I’m called to pastor. Two little redheaded girls refer to me as “Daddy.” So, as you can imagine, my interest in the impact church life has on PKs is personal. I grew up with nobody really watching; they’re growing up with many more eyes following them around, even though their dad is still just training.
Recently, Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, experienced an avalanche of comments from PKs on what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of the church. While reading through them, he found seven major themes that expressed the burden that comes with being the son or daughter of a pastor:
“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.”
As someone in the quasi-world of not-quite-pastoring yet, I’m able to see the effect of expectations from both sides. Rainer’s list reminds me that I have a chance to impact my pastor’s children for good (or not) when I’m teaching them or simply letting them be kids. It’s very easy to expect more from them than the children of any other Christian. But all Christian parents are called to teach their kids the way they should go—and to have grace for them when they inevitably mess up.
Dr. James Emery White also addressed this topic when discussing ways that we can appreciate our pastors:
“5. Don’t ask the pastor’s spouse to be anything but the pastor’s spouse. They are not automatically you’re children’s ministry leader, choir member, hospitality director or anything else. Your church isn’t getting a “two-for-one” special with the pastor’s spouse. Just let them be who they are – the pastor’s spouse – who will be as involved with the church as any other member, following their gifts and passions. My wife does happen to lead our children’s ministry, but it’s her calling, not the church’s expectation. And while we’re on family, don’t treat PKs (pastor’s kids) like PKs. They have enough of a fishbowl existence without a set of expectations placed on them to be perfectly groomed, super involved in youth ministry, and the high school valedictorian. It’s appropriate to expect your pastor to be a committed parent and to raise their children conscientiously, but don’t put any more demands on their kids than you would anyone else’s.”
How about you? What are your thoughts on this list from PKs? If you are a PK, how did church life impact you?
John UpChurch is the senior editor of BibleStudyTools.com and Jesus.org. You’ll usually find him downing coffee at his standing desk (like a boss).