Observations from a PK’s Dad, Part 2


November 14, 2018  •  Dennis Ellingburg

Being a pastor is tough.  It requires much of those men who are called by God to lead a flock.  But if we’re not careful, we will often miss the toll our calling places on our families, especially our kids.  You may have heard of Preacher’s Kid Syndrome.  It’s a term that is used to identify a child who is raised by a pastor who then rejects the church’s values, whether through drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, or a host of other destructive behaviors.  The joke goes, “Watch out for those preacher’s kids!”

Though this is often tongue in cheek, it belies a reality that is painful for any family facing this loss of relationship.  This week, I wanted to just take a moment to discuss some of the things that may help your kids survive being a PK without them finding themselves the cautionary tale told to other pastor’s families.

Be Their Dad, Not Just Their Pastor

Let me first say that every dad is to pastor their family.  The spiritual training and health of our families as men is primarily our responsibility, and we will answer to God for how well we lead our families spiritually.  This is true of every father, not just those who are called to preach.  Lewis Bayly declared that “What the preacher is in the pulpit, the same the Christian householder is in his house.”[1]

But we are also called to be their dads.  This means we are to play with them, love them, encourage them, go to their games, be active in their interests.  In short, we are to be their dads.  Yes, shepherding a church can be incredibly time-consuming, but our children should not get the “left-overs” of our time, but should see themselves as a priority.

Let them Be A Kid, Not an Extension of Your Ministry

In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul instructs Timothy that an Elder (Pastor) must “manage his own household well…keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”  This instruction is incredibly important to the pastor in thinking about what it means to pastor your family and the responsibility that we as pastors have to give our children the gospel.  But it also creates incredibly pressure if interpreted wrongly to hold our families to an unrealistic standard.  The passages commands us not to neglect the role of father that God has given us, to not become an absentee dad in the home, but to take just as seriously the spiritual health of our families as we do the health of our churches.

But this pressure can cause pastors to demand their families to put on a show for the community; dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, etc.  Over the years our kids can see this as hypocrisy and create a sense of bitterness in them.  Our goal should be to give the gospel to our kids and correct them when necessary, not create little pastors or pastor wives who always do the right things for the crowd so that daddy looks good.  Let your kids be kids.

Hold them to the standard of God’s Word, not the personal preferences of your congregation.  Let them wear shorts and rock band T-shirts.  Let them listen to Taylor Swift (come quickly Lord, Jesus) and The Zack Brown Band.  Let them go to movies, and play FortNite.  Let them be kids, complete with all the mistakes and awkwardness that this age entails, and give them Jesus.

Give them Grace, Not Just Punishment

We are to discipline our kids like any parent.  But often because of the pressure to perform we can find ourselves punishing our kids not just for what they do, but how we perceive what they did reflecting on us as ministers.  This is a dangerous precedent.  True, there is a pressure that comes from being a preacher’s kids, but that pressure can be incredibly destructive.

As Pastors, we must give our kids room to sin and doubt, to make mistakes and to fall flat our their faces.  If we don’t, it can have horrific repercussions.  John Piper’s son, Barnabas, sums this up well, “The additional pressure to be morally upstanding does not help my heart. It creates a convoluted soul environment in which temptation to rebel and temptation to be a hypocrite battle the desire to honor Jesus and my dad.” [2]

Let them See You Live Your Faith, not just Talk About It

Eddie Vedder of the band Pearl Jam once said, “Whatever your walk of life is, I think you have to be real about it.”[3]  As Pastors, what our kids need most is to see us living what we preach.  A few weeks ago I asked my sons, “Do you guys think I’m a hypocrite, do you think I live what I preach?”  Thankfully, they responded that they do believe I live what I preach and that I was in fact not a hypocrite, but in my heart I know that there are times when they are wrong.  Like most pastors, I deal with doubts, depression, fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, and a list of other emotions and mental states that are just not holy.

As Pastors, we are to live out the Christian life to the best of our ability, but we also need to be real with our kids when we don’t.  Our kids need to see us doubt and realize that its ok, that God is not going to abandon them.  They need to see us get angry at the church, and yet still go and love because that is what Christ has called us to do.  They need to see us repent to them and our wives for harsh words or moral lapses.  They need to see us on our knees for their souls and the souls of our congregations.  They need to see us being the hands and feet of Christ in our community.

In short, they need to see us live out our faith, not just talk about it.

Pray for them

Finally, and I know this seems like an obligatory statement, we need to pray for our kids, and they need to know that we are praying for them.  Pray is touching God for our kids, and without the hand of our Savior moving in their lives they will never know and grow in Christ.  We must pray for their justification, pray for their sanctification, pray for their future spouses, and for their careers.  We need to pray, because apart from the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives there is no hope for them eternally no matter how well we parent them.

Your kids don’t need a perfect parent.  They just need their dad.  Go and be a dad today!

[1] David E. Prince, Family Worship, Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [on-line], accessed 14 November 2018, <http://www.cbmw.org>.

[2] Barnabas Piper, 7 Things a Pastor’s Kid Needs From a Father, The Gospel Coalition [online], accessed 14 November 2018, <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/7-things-a-pastors-kid-needs-from-a-father/>.

[3] Eddie Vedder, Be Real Quotes, Brainy Quote [online], accessed 14 November 2018, <https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/eddie_vedder_791651?src=t_be_real>

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