Through no fault of their own, the preacher’s kids are 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 took out his frustrations with the preacher-daddy on him.

Each week during the Sunday School assembly, this man, 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.

The week little David was celebrating his 7th birthday he 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 parents grieved for their child and tried to comfort him.

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 on our website 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 Christians 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 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 and wicked heart, is almost unforgiveable.

I have encountered the adult children of pastors who confess they no longer go to church, but will forever carry a deep-seated resentment for what church members did to their father.  More than one has told me they’re not even sure they believe in God any longer.

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

When we wrote an article for this website identifying the pastor’s wife as the most vulnerable person in the church, the response was overwhelming.  Most of them 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  adults PKs and I know quite a few.  So, I invited some of them to assist me with this article.

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 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 are able to 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 we moved to my final pastorate–our children were adults and did not move with us–a deacon said, “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 would come to know as a fellow deacon.  Thank you, Mr. Chris Screen, for these decades of prayer for my adult children. It’s as fine a gift as one can get.

In interceding for the pastor’s children, what shall we pray for? “The blessings of Heaven upon them” seems to cover it all, unless we know of specific prayer needs.

It’s not necessary to tell them you are praying for them.  Just do it, and trust God to hear and answer.

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

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

In fact, the lessons that go deepest and stay longest will 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.” A friend told me just today that in the word “Christian,” if we take “Christ” out of it, we are left with “ian” which means “I am nothing.”

When 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.”  He seems to have answered that many times over.

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.

Finally, I’m remembering a conversation not long ago with a new parent who is praying even now for God to call this little one into His service.  That’s a good prayer, I told him, but it helps to remind ourselves that “in His service” covers a lot of ground and can take an infinite variety of forms.  If his experience is like mine, eventually, he will pray for God to simply do His will in the child’s life no matter what form that takes.  He knows best.

Lead them in paths of righteousness, O Lord.  Amen.  

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