The Fishbowl, the Glass house and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages: The Life of the Preacher’s Kid

by Tara Johnson

They see much. They hear more than you think. And all of it leaves an indelible impression on their young hearts. Who am I speaking of? I’m talking about the preacher’s kid.

caution pk

Speaking as a PK, I can tell you that being on the ministry front lines is a unique experience. You see it all: the good, the bad and the…cranky. For most, being thrust into such a colorful and eye-opening existence is usually accompanied with, what I call, God’s coping mechanism: humor. Learn to laugh or ministry will eat you up.

You Know Being a PK has warped you when…

  1. You get excited about the church giving your family a food pounding because it’s the one time out of the year when you’ll be able to enjoy brand name cereal instead of the knock-offs.
  1. You constantly get in trouble for things the deacon’s kid thought up.
  1. You blame everything in your life on the deacons’ kids.
  1. Every time your family goes on vacation, you know it will doom some poor unsuspecting church member to an early death.
  1. You won’t go out with anyone on a date who hasn’t formed an opinion on pre, mid or post trib.
  1. You understand number five.
  1. You can speak “Christianese” with a skill rivaled only by Charles Spurgeon or D.L. Moody. If someone asks you to explain Ezekiel, you can totally fake your way through it.
  1. Upon hearing you’re a preacher’s kid, people naturally assume you are either a perfect specimen of Christianity, or you’re a rebellious, wild-spirited, hell-raising demon. (Not true. Well, not all the time.)
  1. Your parents encourage you to dress nicely for church, because, after all, we don’t want them taking up a love offering for us because our clothes are shabby, do we?
  1. You’re the first one to church and the last one to leave.

All joking aside, I love meeting other PKs. I love hearing them open up to the fun parts, and sometimes miserable parts of growing up in ministry. All of it is instructive, whether laughable or painful. All of it can bear fruit of wisdom and teach important life lessons.


I was one of the rare oddities that actually enjoyed being a PK. Well, most of the time. Just like anything in life, there are pros and cons. So whether you call it a fishbowl, a glass house or any other structure of visibility, we’re going to take a quick snapshot of what it’s like to live with hundreds of eyes on your every move.

What are the advantages of being the preacher’s kid?

  1. Having a wide circle of friends from various churches and different places.
  2. Getting to see God move behind the scenes.
  3. Enjoy the material gifts and benefits when the church does something nice for the pastor.
  4. Being raised in church ingrains the truth early into hearts and minds.
  5. Accountability


Some PKs might argue with me on this last one. Accountability can taste like a vile word but it’s really not. Learning to be responsible and set an example is always a good thing. The problem comes when accountability grows into a fishbowl. When you’re taught that approval is given based on your ability to maintain a lofty standard, it’s hard to break free of such a stifling, perfectionist mentality. A lot of preacher’s kids are inadvertently taught by the congregation that approval equals love…and nothing could be further from the truth. Perfectionism always shoves away grace.

In short, a lot of PKs believe the lie that performance is more important than anything else. Either that, or they run hard and fast from impossible expectations by acting out in defiance instead. Both responses are harmful.


  1. Moving often. Along with this comes fear of getting too close to someone at the risk of being forced apart by a move.
  2. Church members pulling their father away from them. The pastor’s kids are a ministry too. Be respectful of their family time.
  3. People set higher standards of behavior for the preacher’s kids than they do their own.
  4. Being treated badly because someone is mad at their Dad.
  5. Interrupted vacation and family time.
  6. Living on a lower income than many of their friends.
  7. Constant criticism of their parents or bickering among the church members. PKs often see the meanest side of people and it leaves lasting scars.

This is just a snapshot of the PK life. We’ll be digging much deeper in Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies. Stay tuned!

What other insights could you share about the ups and downs of the PK life? I’d love to hear from you!


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