Of all the thousands of words that I’ve typed or written over time, these are the hardest. As I sit here looking at the glow of my computer screen and the cursor flashing at me as if to hurry what I’m not sure I’m ready to say, it’s raining a hard, steady rain. The rain seems fitting as I have cried countless tears from the clouds that have shrouded my heart for weeks now.
There’s nothing that hurts us more in life than seeing our children get hurt. There are few things that outrage me more than watching the places I have allowed my child to recognize as “safe” become volatile, toxic, or to simply disappear altogether when she needed them the most.
My kid has walked a long road with Michael and me in her short life. Many people along the way have said, “Be careful with her! She doesn’t have the same call that you have.” I simply don’t believe this is true. Will she always have this call to vocational ministry? I have no idea. That’s between her and Jesus. What I do know is that God, in his infinite wisdom with his perfectly creative hand designed her for this family with this call and his armor is on her. That being said there are also those who say, “Well, she’s called so she’s strong and can take the punches.” Maybe both sides are misguided! Maybe there’s a better understanding; a middle ground that protects her and allows her to be part of the church body without kid gloves or boxing gloves being a needed accessory.
I remember being, “just another kid” in the church and watching staff kids get extra things and perky privileges. It didn’t seem fair that every solo and every part in the church play would be offered to staff kids first and then what was left over would go to the “others.” It didn’t seem fair that pastors’ kids didn’t get in trouble for poor behavior like other kids did because leaders were afraid of reprisals. It didn’t seem fair because it wasn’t. I know what it’s like to grow up “not a staff kid.” I will never advocate for the special and full on preferential treatment of a child just because their parent has a title.
Now that I’m raising a PK (preacher’s kid), I’m an advocate for normal treatment. I’m an advocate for others to love on my kid because she matters just like every other kid. I long for mentors that she can lean on to come alongside her and help in the process of disciple making. This is something that is hard to come by especially where kid and student staff is concerned. They’re either spoiling PKs or manipulating them into carrying an unfair workload simply because their available more often.
I believe with all of my heart that there are specific mandates in scripture for the way a pastor, his wife, and his kids are to behave. These have become negotiable in many churches, but I don’t believe they were laid out as optional. I strongly believe there’s no exception to 1 Timothy 1:4-5 “He (a pastor) must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” The word respect sticks out to me here because many children in ministry do not respect their parents, the church, or themselves because rather than being taught to love God, to love his body, and to be an active part of it, they get put in a glass house to preform like circus monkeys.
PKs are often threatened with “Behave or you’ll bring shame on your parents and on your church and you could cause your parents to lose their positions.” This is horrible and it’s not anywhere near the heart of our heavenly Father nor does it come close to the context of 1 Timothy. Manipulating a child/adolescent into specific behavior is not disciple making. This tactic isn’t surprising though as a great many pastors’ manipulate their congregants in the same fashion. These mandates are heart issues not emotional issues and we are seeing a lot of preacher’s kids leaving the church at a rapid rate because they’re sick of a life of manipulation.
Think of the scenario of bloody knuckles on your kid and asking them what happened as they wash them and bandage them. How would you feel to find that an adult employee shirked their job of pulling tape off the floor and gave it to your kid after a pep talk on how they should feel blessed to serve, and all without your knowledge? Outrage? Probably. We’d all find that emotion in full force.
What about dropping your kid off to hang out with a few other students and their student pastor to come back and find that while others are hanging out, yours is sweeping the floor because, “As a pastors’ kid she should set the example of service.”
There have been countless people who have invested their time in my child when they were happy with our leadership but disappeared when they didn’t fully get their way on issues in the church. And heaven forbid when there’s a leadership change and dad gets forced out, the pastors’ kids are left grappling with why they don’t matter at all to any of the people that loved them dearly just days prior. This is a common scenario across the country.
The hardest words to hear my kid utter have been, “I hate the church!” I get it! Sometimes I hate the church too. Sometimes the church is mean, sometimes evil, and sometimes she adds a thousand burdens while refusing to carry any. But being in control of our household means that we have to sit with our kids in these times. We have to walk them through their anger and readjust their focus to see the beauty of the body that still surrounds them despite those who’ve left a putrid trail of disappointment. It’s ok for them to feel what they feel. PKs aren’t saints. They’re kids and they’re growing and falling and standing back up again as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling just like all of us.
I am indescribably thankful for the small army that has come beside me and my child to love her when she was broken and had no idea which way was up. I’m thankful for my brothers and sisters who have relentlessly shown her what the body of Christ should look like. Be that army for a PK in your life! Be a mentor and a support to a staff kid who’s working out their faith just like everyone else with the added burden of seeing, hearing, and experiencing way more than kids are ready for.
I want to leave you with the words of my kid to close out this blog. I asked her to write a few thoughts on what it is like being a PK. This is just snapshot of her journey and what she feels and battles as she grows in Christ:
“I love you. I love each and every one of you.” Those are words you might think would make you happy, make you smile, make you feel cared for. But when it’s a lie it does worse than the opposite. When your pastor says I love each and everyone one of you, you assume your included, maybe even more loved as a pastor’s kid, spending so much time at the church. I’ve heard those words a lot only to learn I was cared about conditionally. If these words were true, specific people would’ve called to make sure I was okay in a situation where there was no way I could’ve been. Teenage girls should be crying about emotions and boys, which trust me I’ve cried about plenty, but they should never be crying because they are being kicked out of their not-so-safe, safe place. Or because their leader couldn’t give a crap about them. Or because they hear terrible things about people they know in the church. Boys are way easier to get over!
Yeah, sometimes I highly dislike the church and a lot of people in the church, but I don’t dislike God. He knows what He’s doing. He taught me things I never would have learned without the pain of being a pastors’ kid. I’ve learned who truly cares and loves me, the people who make sure I’m okay. The friends who ask where I am because they miss me. They love me. And yeah, I’ve learned a lot of people never really cared despite their words, but it’s okay. They are people I do not need in my life, and not everyone needs to like me. I’ve learned everything happens for a reason, which brings me to another lesson; everything gets better. It gets even better than what you once believed to be the best.
So yeah, being a pastor’s kid sucks. But not completely. It has positive sides; a lot of them actually…sometimes you just have to squint to be able to see them. So I guess I’ve learned another lesson too, you need to find the good in everything, no matter how much you have to squint.
* Photo Credit Kim Neighbors Photography