Last year, Shattered published “Nine Secrets Your Pastor’s Wife Wishes You Knew,” an article that generated passion and empathy among readers. Many of the hundreds of responses came from preachers’ kids. Some simply stated they agreed with the accuracy of the article, while others shared much more deeply intimate and personal reflections.

It seems the contemporary church culture has created an environment where an effort to uphold godly standards from church leaders becomes a silencing of their children. Preachers’ kids are often given unrealistic expectations, and have even the most trivial decisions scrutinized. This stigma follows preachers kids, ministry staff kids, and missionary kids.

Preachers’ Kids—Where Are They Now?

According to a research statistic by Barna Group, over a third of preachers’ kids abandon the faith. This should grieve us because we, as the church, share part of the responsibility. The call of a preacher is both a dangerous and risky occupation. National studies show that 80% of preachers say the ministry “negatively affected their family.”

So I made some phone calls, wrote some emails, and read hundreds of things preachers’ kids—both young (pre-teens, teens, and college students) and old (adults with families of their own)—wish the church knew. I promised anonymity in exchange for transparent conversation and offered a safe place to share. Some are still actively involved in and serve in their local church; others have abandoned the faith or the church entirely.

Preachers’ kids have something to say to the church and if we hope to ever change the sad reality of the “preachers’ kids statistic” we must first have the wisdom to listen.

1. “Being a preacher’s kid is not a negative experience.”

Being a preacher’s kid is not a “burden” to be carried, it is the situation that God has put them in. Several former preacher’s kids who are now adults shared that during their formative years they didn’t realize the many blessings of growing up in a ministry family. One shared, “If I had a dollar for every adult who said to me, ‘Preacher’s kids and teacher’s kids always turn out the worst’ I would be driving a new car.” For the record, this particular preacher’s kid turned out great!

Another shared that now as an adult when people learn about his “past” they assume he was a rebellious teenager in high school or college with a track record of grievous mistakes. Preachers’ kids want the church to know that though they feel the weight and pressure of ministry, they don’t want you to feel sorry for them.

2. “As a former preacher’s kid, I dreaded the thought of my husband becoming a pastor. I saw how ruthless people were to my parents, siblings, and me.”

This was a fairly common response from female participants, both young and old. Of course, this could be said of any profession, but the sad reality is that it’s not the irregular hours or the minimal pay that has left them with this conclusion. It was the cruelty they’ve seen in the church. The meanness from the same group of people that are commissioned by Jesus to be known by the way they love others.

3.  “Our whole family survived being in ministry because we learned to trust God, not the church.”

So many of the adult respondents who avoided becoming a “statistic” used a word that should cause the church to pause. They said they “survived.” Nearly every kid who has grown up in ministry has seen the ugliness that is sometimes evident in the church. I was told several horror stories from those who have been hurt deeply by the words and actions of members and tragically carry a bitterness towards God’s people. Those who “survived” did so with the realization that the church is full of broken people (sinners) all with the same common and constant need of a Savior.

4. “It’s almost unfair that I’m held to a super standard to be extra righteous just because my dad is in the calling that he is. At the end of the day we should ALL be striving for that. Right?”

Many preachers’ kids shared the unrealistic standards they were expected to live by, the consistent judgement and lack of grace. They shared how every outfit they wore was scrutinized for modesty and acceptability. How they were expected to only listen to certain types of music, watch only G rated movies and the list went on. One participant shared that when he made “questionable decisions” or mistakes, his dad would find himself in a meeting defending him or getting unsolicited parenting tips.

The fish bowl description is real. It is important to realize preachers’ kids face the same social pressure, temptations, insecurities and struggles as most “normal” kids. We must give them permission to have bad days, not be faultless, mess up and hurt. We must encourage them to be authentic and allow them to express feelings without fear of judgement.

5. “Don’t expect us to be as dedicated as our parents are to the church.”

While it is true that ministry is often a family calling, just like pastors’ wives, many preachers’ kids struggle with the expectation to be in church every time the doors are open. One respondent shared that her dad insisted she play in the church orchestra, which she HATED. Children are individuals and may want to participate in activities that happen throughout the week such as school band, sports, arts, scouts or various other programs not “church” related. The world will not end if they miss a Wednesday night or (gasp) a Sunday.

6. “Sometimes, my dad seems more like a social worker than a church leader.”

Preachers’ kids grow up introduced to many harsh life realities at a young age: deaths, divorce, crises and family tragedies. Often they overhear late night phone calls from hurting members. Sometimes they feel like their problems are trivial or insignificant in comparison to the burdens their parents already carry for others. “It’s hard to know my dad is not a normal father to me, everyone else is more important.”

7. “At some point, we have to make the decision to own our faith.”

Being born as a preacher’s kid doesn’t make one a born again Christian. Like every other child, they must realize their independent need for Jesus. Some grow up in homes where their parents model what is taught from the pulpit. Others in homes where grace was taught but not practiced. Either way, they must eventually come to the same point that every other person breathing must decide: accept salvation or reject it.

By far, the loudest and most regular comment I heard, both young and old, was to just let them be regular kids. Don’t expect them to be Bible thumping perfectly behaved robots. And don’t expect them to behave badly just because that’s what preachers’ kids do. Encourage them, love them, take interest in their lives and invest in them.

And most importantly, if they do go through a season of rebellion or questioning their faith, resist the urge to gossip and talk to God for them instead.

For more on the subject of what it is like being a preacher’s kid, check out Barnabas Piper’s new book entitled The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith And Identity.

 

16 Responses

  1. Jeff
    Jeff

    Thank you very much for the GREAT article. I am a Pastor and have been for 27 years. My wife and I have 3 children in 3 decades of life 23, 16, 6 and I know the older two say Amen to your article and the youngest one doesn’t know to yet. You summarized their hearts pretty clearly. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Olivia

    Good article. Ultimately, I enjoyed my experience as a church brat, but my brother (who was more expected to take an active role, really) has a harder time of it. When I did rebel, it was against the higher standard I was held to. My dad wanted me to do all these church activities, and I dug in my heels. We had some arguments, but it was ultimately better than letting resentment build up.

    Reply
  3. Pastor Kay

    I was linked here by a friend. While I find this article and the one on pastors’ wives interesting, as I don’t have a wife or a kid my interest is largely theoretical. My husband has bemoaned the lack of online literature and support for pastors’ husband since before we got married though. Would love to see an article about that. (Though I suppose I don’t know if this blog supports your sisters in Christ who are ordained?)

    Reply
    • Rachael Jackson
      Rachael Jackson

      We are more than a blog Pastor Kay, and we support all those who are sharing the Gospel of Jesus. We pray for you and all of our brothers and sisters doing His work. There are bigger things to worry about than whether or not women should be ordained ministers. Blessings, Rachael Jackson (Founder of Shattered Magazine)

      Reply
      • Pastor Kay

        Like I said, linked here by a friend, not familiar with your site. I’m glad to hear you support all who share the gospel, though I’m sad to guess I probably shouldn’t expect that article. I’m a little confused why you’d pair “we support everyone who shares the gospel” with “there are more important things than women’s ordination”- I was just trying to figure out if that sort of article was something you’d be likely to do, learn more about the range and purpose of your site. But I get the feeling from your tone that this is a place not meant for me (or my husband) so I’ll move on. Have a good weekend.

      • Jordyn V

        Wow, Pastor Kay. I hope that when dealing with people on a regular basis you are not so easily offended and stand-of fish as you just seemed. She clearly did not deny supporting women who are ordained, in fact wholly supported it. I want to please ask you that if this is the way you handle yourself in your daily life, so easily offended by those around you, and dare I say it, snobby, that you not tell people you are a Christian. If you are in a pastoral position right now, you are a leader of a church and in a community. While you will make mistakes and slip up, it just seems to me like you wouldn’t be someone that should make others feel as if they have to tip-toe around you to try and be perfect. Not impressed and truly hoping that you haven’t offended others away from Christ. Sorry if this is very blatant for you, but sometimes the cross needs to sting.

  4. Miriam

    I am speaking as a double PK (both my parents are preachers). Like Olivia, my church experience was largely positive, while my sibling had a harder time of it and spent one rough year completely separated from church.
    I would add something about the struggle of transferring parishes. PKs are expected to almost completely cut off ties from the previous church “for the health of the congregation.” Because supposedly this will make the transition easier. It can be rough for a 13 year old kid.
    Also, one thought I remember distinctly from my (younger)childhood was being terrified every time my parents’ received a call in the middle of the night, because almost always, someone we knew had died (or was in the hospital).
    I have always appreciated the amount of attention I get as a PK from church members, they are always curious to know what is going on in my life. But I can understand how it can get draining, and who knows, maybe I just enjoy the attention because my older sibling was always the one my parents had to worry about.
    One last thing: in addition to worrying about a spouse going into the ministry, I am equally concerned for myself. I am fascinated by religion and theology, but am quite certain I could never be a preacher. I just know too many of the nitty-gritty details that no one tells you before you become a preacher.
    All in all this was an interesting article, but I had to add in for myself “parents” rather than “dad.”

    Reply
  5. David

    I just want to echo Pastor Kay’s remarks. Please remember that there are a lot of female pastors out there. Pastor’s “wives” and “My dad pastor…” is anachronistic and careless as is diminishing the issue of women’s ordination. Thank you, however, for the insight this blog has otherwise provided me.

    Reply
  6. Jaime

    Good article. I am not a PK but I grew up with many of them and have seen the positive and negative effects first hand. It’s kind of funny and ironic actually as I’m reading the comments above. If you want an example of how church people can be good at pointing out what you aren’t doing right, just read. It actually helps me to appreciate the article even more and understand it’s legitimacy.

    Reply
  7. Susan C

    I am saddened at the comments made by the pastor in regard to “supposing”, “guessing”, and reading “tone”. As a pastor of God’s flock, regardless if you are male or female, our sole purpose is to share the gospel of Christ. The founder of this magazine simply stated “we support all those who are sharing the gospel”. Whether or not women should be ordained is not the focus of Shattered Magazine. Shattered Magazine offers real life stories, with real hope and real purpose. The writers share personal experiences, some being of tragedy, others of just “stuff” life throws our way. But ALL the stories point the readers to a greater focus, which is Jesus Christ is the answer to facing and overcoming any problem. Rather than assume this is not a place for you or your husband, why not take the opportunity to share your own story of feeling their is a lack of support and literature for your particular situation. You are obviously not alone in feeling this way.

    Reply
  8. David

    As a pastor’s husband, I’ve worried about these issues for our daughter. What I’ve found so far is that the church is wonderfully supportive of her. Its like she has multiple sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles. We recently transitioned from parish ministry to denominational work. Our daughter actually misses the love and focus she enjoyed in the church. I pray that every PK could have such a positive experience. She’s still very young, only 13. I’m sure the later teen years will get harder, but right now I praise God for the love of Christ Presbyterian Church and look forward to the years to come.

    Reply
  9. Not important

    Sooo…really enjoyed the article and the comments, good and bad. I am an adult PK with a litany of horror stories, trumped by a deep seated love for God, while also marred by a necessary distancing from “the church”. I truly wonder if any other PK’s have or are dealing with bitterness, mental illness and ministry mismanagement on the part of their pastoring parent(s)? My father has used the pulpit to vent his frustrations on people for years and following heart bypass and other medical issues, it has only gotten worse as he gets older. I believe that as the family goes, so goes the church. While my dad provided for us financially, he abused us emotionally and at times physically. Even to this day, we are subjected to bitter outbursts, threats and condescending dismissals and it hurts. It is indeed a challenge to keep choosing to stay connected to God, when you continue to witness and experience the deterioration and meanness of not just “church folk” who have fishbowl syndrome, but of our own father who is supposed to represent Jesus, but can now only give us the bitterness and rejection his father gave him. Don’t want to get too much more lengthy, but thanks for being here. Your site and this article helped me get through a long, achey night.

    Reply
  10. Jasmine

    I have been a PK for over 18 years & I love this article! It is very true in a lot of ways. I will say though..learning forgiveness is one of the most important lessons you will learn if you happen to be a PK. Not everyone is going to treat you fair. At the same time though, folks that attend your church who have been loyal and stuck by your dad (the pastor) for years. They are like a priceless treasure 🙂

    Reply
  11. Anon

    Being a preacher’s child has not been a positive experience for me. As an adult I am plagued with recurrent panic attacks and major depressive episodes. Much of the stressors for these experiences come from my time spent in the church as an adolescent. There were tremendous expectations not just from my parents but from the entire community to behave in a certain manner. As a female preachers kid, there were stereotypical ideals and expectations of chastity or promiscuity thrust upon my being by peers, fellow church members and strangers alike. Boys and men fetishsize the “Preacher’s daughter” and I must be especially wary while dating as a result of this infatuation with this stereotype. In addition, fear of disappointing my parents and the members of the church in regards to the idea of virginity left me incredibly vulnerable to predatory men who knew I would be unable to ask for adult guidance on topics of sex out of systematic sexual shaming. This only scratches the surface of the resentments I have towards my upbringing as “Preacher’s Kid.” I have yet to read an article that makes mention to the fetishization of preacher’s daughters, but I would strongly urge those who choose to become clergymen to consider just what they will subject their children to if they also choose parenthood.

    Reply

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