Seven Things We Learned from Pastors’ Kids

It was not the response to a blog post I expected. Back in June of 2013, I wrote a post speaking on behalf of pastors for their kids. I summarized seven major things pastors wanted you to know about their children. The article had a big response when it was first posted. But, for reasons I have not completely fathomed, the post went viral a few weeks ago. Now almost 200,000 views and hundreds of comments later, we can see a pretty clear picture.

You see, the majority of those who responded were pastors’ kids. So, instead of hearing from pastors about their children, we heard directly from the children themselves. Some were teenagers still living with their parents. Others were adults who grew up as PKs. All of them had pretty strong opinions.

As I read again through the plethora of comments, I developed seven major themes from these PKs. Not all of their comments were negative, but a majority did communicate some level of pain. Here is what they said:

  1. The glass house is a reality. People are always looking at the PKs. They have trouble saying or doing anything without someone, usually a church member, making a comment. Most of these PKs (and former PKs) felt a great deal of discomfort living in the glass house. Some even expressed bitterness.
  2. Some church members made a positive and lasting impression on PKs. One of the more frequent positive comments we heard were about the church members who loved and cared for the PKs. Many of them took the children under the wings and made a positive difference in their lives.
  3. Some church members were jerks to the PKs. Many of the stories are heartbreaking. It is really hard to imagine some of the awful words that were said to the PKs. Some still feel the sting of those words decades later.
  4. Many PKs resent the interrupted meals and vacations. They felt like their pastor parent put the church before the family. One PK, now an adult, lamented that every vacation his family took was interrupted; and many times the vacation was truncated.
  5. Some of the PKs have very positive memories when their parents included them in the ministry. I read comments about hospital visits, nursing home visits, and ministry in the community. These PKs absolutely loved doing ministry with mom and dad. They felt like the church ministry was something the whole family did.
  6. A key cry from the PKs was: “Let me be a regular kid.” A number of the PKs expressed pain from the high expectations placed upon them by both their parents and church members. Others said that some church members expected them to behave badly because that’s just what PKs do.
  7. Some PKs left the church for good because of their negative experiences. They viewed local congregations as a place for judgmental Christians who are the worst of hypocrites. They have no desire ever to return. You can feel the resentment and pain in their comments. Their hurt is palpable.

On the one hand, I feel badly for the opening of wounds that blog post caused. On the other hand, I am grateful for the forum it allowed for many of the PKs to express themselves.

If you are a PK, do you identify with these comments? How do the rest of you react to their hopes and hurts?

photo credit: Joe Thorn via photopin cc

Posted on January 8, 2014

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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  • I was abused by both my parents. My dad put other people first. He put the church first. He never tried to have a relationship with me and only liked one of my siblings because they were the only one who kept being a Christian and fell into the cookie cutter mold of what my parents found acceptable. It’s really sad honestly. I have recently found out the horrors my other siblings have endured and realized that I was not alone in how I was feeling. However, I lived with them the longest and I got the most abuse. I tried to kill myself several times when I was younger because it was obvious that my parents didn’t love me. I blamed myself for so long until I went to therapy and worked through the trauma. I’ll be in therapy for the rest of my life.

  • Preacher’s kids are slaves. This is the reality and people do not speak on it in that way. I was removed from my church as a child. I pay for it in poverty and homelessness as an adult and no Christian finding me a legitimate christian who was destroyed by the church. The list of grievances a pk goes through is a far more egregious list than anything ever printed about us. The truth is the congregations hold all the power for how we get treated..and we will never be recognized as slaves until christians and nonchristians acknowledge the church as a slave driving force that uses pls to make the church and pastors look legitimate.

  • Shining Star says on

    From my observation of over 60 years, I have felt great compassion for PK’s. The one common denomination I have witnessed when kids struggle, is when the PK parents basically leave the kids alone to be at every church function, always placing those functions ahead of their children. So the communication level stops because the parents are not there for their children. The kids are lonely and it moves right on into adulthood. I so appreciate the PK parents who take family time and do not allow anything to take away from that time. Adolescence is hard enough, without trying to navigate through it without parents placing their children in God’s order. God first, spouses second, children next, then so forth. There are many pastors who raised wonderful children without the additional struggle. But so many more who place church activities ahead of their children and of course it not only hurts, but has a very negative effect.

  • Drummer23 says on

    Being a PK is a bitter sweet feeling… being part of the ministry is a blessing itself… but there’s always the flip side of the coin…. my issue was with my parents… congregation well you’ll always have people that like you and hate you … but eventually the haters will start to like you When they get to really really know who you are as a person…

    My issue again was with my parents… who were taught in the old Penecostal ways… Were there more concerned about your appearance than your own salvation in Christ… calling people out from the alter… favoritism among families and more if your the same race as the pastor… my dad was in the military… so you can imagine the type of pastor he was…. but he had a good heart … at times … Mom… omg … very Judgmental towards people…. she also had her favorites… the ones that were on her side… but yet … she always felt that she didn’t have a voice in the church…. my brothers … well one of them is a Pastor in another state… totally different from what my dad is… Thank God… hints the reason why he has 2 churches …

    But once I got involved more in the ministry… I started to notice things I didn’t like … just felt in my spirit that it was wrong…. to make a long story short I decided to move on …went to another church but I felt more better… and I don’t have that family stress I didn’t have that feeling that I had to be like them or treat people like they do I just had to MoveOn but what I took with me was the teachings that my parents gave me to always seek God above all To trust God…. at the moment I haven’t seen my parents in months….or my other brother whom we also had an issue with because of his wife my sister n law .. who at the time we’re leaders of our youth …. but can’t say sorry when they are wrong…. sign of weakness… something they both picked up from my Dad and mom….

    Yeah … PK sucks!!!! I always wondered why PK kids never attend there own parents church…. use to think that it was the congregation … but I’ve learned that if you treat people good and respect them for who they are!!!! Man it goes along ways…… so yeah… if your a PK and your reading my 1/2 life PK story… hang in there… and when the train appears to move on……. do it…. The Bible says that even if your mother and father leave you …Christ will still pick you up and he will never for sake you…

    • They didn’t leave you did this new generation sucks. Think they know Eveything especially this evolution church mess, where is the holy spirit. Parents are an asset not trash, just remember who have you your start.

  • Being a pk is horrible. You never lose the scars that were created by the church. The church scars us all horribly.
    The church people are beyond mean. The sad part is they don’t even realise it. The things I’ve heard from them would make Jesus break into tears. You get where I got and still am I greatly hate religion. Sure their are happy times but I don’t know if it ever makes up for the heartbreaking times. My dad who loved us greatly put the churches needs above ours every time. We couldn’t say this or do this s because we may offend so and so. And his favourite bible verse where if it offends are brother we shouldn’t do it.
    Still to this day I hate the church. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate Jesus , I just hate the church. They act like a bunch of pharassis In the Bible.

    If you are a church member reading this; show your pastor family love. Do something extra special. It might not mean much to you but it will mean everything to the pastors kids. They will see you do care about our mom and dad. We know they are great but we need other people to show us you think the same . Give us loads of grace and patience . We are human and we fail everyday, we have allot of painful scars from the ministry. We hurt allot, we are broken people just trying to get by somehow.

  • I have mixed feelings about being a PK. One thing that should be mentioned is being resented by other children. My sister told me how girls would tell her, “I hate you because my mom always talks about how perfect you are.”

  • Lisa A Simon says on

    My name is Lisa. I have just begun writing a book about my experience. Both my parents are abusive and cruel people. Because my dad is a preacher, not only did the physical, verbal, and spiritual abuse affect me as a person but also as a potential child of God. They are both very different in front of most people than in the home. In addition, they are both absolutely confident that they are the closest people to God.
    My view of of Holy God became skewed in two ways: I believe that I was born to burn-a person who was born evil. Further, I believed God and Satan had the same agenda-to harm human beings.
    To this date, both do not see that arrogance, cruelty, pride, deceit, and maliciousness are wrong coming from them. Yet, a person who drinks alcohol is doomed.
    While I cannot say that I understand why chastisement has not been rendered or why the truth about them has not been shouted from the roof tops, I have come to understand who God is-Beautiful, holy, kind, merciful and loving. Likewise, I was not born to burn or born an enemy of God’s.
    Such thoughts were unimaginable to me not so long ago.
    As for growing up in church, I have come to believe that “few there be that find the Way” most definitely applies to most church people. Yet, I saw genuine dedication to God as well.
    Our house was like a hotel and we did not exist outside the “tithers” wishes. My experience is somewhat different that what this post seems to be about in that my experience was not only that of a PK but also of an abusive preacher for a dad.

    • Pam Benson says on

      Lisa, my heart hurts for all that you’ve been through. As a researcher… I have written a book on why our culture is in the condition it’s in & throughout history: God always points to the Pastors and Priests. The way that they are personally treating His Presence- always affects the way they personally treat others- Please forgive them- so God can heal you. In knowing Him and His track record in my life- He’s not the one doing us wrong- Please forgive me- I’m working to finish this project to expose where The Lord says the Pastors need to return to. As we Forgive others, we can stay forgiven & as we do good to those who have wronged us, we can stay free & are no longer a victim of the pain they’ve inflicted- Thank God for your life and honesty that will help others with what you’ve survived. Stay strong- The Lord has a powerful purpose for you.

  • anonymouse says on

    I like churches and the charity/kind acts they do.

    However, my parent is a part-time music minister. And I can’t help but feel like religion– or at least my parent’s “job” — stole our family in a way. My parent would do all the favors for their friends regardless of if they were on church staff or not.

    We ALWAYS miss out on family time, and always have. Their friends and church members trump family time 24/7/365. I’m lucky if I got a few afternoons a YEAR of quality time with this parent. A YEAR.

    As an adult, I talk to this parent on the phone maybe a few 10 minute calls a year. We’re not close. Never have been close, never will be close. And that sucks.

    This parent wants to save the world– but can’t spend an evening with their own family. My family.

    I suppose a secular job, or a secular charity job, could have the same effect on my family as their church job. It just sucks.

    I have not set foot in church in years, other than at my family’s church once a year when I visit them. I don’t intend to. I’m not athiest, just agnostic.

    Seeing my family try to save the world, but disregard getting to actually know me the past 30+ years, breaks my heart. And makes me very uninterested in religion.

    I choose family and family time. I also don’t even want to have kids ever as my own kids wouldn’t get to know their own grandparents… all because their grandparents are afraid to ever disappoint their friends.

    I would understand missing occasional family time for “serious” problems. However, my family cancels family time (the rare occasion we ever tried to spend an evening together) because their friend is bored (again), wants their homework proof-read, wants to talk about breaking up with their girlfriend for the third time this week, or whatever other trivial issues.

    I’ve always been alone in my own pain, because my family has always chosen religion over family. And they’ve always chosen friends over family.

    I’m glad my family “helps” people. But they also help people become co-dependent on them, which I don’t consider to be “helping.”

    I’m glad my family does good for people. But I’m sad any kids I would have would miss out on family.

    I’m sad I didn’t get a family growing up… or now.

    My family has never known hardly anything about me. I fought depression for many years, even suicidal thoughts. I faced health scares, educational problems, depression, financial ruin, and hearbreak alone. Time and time again.

    Now they wonder why I don’t need them. It’s because I never had them.

    • Captain Cassidy says on

      My heart goes out to you, anonymouse. You deserved so much better, so much more, than parents who put their pretendy games ahead of their own flesh and blood. They needed to be there for you FIRST, and they weren’t. I’m so sorry. I cannot blame you at all for deciding to steer clear of the religion they pursued at cost of their children. I heartily encourage you not to allow recruitment-minded Christians to try to guilt or shame you into second-guessing that self-preservational instinct. They did absolutely nothing to protect you when you needed it most, and neither apparently did their god. Whatever hand-waving they do about it now, the facts remain where they are. If you don’t look out for yourself, they sure won’t. You are under no obligation to “give Christianity another chance.” They only talk like this because it’d super help them out if you would, not because it’d be good for YOU to do it. Hopefully nobody around you is that kind of crass and opportunistic!

      Your story is really the ultimate lesson of PKs. The most hurting and broken-hearted ex-Christians I know are PKs (and the closely-related missionary kids, or mish kids, or MKs). Absolutely nothing reveals the completely hollow, dark underbelly of Christianity like how Christians treat the most vulnerable among them.

      Somehow “Jesus” never tells these supposedly divine-spirit-filled pastors who pray constantly for everything, including where to eat lunch each day sometimes, that their children really need them. It is the WEIRDEST thing!

  • I’d to like to point out, as a PK, it was equally hard seeing my mother lose her HUSBAND to the church.
    When my dad has to defend the church over her.. I see it. I see it …slowly but surely tearing her apart.

    That stupid bible verse that says “if anyone loves their parents, sons, daughters, more than me, is not worthy of me” …. was taken too literally.
    It does not mean, DON’T love them.

    I’m so tired of knowing everything, yet not truly knowing anything. Being mistaken for someone “who should know better by now”.
    I’m no different than that awkward newcomer in the back row….

    I no longer get “moved” by sermons. Because every advice you give me… I’ve heard it before. I’ve actually heard a better answer than you’re trying to give me mr. church member.
    I already know what example you’re trying to utter 5 words into your speech.
    I wish I didn’t know.
    Or rather, I wish I only knew just as much as I believe.
    so that at least, when I’m ready… I can hear that newness advice and be moved.

    • That’s so interesting J.S. I too got sick of all the words…the perfect theology…and the judgement and inaction that seemed to accompany it. I decided it was better to put one thing into practice than to have more and more knowledge. I ask God to guide my heart and then do what He puts in front of me. He teaches me as I go

  • I am a 16 year old pastor’s kid. I’ve read a lot of comments and stories about the really hard parts of being a pastor’s kid. Sadly many of them are very true and relatable. As a pastor’s kid, you see the worst of people sometimes. I have several younger siblings and as the oldest I’m the babysitter. As a pk I am called upon at all hours to watch the kids while my parents make secret visits at any time. One of the hardest parts is not knowing what is going on. The older I get the less I want to know what is happening because time and time again I learn things about people I wish I didn’t know. There are undeniable hard times.
    Because of all this, its easy to overlook the blessings. Although you often see the worst in people, sometimes you also see the best. You see the people who help your parents throughout the week. You see people who mow the lawn without asking anything in return. People who drop off cookies when someone at your house is sick, people who see you as the normal kid you are. As a pastor’s kid you get to be a blessing to people. Visiting people in the nursing home and hospital you get the opportunity you light up their day. You learn from an early age how to interact with people and how to serve. Even if I never end up in ministry, I will always be looking out for my pastor and his family.
    I don’t want to be bitter and distrustful of people because of the bad that I see. I want to focus on the genuine people who make it worth it. I want to focus on what this way of life is teaching me. And being a pastors kid is certainly a way of life.

  • I am a PK. I always put in my mind that this can be a blessing to me and to the people or a burden for me and to other people. And by God’s grace, I decided that this will be a blessing. True, being a Pastor’s kid is not easy but it is because Satan is trying us! We are children of pastors, a pillar of the church, a leader of God’s people, God’s shepherd for his church… With all these, it is impossible for the enemy to NOT discourage us. But praise God! We have someone greater than the enemy. I have my fair share of experiences too and it hard, sometimes I get discouraged BUT to all PKs, let us keep in mind that we are suppose to look to Christ… It is God’s standard not man’s standard. If we look to man’s standard then it will be a burden. The reason for feeling different is because we are peculiar. But not only us, but ALL God’s children are 🙂 actually we are blessed for having the opportunity to minister. With God’s grace, may we be a blessing

  • I had such a bad experience as a PK, I still cannot put into words the awful pain, and hurt, I had to endure.

    • Hi Michael

      I feel the same way. Sad part is I have only came to this realization now at the age of 38. I am going through so much hurt at this moment. We as pastors kids go through changes and then we get told “don’t push God away. Really..
      I feel that the church puts alot under the carpet…

      I will share my story very soon.

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