Insights from a PK

I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t raise their eyebrows when I mention that I am a PK. (PK is short for Pastor’s Kid).  We PKs have a real reputation.  I know a lot of MKs, too (MK is short for Missionary’s Kids).  MKs don’t get as bad a rap, but they get their own abbreviation, so they must be special, too.  I’ve never heard of a TK (Teachers Kid), or BK (Businessperson’s Kid), so there must be something that makes those of us kids whose parents are in full-time ministry noteworthy.

I am a pastor’s kid who became a pastor’s wife, who became a missionary’s kid as an adult, who became a missionary’s wife after that (same husband, new profession).  So that makes me a PK, PW, MK, MW.  If I put all of those after my signature line I would surely get a brilliant job offer.

Allison M. Buzard, MSW, PK, PW, MK, MW

While those credentials don’t come from toil over textbooks and large school bills, they come with a cost.  Being a family member of someone in full-time vocational ministry is hard.  When God calls someone into ministry, God calls their whole family.  That can be especially hard on kids, because they don’t get a choice in the matter. 

Every church is different, but I know that a lot of PKs feel like they are in a fishbowl.  Often, the smaller the church, the greater the pressure.  There are a lot of eyes watching, a lot of not-so subtle whispers uttered, a lot of eyebrows raised at hemlines, gum-chewing, word choices… which is why, at some point, a lot of pastor’s kids get frustrated and rebel.  Eventually, a lot of pastor’s kids leave the churches that have hurt them and even their faith behind. 

Some of my MK friends have come out of their childhood with scars, too.  Many were sent to boarding school at a young age, and had the scripture quoted at them by their parents that you have to “hate your family to follow Christ” (Luke 14:26).  That’s hard to comprehend at age nine.  Some of my MK friends moved from stateside to international to stateside and back and the yoyo effect never allowed them to be a “normal” kid in any context, or to feel comfortable in any culture.

Not all of my PK and MK friends are jacked up or hate the church.  But some are.  I came out of my childhood ok enough to agree to marry a pastor, still believing in Jesus, and still believing the Church is God’s best tool to heal the world, so there’s some hope, right?

A few months ago, my pastor and I were chatting and he asked me about my experiences as a pastor’s kid.  He asked me what he could do to make sure his kids came out of their formative years still loving Jesus and still having hope for the church.  I wasn’t prepared for that question; no one had ever asked me that before.  So, it’s taken months to sift through my thoughts, but for him and for all of my friends who are parents and who are in full-time vocational ministry whether at a church, or in an inner-city ministry, or at an overseas ministry, here’s my advice:

1.  Acknowledge that your calling affects your kids.  Don’t go all “tough guy/gal” on the issue and quote scriptures at the issue.  Jesus called you.  You were obedient.  Sometimes your kids will hate it.  Listen to them.  Don’t get them pat answers.  Cry when they cry.  Get mad when they get mad.  Being compassionate to the difficult plight of your child doesn’t mean you’re being any less obedient to your calling.  Sometimes your calling makes you cry, too.  Don’t forget that when your kids come to you.

2.  Pray for wisdomPray for your kids.  Pray for your spouse.  Make sure that you are really hearing God about your calling, and where you are to live, and how that will affect your family.  Beg with God and wrestle with God.  Make sure you can go to bed knowing that you heard clearly that you are taking your family into risky territory but that you know that He has called you.  That assurance will make the tough days ok.

3.  Defend your kids.  Don’t ever let the opinions of your parishioners or community members affect your view of your kids.  Who the heck cares if your kid was chewing gum in church?  One of the worst things you can do to your kids is to say, “Ms. Patterson mentioned to me that your skirt was a little short today and she’s right.  You can’t wear that anymore…”  You get the picture.  You are your kids parent, not all of your parishioners.  Defend your kids to the complainers and don’t tell your kids that they were complained about.  Learning that destructive information during formative years affects kids views of the Church for a lifetime.

4.  Protect your kids.  Your workplace is their house of worship.  It’s where they are learning about their faith, and they are forming their opinions about Christian community.  They have ears like rabbits.  They listen when you and your spouse are talking in hushed tones about Mr. Smith’s affair and the elder board’s decision to fire your youth pastor because he chose to show that movie at the lock in.  Do not let them hear that stuff.  It will damage their view of the Church and it will put them in a weird spot with their peers. 

Ministry is a lonely place, but your kids are not appropriate confidants.  If you need to confide in your spouse (and you will) about the really hard stuff, do it while your kids are not at home, or go for a walk.  Don’t leave a chance that they could overhear things about other church members, especially the stuff about church members complaining about you.  They love you (even when they are teenagers and they pretend they don’t).  When they find out about the trouble stirrers, they start to hate the Church. 

5.  Seek out mentors for your kids that are not you.  Most kids (whose parents are Christians) learn about Jesus at home, and then also at church from a pastor or youth pastor.  You are all of that rolled up into one ball.  Your kids love you, and they will learn oodles from you, but they need to have a mentor who can answer their tough questions and speak truth into them.  They need a second source, outside of the family, like “regular” kids do.

6.  Be Normal.  No seriously, sometimes people in ministry can be weird.  Being a Christ-follower makes you different, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.  In fact, those outside of the Christian faith appreciate seeing you as a normal family.  Don’t prioritize faith-based activities over your kids’ sporting activities.  Don’t let fear of seeing a fellow church-member keep you from taking your teenager to see a PG13 movie in the theaters.  Don’t get weird about letting your kids be kids.  Yes, teach them morals, shelter them appropriately, but be pesudo-normal.

I know this list isn’t complete.  Pastor’s Kids and Missionary Kids, what did I miss?  What advice would you give to those in ministry about protecting their kids?

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14 thoughts on “Insights from a PK

  1. Allie,

    What a great post – and great list! I want to share this with all my friends in ministry. Thankfully, I think people of our generation are approaching “ministry” differently – case in point, you and Adam!

    Having grown up an MK and going to boarding school, I’m so thankful that I was never taught that I was doing this because Christ called me to be away from my family or to hate them – it breaks my heart that that does happen. For us, it was always a practicality: this is where we live, and the options are homeschooling or boarding school – I got to choose.

    I resonate with a lot of the things in your list. The key additional one I would add is: “Be Humble”. Tell your kids – verbally, explicitly – that their friends’ mom who is a lawyer or dad who is a dentist has an equally important job as you do. Caring for God’s people can take many forms, and you don’t have to be “in ministry” to do that. Too many parents, I think, raise their kids with an understanding that there’s work, and then there’s God’s work. This isn’t always intentional, but kids are smarter than you think – and they can read between the lines. It took me a long time to grow out of that one.

    Thanks for posting! As always, I love your writing and your thinking.

    Rebecca

  2. This post definitely resonated with me! I spent many years living in the fishbowl of a small town parsonage, and although I came out mostly intact, I swore to myself that I would *never* marry a pastor. At this point in my life (ten years out), I am basking in the joy of the work I do in children’s ministry and occasionally think about what it would be like to pursue that on a more formal level (gasp).

    I think the hardest thing about being a PK is the fact that many people in the congregation do have different standards for the pastor’s kids than they do for other kids in the church. Things that would be fine for the other kids, or at least seen as minor crimes, are huge for the parsonage kids. And then the criticism starts…of the kids, the pastor, the spouse, the parenting, and the ministry – all over something so small. Ouch. The “protect and defend” points are top with me!

    I love your name with all your “degrees” posted after – brilliant!

  3. I enjoyed this post quite a bit. I have been a PK since I was a toddler and now I am a pastor’s wife raising a PK myself. I especially loved the sections about acknowleding that this affects your kids, praying and protecting your kids. All SO good and a nice reminder for me as I attempt to parent children who will have to deal with their father being a pastor.

    There are only a few comments I would love to add to this already great advice. These comments are not complete and thoroughly thought out because I have not fully wrestled with this question as long as you have but I would encourage my kids that once again (as I have had to learn so many times) it is never all about us. Our goal as Christians in general are to love the Lord, to bring him glory and to love people. It is a lot easier to walk away from an experience as a PK when you are grown if you have been taught that wherever the Lord has you there is ministry to be done. Now granted this will look different for different kids and ages and stages but that is what my dad’s “job” showed me. I’m not just the PK…I have a calling from the Lord too. Really?!? That’s awesome and that idea made me want to get involved.

    The only other thing I can think to add is that no matter how hard you try your kids will see the church for what it is…broken and filled with sinners that have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Use those moments to teach, grow closer as a family and pray together.

    I know over the years I have wrestled with the stuff I had to deal with growing up and with that in mind the top answer you mentioned which I completely agree with is PRAYER!!! I cannot possibly raise children well in any environment, including under the microscope of the church, without the wisdom and guidance given by the Lord. Thanks for your input Allison.

    1. Thanks, Kristen, for sharing your experiences and your additions. I loved your additions! You’re so right, it’s not all about us, which takes off a lot of pressure! AND, I love the part about using the hard stuff as an opportunity to teach about redemption and goodness. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Great Post! I am a Lifetime PK and have been given such a heart for PKs. You can never really understand the pressure if you haven’t lived it. I have seen many many PKs so hurt by the church or had to watch their parents hurt by the church and it turns their stomach to now be in church!!

    I had my relatively small rebellion in college when I realized no one was watching me and that my actions weren’t for the first time “able to cost my father his ministry.”. Yep! I heard that many a time! What pressure!!

    Your list and the added advice from the comments is great! I especially love the teaching your kids that while it’s the calling on your parents, there is still MAJOR purpose that you are being raised in the exact family and situation you are in. It’s no surprise God places you there…He has a calling for you that this is preparation for! That was huge for me to get as a young adult.

    I would also add…your child learns about God and hears about Him probably more than the average child…but that does NOT translate to a relationship with Him. Knowledge does not equal relationship. Be sure you nurture a God relationship in your children. Teach them to follow hard after Him in a daily walk. Teach them it’s an individual decision. I could answer any Biblical question and I loved the Lord. I prayed and led Bible studies…but it wasn’t until a difficult time in my mid-20s that I had to choose to walk in step with Him, choose death to self, to follow hard after Him. That’s when it all changed for me. Work to nurture that in your kids.

    And for the record…I had GREAT parents that worked to protect us. I just believe that PKs will no doubt all experience some of these issues. I’ve heard it said that ALL children grow up with baggage from their parents and how they were raised…just work to make sure it’s a small carry-on and not huge trunks! Ha!

    Great post! Very dear to my heart! Thanks!!

    1. Amberly, thank you so much for sharing your story! I loved hearing how you’ve worked through some of the challenges of being a PK, and how you’ve grown and learned and how you’ve deepend in your walk with God. I love you addition, and what an important one, that having your child own his or her own faith is critical!

  5. Thank you for these valuable insights, Allison, and others.
    I am a PK who survived small-town manse “goldfish bowl” childhood with my faith intact. Unfortunately, not all my brothers did. They are all “responsible citizens” – no drug dealers, fraudsters or violent crims, but they no longer believe in God as Creator, Lord, Loving Father, King. I’m not sure why… but we keep praying.
    It is interesting that some parishioners feel it is their duty to criticise/judge the PKs’ behaviour with a much finer-toothed comb than any other child in the church. I would suggest that their role should be to PRAY for and SUPPORT them, showing an interest in their wider lives as well (sport, cultural, academic achievements, job interests and opportunities, etc).
    I do believe that PKs (as with other church-raised children) who are encouraged to explore their talents, act on their faith and contribute to the ministry life of the church, seem to have more opportunity to explore, develop and strengthen their faith relationship. It is important for ALL (PKs, new Christians, everyone) that they are given the opportunity to “stretch their faith wings” in a safe environment where they can take their first hesitant flights and be guided and gently corrected, without additional fear or embarrassment.
    I agree with the importance of mentors, and acknowledge the pivotal role of youth pastors/leaders and other church adults in supporting PKs (and other young people).
    From my own experience, I recognise there is a need for a greater support mechanism for PKs (and probably all church-raised young people) when they leave the nest and head off to tertiary studies or some other pursuit away from the home support. This transition is so significant for the on-going faith and well-being of an individual, I would be as bold as to say it can be more crucial and potentially life-changing than marriage and/or childbirth. It could be helpful to encourage our pastors to take leave to help their children find a new church family when heading to another city.
    Let’s keep up the support for the children of our church, and especially of the manse and missionfield, always seeking to encourage them in their walk, that they may achieve their potential in Christ.

    1. Miriam, thank you so much for sharing your own experience. I lived in a parsonage (manse), too, and I bet we could swap a lot of stories that come with that. Thank you for your wisdom about nurturing PKs and MKs when they leave their homes and grow up, that is a really huge transition. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. dang girl! preach!

    i loved this post.

    thanks for sharing that it will help me as I rear 4 beautiful little girls in the church.

    Much love,

    Blake

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