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

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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!