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 am a children’s pastor kid. My dad spends all day at church doing things for the kids but when he comes home he yells and sometimes pushes us around. Tonight my dad and brother were talking at the same time towards me and I said “I can’t hear both of you at the same time” so my dad flips out even though he says that to me. 1st peter 5:3 says “Don’t lord it over your people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” I was just following my dads example and he flipped out. He said “no wonder people don’t want to be around you” so I said “people want to be around me at school.” in response to that my dad pushed me backwards into the laundry room(which i can’t exit except through him) and hits the bottom of my cup making water go everywhere all the while yelling at me. He yelled at me for having my arms up in defense of myself also. I went to my room and looked for bible verses to help and the verse above popped in my head. My dad came in and told me that he forgave me and loved me. That is the only time EVER that I cry; when my dad says that he loves me after doing something like that to me. I found this site while searching for verses to help but i found none that where helpful. They were all about parents “discipling” their children. One verse I found can be summerized to “if your children don’t obey bring them outside the city and have them stoned.” What kind of right minded parent would have their children stoned? I am having suicidal thoughts because of my parents. Parents are supposed to support their children not bring them down. My self-esteem is extremely low because of them. They think that supporting a child means physical supporting the child’s need and disciplining them. Even though those things are needed they still have to emotionaly support the child. My parents do the oppisite. I started to have doubts about God because i thought “there is no way there is a loving God if a great children’s pastor emotionaly abuses his children.” I don’t doubt God anymore, instead i doubt my father. He is the only person that makes me feel unsafe around. I can defend my self against other people with the help of God but i feel helpless against my father. I will extremely lightly punch the ones I love on the shoulder like men do sometimes but i am an extremly passive person. I would not know what to do if i actually needed to forcefully protect myself against my dad. I just can’t hurt people i love nor hold grudges(i’ve tried). I apoligize for the random and long comment but i needed to get this out of my head because i spend most of the time talking to myself and playing out scenarios in my head. i don’t think i am completly sane. i need prayer and help.

    • Zach,
      I hope you get this reply. I am a preacher’s daughter. You are going to be ok. You are not insane. You are quite simply very stressed out, and for very good reason! My dad growing up was very much like yours. I was supposed to be the perfect daughter, and he had a temper that was out of control at home. His belt flew, but he never showed his love. He avoided his children unless he had a reason to ‘discipline’ and it was a very hard house to grow up in. I could never please him. It was very confusing to me.
      My dad would haul me out of the pew and take me out to the van and belt me if I spoke or giggled in the pew. This happened more Sundays than i can count. At home was more of that…and a couple of times I got smacked good in the mouth for speaking out of turn. You didn’t talk back in any way in my house.
      I walked away from God and the church for many years, but all I did was hurt myself many many times in those years. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t me. I came back to God but I still get great anxiety going to church, so I don’t go very often.
      Zach, always be true to who YOU are. No one can take that away from you unless you let them. I will be praying for you. Don’t hurt yourself because of what is going on. You are indeed special to God. I think He sometimes allows things to happen to us so that we can help others later along the way, and when we do we are so blessed.
      I am older now, in my forties. I have huge social anxiety, don’t trust people…but at the same time I do have a ministry. A quiet gift that God gave me that I feel very blessed to be able to use to help the hurting. God will not give up on you Zach. He has a plan for your life, just like he did mine. And He will fill your heart with joy, just stick with Him.

  • Christina says on

    My only hope is that one day I’ll be less bitter for all of the hell and hurt I felt growing up. It still hurts and at almost 40 years old I’m still suffering while serving faithfully and quietly in the church. Many days I feel like running away as far as possible.

  • Hecuba Stoat says on

    I’m 48 and thoroughly sick of the whole business. I honestly feel that if anyone mentions God, Jesus, church, or the Bible in my presence one more time I will start screaming. I’m sure I will find my way to a (probably liberal) church when my pastor-mother (aka the most judgmental woman in North America, who actually said she didn’t want to join Facebook because her sinful grandkids would “grieve her heart” too much) goes on to heaven where she belongs. No matter what she says about me going or not going to any church, I don’t want to hear it. I also have an ex-husband who was and is a horrific spiritual abuser.

    My mother is also a pastor’s child, and it was drilled in her from the time she could walk to make nice and dress nice and smile and show off and act super-holy for church people. I’m tired of sucking up to B*s and B*s (I know you don’t want bad language on here) who will just stab her in the back and run her out of town on a rail eventually over something stupid anyway (last time it was the food pantry), and we will have to pull her out of a crippling depression, because she has always been completely incapable of separating her personal and professional lives.

    My mother just hijacked her own 50th anniversary party being planned by her children, so that she can force us all to go to her stupid church and put on yet another fake show for people we don’t know and don’t wish to know. Her anniversary will be a big farce where she shows off her “ministry” and my poor disabled father, who is still getting dragged to her stupid church crap incessantly at the age of 73 even though he can barely walk, will be completely ignored the whole time. She has a super-sweet “pastor voice” that suggests what you are supposed to be doing instead of what you are doing (“Have you met so-and-so? She is our CHURCH TREASURER.”) I’m thinking F* you mom, and F* the church treasurer; I want to chat with my Daddy how he is getting along, but it’s all about her and her “ministry.”

    I can’t communicate with her about any of this. She just gets “grieved in her heart” and prays for me. I never, never, never want to be ANYTHING like her. Her father-pastor, by contrast, was a loving person. Is that enough feedback for you? I just want KIND children. I don’t care what they believe.

  • I’m a pastors kid and my dad works a full time job plus preaches 3 sermons a week so when he’s home he’s doing sermons or visiting church people. Most of our “family” meals are interrupted by phone calls. It feels like my parents put church before anything and that’s building a lot of resentment towards the church.

  • I ama PK, my children are Pks as well. When I grew up we were alsays in curch. It seemed every day of the week. I was never allowed to experience normal life or do anything other than go to church. My parents were good parents but they believed my place was in the House of God. That was their way of protecting me, I guess from the ills of our day. As I grew older they relaxed a little and allowed me to be social. In my day there were a lot of house parties. My dad would necessarily tell me I couldn’t go, he just told me what time to get home which was 11:00 pm. The party started at 9:00 and I had to ride the bus and the last bus would leave at 10:20. so I would go and make a big scene so everybody could see me and then I would make my escape. On Mondays everybody would be talking about how I behaved at the party not knowing I was gone shortly after I arrived. I was okay with that because it allowed me to get out some and still not have to explain to my friends why I couldn’t do certain things.
    When I became a pastor I remembered that my father always took us on nice vacations. Even though we were interrupted throughout the year, we had uninterrupted vacations. I have done the same with my kids. I felt they needed to know there was a time when they were the most important people on earth. I also set aside time to focus on my wife and attend to her needs. So when I had to be busy she knew I cared for her just like I was caring for the church. While this may seem small, I would suggest that Pastors and preachers set aside some time as often as they can to focus on their children and families.

  • I am a PK. It is torture for me…The other kids discriminate me and tell me that I don’t belong because if I am there when they do there things lightning will strike them… People judge you all the time… People expect you not to do any wrong. My neighbour who was a PK committed suicide because of the high expectation placed on him…. Sometimes I wish it was me… I consider committing suicide just to end this… I wish I was a normal child

  • As a PK, i have experienced al that in my life, the same goes for my brothers.
    Ministers always assume that thier children will turn out to be strong Christians and face all challanges, but sadly that's not the case, they hence leave them to wonder. I have seen my brothers and I suffer from addictions and I am not saying this doesn't happen else where but in my family its alarming. I for one have straggled with sexual immorality ie Masturbation, Fornication, prostitutes and porn that i used to steal frm My Elder brother who later got a beautiful baby girl that we love dearly out of wedlock. Our youngest brother is straggling with Drug, Alcohol, masturbation and he is in and out of prison. Our eldest brother committed suicide.
    I still love Jesus and i know al things known to man were made through him.
    My advice to al Ministers don't assume your children know or otherwise will follow your foot steps cause those steps are scary. Don't assume they know and follow Jesus Christ and have him in their lives. Just know this, they are confused like every other kid, take time to teach them the word as their Dad or Mum not as a minister. To al the parents Don’t be too busy for your family, your family needs you more than the world
    Please pray for my family cause i still believe in the God of Miracles. Thanks

  • I for one as the youngest of 5 pk’s will never enter a church, but I love the real God, he is with me always and comforts me and guides my every step. Most churches have completly lost their way in following the world with building funds and fake relationships. Sad, but God is real and if you listen and have no guile in your mouths he will grace you with his presence.

  • I think the pressure is a little worse when your mother is the preacher. She isn’t even a pastor, but people see her as exactly that. Every time something goes on at home, she has to link it to God or scriptures. I feel as if I can do nothing without thinking about how it would affect her and the church. Someone get me out of this nightmare!

  • i wish i was a regular child……………too much expectation cause they think we are not humans too and we dont have feelings either. It brings resentment in us as PKs………………why are these people doing that…smh i hate their ways.

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