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 wisdom. Pray 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?