To put it bluntly, a lot of pastors' children hate the ministry. My team interviewed 20 pastors' kids who are adults now. They provided some insights that were both inspiring and disturbing.
Children with a pastor-parent can grow to hate the ministry for many reasons, but there are five guaranteed ways you can make sure they hate being a pastor's kid (PK).
1. Put the ministry before your family.
Let's face it, ministry is demanding. Sometimes church members make you feel like you have hundreds of children to rear. It feels like neglect not to address their needs. So, you leave your own children to minister to someone else's family. After all, your family will understand your being gone "just this once."
If you have to be away, it may be beneficial to bring members of your family with you on ministry opportunities. One PK reflected on his childhood, "My father included me in everything. We would spend summers in Spain planting churches. He took me on most of his global mission endeavors as well as many of his speaking engagements. The experience with my dad made me love ministry (I am in the pastorate) and I wouldn't change my experiences for anything."
Your kids need to believe that you would rather hang out with them than with the people of the church. Children will learn to hate the ministry if you put the needs of everyone else ahead of your family's needs.
2. Tell them how much is expected of them as a pastor's kid.
"Your actions are going to ruin my ministry," a middle-aged PK woman bitterly quoted her father's oft-repeated words. Pastors can put excessive expectations on their kids because the church wrongly puts these expectations on the pastor's family. One minister's kid said, "It was VERY stressful being a PK because EVERYONE judges you differently, like you're supposed to be perfect. And then if you did mess up it was a bad reflection on Dad. We were told that by my parents often."
PK's often rebel for a number of reasons. High expectations led one PK into rebellion as he reflected back, "I felt an enormous amount of pressure to keep up appearances, something which I could not do for long. This eventually led me into a state of rebellion and anger toward my parents and people in the church."
The expectations are not limited to behavior, but also include the child's participation in church functions. The pressures on kids to help the pastor look good in front of his congregation can be overwhelming to a child. "I think my father viewed our family as the model family for the church," said one PK man in his early 20s. "So every place where volunteers were needed, his family served: weeding flower beds, singing in the choir, working VBS, or showing up for Sunday afternoon organ recitals."
3. Tell them about church conflicts as often as possible.
Ministry includes relational conflicts. Pastors will need to practice some level of transparency with their children so they won't assume Dad's and Mom's emotional upheaval is a result of the child's actions. Your children will take it very personal when you are angry.
A young man said, "Even when Dad tried to keep it just between him and Mom, you pick up on things." Try to explain to your children why you are frustrated but guard the details from them. The fact is, you will resolve most of the relational strains and will resume relationships. Be sure to tell the kids. Otherwise, they will become angry and bitter for you.
One PK explained it this way:
"The most difficult thing being a PK was watching my dad remain faithful to a church that wasn't. To see my dad as he prayed, loved, and shepherded men who stabbed him in the back was hard. It was extremely hard. By the time I left for college I was so mad at church, I would have gladly left."
Children will take up an offense for their pastor-parent and may not be mature enough to handle the complexities of relationships—especially church governance.
4. Look godlier at church than when you are at home.
Children will grow bitter about watching a parent live an insincere lifestyle. They will assume the faith was all an act, turning them away from you and the gospel (because they've not seen the real thing). One lady PK said, "He treated my mother awful. He ruled the house with an iron [fist], never was grace given. I knew most of the stories in the Bible, but I never learned from observation how to apply them to my life."
This is problematic for a pastor's family. "Dad always showed more affection to mom at church than he did anywhere else," a lady said with sadness. "Work got his best," said one young man. "Work took a lot out of him so he was very short [tempered] and easily frustrated by his kids. He had a strong devotional life but found it hard to show grace to the family while showing vast amounts of grace to the flock."
Your family needs to hear you confess your shortcomings more than anyone else. Tell them you are sorry. Ask for their forgiveness regularly and then repent from any actions that are sinful. Your child's needs from their parents are not intrinsically different from any other profession.
Integrity always matters-- but if a Christian leader is different in public than in private, the gospel is dishonored and people are eventually disillusioned. When that involves your children, expect them to walk away from the gospel—disillusioned.
5. Act more like a live-in, full-time pastor at home, rather than a parent.
Your kids need a parent, not a live-in pastor. One 22-year old PK explained it this way, "I am not a rebellious, spiteful PK because I am not really a PK. I am just a guy whose dad also happens to be a pastor. Sure, having a pastor-dad is different, but I think one of the biggest reasons PK's get so rebellious is that they don't really have a dad—they have a live-in, full-time pastor who treats his kids more like a member of his congregation."
One middle-aged PK lady pleaded with ministry parents, "Please, be a parent first to your kids and their pastor second. I don't call my father my pastor. He is simply my daddy. And I thank God for that every day."
How to help them love ministry
Not all children of pastoral parents hate the ministry. We must do what is best for their overall well-being, fight our own insecurities, and then trust the grace of God to do the rest. One well-adjusted young man encouragingly said, "Being a PK with godly and realistic parents, I've also had an example for what it looks like to love Jesus and cherish His word. The example of my parents and wonderful people in the church has encouraged me to follow Jesus because I see what He's grown in their lives, and I want that. And I want my friends to have that too."
If you have adult children who were PK's, maybe you need to go to them and ask for forgiveness. We heard from so many grown adult PK's who are hurt, bitter, angry or disillusioned. They need to hear from their parents how much they are loved in spite of all of the mistakes you made while serving in ministry.
If you are still raising your little PK's, ask the Spirit to show you where your children are adversely affected by your actions. Humbly ask their forgiveness—even if they are preschool. Then, raise a generation of PK's who see their parents in need of a Redeemer and who are resting in the grace of God more than they fear the accusations of a congregation.