The following quotes are the ones I see as most indicative of the message and tone of my book, The Pastor’s Kid: What It’s Like and How to Help. I hope some of them pique your interest, strike a nerve, or rattle your brain and heart a bit.
The life of a PK is complex, occasionally messy, often frustrating, and sometimes downright maddening. It can be a curse and a bane. But being a PK can also be a profound blessing and provide wonderful grounding for a godly life. Often the greatest challenges are the greatest grounding and the biggest falls are the best blessings. This polarity exemplifies the challenge it is to be a PK.
The congregation has more responsibility than it knows to care for and ease the burden of the pastor and his family.
A child doesn’t know the call of his pastor father. All he knows is the effects it has on his life. He doesn’t feel moved to ministry, because he’s not. Yes, it is the call of the child to honor his parents, but that is not the same as a call to vocational ministry.
A PK might hear ten comments or questions on a Sunday from ten different people, each of whom has no intention whatsoever of prodding or snooping. Even the sheer number of people who greet the PK by name is constricting. It all adds up to a feeling of being watched. And watched is what PKs so often do feel, all the time, in everything. It is life in a fishbowl, exposed, on display.
PKs want to be known, not just known of.
We don’t gain relationship with God by osmosis from our dads, regardless of their scriptural studies or dynamic preaching. Our moms’ faithful service can’t do a thing to wash away our sins. No, we need to get to know Jesus and be won by Him.
God’s grace is very big, and there are numerous ministry families that are healthy. But this cannot be assumed. Ministry is a burden on families, one that is worth bearing for many, but a burden nonetheless.
Often the church is not a safe place to have doubts, or at least it doesn’t feel safe.
There is a huge difference between knowledge of biblical facts and confidence in biblical reality.
So often we assume a person has leadership qualities because of the family name or the good looks or the booming voice.
Legalism creates false expectations. It is a false standard of holiness based on some extrabiblical standard, some man-made understanding of morality.
Legalism creates more than just an inability to reach the moral standard. It creates an inability to even figure out what that standard is because it breeds hypocrisy.
There is a straightforward, blunt, in-your-face expectation that PKs will behave “better” than our peers. We will have inherently better judgment, avoid temptations common to our age and gender, express none of our baser thoughts or feelings, and generally reflect positively on our parents and their position. Which is total nonsense.
We don’t drink, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do. Alcohol is of the Devil. TV rots your brain. Dating is bad, so you should only court—or better yet, have an arranged marriage. Smoking will not only kill you, it will send you to hell. Tattoos are evil. Syncopated rhythm is the gateway for the Devil to enter your body and make you move in sensual ways. If Jesus comes back while you’re watching an R-rated movie, He’ll leave you behind.
Few people can do hypocrisy more smoothly than a PK. On the outside he is devout, polite, and involved. On the inside he is cold, angry, and detached. Or maybe he is simply confused.
I spent all those years knowing all the right answers about everything, convincing everyone I was all good. But at no point did I know what I believed. I knew answers, but not reality. I knew cognitive truth, but not experiential truth.
It is only grace that has restored me. It was the awful power of God’s grace that peeled back layer after layer of hypocrisy, my onion self, to expose my heart to what I knew answers about but truly needed to believe.
A more important identity question faces PKs than “Who am I?” and that is “Who is Jesus?”
Being around Jesus-related teaching, literature, and events all the time makes Jesus rote in the minds and hearts of PKs. Rote is mundane. When Jesus becomes mundane, He ceases being life-changing and life-giving.
Jesus is Dad’s boss. Jesus is the job. Jesus is boring. Jesus is all seriousness and no fun. Jesus is judgmental. Jesus is a religious blowhard. Jesus is legalistic. Jesus is a soft-spoken wimp. Jesus cares about poor people and despises the rich. Jesus cares about rich people and ignores the poor. Jesus is a hard-line teacher with no room for questions or doubts. Jesus is white. And so on. Every one of these descriptions is a reflection of a church culture or a caricature of a single aspect of who Jesus is. But none of them is Jesus.
Dads put on a good face, but most of us spend most of the time scrambling to figure out what it means to be a good father. Without grace from both God and our families, we would be lost.
What the PK needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins.
Shame is guilt compounded so many times over that it becomes unbearable and begins to shape us. It is guilt as an identity, the feeling that I am bad because of all the things I have done.
Sin turns everything on its head; it makes truth look like a lie and makes lies look appealing.
Even as Jesus showed such mercy to the dregs of society, He was hard on one set: the self-righteous prigs who burdened others and withheld grace. These were the people who made it harder for others to draw near to God or know Him.
Christianity is full of mystery and unknown depths because God is deeply mysterious. That’s why this faith is so amazing. If everything can be explained in clear terms, the impression the PK is given is that Christianity is a nicely buttoned-up, black-and-white construct.
Partial forgiveness is not forgiveness at all. In fact, that’s a nonsense phrase because partial forgiveness is false forgiveness.
The pressure of keeping my father in his job by being “submissive” is not something that makes me (or any other PK) want to follow Jesus. The tacit reminder that our rebellion may cost Dad his job is not an expression of grace leading to repentance and restoration. It is a cause for resentment.
Jesus’s grace was so profound that it unlocked hearts, evicted evil, and won sinners to Him time and again.
Jesus walked every mile He has asked me to walk.
Pastors, your children need a parent, not a pastor. They don’t need you to bring the expectations of your job into the home.
I believe in callings. I believe God pulls people toward particular positions and occupations. I do not, however, believe that the pastoral calling is a higher calling than any other. Unique? Yes. But not higher.
Sermons at home are even less effective for PKs than those from the pulpit.
We don’t need a prefab faith but rather the learning and materials to build a strong faith in any context.
The pastor needs to be a parent at all times—in the pulpit, the board room, the office, at the Little League diamond, the dinner table, and his kids’ bedsides. His church and his family both need to see his devotion to parenting, to family.
The church must create an expectation of acceptance. Accept that the pastor is finite and fallible. Accept that he makes mistakes, and accept his admittance of making them. Accept that he does not have time for everyone and he never will. Accept that his family is more important to him than the church members.