Pastor’s kids (also known as PKs) are stereotypically prone to bitterness toward the local church. And these stereotypes may not be entirely unfounded. PKs deal with a lot – feeling pressure to be perfect, sharing their parent’s time with a congregation full of demands, and observing the relational messiness of the church from behind the scenes. These factors often help form a whirlwind of resentment in the hearts of PKs, leading them away from the church Christ loves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I write as a PK who loves the local church wholeheartedly and desires to spend her life being poured out for Christ’s bride. No pastor can determine their child’s heart, but they can help to guard it. If you want to keep your PK from the fast track to resentment, don’t do these five things.
1. Require obedience because the church is watching
Your PK likely already feels pressure to appear a certain way before your congregation, regardless of whether you’ve placed this pressure on them or not. I used to read 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and worry that my shortcomings would disqualify my dad from ministry even though my parents never held this passage over my head.
Pastors shouldn’t motivate their kids to obey simply because the church is watching. PKs need to be motivated, not out of fear, but out of love for their heavenly Father. We walk in obedience because our Creator is worthy of glory and honour (Revelation 4:11), not because the ever-watchful eye of the church is waiting to find fault. And, if the church does find fault, PKs need to know that God’s grace is just as sufficient for them as it is for every other church kid.
2. Complain about church members
If PKs hear you speaking negatively about your congregation, it will be difficult for them to love the church. Your attitude toward your local body will influence your PK’s attitude. Pastors may need to talk about difficult church circumstances at home with their spouse – this is often the appropriate setting to process these things. However, I’m grateful my parents used discretion in what they shared with my brother and me. This guarded our hearts from carrying burdens we weren’t mature enough to carry.
However, your PK does need to hear you commend church members. Let them see Christ’s power made perfect in broken people as they serve in humble, beautiful ways. And, when it is inevitable that your children see the church’s mess (because sometimes it will be), choose to live out the gospel before them. We have a Saviour who loves the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Let your PK see your love.
3. Fear man
The many voices and opinions of their congregation cannot hold pastors captive, especially regarding their kids. Sometimes church members criticise PKs for frankly silly reasons. Maybe they think your kid doesn’t smile enough. Maybe they disapprove of their fashion choices. How should a pastor respond in these situations?
Should they scold his kid for not grinning all Sunday morning? Should they hand-pick his PK’s outfits from then on? Probably not. This is a surefire way to frustrate a PK. Instead, pastors should stand firm. They are the ones called to parent their kids, not their congregation.
When my brother and I faced these situations, I’m grateful my dad feared God rather than man in how he loved us. He defended us, reassuring us that we had done nothing wrong. Dealing with unnecessary criticism from a young age was frustrating, but knowing Dad was in our corner made all the difference.
4. Become a workaholic
Scripture tells us to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). It’s important to work with excellence, especially when shepherding souls that will never die. But the pastor must remember the little souls in his home, those entrusted to him by God. These are his priority. If a pastor can’t faithfully shepherd their children, they aren’t fit to shepherd Christ’s church.
There will be seasons in pastoring when “office hours” don’t apply, when the needs of the church are pressing, and the pastor must sacrifice their time. But sacrificing time doesn’t necessitate that the pastor also sacrifices their relationship with their kids on the altar of the pastorate. The demands of ministry can be a powerful tool for connecting with them.
Don’t be afraid to take your kids along when appropriate. Let them see your ministry lived out around dining room tables and hospital bedsides. Seeing ministry firsthand will make the local church’s role more tangible and precious to your children. They will begin to see the church as something worthy of your time and perhaps even choose a posture of joyful sacrifice in their own hearts as your family walks the road of ministry together.
5. Act differently at church than at home
We have a God whose character is constant. He doesn’t change based on circumstance or location. As image bearers, pastors are also called to such consistency. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (emphasis mine). Faithfulness should be the heartbeat of a pastor’s conduct, whether at church or at home.
Your life tells a story. Are you proclaiming a gospel worth living for in public and in private, or are you declaring through your inconsistency that church is nothing more than a show? May your children look at you and see a man transformed so deeply that his life adorns the gospel wherever he goes (Titus 2:10).
Finally, be encouraged. I’ve befriended many PKs over the years, and nearly all of them still love the church. Many dream of becoming pastors and missionaries or serving in some other vocational ministry. Rather than resenting the local church, they desire to partner with it. You don’t need to live in constant fear for your PK’s heart. Instead, pray for their salvation and trust that he who began a good work in them will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
© 2023 Abigail Thompson. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.