Through no fault of their own: The preacher’s kids, caught in the crosshairs

The little boy was 7 years old and loved the church where his dad served as pastor.  So, he was not prepared for the bully who decided to take out his frustrations with the preacher on him.

Each week during the Sunday School assembly, the director of the children’s department would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Now, he already knew the answer since the church bulletin carried this information. But, they would identify the children with birthdays and sing to them.

This week, little David had celebrated his 7th birthday and was eagerly anticipating that tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. This day, however, the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday that week.  David came home in tears.

His mother said to me, “How could I explain to my child that the director despises his father? And that he has fought us on everything over the past year. And that he took out his frustration on the minister’s child?”

She said, “These are things  we should not be having to explain to a 7-year-old child.”

“It really hurts.”

I suggested she tell David that church members everywhere will read his story here and will go out of their way to make sure this never happens again. His experience will end up blessing a lot of children.

Most church people would be shocked to learn that the minister’s children are sometimes targeted for unfair treatment by people with pastor-issues. In the seclusion of a Sunday School room, bullies sometimes go unchecked.

In my opinion, such mean-spirited church members are a tiny minority. But the fact that they are there at all, inflicting pain and injury upon children because of their own frustrations, is almost unforgiveable.

I have encountered the adult children of pastors who confess they never go to church, still carry a deep-seated resentment for what church members did to their father, and are not even sure they believe in God any longer.

The fallout from the poor behavior of God’s people can be far-reaching.

Recently, when we wrote an article for this website identifying the pastor’s wife as the most vulnerable person in the church, the responses fell into two groups: 1) thanking us for saying it, and 2) urging us to write something about the pastor’s children, another group that seems to have a target on its back.

Now, I am not a PK, a preacher’s kid.  My dad was a coal miner. The only expectations on the six of us children were either self-imposed or from within the family.  The larger community basically ignored us.  But, I am the father of three PKs and know quite a few.  So, I invited some of them to assist me with this.

What follows is an attempt to pull some order into the pages of notes from these who carry strong memories, deep lessons learned, and the occasional scar on their souls, all from growing up in pastors’ household.

Question: What in the world are we going to do with the preachers’ kids?

1) Well, for one thing, we’re going to love them and encourage them.

Learn their names. Don’t be afraid to compliment them–just as you do the other children–when they do something well.

Invite them to parties and events just as you do other children.  After all, even if their dad is a preacher, they’re just children and they like to do the same thing your kids enjoy.

To some this will sound a little contradictory, saying on the one hand church members should treat the PKs just like other children, and on the other hand, pray for them and love them and encourage them.  (But that’s exactly what we should be doing for the others!)

2) We are going to give them the freedom to be who they are and not impose our own projections upon them.

The preconceived notions of church members regarding the pastor’s children can be a heavy burden to bear.

One son of a pastor remembers when he was perhaps a third-grader, and the church planned some kind of service to be held during Sunday School which the children would lead. The children ushered the adults’ classes into the chapel, kids spoke the prayers, the children’s choir led the singing, and so forth.  He added, “Guess who was picked to be the preacher that day? The shy little introverted son of the pastor.”

Why was he chosen, he still wonders. Perhaps because he was the son of the pastor the leadership had thought either that it was expected, that the pastor would be disappointed if he were not chosen, or that he had natural talents in this area.  He recalls the pain of that event to this day. Even though the adults doubtless meant well by thrusting the pastor’s son into that role, their good intentions did not make it right or ease his pain.

We’re simply suggesting that children and youth workers give the pastor’s offspring the same attention and consideration they should the other children. In filling roles for pageants, dramas, and assemblies, and in assigning responsibilities for ministries, they should pay attention to the gifts, talents, interests, and abilities of a child before assigning him/her a part.

3) We are going to appreciate them when they participate in church services and love them when they don’t.

Some children love to sing in public and some do not. Some children enjoy the limelight, and others shun it with a sense of dread.  Pastors’ offspring qualify as “some children.”

A loving mother said church members sometimes are resentful or jealous when the preacher’s children sing in church or take another role such as reciting scripture.  “We’re not doing those things to show off,” she said. “It’s honestly part of our normal life to sing hymns and memorize scriptures!”

Few things are scarier for children and teens as rising to speak or sing in front of the entire church.  We should encourage any who pull this off, no matter who their parents happen to be!

4) We are going to be so loving and kind to these kids as to overrule all the negatives.

At my request, one mom asked her two young sons for their pros and cons.  On the negatives list were these: People stereotype you; They watch you closer than they do the other kids; Your dad is always on call; Sometimes family vacation is canceled for some emergency at the church; you are not allowed to do what other children do; Dad is sometimes too busy to enjoy us; We have to live on a lower income than some of our friends; sometimes Dad misses supper or bedtime because of church meetings; at church, our parents are too busy talking to people to listen to me; and (worst of all) being attacked or watching my mom get attacked because someone is mad at Dad.

And, these same PKs had a list of things they enjoy about living in the pastorium: At “pastor appreciation” time, sometimes the children get gifts too; being raised in church is a good thing; you get to meet a lot of great people; church dinners (sometimes great and sometimes not so much); you have friends everywhere; you learn a lot about people and churches; you get to meet missionaries and evangelists and have them in your home; and you get to participate in ministry opportunities.

My son Neil remembers those early years as times of interesting vacations when we attended annual meetings of our denomination. He was 7 when we traveled to Denver and then through the Rockies, and 13 when we took a three-week long trip into New England and visited homes of U.S. Presidents as well as the White House and Independence Hall. One thing he recalls is that sometimes before we left on such trips, people would slip Dad a little cash, and Dad would share with the children.  One more thing. Neil adds, “Church girls love the preacher’s sons.”

So, it ain’t all bad.

5) We are going to pray for them by name.

Soon after I came to my last pastorate, the church where we still belong, a deacon said to me, “Joe, tell me your children’s names. I want to pray for them.”  I told him once, and thereafter over the years since–that was 1990 or 1991–he will ask about Carla or Marty, whom he may have met once or twice. Our oldest, Neil, he knows as a fellow deacon.  Thank you, Mr. Chris Screen, for these decades of prayer for my adult children. (Explanation: our three were grown by the time we came to this church, with two of them married and living in distant states.)

On the bulletin board in our kitchen is a photo of our pastor and his family. It came with their Christmas card a couple of years back, and it’s been there ever since, a reminder to pray for them.  Not every day, perhaps, but frequently I pray for Pastor Mike and Terri, for daughter Bailey and son Michael, and for their married son Bryan, along with his wife, whose name I can never remember. (Sorry, guys.)

I probably have never mentioned to this family that I pray for them regularly.  It’s not necessary. What is important is to do it. (Sometimes we seem to think it’s more important to tell someone we’re praying for them than actually doing it. Let’s not be guilty of that.)

What shall we pray for? “The blessings of Heaven upon them” seems to cover it all, unless we know of specific prayer needs. This summer Bailey has been on a two-month long mission and many of us have lifted her to the Father in prayer. As Michael goes off to college, we will be praying for this critical period in his life.

It’s a privilege.

6) We will not try to shield the pastor’s children from all difficulty.

Every person growing up will have their own share of trials and struggles, frustrations and discouragements; that’s just part of life.

In fact, some of the greatest lessons any of us learn in life–those that go deepest and stay longest–involve some kind of setback or failure.  Every follower of Jesus Christ has to learn that “in my flesh there dwells no good thing,” that “without Jesus, I can do nothing,” and particularly “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Through the years as my children were growing up, my prayers for them would often include something like this:

“And Father, in church and in school, give them teachers who will treasure them as their mother and I treasure them. Give them friends and teachers who will reinforce the lessons we are trying to teach them through Thy Word. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”

7) Finally, we will thank God in advance for what He is going to do in the lives of these “chosen” ones.

We will trust Him to do whatever He pleases with these children, and not put our own expectations upon them.

After all, He–our Lord Himself–is the ultimate answer to my prayer. He loves these children far more than I ever could, and is infinitely more interested in grounding them in the Truth than we parents could ever be.

Our three children are now parents caught in the very middle  of child-rearing.  They are active worshipers in (taking this in order now) the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, Elevation Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Second Baptist Church of Springfield, Missouri.  That’s why you will occasionally find me praying for Pastor Mike Miller, Pastor Stephen Furtick, and Pastor John Marshall.

And, I remind myself now in typing this, praying for the Furtick and Marshall children would be a good thing to do, also.

Pardon me while I go do that.


10 thoughts on “Through no fault of their own: The preacher’s kids, caught in the crosshairs

  1. I’ve been a minister for 37 years. During this time I’ve noticed the Pastors and deacons children are the ones that catch the blunt end of the judgement of the church members. They’re never as quick to judge their own as they are ours.

  2. Pingback: How the Ministry Affects the Preacher’s Kids | Wib's World

  3. Thanks for sharing. I am going to re-post this to my blog. I decided to do a month of blogs on this subject.

  4. Pingback: Preacher’s Kids part two (repost) | missiontomission

  5. The most healing conversations I’ve ever had were with adult PKs (of any ole denomination, although not the mega-church and/or money-equals God’s approval ilk) who have shared with me their experiences growing up as such and how it continues to effect them in the most personal and profound ways. While many people argue that such a situation differs little from, say, growing up the child of a prominent physician, I would beg to differ. Is a doctor’s home and offspring subject to ongoing, intense public and private scrutiny? May their home’s temperature be maintained above the fifties without fear that the January heating bill prove unsatisfactory to the vestry? Is his wife thought less of if she fails to be a perfect friend to all women in the congregation, run fund-raisers, lead the Sunday school, sing in the choir, and make sure that she and the children attend each and every church function? Do her children pray that a funeral or wedding might bring something extra for Daddy so that taped sneakers might be replaced (Mom’s “job”
    is not paid). If Jill demeans and hits Annie, does Annie have to quietly accept it and continue to be friends because Jill’s parents are in the church or are potential parishioners? Clergy, you may feel that your family’s survival means such sacrifice.
    My father did, and my mother agreed. I believe that if you cannot set appropriate boundaries, God would not want your children to grow up in this way and will help you to find another means of ministering to others while providing financial support
    for your family.

  6. People expect so much out of of you when you’re a PK its not even funny. I always said that my parents and I live in a double glass house because not only you got unsaved folks watching you but Christians are also watching you. They expect nothing but perfection out of you and God forbid you sin you’ll get verbally crucified to a cross. They forget that you’re human like everyone else with struggles with sin.

    They say you’re supposed to look for the best in everyone (since no one’s perfect) but when it comes to pastor’s family especially PKs they’d rather pick on your flaws and watch you like a hawk to see if you say or doing anything wrong so they can criticize and gossip about you. You feel like nobody has your back except your parents because everyone else is waiting for you to fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.