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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  • Don’t assume that my kids only come to church and love the Lord because their dad’s a preacher. Their faith and love are real.

  • Dr. Rainer, the last one really stuck out to me. I know John really struggled with that as a child and teen. He tells me that most nights of the week he and his brother were home alone while his parents were at church functions. As parents, we are intentional about putting family before the church. This is hard for many to understand, but if our family is not cared for then we cannot serve others well. Thanks for bringing attention to this issue. Amy

  • As a young pastor with young children (3 and 1), I pray that my little boys aren’t pushed away from church and ministry because of my calling. Great piece!

  • The last one kind of sums them all up, but just know that the final responsibility for your priorities rests with you, and make it clear to your family and to the church, early and often! Husband has always made us the priority. Translation: he took his days off. That said, I wouldn’t trade the benefits of a sweet church fellowship in a child’s life. If you are blessed with that, it’s worth working through the “bugs” in the system. If it gets crazy for a while timewise (all jobs do), make up for it as soon as you can. Folks aren’t always kind and thoughtful. You won’t avoid mistakes. Don’t be so ambitious that you won’t speak up for your kids’ wellbeing.
    I’m not posting as someone who did everything right, but it helped me when I was younger to hear others’ experiences in this area. It’s a lifelong striving for balance, to show your child an adult loving their church and their Lord, while loving their kid.

  • Sara K. Tate says on

    I would only make sure, as you write, to remember that there are female pastors out there…….Don’t label my kid because of his “mother’s” vocation. Also, there are PK’s of clergy couples (that’s our situation). That situation requires a whole separate list of “struggles.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Sara –

      Thanks for your admonition and good spirit. I have said on a number of occasions that female pastors and those who hold to an egalitarian view are welcome on my blog. I am a complementarian and my denomination’s doctrinal statement is complementarian. That is why I write in the masculine when I refer to pastors. You and others will disagree with me; that is fine. Indeed, I can tell you that this blog’s readers include a wide spectrum of theological views on many issues. And I also want to be clear that I intend no insult when I write this way. There are so many places where we, as the body of Christ, do agree. That is where my blog posts will focus. Finally, to you, Sara, and others, I offer my apology where I have offended you. I appreciate your taking time to be on this blog, and I don’t want ever to imply that you aren’t welcome here.

    • Melanie Stanley-Soulen says on

      This blogger doesn’t believe in women pastors or clergy couples.

      • and this is why woman pastors bother me. He isn’t out to offend you. He is writing what he knows. You are welcome to be all inclusive if you want to, but this is his blog. Your one woman crusade to make everyone see your point of view is not worth it. Be the clergy for your congregation, do a good job at it, and be an example instead of a mouth piece against other Christians. Your ministry will be so much greater if you focus on it instead of the “woman as pastors” agenda and as we move forward your actions will speak louder than your words ever would.

      • Wow, well said.

        Thank you for that!

        To be honest, I was getting irked by the woman pastors bit here. Nowhere did I see Thom denigrate woman pastors or try to obfuscate the issue.

        I’m actually more impressed by the way Thom has been handling this and he even has apologized if you felt offended.

        Maybe some of you owe Thom an apology instead.

  • Kristyn says on

    Don’t just assume that a PK is going to rebel and move far from God. I grew up a PK and I have pride in my father who is a pastor. Everyone always told me I would rebel against his rules. Did I sin and make mistakes in my youth, but did I rebel and move away from God and the ministry? ABSOLUTELY NOT. My sister (pastor’s wife), brother (pastor) and myself (Head Deacons Wife plus all the other hats he wears) are all actively loving and serving the Lord because our family was a PASTORAL Team not just kids being forced. My parents had the same struggles on Monday that they had on Sunday. They were real and in their ability to be real we have grown to love and Serve Christ.

  • Another big point that you are missing is..
    ” Don’t expect PK’s to grow up to me ministers! ”
    I always wanted to join the Army and go to college but was ostracized because of my choices.
    Another point would be…
    ” PK’s shouldn’t be expected to be mini- pastors” I can’t tell you how many times I had to preach for youth group/ competition/ children’s church/ chapel, etc. Not to mention being called on to pray publicly or witness to a new youth. I was constantly asked to do these things when others we’re not comfortable and was expected to volunteer to do so quickly because I was a PK. because of my God given gifts and abilities, I was often able to do so but the pressure and responsibility was a lot for a child to handle. The fact that I was good at being a mini- version of my Dad resulted in me being told countless times that I was going to be a pastor or that people couldn’t wait to see what God was going to do in my ministry. Thus, I felt guilt and confusion when I decided to follow my dreams of joining the military and many in the church ostracized me for my choice indicating that I was not following God’s will. Ironically, my brother, who was pressured similarly but I don’t think to the same extent as I was due to my natural abilities, went to college with the plan of being a fire fighter and ended up accepting God’s call to be a minister.
    Overall, this is a great blog!

  • As the son of a pastor and now a pastor whose children are adults I say a hearty “Amen!” I would add “Don’t expect my children to be biblical scholars. Thats my job not theirs.”

  • Thank you for sharing this. My younger brother, sister, and I were all PK’s in a small church for about 12 years. Our church averaged 30-140 people depending on the year and season. But, it was a church made up mostly of the over retirement age. The kids program was decent sized but the youth group struggled, which of course that is also what my parents did. Every day the door was open we were there. However, the biggest struggles for me were the expectations from the chuch body. And that was very much drilled in us three kids. If the nursery worker did not show up, I did it. If a Sunday school teacher did not show up, that’s okay, Amy can do it. Oh, we forgot to get someone for special music, oh yes, Amy always has something here she can sing. If a new girl came to visit, introductions were done, and I became her best friend according to church Elders. By the time we finally changed churches and out of that ministry the damage had already been done. I just wore my smile mask anytime I might be around a church person. My sister was done with it all and still is. Before college my Brother felt called into the ministry, but dropped out of college after rememebering all we went through. When I first went to my Christian college I rebelled, but now I am working on my own relationship with Christ…but I have a lot of scary walls to take down. I want to say Kudos to those who want to protect their kids while the parent/parents are in the ministry. They can start their minisrty when they are called…and God can call anyone at any age!

    • Definitely!! My father never was a pastor, but he often said that he wanted to become one after he was finished in the Marine Corps (which created a whole different level of “you must be perfect”). My sister and I were often the only children in the building, because my dad was so highly involved that our family would arrive BEFORE anyone else (including the pastor) and we were often the last to leave. Acolyte didn’t show up? Sara will do it. Nobody in the nursery today? Sara will do it. Someone needs to clean the bathrooms because the janitor is on vacation? Sara will do it. That extended to my mom as well – if someone didn’t show up from Altar Guild or another “women’s” task, it was assumed that my mother would do it and more often than not, I would assist. Nobody ever asked, my father would notice the absence and tell us we had to do it. I was “too young” to have a voice of my own within the church, but “old enough” to do adult tasks if nobody else was there to do them. It’s a hard life for a kid, especially a young teen (this was worst when I was 12-16). In fact, due to my dad’s attitude and devotion towards the church, my sister and I were held to HIGHER expectations than the pastor’s children were. They came in after we had been members for about 2 years, and from the get-go were just “regular kids” – while we were the ones who had to be perfect. I once had someone complain to my dad and the pastor because I had inadvertently turned my back to the altar during the service while I was performing as the acolyte that day. No mention was made that the reason I turned around was that the two youngest of the pastor’s 5 kids had started fighting and the commotion had caught my (and most others’) attention. I wasn’t the only one to turn and look, but I was the only one anybody complained about that day.
      Honestly, I enjoy what goes on during a church service. I like the hymns, the ritual, even the sermon now that I’m old enough to have an understanding of it. But I have less than ZERO interest in being involved in service to the church, and avoid most church functions due to bad memories.
      Even if you’re not officially a “PK” – you can still be treated as one if your parent creates that environment around you, and then not only do you have all of the downsides of being a PK, you also do not get the support of anyone who understands, because you never were actually a PK.

  • Watch what you say in front of your kids about the pastor. The kids will often repeat or take your attitude out and throw it up at the pastor’s kids. Recently when a loved church worker quit I was blamed even though clinical depression was the issue. Health care confidential laws kept this from being shared as the reason. My kids heard a few of the parents comments which they quickly parroted and my kids overheard. Needless to say no one like to hear that their dad is a bad person, mean, chased a good person away from the church.

  • I agree with your article. For me, the thorn in my side has been who ministers to a ministers children? After a few years in a smaller church where I did tons with the church young people I asked my kids if anyone from the church reached out to them. I was clear I didn’t mean who said hi now and again but who took an active interest in their lives. Their answer…. (Drumroll)… Zero. Our kids are hardly in church and barely with Christ.

    • Agreed. My husband is a PK (we both attend and are heavily involved in his parents’ church) and I’ve had to encourage him to seek pastoring elsewhere. There’s just nobody in the church who is willing to hold him accountable.

    • Gayle Wilson says on

      Thank you Brad. My husband and I pastored for 35 years. Our Children went through many hard years. Looking back on those years I realize we made some huge mistakes with our two children. The worst was spending more time with the “church” than with them. The things that I saw them do as they hit puberty and beyond I now realize we’re their ways of trying to get attention. Unfortunately at some point they must have decided that any attention, good or bad, was better than no attention at all. Each of my children had at least one person/ persons who paid extra positive attention to them and showed them how special they were and that they had many talents that they could use to Gods glory. Those people made huge differences in my children’s lives. That’s one thing I would encourage the “Church” with. Not just PK’s, but any child who is acting out. Encourage them instead of criticizing them will make a huge difference in the way they look at church and people in the church. My two children are grown now and have children of their own. My son serves his local church in many ways. He is their worship drummer ( one of the things he became because of the encouragement he received), and a very good one if I may say so myself. My daughter is the youth Pastor in her church and does exactly what someone took the time to do for her. She encourages and promotes the youth to be all they can be, so please be an encourager.

  • I have been close to many pastors of our church and have seen the different ways their children have been raised. Many spent way to much time at church being watched by staff members or no one at all, the church became the playground for these children and it was difficult for them to know the difference between church time and play time. To be fair I have also seen these same children be held to a higher standard then other children of the same age. Its a difficult responsibility raising children. Everyone needs to vent every once in a while, will be praying for you.

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