:
— a) there are no guarantees. Even the finest parent can see his child become a prodigal.
–b) it’s an uphill battle for one called of God to do His work in the world while also being the husband and father his family needs. Books have been written by these angry adult PKs, as they indict their fathers and blame the ministries which drove them to greater and greater sacrifices, resulting in their abandoning their families.
–c) the occasions when the children become as solid and faithful as the parents are rare indeed. If we think of Anne Graham Lotz and Franklin Graham as exceptions, anyone familiar with that household would give Ruth Bell Graham, the matriarch, the lionness’ share of the credit.
Same today. In this fallen world, bringing children up in the fear and nurture of the Lord to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ will not happen easily, naturally, or accidentally.
A pastor’s wife wrote. “You’ve written on what to say and what not to say to pastors and their spouses. But what about the pastors’ children? Say something to them.”
This is a more complex subject. It’s much harder to get a handle on.
I need to confess I was never a PK. I’m a CMK. A coal miner’s kid. That’s about as far to the other end of the spectrum as one can get. The privileges are fewer, the circumstances vastly different, and the expectations considerably lower.
But my three children are PKs. They know. God bless ’em.
I sent out a call on Facebook for input into this subject. Once again, the responses were all over the map. Here are a couple…
My friend Amber has a word of wisdom:
“Dear PKS–Before anything else, I hope you know that you’re allowed to doubt, to throw fits, to be in bad moods, and to embarrass your parents – just like every single other child that has ever lived. Being a pastor’s kid is neither your identity, nor your job. It does not determine your worth, and the pressure placed on you is artificial and misguided. Jesus sees and pours abundant grace on you just as much as any other person. Take a deep breath, and realize you are NOT responsible for people’s feelings towards you or your family. You are only responsible for you – your actions and reactions – just like everyone else.”
Preacher’s wife Elizabeth Tero writes both to church members as well as to PKs…
–“To others: The preacher’s kids are just like other kids; don’t treat them any differently, whether it’s leaving them out because ‘they’re the preacher’s kids’ or holding them in higher esteem. Don’t put them on a pedestal for everyone’s kids to look up to. “
–“To the preacher’s kids: Don’t believe yourself more spiritual or on a different level because your daddy is the preacher. Realize you are just as human as everyone else. Don’t mix up head knowledge for heart knowledge. Realize everyone else is human too and give them room (and God room to work), even if what they say or do is hurtful to your parents and family. Pray for a heart to see your fellow church members through God’s eyes when something does happen, because, unfortunately, it probably will.”
My 10 words to the sons and daughters of God-called ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ–
- You are blessed indeed
You will have privileges and opportunities most children never have. You will be raised in church by the finest teachers and nurturers. You will go on trips with your family and church groups, and sometimes will stay in vacation homes your family could not afford in a lifetime but which are provided without cost by people who love you and your folks. So, I suggest you start by counting your blessings.
2. You are indeed on display.
Sorry about that, but it’s just one of those facts of life. Your dad is going to use the story of something funny you said in a sermon, whether you find it embarrassing or not; it’s a preacher-thing. The adults will think it’s cute and they will turn in your direction and smile. Your friends will be embarrassed for you and will tease you.
It’s been this way since year one.
People are watching you. But that’s not all bad. Remember the line from 2 Chronicles 16:9 that goes “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is completely His.” So, He’s watching too, but not with an evil intent. He’s looking around to see whom to bless.
Likewise, church members who keep an eye on you almost all want you to do well. They are pulling for you. (And the ones who are not, well–they don’t count.)
3. You have an incredible team of supporters.
Now, I’m not naïve about these things. Not every church is healthy and not every congregation treats the pastor’s family honorably. But most really do want to get this right.
My three children had a host of adult leaders and encouragers to bless them, starting with the other staff ministers and including Sunday School teachers and choir leaders and chaperones. And they didn’t charge a dime for their services! Just like everyone else in church, they were there to bless in the name of Jesus.
4. You are a sinner and will make mistakes, some more serious than others.
Romans 3:10 and 3:23 apply to you as well as the rest of us. No one (to my knowledge) expects you to be perfect. (Okay. Even if they do, they’re unrealistic and you should smile at them and go on. They’ll grow up.)
So, cut yourself some slack, and don’t beat up on yourself. Just go on to Number 5.
5. You must come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. You must be born again.
Beware of having a second-hand religion. That is, trying to get to Heaven by the faith of your parents. You must be born again.
God has no grandchildren, and no one is “grandfathered” into the Kingdom. You must be born again.
Just as dad and mom cannot chew your food and think your thoughts, they cannot believe on the Lord Jesus for you. You must do this yourself. You must be born again.
6. As a Christian, you must cultivate a daily relationship with Christ.
This means reading the Word daily and praying, confessing your sins, and bringing every area of your life under His Lordship.
The emphasis is on “daily.” Carve out a definite time and a specific place where you can pull aside and read the Word and pray quietly. And don’t be in too big a hurry. Learn to read and pray, then sit quietly for a bit. Have something to write on in case the Lord calls something to mind. Then read some more and pray more.
7. Pray for your parents and expect them to be unreasonable sometimes.
Your friends find their parents to be exasperating at times, and there’s no reason to expect yours will be different. But the great test of your faithfulness is whether you will submit to them (read Ephesians 5:21) when you disagree.
It’s tough being a parent at any time. But for the pastor and his wife, the complexity and expectations are much higher. So, pray the Lord will give them wisdom and courage.
8. Expect some in the congregation to be unloving or unkind.
By lowering your expectations, two things happen: a) You won’t be disappointed when someone is harsh or unloving, and b) you will appreciate those who are loving and generous and kind toward you and the family. But if you always expect everyone in church to be Christlike and understanding, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Always remember that anyone can join a church, no matter their mental health or maturity level. Churches attract all kinds of people. A wise parent will work to protect his/her children, but they cannot always do that. So, be prepared and don’t let the harshness of a few hurt you or hinder your own faithfulness.
Learn to love the unloving, and you will honor Christ, bless your own life, please your parents, and bear a strong witness.
9. Seize the opportunities coming your way.
Let me tell you something I’ve noticed over the years. On various college campuses when I would do ministry to student groups, often the most talented singers and most confident leaders were PKs who had been brought up in small churches. Because their youth groups were small and their dads were the preacher, they inherited leadership roles more by default than by talent. But as they served, they grew in ability and confidence, and now when they find themselves on a large stage–on a campus with thousands of peers–they’re ready to lead.
My oldest son was a soloist in childhood musicals. As a teen he sang in the church youth choir. In college, he became a member of an elite vocal ensemble that traveled and represented the school. In adulthood, he has often been a soloist in church pageants. The first training he received in singing took place in the family automobile as we traveled to grandmas.
10. Encourage other PKs you will meet along the way.
You will occasionally come across the offspring of ministers who are angry at churches where their fathers served and who have not been to church in years. “I still believe in God,” some will say. “But not in Christians.” You can help them. After all, you’ve been there to one extent or other. You know some of what they are feeling.
Encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus and to “do church,” not because people deserve it but because a) Christ commanded it and b) we need it.
Pray for them, and don’t expect them to automatically change because of your words. But give them time and give the Lord room to work.
God bless you for your faithfulness.