[Note: This post is born out of the ministry in general. It is not a reflection of my personal struggle directly. Only indirectly as a father of 8 wonderful children.-JL]
We’ve all heard the stories of pastor’s children walking away from the faith. I remember reading a true story many years ago of a pastor sitting in his car, weeping for his 17-year-old son. This man was the pastor of a very large Baptist congregation in the mid-west. The congregation had grown from 120 souls to over 1100 in just under a decade. The congregation has just moved into a multi-million dollar facility, and as a gift, they gave the minister the new parsonage, title and all, as a thank you gift. The pastor himself was a charismatic personality, who’s excitement for the gospel often spilled over into the congregation. They had new programs, many church leaders, and a passion for the lost that few churches possessed. Outwardly speaking, this pastor had every reason to rejoice. But there he sat, weeping for his wayward son. He later confessed, “I would trade every trapping of my success for an opportunity to live my life over again. I would have spend more time with my children.” His children were now all grown, and almost all of them had left the God of their father. This story could be told countless times over in other towns and cities all over North America.
We all know that Pastor’s Kids (PK’s) are sinners like everybody else. We know as well that the child that leaves the faith, while surprising us, does not surprise God. Yet we cannot minimize the fact that there are often human elements that can be pointed to that, from our lateral perspective, have contributed to this sad event. As a father of 8, two of them now teenagers, I often stare at them, wondering what I can do to minimize the potential of this ever happening to us. First I can pray for them, pleading the promises of the gospel. I can be faithful in family worship, teaching their hearts and minds about sin, repentance and faith. But is there more that can be done? What contributes to some defections in PK’s. Here are my thoughts.
On a Pedestal
The truth is, when others sin, they are often forgiven of those sins. But when a PK sins, that sin may be forgiven, but seldom forgotten. PK’s live in a glass house with their parents. Everything that is said or done in that home becomes the talk of the church. Expectations are very high for PK’s because their father is the spiritual leader of the congregation. Many people even subconsciously view PK’s as an extension of the pastor himself, and therefore must be an example for all the congregation. This places incredible pressure on the PK. In many cases they are denied the right to be normal. So the reaction of the PK is often to resent the “perfection mentality”, and rebel against it in many outward ways. This is especially true for sons. The desire to be distinct from the identity of the father often propels the PK in the wrong direction.
PK’s need to be given the freedom to be kids. We cannot ever excuse sin in our children, but PK’s need the same range of grace that all other children enjoy. Some would say we need to lower out expectations. I rather think we need to have realistic expectations.
1.Never place higher expectations on a PK than you do for your own children. This is a good rule of thumb.
2.Go out of your way to communicate these realistic expectations to the PK’s. It will lessen the inherent pressure of being a pastor’s kid.
3.Don’t ask a PK son if he is going to be a preacher like his father, or a daughter if she is going to marry a preacher. You might not like the answer.
No Ear, No Time
Pastors are men who preach, and listen. Yet often while spending large amounts of time listening to others they do not listen very well at home. The bitter feeling often arises that “I am unimportant to my dad.” Or, “These people dominate so much of my father’s time he has no time for us.” The resentment is often directed at the church, not at the father. Again, resentment grows in the PK because there is no distinction between church and family, “our time” with dad, and “the church’s time” with pastor. Often, almost invariably, family time is stolen by the needs of the congregation and the family is expected to pick up the slack.
1.Pastors should have one day set aside exclusively for his family, the only exceptions being real emergencies (i.e., hospitalization or death).
2.A pastor should take at least 3 weeks off a year and NOT preach elsewhere. He should be with his family in the pew, going fishing, hiking, and spending time just being dad.
3.Elders should monitor this closely, and make every effort to protect the pastor’s time with the family.
My Dad is Stressed
Nothing discourages the PK more about the church than the toll problems can take on the father. Kids see this almost as clearly as the mother, and far clearer than the congregation. “If this is what a church is, then I don’t want to be a part of one”, is often the mentality. More children have been turned off from church because of incidentals that have dominated his time. The pastor has enough on his plate caring for the spiritual wellbeing of the church. He does not need to be brought into silly debates like the speed of the organ or how loud it is, how the offering is taken, or which kids are running around after the service. It is amazing how many times people think that the pastor is the complaint department of the congregation. This, in part are what ruling elders are for.
1.Only come to the pastor with spiritual problems. Never go to him thinking he is the umpire for every problem in the church. This adds to his stress level and has an adverse effect on the children.
Note to Pastor’s
Our family is a flock within a flock. Our first calling is to be the priest of our home, and care for the souls given to us. Congregations come and go, but our families will remain. 1 Timothy 3:4,5 says that one mark of an elder (also pastor) is that he “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).”
Take the same care for the souls of your children as you do for your larger flock. Parents are often the instrument by which a child is brought to saving faith in Christ. Listen to your children, take time for them. And when you see that your time is being dominated inordinately by outside things, speak to your elders and cut back. We can not save our children, but we can certainly reduce the number of outside influences that may impact our children’s view of the Church.
Above all, pray for your children, as I know you do. But more than this, show them that you also are a sinner in need of grace, imperfect, looking to Christ as the author and finisher of your own faith.