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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  • Carrie Johnson says on

    My parents were at our church ministry for 23 years, almost 10 of them he was senior pastor, 6yrs he was the assistant pastors (but basically the pastor) before that he was a young intern (who basically ran the church) since my dad was 20 he was in charge. When he was 13 his dad was disabled and he became the man of the house and got jobs after school earning money so they could have food. He was the soul provider for his large family at 13. My father is my hero. This is to give you insight of how great of a man he is. He is probably the smartest man I know, academically he’s extremely smart. Street smart? You bet! He does the best he can in any situation, and honestly on his worst days he handles everything better then most people do on their best days. Our former church had a lot of issues and my parents and my siblings and myself included worked tirelessly to make it the best it could be! Our motto was to “Strive for excellence” to do the best we could in every area of ministry. We gave up many birthdays, games, weddings, school ceremonies, anniversaries, vacations and holidays. I’m trying to say we delicated our life in every way shape and form to serving, to our ministry. We brought the church from a dirt parking lot to a paved parking lot with lights and ramps for the handicapped, we brought security cameras and other measures to church to make people feel safe. The church went from 30 to 180. My parents never complained, they loved that life and so did we. In the beginning the church staff and deacons defended my dad when people physically tired to harm him or us (his children) we were surrounded by loyal people who loved us and who we loved. My father fought to get the church out of debt and did, because of that we built a family life center. We had a gym for men’s basketball outreach, we had a women’s basketball and volleyball outreach. A place to have church dinners inside, rather than outside. Then one day a former pastor came to our church and said he and his wife knew that because he was a former pastor most likely they would not be welcomed by other pastors at any other church, so my father prayed about it and felt that it would be fine for them to attend the church. They had given us no reason why they shouldn’t. Over the next 4 years our family grew very close, things seemed better then ever. The thing about betrayal is that it can’t come from our enemies, only the closest of our friends. In ministry it’s hard to trust anyone, or have someone who can even remotely understand the life of ministry. This former pastor was never our friend, he spent 4 years planting seeds of doubt in people’s minds and used things he had learned about us against us. But by the time we found out it was too late. He started spreading horrible rumors, some I can’t even mention without getting sick. He used personal family issues we were going through and made them public and awhole lot worse. He did things to hurt the church, he did things to hurt me and my siblings. He did his best to break up my parents marriage. Along the way the head deacon and this man were best friends and supposedly the head deacon knew nothing about all of this. Not to mention the head deacon was a male shovenist and was mean to me my siblings and my mom, but we had no other choice for a head deacon. This former pastor tried to get my dad fired from a part time job he had helping the community. It was a 2 year process of one horrible thing after another, of people betraying us and attacking us publicly and privately. The worst part was people believe these lies, if you knew my father you knew there was no way any of those things could be true. My father is not perfect, but there was no way he would do anything to hurt the church. It was our life. After everything my dad and mom did for the church, all the vacations we gave up so they could console and counsel people. All the long hours, never having a day off. They did so much without expecting anything in return. After everything people believed the worst without a second thought. deacons stoped following my fathers lead, they wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say in meetings. Everyone stopped helping out at church. This former pastor from some small town made it his goal to destroy our ministry. It was clear as long as we were there he was going to continue to attack us and the church. My father never used the pulpit to his gain or to further any agenda (as the pervious pastor of the church did) but on a Wednesday night my father got up and stated that his wife and his children were off limits. After that things seemed to settle down, but the damage had been done. The church was suffering, my parents were depressed, I was depressed. But there was no time to stop. Even depressed my father was a better man then most. He did everything in his power to get the church back on its feet putting aside his issues aside. No one cared, the deacons were against us. And this former pastor started to attack again. My father decided it was time to resign, if there was any hope for the church to start to succeed again…we had to leave. The church is in a great area and the area is about to boom. I’d waited my whole life for this moment, to where the community around us would boom and we’d be perfect situated. But we had to leave. The people who were supposed to be my family, betrayed us, they wouldn’t fight for us. So my dad made sure to leave the church in a good place financially, he made sure certain things were taken care of, to make sure this place he had served in since he was 19 would be taken care of…no matter how rude and mean people were. Possibly the worst thing in ministry is feeling the pace and heartbeat change, to not be apart of it. I was born there, there wasn’t anything I didn’t know about the place. There was no difference between me and it. Every good day it had I had. This place was my life and it no longer cared about me. After getting everything in order my father announced he was resining and would leave on a good note and help the church find a new pastor. The deacons disagreed, we left sooner then we wanted and with out severance package. The payed us for the end of the month and that was it. From that point we had no communication from anyone and my parents thought it should stay that way so we could give people time to adjust and let the new pastor come in with no complications from our end. We have faced many issues after leaving one being because my father was a former pastor people didn’t feel comterable having us in church. The irony of it. My father was the best of the best when it came to preaching. And we live in a fairly small town so I found myself always settling in every area for church. We were truly a unqiue church and there was no other place like it. I got more from a 5 min devotional I could do my self then from any church in town. They are not bad churches, I was just used to preaching that came from the Bible not people preaching there opinions. Safe to say a place that is supposed to be a sanctuary, ended up being the least safe place and burned us. The worst part is 2 years later living a different life my father had the opportunity to preach and he said it had been so long he wasn’t sure he’d be any good at it. I could bare the betrayal, I could stomach leaving, I could live with settling with a new church. But what broke me was that. My life is in now way the same, through the whole process I lost all my friends. I went into a depression I never really came out of, I started having panic attacks, i haven’t been able to get to sleep earlier then 3am in 2 years and I get up at 6. I’m not in church, because I couldn’t stomach it any more. Being able to see what others couldn’t. I tired to attend faithfully, I tired to get involved. I failed miserably. ive heard it all and seen it all. before I turned 16 I’ve had more breakdowns then most adults and either I was just that good at hiding it or no one cared. But honestly I am good at hiding my feelings and no one cares. No one cares about reaching out to former pastors family’s and helping them cope through a rough time, the one thing I could of used through everything was one place, one place that we could of been a family and where I felt safe…these articles about PKs aren’t enough. One thing I heard over and over was “Don’t be bitter” saying it is one thing, doing it is another. The only emotion I felt during all that was anger. I was hurt, I was burned, and I was alone. I say all this in hopes of inspiring someone to start a program to reach out to people in ministry. I’ve tired and got no where, then again I’m still in my teens, but I wouldnt think for a second it’s not the right time. If you look up the stats at how many pastors leave ministry each year, how many churches close, how many pks leave ministry and church all together. It’s too much, you can’t look at the numbers and tell me in good conscious it’s not time. The latest stats I’ve been able to find are from 2015 can you imagine how much worse it’s gotten since then. It well past time to do something. I agree with this article, I think it’s helpful to most people. I just think we need more. I wish to be helpful, I wish to help people who have gone through similar things.

    • Carrie, your story has riveted me to the core- Thank you. I’m a researcher and am writing a book on this very thing- Thank God for your awesome Parents. I’ve had the same thing- hurt from lies to happen and know the pain of pouring out your life to do good for others, and for them believe the enemy- Please start by forgiving those who foolishly did you wrong. As we forgive others- God can heal and set us free. My Dad used to be a Pastor. The enemy is against those who have this heritage and calling. God doesn’t want you to feel alone.

  • Taylor Minson says on

    As I read this article I felt convicted to write about my experiences in a school essay and would like too share it with other christians in to help them understand

    The Fishbowl
    “You are the preacher’s kids, you should know better than to do that,” Anyone but the preacher’s kid know the answer,” and “You’re a preacher’s kid, you have to be spiritual” are just a couple of the phrases that constantly berated me as a young child. We children of pastors live in what I refer to lovingly as “The Fishbowl.” This fishbowl represents the constant transparency that our is lives and actions. If you get a bad grade, you hear everyone talking about it. Your life is viewed the model for everyone else to strive for, and for everyone else it has to be one hundred percent perfect. You are the de facto leader of all of the church kids even though you find it hard to truly connect to any of them. Sharing your faith at school is ignored as “oh he’s overly spiritual, he’s a preacher’s kid” and at the same time they too criticize you. From the moment you are born you have a job with no title, no pay, and all of the expectations. The incredible stress of my “ responsibilities” is more of a struggle in life I can think of. Many a PK has been broken and scarred from this life.
    Not many other children can understand how one of your parents has a masters degree, works seventy to eighty hours a week (in a good week), and comes home drained emotionally, but still struggles to survive off of his paycheck. The job where there is no scheduled vacation, and where you are on call twenty-four hours of the day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. How many other professions have that kind of emotional stress?
    Not all aspects of being the son of a pastor are terrible. Being in the fishbowl taught me important values of leadership and responsibility. Moving from city to city, and school to school developed my social skills. Men from my church showed me how to live as a man when my father couldn’t be there. I even picked up a couple of instruments on the way. I believe that as a pastor’s kid I learned to appreciate the forgotten, the important people that you never notice working behind the scenes, by becoming one. Who turns on the air conditioning, unlocks the doors, takes out the trash, vacuums, and sweeps? Arguably some of the most important people in the church and do you even know their names
    In all aspects of my life I try to strive for perfection. In all of my relationships I look for a deeper connection, through my “Fishbowl” I learned how to live with Godly integrity because just as someone is always watching, He is always watching.

  • I am a PK. I am also a gay male. As you can imagine my father has nothing to do with me. He is a Free Will Baptist Minister. Back in 2014 I wrote a blog that outlined what secretly went on behind the closed doors of the Preachers House. This is infuriated my father as he had been “outed”. The amount of emotional and mental abuse we took as kids was beyond what anyone can fathom. My parents hardly ever attended my school events as church events took precedence. We NEVER took a vacation with just us as a family. It always had to include someone from our church tagging along. Being constantly shoved into the spotlight and expected to perform on command makes you feel more like a trained monkey than a kid, or even a human being. People of the church have no clue the life we are expected to live. They each try to pull the pastor in their direction to further their standing in the community, and we kids are expected to tag along for the ride. It’s miserable. I despise seeing PK’s to this day. I know their struggle and it’s all I can do not to walk up to the Preacher and say “listen if you want to be a preacher that’s your right, but think about what your doing to these kids, don’t put that church first before your kids”. I have personally struggled in my life with depression and 3 attempts at ending it. It’s a real struggle that people don’t realize.

  • Molly De Pena says on

    All of the comments have been very helpful to help me raise our PKs. We have three children and want to help them grow strong with what they were chosen to be. If you have additional advise to give me email me at [email protected]
    Thank You.

  • Maria Wilsonn says on

    I am a PK, I am only like 16, but I want to share my feelings. My father is the head pastor. He is the senior pastor. I wish to tell him and the other ministers and leaders inside the church my problems, but when I did, when I was 11, they told my dad, and he yelled at me for feeling this way! How could he do that? I love Jesus, I really do, but once I get older I am not going to stay at the same church. I don’t know where yet, but I will go to church somewhere else. My childhood is horror. I got yelled at for sleepping during service when I was 6. I told my Minister about me not likeing this certant girl, and she told my dad and he yelled at me, I hate it when Ministers say to make friends with everyone and they only talk to certant people themselves. Or they say they won’t tell anyone our feelings, when they tell my dad every little thing! I also hate it when a minister talks about and lies about me behind my back. Whenever a friend comes over, I have to warn them, my dad might yell and slap me, but he is okay. And I have to warn them not to talk about guys I like, music i listen to, or things we laugh about! I hate it and want to grow up ASAP!

  • I am a pk. I felt very alone and abanded while growing up. I felt like my parents cared more about the church than me. They would stop whatever they were doing to help one of their church members but they never stopped to ask how I was doing. I felt like I was unwanted. Like I was just another burden that got in the way of their ministry. I felt like they didn’t like who I was. I didn’t fit into their standards or expectations. I lost who I was trying to please them and I’m not sure if I’ll ever find myself again.

  • Angela Silva says on

    I feel grateful someone wrote about this topic , I am a preachers daughter. Sadly the church congregation caused so much damage looking from the outside in, that my father actually resigned and became a motorcycle preacher instead. It was meant to be, however many things said to me still haunt me. I work on my ICE WALL daily through prayer, but I have a hard time trusting outsiders after seeing the pain my family endured.

    I love the Lord and all he has done. Thank you for writing!

  • I am a PK since I was born and I have a lot of good and bitter experiences. One of the many negative experience I had is that people in the church has come up with some standards on how we PK’s should behave ourselves and we are unaware of it. The saddest part is that if we misbehave, they will blame my dad. Another thing is that, they would love to give us used things or hand me down clothes. I don’t know the reason but during those times I’m happy whenever they give me second hand things. Some of them has this idea that if you are a PK you cannot afford to buy brand new things and if ever you are being blessed by God and you buy brand new things there will be humors as to how you were able to get money to buy such things. Then one day you will hear some humors that your dad is stealing from the church treasury just to buy you anything. Come on, are we not entitled to God’s blessings? Just because my dad’s allowance is too small to afford things, whenever God blesses us there are already negative speculations. It’s so sad! But amidst those negative experiences I am so thankful that I was born a PK because as they say “PK’s are gifted people” and I would like to agree. lol! It is such a blessing. Now that I have become a Pastor’s wife, I will give my kids as much as I can, a normal way of living. Thank God because I can relate to my kids and I can guide them to enjoy life as a PK.

  • Well I’m not going to write a book like some, but I will say this. I have been a PK for seven years now, and though I am slowly learning how to not let bitterness take over, and believe me, it is hard. I mainly struggle with my parents caring more about the church/saints then they do about their family, (mainly my sister, and me.) Seems like almost everyday somebody is at our house eating supper or counseling with my parents, and at times I get sick of it. Especially with one particular person in the church that just goes overboard, (calls my parents her mom dad, etc.) Meanwhile my parents just accept it. But I am here to be an encouragement to other PK’s, DON’T give up! It’s not over yet! Don’t let anger, and bitterness guide your heart, or you will become like some who you can see by all these comment, still hold anger in your heart and cannot truly be happy with your life. Remember 2 Corinthians 12:9-10!

  • Luke Vasicek says on

    I’ve been a PK my entire life.

    My experience wasn’t too bad. We never moved and mostly people were kind–many were very, very kind. Some of the older folks could get grumpy but they were old and everything hurt.

    There were some pretty traumatic, incredibly stressful near church splits and all that. I saw it take a heavy toll on my father–lots of sleepless nights, hours and hours and hours of prayer.

    I saw it hurt my father’s health and yes, ruin many many vacations. Vacations were worthless–there was no escape from my dad’s incredible misery of being responsible for everything and in charge of nothing.

    For me, the worst part was knowing your family’s income was totally dependent on a group of sometimes awesome sometimes fickle people. There’s no stability, and we grew up pinching every penny. To this day, I find it hard to throw away a ziploc bag (we washed ours and used them for years).

    As a pastor now, I understand the constant pain. The closest thing I can describe it to is if you’ve had a boyfriend/girlflriend that you really like, and then something happens in the relationship and you’re not sure if you are together or broken up and you go away on a trip with no phone and you can’t talk and figure it out. That’s how it feels ALL THE TIME. You never know. You could upset the wrong family and *BAM* jobless.

    My advice? If God is calling you to be a pastor, do it, be ready to suffer pain you never knew existed. Have a second career in your back pocket–it will help you put your mind to rest. Protect your family–schedule one evening out of the week where you are not doing church stuff and make it a family night.

    DO NOT lose your kids to the enemy while you are at the church.

  • I grew up as a PK and my church was always a small church. It was hard for me to make friends or form relationships with people mostly because after a while you feal like if you are always walking on eggshells. My sisters where the only friends I had for a long time. As we grew older they got married and I kept waiting at my church praying that God would send the woman he has for me, since I could not leave the ministry. I am 28 years old now and I recently decided to leave the church in the hope that I can go and find my wife. Maybe she’s at another church waiting for me? My parents don’t see it this way and I think that they recent the fact that I left the church even if they dont say it. What’s worst is that I soon as I left people from the church started to criticize my parents because I left. I feal lost right now. I have spent all my life at the same church with the the same people. Am I wrong? Is it wrong for me to seek a family? I know that people think that I am wrong for leaving but what else can I do keep waiting? I tried everything online daiting, single youth camps, you name it but I has not work. I want to meet people my age travel the world and hopefully find someone that I can fall in love. Am I wrong ?

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