In church lingo there are two types of children beyond the regular kids that wander the church halls—PKs and MKs—Preacher’s kids and Missionary’s kids. In church lore PKs and MKs have built up a reputation. If you wear that label, chances are people might make assumptions about you. PKs, for example, often have a reputation of being crazy children—rebellious, cantankerous, and even apostates. Why is this the case?
Well, first let me say that not every PK is Damian, the demon-child. There are, I suspect, many PKs that grow up uneventfully and lead ordinary, godly, Christian lives. But I do know that a number of PKs grow up and rebel in all sorts of ways. Why? I think there are three likely reasons.
First, children are children. All children press against the limits of authority in one way or another—they all challenge boundaries. So in one sense, PKs are no different than other children.
Second, PKs live under the scrutiny of constant attention from others in the church. I recall one Sunday that my young son was doing a little squawking as infants are want to do, and so after the service some in the church commented on how noisy he was. I was there. I heard a squawk or two, and there were other small children making as much or even more noise. Yet, people in the church zoomed in on my son. At times, I think the attention is innocent—people love their pastor and his family, and so they naturally give them more attention than other families in the church. At other times, however, I think there is an unexpressed expectation that the pastor’s family is supposed to be a notch-above the rest. The pastor, after all, is supposed to be a model of Christian virtue, otherwise he would not fulfill the criteria found in 1 Timothy 3. So people naturally look at his family and expect a higher standard of conduct because he is, after all, the pastor.
Third, I think a contributing factor is that some pastors can continually absent themselves from their families because they have to tend to the problems in their churches. They can’t take their son to a ballgame because they have to tend to a counseling problem, or they have to cancel an outing to see his daughter’s school play because someone in the congregation has died. If the church is large enough, it can regularly and consistently prevent a pastor from caring for his own wife and children. This can erode the parental-child relationship to the point that the rot of rebellion and disbelief take a firm hold within the life of a child.
To say the least, I’m very much aware of these three reasons behind rebellious PKs and they scare me to death. I daily pray for my children and hope that they don’t embrace apostasy. I know that in one sense, my children are in the Lord’s hands—my wife and I will teach them the fear and admonition of the Lord, but at some point they must embrace Christ on their own. I know of godly parents who have done everything “right,” but nevertheless have children who no longer walk with Christ. But at the same time, we can do something about the second and third contributing factors to rebellious PKs.
Do not hold PKs to a higher standard than any other child in the church. PKs should be just as godly as the rest of the children in the church. All parents should raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, not just the pastor and his wife. Before you make a critical comment about the pastor’s family ask whether you’d say the same about other children. Yes, I know that the pastor’s family in some sense is supposed to be a model for the rest of the families in the church. But PKs like any other children will and do sin—don’t expect perfection. Instead, expect that they will sin and that they will repent and seek forgiveness and grow in God’s grace.
As far as the pastor goes, be mindful that he does not ignore his family. A pastor should shepherd his sheep, but he doesn’t do so alone. His ruling elders should assist him in carrying the shepherding burden. As a church, do what you can to protect your pastor’s time with his family. Give him the freedom to devote time to his children—he is not only a father but also their pastor. A pastor shouldn’t have to sacrifice his children upon the altar of ministry to be a good shepherd to his sheep.
In the end, pray for your pastor’s children. In one sense, they are like other children. They need care, love, and instruction in the faith. But on the other hand, they also have additional pressures that other children don’t face. Other children won’t face additional scrutiny or have their father regularly absent. Pray that Christ would preserve the pastor’s children, that you would be one to nurture, not hound them.