Our oldest child had a birthday recently. She is now grown and married, with children of her own. But you just never forget the birth of your first child. I was a pastor, so can you guess where we were when my wife went into labor? At a Wednesday night church fellowship supper! If I had been paying attention, I would have realized that this event was a portent. Our children’s lives would be forever impacted — for good or ill — by the church.
Let me say at the outset that my three children are all very happy, well-adjusted adults. And allow me to also say that our kids had a wonderful experience growing up in a pastor’s home — for the most part.
But unless you have lived in a pastor’s home, you have no idea the pressures and expectations thrust upon children of clergy. I know of an instance in which a pastor’s daughter was elected president of the youth council, only to see the position go to another person “because we didn’t want to be seen as playing favorites with the PK.” Another spouse of a pastor reported that her son was taken out of a Sunday School class for misbehaving. The teacher reported, “Other boys were acting up, too, but we felt like the pastor’s son should be the example.”
One of the most common (and idiotic) mistakes occurs when a Sunday School teacher calls on the pastor’s child to give the correct Bible answer “because she probably knows this.” Listen in on nearly any clergy gathering and you will sooner or later hear someone confess, “It’s a wonder that my grown kid goes to church at all!”
I remember when one of our daughters was in college. She met a friend whose parents had just lost their jobs at a Baptist institution because of the denominational wars. Given the sudden change in family finances, would this PK be able to remain in school? Moreover, would he ever go to church again? More needs to be researched and written about children of Baptist pastors who grew up during that dark time. Beyond the stereotypical done-with-authority, done-with-institutions issues, how were Gen Xers and Millennials affected by this added conflict?
The late Calvin Miller once shared a memory of his days as a pastor. He and his family were on their way home from church on a frigid, snowy Sunday night. The business meeting had not gone well. Silence filled the car all the way into their garage. As they walked into the house, Miller’s wife turned to their young son, grabbed him and said, “If you EVER think about going into the ministry, I’ll slap you into next week!”
Yes, clergy homes can be stressful. But PKs experience many blessings and privileges as well. Our children were exposed to great music, met wonderful people and found deep friendships at church. In some ways, pastors’ children get a head start on life: difficult people do not define us; conflict is an opportunity to grow and learn. And in the best situations, clergy families develop a wonderful sense of humor, roaring with laughter in the face of life’s incongruities (such as, the deacon who didn’t believe the pastor’s child should go to the school dance, but allowed his own to attend).
For every instance in which my children were slighted, I can think of two dozen in which they were treated wonderfully. When I visited my current church as a candidate to be their pastor, our son was halfway through high school. At the beginning of a long day filled with interviews and receptions, a deacon swept in and rescued Joel. He took our son to lunch, introduced him to other youth and showed him the high school and the town.
Here’s a hint: if we really want to love our pastors, let’s do something nice and unexpected for their children. We recognize National Donut Day. Why don’t churches have a Love A PK Day? How about bumper stickers that read, I BRAKE FOR PKs? Be thoughtful. Be kind. Let pastors’ kids be kids. Don’t add to their load. They are carrying enough as it is.
Doyle Sager is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.