Observations from a PK’s Dad

October 25, 2018  •  Dennis Ellingburg

”I hate being a preacher’s kid.  I can’t get away with anything!”  This is what my 16 year old son said to me after I called him to ask him about the speeding ticket he had just gotten five minutes before.  His frustration at being a PK (Preacher’s Kid for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term) was not just born of this one incident, but from years of gotcha moments and comments about what he could and couldn’t say or do.  As pastors we live in a stressful world of expectations, both realistic and unrealistic, and the daily pressure to be “real” in our ministry, but we can often miss how our decision to answer God’s call to the ministry effects those we love the most, especially our children.

My wife Kristy and I often talk, well she talks and I listen, about the frustration that she has at being a preacher’s wife and living up to the unrealistic expectation to be the perfect little wife, but our kids often suffer through the pressures of ministry silently, not sharing with us the hurts they experience.  So what are some of the pressures I have found that my kids face, and what can we as pastors do to help our kids survive being PK’s still loving the church?  In the next two articles, I will look at what pressures Preacher’s Kids face, and how we as pastors and church members can help our PK’s survive.

Pressure 1 – Fish Bowl

On September 12, 1975, one year, three months, and five days before I was born, Pink Floyd released their haunting album Wish You Were Here.  In the song of the same name, one of my favorite Floyd songs, Waters and Gilmor write this poinant line:

How I wish, how I wish you were here.

We’re just two lost souls

Swimming in a fish bowl,

Year after year,

I love this line, because I think it perfectly sums up what it feels like to be in a ministry family.  One of the first pressures that my son expressed in his comment is what I call the Fish Bowl effect.  As ministers, everything we do is on public display.  We have call by God to not only preach the word, but to live out that word before the world.  Everything we do, from what we wear to what we say is analyzed and parsed by the greater community both inside and outside of our church.  I heard about a pastor who was chided by the deacons of his church because he wore shorts to his son’s baseball game.  The deacons proclaimed that the pastor of _______________ Church should be more dignified in public and that our former pastor would never be seen in public dressed like this.  What makes this worse is this happened just a few short years ago!

Our children also are faced with this same pressure.  Because of the biblical mandate on pastors to “manage our own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4), our children’s behavior is often weaponized against us and used as a way to attack us.  This pressure to perform, to not embarrass your family, is incredibly stressful for PK’s.  Not only this, everything they do is magnified.  While most kids with a new license may test the constraints of law enforcement, a PK’s traffic indiscretion can become the talk of the town in mere minutes!

Pressure 2 – Ungrounded

Not only is the fish bowl a pressure, but so is the ungrounded nature of ministry life.  PK’s often find themselves unable to set down roots because of the nature of the call.  My oldest son, Noah, has been a YMK (Youth Minister’s Kid) and a PK (Preacher’s Kid) his whole life.  Because of this, he’s lived in 4 different towns and attended 5 schools in his 12 years of kindergarten to high school (two were in the same town but he’s counting).  For a PK, this means that they are torn from friends, schools, and the community they have connected to.  This can cause great pressure, and even resentment towards the conference (if you’re in a presbytery model of church governance), towards their father (if you’re in a congregational form of church governance), or even towards God.

Pressure 3 – Performance

A third pressure is the performance pressure.  Often churches think that because a pastor or his wife perform in a certain way, the kids must too.  This shows itself in a number of pressures.  From the family side this can show up in Voluntelling.  What do I mean by Voluntelling?  Vollentelling is where we as ministry parents tell our kids they will volunteer for things at church.  Ministry projects, children’s events, outreach projects, fundraisers, revival meetings; all of these are things our kids will do, they aren’t given an option.  While their friends may be allowed to pick and choose what they will participate in ministry kids often do not.

Not only that, ministry kids are often seen as counselors, or biblical scholars by teachers or fellow students.  They are seen as those who should have the answers in Bible study (and they often do), or who should be able to give godly advice to a friend (which they sometimes don’t) just because their parent has that calling.  And when they don’t have the right answer, or when they don’t know what to say, they are treated as if they are deficient somehow.

Pressure 4 – Sharing Dad

Finally, the pressure to share your father with the whole congregation is amazingly stressful.  In an article in The Salt Lake Tribune pastor Corey Hodges noted:  “A pastor’s family has to share him or her with church-members.  My boys masked their disappointment, but being a child of a pastor myself, I understood how much it hurt them.”

As ministers we are expected to be there at every stage of a church member’s life.  Deaths, births, and hospital stays all require the presence of the pastor regardless of what’s going on.  I’ve had to leave games, come home early from vacation, and miss other events to minister to my members, and while my family doesn’t complain, it’s hard for them to “share” me with the church.

Next week, I’ll look at what we can do to help our kids survive being a PK, but until then, let me encourage you if you are a pastor or church member reading this page to pray for Pastor’s Kids.  As difficult and trying as being a pastor can be, it is equally trying to be their child and the major difference is our kids did not sign up for this.  So I covet your prayers for Noah, Ethan, Aiden and all the preacher’s kids who love their dads.

2 thoughts on “Observations from a PK’s Dad

  1. Traci says:

    A huge amen to all this! Having been a PK all my life, and now raising 5 PKs, I am with you 💯. There are innumerable blessings that come with being part of a ministry family, but you nailed some of the most difficult struggles.


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