Butterfingers: Interruptions & Learning How to Be a Servant

Back and forth I went.

Kitchen to bedroom, bedroom to living room. Every time I sat down to write, it seemed I heard yet another cry.

“Mom! I need you!”

nate and jace

“Mom! The dog just peed on the floor!”

“Hey, honey, have you seen my socks?”

“Momma! I want candy!”

Through the chaos of barking dogs, calling children, buzzing dryers and ringing phones, I couldn’t suppress the inner voice bearing down on me.

You have to get this book finished by the end of summer. You’re at the most critical part in the story too. The spiritual crux of the matter. Don’t lose focus!

“Focus, Tara. Focus.” I found myself muttering the phrase as I carried the Spot Shot and washrag into the laundry room. I discarded the mess, washed my hands and sighed my relief when the voices clambering for attention finally ceased. All was quiet. Now I could finally get back to the business of what I was called to do…write.

I strolled into the living room and froze. A four year old greeted me with a sheepish grin and sticky fingers.

“Hi, Mom.” He shrugged. “You says I can has candy.” He grinned. “It’s yummy.”

Butterfinger crumbs were scattered all over the floor. Everywhere. butterfingersButterfingers.

Another delay. My irritation flared.

“Nathan!” I stomped over the pantry and grabbed a broom and dust pan before stooping to sweep up the mess. “Son, I do not have time for this!”

With a start, I heard, really heard the words coming out of my mouth. I didn’t have time to clean up my family’s messes? Didn’t have time to be a mom? Didn’t have time to be a servant to the little guys hugging my knees because I was too busy being a servant to everyone else?

God forgive me.

Usually, we are only angered by interruptions when we value the thing we are doing more than the person interrupting us. Sad but true. Crushed cheerios, spilled apple juice and cleaning up Legos might be the most un-glamorous job on the planet but it’s the un-glamorous that reveals the hearts of true servants. The same servant-heart found in Christ.

gabriel-jimenez-241711

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” ~Philippians 2:3-8

Jesus showed us the path to doing anything with big impact is to lay aside our ‘want-tos’ and put others first. That is where unconditional love is displayed, where people witness hope and torn hearts are mended.

Any ministry we have will only be as strong as the ministry we have within the walls of our home. Being a servant, working in ministry or whatever you’d like to call it should never be something we do. It should be an outpouring of who we are…a loved, redeemed child of God who can’t wait to show that love to others.

I’ve erased, “I don’t have time for this” from my vocabulary. We make time for whatever is important to us, and my messy little family is far more important than any book project I’ll ever write.

Although I confess, I may have stopped buying Butterfingers.

Books are Not My Babies…and Other “Idol” Chatter

Y’all, this writing gig is hard.

I recently saw a pic that summed up the process perfectly. “You read a scene and think, ‘That was nice.’ Time it took you to read the scene? Five minutes. Time it took the author to write the scene? Five bazillion hours.”

reading

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. It’s hard work. More than I ever dreamed possible. And just when I think the sleepless nights, the outpouring of creativity, the frazzled nerves will pay off, I get word that more revisions are needed. So it’s back to work. Again.

Years ago, I sat in my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, as a dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears writer listening to Tamera Alexander speak. Tamera said something I will never forget. “The stories you write, the books you sell, they are not your babies. They are products.” baby

Wise words. And, boy, was she correct. That single piece of advice has saved me much heartache. Why? What did she mean? I took her wisdom, at least in part, to mean this: don’t let your heart grow attached to something that will devastate you if it is taken away.

Creativity, imagination and the mysterious muse are beautiful gifts lavished on us by a loving Creator, but when we elevate those gifts into ‘baby’ status in our hearts, we have unwittingly set up an idol. So when our ‘babies’ are rejected, criticized, or anything in between, we grow defensive, we lash out, or live in the land of angry, miserable resentment. Are we consumed with our stories or consumed with our Savior? Worse yet, do we use creativity as a smoke screen? A way to be consumed with ourselves, our Amazon reviews, or our latest rankings as some sort of attempt to prove our own worth or to puff up our battered pride?

Heart _Idols are sneaky things. They come disguised as good things. Great things, and they are. The problem is not the idol. The issue is the shift of devotion that occurs in our own hearts. 

Take our children, for example. Are there more beautiful treasures? We sacrifice for them. We plan for them. We give and dream and hope and pray. We lose sleep and hair and sometimes our sanity, all because our love for them is so great, we can do nothing less than give them our all. I get it.

However, I cringe when I hear parents say they couldn’t live if something happened to their child. Our hope should never, ever be based on our children. No parent should outlive their child, but it happens all the time. I’ve outlived two of mine.

I grieve and cry but I have hope. In the words of King David when his own infant son died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” Because of Jesus, I have a bright, secure future and a peace that remains steadfast, despite the chaos swirling around me. I am not defeated. I am not destroyed. corrie ten boom hold everything lightly

I like the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Whether it’s career ambition, money, material possessions, relationships, awards, children, attention, approval, busyness, entertainment or even yourself, beware of idols. Keep your heart on the One who created it. Don’t give your devotion to something or someone that cannot save. The temporary satisfaction they provide will soon become a consuming pit that will only leave emptiness and regret behind.

Stories are not your babies. They are products.

And babies are cute, but remember, they are also exhausting. Choose wisely.

Plot Twist!

“Plot twist!”

It’s what I yell out in the middle of a chaotic day. It’s what I mutter to myself when I’ve blocked off writing time only to discover my three year old has found a sharpie and is chasing the cat through the house threatening to give him a new fur-do. “Plot twist” is what I choke out with a cringe when I’m scheduled to speak at an event but sense the tell-tale signs of a migraine screaming in to ruin the day. “Plot twist” is what I sigh when the checking account is too low for comfort, or when my children have a melt-down or when a loved one receives an unwelcome diagnosis.

plot twist

Life has a way of throwing our good intentions right out the window…if we let it.

For years I thought that to write, my little nest had to be in order first: the floors swept, the dishes washed, the kids quietly working on some James Dobson-approved project. When all was quiet, when all was calm, then I would be able to sit down to my laptop and pour out my heart.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Likewise, some of us say we can’t be used by God until we get our act together, until our children stop rebelling, until our finances are secure, when our health is better or when we’ve figured out the reason for our own hot-mess cycles of behaviors and mistakes.

The problem? If we wait to be used by God, to yield to him only when our life is perfect, it will never happen.

life roller coaster

The Mayberry mentality is not realistic. We may have good days here and there, days that trick us into thinking every day should flow as smoothly, but the majority of the time life throws us curve ball after curve ball. Plot twists and changes. And then what do we do? Wait for perfection before we live our life? Do we wait for everything to be rosy before we get on with kingdom work?

That’s not what God says is going to happen.

I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.] -John 16:33 AMP

The good news is, God meets us in our chaos. When we are at our most strung-out and overwhelmed, that is when He shows himself strong.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.” Isaiah 43:2

Even though some days I fight against the uncomfortable sensation of being stretched, I have found I’m actually better at writing when I embrace the chaos, because that is where God takes over. Who wouldn’t want the Author of Life guiding the words flowing from heart to pen? And those days when there are so many unexpecteds that I’m scanning the horizon for a plague of locusts to arrive? God fills the gap between my weakness and my need. Not for my glory, but for His. when you pass through deep waters

“…for this reason, to keep me from thinking of myself as important, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to torment and harass me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me; but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My loving kindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively]in [your] weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:7-9 AMP

Embrace the uncomfortable. Lean in to those plot twists, for that is where God shows Himself strong. He’s not “just enough”. He’s more than enough.

Have you ever told yourself God can’t use you until _____________…? Have you been frustrated searching for the perfect day, the perfect time, or the perfect life that never arrives? How has God met you in your need and showed Himself powerful in your life?

 

Life in the Ministry Trenches: the Pastor’s Wife Part 2

by Tara Johnson

Ministry is difficult and no one knows this better than the pastor’s wife. In Part 1, we looked at the God-given talents that make each pastor’s wife unique as well as some of the unrealistic and often damaging expectations that pastor’s wives have placed on their shoulders, whether by church members or themselves. To refresh, some of these expectations are:

  1. Their children should be perfect.
  2. They know what to do and say in every situation.
  3. They feel comfortable leading a class or taking on leadership roles.
  4. Someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it won’t hurt.
  5. They should be forced to work if the church can’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Let’s move on to several more expectations facing the pastor’s wife.

  1. Their home should be open to the church’s needs 24/7.

Boundaries are extremely important. They protect our families and many times, our sanity. But let’s face it…life happens. There are medical, emotional and spiritual emergencies that cannot wait. A pastor is like a doctor who is always on call. Most pastors will tell you they expect these to happen from time to time and are happy to comfort and help however they can. But emergencies are not what I’m talking about here. peeping toms

I’m talking about dropping in on the pastor’s family whenever it suits you. Contrary to popular opinion, the pastor’s wife does not always keep a tidy house, nor is she always pulling warm, homemade cookies from the oven. Her life is often stressed and scattered…just like yours. If there are days when you don’t feel especially hospitable, neither does she. Children misbehave, dinner burns, the washing machine leaks…you get the idea.

Respecting the pastor’s time with his family is one of the most loving things you can do for him and his wife. Call before dropping in. Don’t text them incessantly while they are on vacation. (FYI: every time a pastor’s family leaves for vacation, it’s a guarantee that something will happen within the church family.) Every time you call or text your pastor, you are pulling his time away from his family and his study time. The wife, if she’s not careful, can end up feeling resentful and lonely.

Before you send out that text or hit call on your phone, consider the importance of your message. Can it wait until a later time? Is it something that somebody else in the church can help you with? A good rule of thumb is to call on God more than you call on your pastor.

Several wives have confessed boundary issues are especially pronounced if the church has provided a parsonage. This leads to an interesting question…to parsonage or not to parsonage?

The Parsonage welcome mat

Parsonages are tricky things and the opinions on their usefulness has been much debated. Can it be a blessing? Yes. Is it ideal? No. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  1. It’s usually free housing for the pastor’s family. Parsonages are tax exempt and the congregation usually foots the bill for the mortgage. The arrangement for utilities vary. (Some churches offer to pay these and some don’t.) Parsonages are also exempt from property taxes.
  1. Easier Transition for the New Pastor. Often times, when a new pastor is elected he must move his entire family to the new location, sometimes quite a distance. It’s usually a relief to know that housing is already provided and waiting. (FYI: The average tenure of a pastor in the US is less than five years.)

Disadvantages:
a. When the pastor resigns, his family is essentially homeless. As soon as the pastor announces his departure, it’s time to get out of Dodge (aka the parsonage) before it’s needed by the next pastor. The scramble to find someplace to live, often with no direction on where God will move him next, is extremely stressful and often expensive.

b. Conflict and Criticism. criticism 2 Not only can church members argue about carpet color, appliances and decor, but it’s common to see them criticizing the pastor, his wife and children for a toy-filled yard or grass that often more than an inch high. There can be arguments about pets, decorating….you get the idea. This is especially true if the parsonage is next door to the church. When conflict arises, it usually comes down to “the church owns this so we (the church members) have the say” versus “we (the pastor’s family) need to know that you will still love us and show us grace on the days when we don’t have it together”.
c. Intrusions. Living next door to the church isn’t easy. When people lose or forget their church key they knock on the pastor’s door. When the cleaning people realize there’s a leaky sink, they knock on the pastor’s door. I’ve even heard a church member say, “The church owns the parsonage, so as a church member, I can stop in whenever I want.” This attitude is inconsiderate and can cause much stress and anxiety for your pastor and his family. (And on a lighter note, for the majority of us, the bank owns our homes. I don’t particularly want them stopping in whenever they feel like it!)
d. Sub-standard living conditions. broken down houseIf you wouldn’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either. Insisting your pastor live in a house with a leaking roof, broken appliances, mold, little to no insulation and vermin infestations is a hardship that only makes his work more difficult and to his family, can even be dangerous. This is not the norm but still, it happens more than people think.
e. Preparing long term. Many pastors, although thankful for shelter and a comfortable house can become frustrated in their inability to be able to build equity in a home. As they get older, this need becomes more and more apparent. With few retirement options, expensive health insurance and no equity, preparing for the golden years can be a dark shadow that looms over the pastor’s head.
A good alternative? Instead of parsonages, some churches offer a ‘housing allowance’.

So going back to the original ‘expectation’, a pastor should be available and is usually happy to do so, but don’t abuse the privilege. The wife often takes the brunt of the criticism when it comes to the home, whether living in a parsonage or not. They hear complaints about the way they spend their income, what cars they drive, how much they eat out, what gifts they buy on holidays…they are essentially living in a fishbowl. Grant them the courtesy of respecting their family time as much as possible. After all, their children are a ministry too. (A thought that’s very important to remember from the pastor’s kids’ point of view.)

  1. Being compared to other pastor’s wives.

fishbowlNothing makes a person feel more unloved, devalued and vulnerable than being compared to someone else. This includes comparing pastor’s wives to each other. Oddly enough, some members are crass enough to vocally voice their disappointment or comparisons to the pastor’s wife herself.

A poll was recently conducted asking people to list what they expect for their pastor’s wife. Most gave the typical answers—godly women, loving, etc.,— however, some members went a step farther, insisting their pastor’s wife be friendly, outgoing and give selflessly to the church

As I was scanning the poll results, I noticed one common phrase in each response. “What I want from my pastor’s wife is…” “I just want…” “I want…” Isn’t this really the problem? We have an expectation of what a pastor’s wife should be, how they should dress and how they interact with people. It’s about ‘what I want’ from my pastor’s wife. But it’s not up to you, me or anyone in the church: your pastor’s wife is only responsible to God to live the life he gave her, with her unique talents, gifts, family, personality and flaws. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “It doesn’t really matter what I want from my pastor’s wife. She only needs to focus on being who God created her to be.” Those they claim they want their pastor’s wife to ‘be a certain way’ are inadvertently stating that God can only use one type of personality in ministry…and this simply isn’t true.

Living in Grace

Along the same lines of interesting polls and statistics, do you know what the number one struggle expressed by pastor’s wives is? Loneliness. Their husband is often called away. They struggle to work full time and keep things running smoothly at home. They feel they are judged if they build close friendships with one or two women in the church so they distance themselves to keep the peace. They know the messy bits of life that go on behind the scenes in a church but can’t say a word. This isn’t always the case but it is a very real struggle for many.

What to do? Pray for her. Love her. Thoughtful gestures and kindness can speak deeply to her heart. Extend grace. Have a sense of humor. Remember she’s not perfect. She struggles in her walk with God just like you. She will mess up from time to time. But then again, so will you. Aren’t you thankful for grace? grace

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.

 

Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife Part 1

by Tara Johnson

People are messy and since ministry is all about serving people, ministry is often messy. Forget all the romantic notions you’ve heard about the glories of serving ‘in the  Lord’s trenches’. Is it victorious? Sometimes. Is it exhausting? Overwhelmingly so. Is it worth it? Absolutely. But it’s hard work…an uphill climb that will entail the enemy attacking God’s people whenever he can.

People often mention the need to pray for their pastor, the need to encourage him but they often forget to mention someone who works side by side with the pastor. Someone who is often overlooked…the pastor’s wife.

Church members, and even non-church members, tend to lump pastor’s wives into the same stereotype. There is an unwritten code of “dos” and “don’ts” for pastor’s wives, all of which vary from church to church and culture to culture. The problem is none of these expectations are talked about until the pastor’s wife fails to live up to them. And I can tell you with absolutely certainty that pastors’ wives are not a stereotype. perfect wife

Some are eternally optimistic. Some are exhausted and burned out. Some have the gift of hospitality, while others build strong boundaries around their privacy. Some are control freaks and some are laid-back. Some have no problem picking up everything and moving to a remote country. Others have major anxiety at the thought of moving five miles away. Most have a unique sense of humor, sometimes even a ‘Far Side’ style of humor—a God-given way of coping with stress. So, if pastor’s wives and their personalities are incredibly diverse, why do we expect them to all ‘act’ the same way?

“The pastor’s wife is the only woman I know who is asked to work full time without pay on her husband’s job, in a role no one has yet defined.” ~Ruthe White

A poll was recently conducted asking pastor’s wives to name the most frequent expectations put on them, either by themselves or members within their husband’s pastorates. The most common are listed below:

1. That their children should be perfect.

No matter how well-trained and behaved, kids are kids. They are sinners, just like all of us. (If you don’t believe me, volunteer to teach the tiny tots sometime.) They are going to whisper in church, tell lies, fight with their siblings and make a mess at potluck…even the preacher’s kids. But sometimes the church members holds the pastor’s children to a higher standard than they do their own.

pk

I might mention also that not all PKs are ill-mannered or sneaky. Neither are they perfect little adults just because their Dad is the pastor. They can’t interpret Ezekiel any better than you can. (Although, speaking as a PK, I can tell you that preacher’s kids are excellent at making it sound like we know what we’re talking about. In other words, we’re excellent bloviaters of Christian-ese.)

One pastor’s wife told me that what she really loved about their current pastorate is that the church has allowed her children to be kids, with all their flaws and quirks. They need love and understanding…not constant criticism.

 2. That they know exactly what to say and do in any situation.

Everyone reaches a point where they hit a wall, a situation that is so overwhelming and crushing in its intensity that there are simply no words to ease the pain. No matter how much experience, the pastor’s wife can and will be overwhelmed in trying to comfort someone who is at their breaking point. Here’s a good rule of thumb for anyone trying to help a heartbroken friend: pray with them, hold them while they cry. It’s okay to say that you don’t understand why tragedies occur but reaffirming your love and just listening will help tremendously. pastors wife

3. That they feel comfortable leading a class or speaking to a large group or taking on a leadership role.

Just because the pastor may be a naturally gifted leader doesn’t mean his wife is. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Husbands and wives tend to balance each other’s personalities. If the husband is extremely outgoing, the wife may be shy and quiet. Assuming that all pastor’s wives are comfortable teaching a class, being VBS director or playing piano is a grave mistake. God has given each of us a unique set of talents and it is up to each of us to discover those talents and use them. The pastor’s wife is no different.

One pastor’s wife told me, “I was miserable for years because I kept trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. I volunteered to do all that stuff…lead out in every single ministry in church and, to be honest, I was exhausted and unhappy. I finally realized those things are not my job. My service is in supporting my husband. If I feel God leading me to do something, I gladly hop to it, but now I understand it’s not required. The biggest help to my husband is to keep things running smoothly at home. Taking charge over the kids, fixing the meals and just making his load a little lighter.” people pleasing 5

 4. That someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it should not hurt.

Pleasing people is a moving target. It can’t be done. So in leadership, you are sure to get plenty of arrows aimed your way from disgruntled church members. Some complaints may be valid and some may be absolutely ridiculous. For some reason, people often feel comfortable criticizing the pastor directly to his wife and she is expected to not feel the sting of rejection. Let me promise you, she may smile and seem unflappable but those criticisms hurt…they hurt a lot. criticism 3

Your pastor and his family are not perfect…far from it. They are learning and growing just as you are. The only difference is they have hundreds of eyeballs scrutinizing them as they do. Before you criticize, remember that many things go on ‘behind the scenes’ of church life that the members know nothing about. Hairy, horrible, shocking things. I know, and have witnessed, stories that would curl your hair. Ministry ain’t for wimps and your pastor’s family carries the weight of those messy things with them as they serve. Be patient. And remember, if you can’t back up your complaint with scripture, it’s probably just your opinion and not worth fighting about.

A well known trick in Christian circles is to spread gossip about others under the guise of ‘asking prayer for them’. This same tactic is often used in criticizing a pastor. Some folks use his wife as a filter to let him know what he could do better. Nothing makes a sweet pastor’s wife turn into an angry Momma Bear like a member criticizing her husband or children. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, the best way is the path Jesus laid out: go directly to the person who has offended you and talk it out. And to you pastor’s wives out there, gossiping about a church member to another church member is a sure way to bring disaster.

5. That they should be expected to work if the church doesn’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Among smaller church congregations, there is an issue about how much the pastor should work outside of his ministry calling. They want to have his undivided attention. The problem with this is that they can’t pay him enough to live on but they don’t want him to work either. So what happens? The wife has to go to work to feed and clothe their household. This is an unjust and unrealistic demand to place on your pastor’s wife, especially considering that pastors already take a huge hit on their taxes since they are considered ‘self-employed’ in the eyes of the government. Insurance is often a huge factor as well. They either go without insurance or have to get a full time job to get insurance. It’s a double whammy.

The pastor’s wife should not be forced to support her husband and family. Not only does it cause tremendous stress in their family, it’s not even Biblical. If she chooses to do so, that’s well and good but it’s unrealistic to have church members paying her husband minimally with the expectation that she will make up the shortfall in income. Remember, if you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife as we discuss hospitality, ‘to parsonage or not to parsonage’, the danger of comparison, loneliness and how to help your pastor’s wife. Say a prayer for your pastor’s wife today!

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.

The Preacher’s Kids Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies

by Tara Johnson

dead guppy

I was surprised seeing all the hands raised in the room. A room filled with inmates. I was surprised but not shocked.

When I asked the inmates at Tucker prison if there were any preacher’s kids in the audience, at least one sixth of those in attendance raised their hands, sheepish smiles ghosting their faces.

From PK to inmate. How does it happen? And why are preacher’s kids, those who have been raised in the faith, leaving their churches as adults?

Let’s review Part 1 of this blog series, The Fishbowl, The Glass House and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages. What are the pros and cons of the PK life?

Advantages:

  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

Disadvantages:

  1. Moving often. 
  2.  Church members pulling their father away from them. 
  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.

Although the reasons vary (and the last thing I want to do is stereotype preacher’s kids more than they already are), many of the PKs polled in research confessed deep scars from being raised in ministry. Not because their parents were horrible, not because the ministry was too taxing. Their predominant reason? The cruelty their parents faced from disgruntled and vindictive church members.

An angry nerdy woman.

Preacher’s kids see it all. They see the draining work, the exhausting schedule. They often have to give up special time with their parents so another person can be comforted. They see the tears, the confusion and hurt. And they often see the meanest side of people, church members who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week.

It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when you consider the child’s worldview, perception of God, and the ministry is still being formed.

What many folks forget is that being in the pastor’s family puts them and their children on the front lines of spiritual warfare. The enemy comes at them with all he’s got. Fiery darts, pain, exhaustion, misunderstandings, discouragement. It’s a nonstop battle and Satan does his best work among fighting church members. Eventually the pastor gets dragged in, someone becomes angry at him because they didn’t get their way and drama escalates. It’s almost so formulaic, it’s sad.

But the preacher’s kids don’t understand the ins and outs of Satan’s schemes. All they know is that their Dad or Mom is being attacked. In short, someone gets ticked off at the preacher and, let me say from experience, when someone is mad at the preacher, the PK is often treated with contempt as well.

pk

Hurtful words are flung like stones. Reputations shredded. Long buried wounds fester until the disease infects the church. The preacher’s kid is in the middle of all this, watching, wondering, worrying. Some begin to wonder if ministry is even worth it. What’s the point when people are so mean to each other? Others feel trapped, stuck in a cycle of trying to keep everybody happy or masking their true feelings with a facade of perfection so their father’s ministry won’t suffer. They try to live up to everyone’s expectations…a very hard load for little shoulders to carry and, I might add, an impossible task.

If enough of this kind of drama is seen on a regular basis, it’ll mess a kid up. So what happens when this child reaches adulthood? Those with deep scars and blistering burns leave without a backwards glance.

I personally know several PKs who left church once they were grown but the concern goes deeper than church attendance. These PKs abandoned the faith completely. They had children. Children who have never yet darkened the doors of a church or know a thing about the saving grace of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these preacher’s kids are justified. Each person has to take responsibility for themselves. But the trend is heart breaking.

Is it right to ditch church because of bad experiences? No, not at all. God said He would receive His glory through the church. (Ephesians 3:21) Honestly, I’ve had bad experiences at grocery stores and restaurants and I usually still go back. We humans are good at picking and choosing what we’ll be offended about. People are people wherever you go. We’re a messy, cranky, broken lot. My concern in this blog isn’t to argue about the importance of serving in a church (although it is important) but instead my sore heart aches for those who are so wounded, they can no longer embrace what their parents gave their entire lives for.

How we treat people, even in our anger, matters. It matters a lot. And that includes how we treat our pastor. Little eyes are watching. Minds are being molded. We can do better, folks. Lives and souls are counting on it. The ripples of our behavior affect more than just ourselves. It reaches far into eternity.

So I’ve said all this to say: please don’t tap on the fishbowl. We really don’t want any dead guppies.

cat and fishbowl

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.

fishbowl

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

accountable

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.

Disadvantages:

  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!