Seven Things Pastors Would Like Church Members to Know about Their Children

I was serving a church in St. Petersburg, Florida, when it hit me hard. One of my young children had playfully fallen on the floor in the foyer after a worship service. A deacon in the church came up to me and spoke forcefully: “You need to tell your kid to get up. Pastors’ children aren’t supposed to act that way.”

My internal emotional reaction was carnal. I’m just glad I held my tongue. I was really mad. I can still remember my thoughts: “How dare this man hold my young son to a standard different than other kids! My boy really didn’t cause any harm. He was just being playful.

I recently conducted a Twitter poll of pastors and their spouses about this very issue. Though the poll was informal and not scientific, the responses were nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top seven responses in order of frequency. A representative comment or combined comments are given with each of the seven.

  1. Don’t expect more out of pastors’ kids (PKs) than any other kids. “My children need to have the same expectations as the other children in the church. They are not some kind of spiritual superstars because their dad’s a pastor.”
  2. Please offer encouragement to my children. “It’s not always easy to be a PK. The glass house thing is real. I am so thankful for the church members who go out of their way to encourage my children.”
  3. Realize that they are kids. “I know a few church members who seem to think my kids are miniature adults. They expect them to act like a 40 year old instead of a 4 year old.”
  4. Please don’t call them “PKs.” “Their identities should not be based on their father’s vocation. They have their own unique and special identities.”
  5. Please pray for my children. “I am blessed to have this one lady in my church who prays for my three children every day. She knows the special challenges of being a PK.”
  6. Our kids see and hear more than you may think. “After one particularly tough church business meeting, my seven-year-old boy asked me if I was going to get fired.”
  7. Don’t make me choose between my kids and the church. “Too many PKs have grown up bitter and disillusioned about the church. Dad gave more attention to church members than his own children.”

What do you think about these seven challenges? What would you add? What have your experiences been?

Posted on June 5, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Tiffany says on

    My husband grew up the son of a pastor and even as a grown up man there are still expectations placed upon him by those who know his father. I can remember when we moved back to the city where we were from and trying to decide which church we would attend. My husband would not attend the church where his father once pastored due to the fact that he would always be compared to his father. That is a lost of pressure to put on someone. We have to remember that these children are just like every other child, like you said. They should not be treated any differently.

  • Very good article and well-written. Great advice for those who observe and know pastor’s children. However, I would respectfully submit another opinion on #1. As a pastor who had two children (boy & girl), I believe that the church does have a right to expect the pastor’s children to hold a high standard. No, they are not “spiritual superstars,” but a man’s ministry includes that of his family. The Scriptures reiterate that principle in the lives of Eli’s and Samuel’s children. One day, my children were complaining about how the church people expected more of them than they did other children. I talked with them and explained, “Out of all the children in the world, God knew that you could handle the role of being a pastor’s kid!” “You are special, and yes we should lead by example.” They became proud to be a “pastor’s kid.”

    I believe that many pastors make the mistake of “ministry versus family.” Too many pastor’s children think of the church as “Dad’s ministry,” or “Dad’s church.” For us, we viewed the ministry as a family opportunity. The children served with me. My wife served with me. It was not because the church expected or demanded it but, rather, because we taught our children that serving the Lord in a full-time vocation was an exceedingly high call. Both children have been instrumental in the development of vital church ministries that are ministering to people and discipling believers.

    Today, both children and their spouses are in ministry. I am grateful for the Lord’s working in their lives. There are many areas of parenting that I failed at. Yet, we always viewed the ministry as a family opportunity. Therefore, it was not “Dad’s ministry,” but it was “our ministry.” It was never a decision of ministry or family, but it was family in ministry. Yes, we did take plenty of family time on vacations, days off, etc. But the ministry was something we were all a part of.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Pastor Wynn –
      Thanks for the story of how you handled the situation.

    • Could not disagree more. Listen, my dads ministry was just that, his. Much like a child can’t help being born into the family he or she does, they also didnt sign up for ministry at a young and tender age. My parents never held me to a different standard. As respectful as I can be, your POV was borderline insulting to pk’s everywhere.

      • Jon,

        I’m sorry you that I apparently communicated that I held my children to a “different standard.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. I always taught my children that our responsibility was to please God, and not man. They never felt pressured to “perform” to a man’s standards. The question in our house was always, “What does God say?” That is the guideline that set both belief and practice. Using that question taught my children to search and study the Word.

        I’m sorry that you felt my POV was an insult. It was certainly not meant to be.

      • No, your children should have the right to choose their own ministry. Please understand that you have no idea what a PK goes through. That is a huge burden to put on them. Religion, ministry must be chosen and not forced upon anyone, especially children.

    • Melanie Stanley-Soulen says on

      The emphasis on “man” is also insulting and sexist. As a pastor, wife of a pastor, mom to two adult sons and a therapist, I can attest to the emotional damage this kind of authoritative theology does to children of pastors.

      • Mike Farrell says on

        I don’t believe anyone is trying to be insulting, Melanie, but I Timothy 3:2 is pretty clear. A bishop must be “the husband of one wife.”

      • Melanie Stanley-Soulen says on

        Or, rather, your narrow interpretation of scripture is very clear.

      • Robin Owen says on

        Melanie, I think you and I may be the only women reading this… 😉

        I am also a pastor, with an adopted special-needs teen son. My husband serves another congregation, which leaves our son “on his own” during worship and other times when I am “up front.” I am grateful for those in my congregation who treat him like one of their own family members inviting him to sit with them, helping him find the hymns, etc. I also get quite fed up with the more judgmental folks, especially those who publicly resent that I have a family of my own and prioritize the needs of my husband and child. Comments like “she was a better pastor before she got that child” are both hurtful and untrue – I am a much more balanced pastor and human being for having a great kid in my life!

      • Agreed with Mike.

        Melanie, instead of just accusing him of having a narrow interpretation of Scripture, how about you instead explain why you disagree?

      • Pastor Michelle says on

        I don’t want to get into a debate. I respect your interpretation of scripture and tradition even though I disagree. There are numerous biblical references to women serving the “church” as prophets, disciples, and as apostles. If you are interested in learning more I recommend this article:

    • Bradley McCarty says on

      I’m glad someone else had a similar experience to mine. Growing up a PK made me love the church and I ended up in ministry with kids. Maybe we had some exceptional dads. (I’m sure I did!) I know bad things happen… but… I think there may be some whining going on here too. You can’t really know that you’ve been treated that differently. If you ask about anyone they’ll say everyone’s out to get them. It’s one of the traps we tend fall into as humans.
      By the way, my dad was at 5 churches in my life and I’ve been at three. So is not like it was one great church. I think it has a lot to do with your outlook and how you handle it.

  • Matt Sutman says on

    Lost my son due to how church folks treat each other, especially the minister. Almost lost my daughter but she, thank God, got into a Baptist church youth group and found some church camp relationships that helped rescue her at just the right time. She graduated from CCU this year.

  • Doc Sublett says on

    The same standard, if applied to other children in the church, would expect plumbers’ kids to show part of their backside, carpenters’ kids to be able to cut a board straight, advertising execs’ kids to have a quick wit or pun on their lips for any situation, bankers kids to treat everyone like a customer, grocers’ kids to ask everyone if they need any help, car salesmens kids to know how to close the deal, and weathermen’s kids to know to stay in out of the rain. Preachers kid from age 2 and I am now 62 yet the double standard memories stick with me.

  • Just want to say I am thankful I was raised as a pastor’s kid. My 3 siblings and I are blessed to have a Godly man as our father and a Godly woman as our mother. They served God well their entire ministry–and still do even though they are not full-time. But my dad regularly reminded his church that his priorities were God first, his wife second, his children third, and his church fourth. He reminded them from the pulpit and he practiced it everyday. I never felt any pressure by anyone–my parents or the church–to perform.

  • Drew Dabbs says on

    I had wanted to respond to the tweet the other day, but I couldn’t really articulate anything worth saying. This list is great. Like Scott Cassel, I’m a PK, as well as a P raising my own K’s. One major difference between me and my kids is that my dad didn’t become a pastor until I was 15, and by that time I was in high school. So, my more developmental years were spent without the pressure of being a PK. However, dad was a deacon before he became a pastor, and the old saying is, “PK’s are the worst ones… but only because they run with the deacons’ kids!” Seriously, I don’t know what that pressure is like to literally “grow up” as a pastor’s kid.

    My three children are very young, the oldest being three. Only time will tell, but it would seem, right now, that we have an understanding congregation that truly loves our children and will allow them to be kids and will allow them to be people, in their own right, without seeing them as miniature adults or extensions of me and my ministry.

    Two things I would add, which were probably mentioned but didn’t make the top seven:
    1. The preacher’s kids have to eat. — This is not so much an issue where I serve now, but it’s still a major issue with many pastors. When mommy and daddy are constantly worrying how they’re going to pay the bills, it creates a lot of stress and tension in the home. Financial matters are the #1 cause of divorce, and a pastor shouldn’t have to be constantly wondering how he’s going to pay for diapers, gas, groceries, clothes, and doctor bills. I’ve heard all the super-spiritual stuff about trusting God to provide, and I know some pastors aren’t good money-managers. Yet, the bigger issue is that many pastors simply aren’t compensated well enough to provide adequately for their children. Again, not so much an issue with me at our current place of service, but it happens more than the vast majority of people realize.

    2. Pastors feel an enormous amount of pressure to be the “perfect parent.” — When my kid acts up in church, it REALLY flusters me. Should I take her out and spank her? Should I just let it go? Should I wait until after the service to deal with it? What is everybody thinking? Are they thinking we’re not doing a good job of training/disciplining our children at home, and the result is misbehavior in church? … It’s the whole glasshouse thing, I know. But, even more than feeling pressure to have “perfect children,” my wife and I feel pressure to be “perfect parents.”

    Just some thoughts.

  • As the Mom of 2 sons who pastor SBC churches in Ky., and the grandmother of, soon to be 6 grandchildren who carry the title of “preacher’s kids”, this is an important reminder that churches must be careful of the “double standard.” Thank you Dr. Rainer for this post.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you Penny.

    • I agree and I feel if grandchildren are involved the same double standard applies to them. My daughters became disillusioned at the teen years as to why their grandfather was being attacked. My brother backslide in part to saints comments. I love the series of articles that is being written for PK and GPK.

  • Nick Hodges says on

    Great list but there is one more thing I would add, “The pastor’s children are for the pastor and his wife to raise and correct their behavior.” Maybe it’s just my ministry setting, but why do so many church members think they have the “right” to “correct” your children. For me, I’ve tried to be polite and not say anything to overbearing church members but what is the best way to handle them?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Totally agree Nick.

    • Nick, I regularly mention from the pulpit (i.e. in the appropriate preaching moments) that discipline of children lies squarely in the laps of Dad and Mom, and say something along the lines of, “If you see my children misbehaving, let me know. You’ll have done your job and then it’s time to let me do mine.”

      • I will also add this — it is common knowledge in our congregation that there is a wooden spoon in my desk, another in the pew where my family sits, and a third in my wife’s purse/diaper bag. I remind our Deacons periodically that the days will come when I ask one of them to take over the service for a moment while I discipline one of our kids. In fact a couple of weeks ago I had to take our son outside with the spoon while the congregation sang a song. I didn’t humiliate him, and I took the necessary time with him so that he knew I wasn’t angry or embarrassed, but that he was disobeying, and he knew the discipline that was required (we try to be very consistent and clear with our kids). We slipped back in quietly after a few minutes (hugging and calming down time) and most folks didn’t even realize what had happened. I resumed leading the service and things were fine.

    • Nick- don’t be polite. Say something. Your kids are important than their feelings.

  • One problem I always had was when I got closer to graduating high school, I had a lot of church folks view their displeasure with me over my dad. I was a 16 or 17 yr old kid. And then they want to get upset at my reaction. NEVER bring a pk into anything. Go straight to the pastor.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      It’s hard to conceive of a church member being so cruel to complain to a child about his or her father/pastor. But you are right. It happens.

      • Melanie Stanley-Soulen says on

        Hello!!! We’re not just talking about “fathers” as pastors here even though the original article is written by one. Pastors are also women….mothers.

      • Ryan kippes says on

        No pastors should only be men as they always have been in the bible. The Word of God is very clear on who is to lead a congregation. You may disagree but the bible sets it up that way for a reason.

      • That’s not true. Any evidence?

  • Scott Cassel says on

    Sorry, 1st point should have ended “…so you can see them.”

  • Scott Cassel says on

    Here are a few, as a PK and as a P raising my own K’s:
    1. Children are not part of the ministry package when a pastor comes. They are children, trying to make their way in life, just like other kids. It’s great that you like to see them, but they aren’t going to come to every worship every week so you can.
    2. Sometimes, there are events at church my children don’t come to at all. Not many, but some. They are at church a lot no matter what, and I would like them not to hate church when they grow up, so sometimes they get a pass. The event might not be appropriate for them, or they just don’t have an interest.
    3. Don’t ever go after my children. Don’t bring them up in a conversation about my position or my effectiveness, don’t call them names, don’t belittle them, or suggest they are a problem. (It may seem crazy to offer these, but each one has happened to me).

    • Megan B. says on

      I appreciate your points and would extend 1 and 2 to my spouse. I also really wish that number 3 sounded crazy, but too often this is very relevant advice.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I like your spirit Scott.

    • number 3 happened to us in this situation. Thankfully God opened a door for us to leave that church before things got worse. When a few people were having trouble with my husband they decided they also had a problem with our children, saying that they were running people out of the church. Not a single person had even left the church but that is what was said. It was awful. I know my children are not always the best behaved, Especially when they are very young, but they were not the problem. People treating them like they were outsiders instead of part of the church community were the problem.

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