Late last year The Barna Group published their findings from a study about pastors kids and whether the stereotype is, in fact true, that so many of us are prodigals. “The underlying assumption of this stereotype is that Christians believe those who’ve grown up closest to the church are the quickest to leave it,” says the article. “Are those who grow up as the children of faith workers really more inclined to “grow out” of church later in life? And is it as big of a trend as it is often perceived?”
It seems like a worthy study. Is it true that PKs really are more likely than others to leave the church? Have we earned our reputation as prodigals and rabble rousers?
The survey’s results say no. Barna found that PKs leave the church, experience periods of doubt, and abandon their Christian faith at a rate pretty equivalent to our peers. I wasn’t all that surprised at these findings. All my interactions with PKs haven’t led me to believe that our collective faith hangs in the balance and we’re at higher risk of walking away from Jesus. The problem, however, with numeric results like these is that they’re, well, numeric. They only measure data that can be put in a statistic.
In order to rightly gauge the spiritual condition of PKs one can’t ask our parents. Barna went to pastors for this information, likely because they’re a clearly defined, easily identifiable group. When looking for hard data, this makes sense. When trying to discern the soul condition of PKs it doesn’t. PKs are master suppressers, chameleons, hiders, and actors. We don’t reveal our true doubts and often we aren’t even able to express them. Many of us don’t know what we believe, but we know what we aren’t supposed to believe, and that includes doubts or rebellion. We know our parents are in the business of gospel proclamation, so if we aren’t sure about the gospel – or are sure we’re opposed to it – it’s often easiest to just keep it to ourselves. As perceptive as parents are, there is just no way they can discern the true state of a PKs heart in many cases.
One of the most significant issues PKs face is that our doubts and struggles are felt and done under duress, so even if we ask the same questions and go through the same periods of rebellion it is a different experience altogether. The pressure is profound. What a PK feels when he or she is struggling is something more pronounced than someone who isn’t under scrutiny or held to ridiculous expectations. This can’t be quantified. It isn’t a statistic. It is real, though. God’s grace saves many of us from caving to the pressure, apparently at about the same rate as all the non-PKs.
I don’t trust Pastors who speak too easily of how well their kids are doing or how the pressure doesn’t affect them. That sounds more like someone who is out of touch with his kids and doesn’t know what they’re going through. Or maybe it’s a pastor afraid to honestly admit how much his kids are struggling because he too is under immense pressure to be perfect. What I fear is that this study is skewed by the responses of such pastors.
I don’t intend to question the honesty of pastors as a whole but rather to challenge them (and everyone) to pay a little closer attention, ask a little better questions, and develop a little deeper empathy. PKs are in a unique spot, a uniquely challenging spot. And it can’t be measured by statistics.
For more thoughts on the life of a PK and the unique challenges PKs face, check out my forthcoming book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. (David C. Cook, July, 2014)