My Dad is a pastor. Same for Grandpa, uncles, brothers-in-law, and husband. Growing up in a family of pastor’s kids (there were six of us, plus cousins) has given us a different experience than many of our peers, simply because dad was a minister. From not having him in the pew with us on Sunday, to going to every funeral and wedding in the congregation, our growing up years were shaped by his calling.
I haven’t seen much written on the pastor’s kid – pk’s tend to be tight-lipped, sometimes rebellious. So in the next couple weeks, we’ll be posting about different aspects of being a pk. Our hope is to give pk’s encouragement, give their parents some insight on a child’s perspective, and open up the topic for discussion in families.
Last week I was on a panel about growing up in the manse. Future pastor’s wives submitted questions ahead of time, and then a mix of pastor’s children answered. We’ll start this series with some thoughts I jotted down in preparation for that evening.
How is it for you to sit under the preaching of your father constantly? Great – I’m still reaping benefits. It’s been really neat to see him grow over the decades, and I’m thankful that it is my dad who shaped me spiritually, at home and from the pulpit. That’s really special – one of the perks of being a pk.
How was gossip dealt with in your home? In a pastor’s family, the dad is always dealing with “issues”. Though my parents tried using code if they had to talk about something at the dinner table, we could usually figure it out. But somehow we knew from day one that what we heard in our home was never ever to get out; it was a closed circuit. You don’t tell anyone anything. And if my mother heard us gossiping to each other, discussing something inappropriately, we would get “a talk” about our talk.
What has been the most helpful in easing the pressure/expectations of living in a “fishbowl”? My parents always made it clear that their expectations of us would not be any different if Dad’s job was different; we lived the way we lived not because Dad was the minister, but because we were a Christian family. They also made it clear that their expectations and standards were the same no matter where we were or who we were with. That made it easier because when you have nothing to hide, you’re not as interesting. And my parents also went on holiday a thousand miles away from home, so we got away from it all.
What are some ways that your parents cultivated openness in making church members feel they were like an extended part of your family? Constant hospitality; having people over for meals every Sunday and at least once during the week, having their kids over all the time to play with us, hosting prayer meeting; now my parents and brother are on the same swim team as many people in the church so they see them all the time. The congregation knew what our lives were like and we knew what theirs were like because we spent time together. Hopefully they felt like they were family!
What are some ways that your parents nurtured the personal moments with just your family making sure that you had time to yourself with them? Frankly, a big part of this was home schooling; having to teach each child each subject meant that my mother had at least some one-on-one time with us each day. And my dad, even when he was working 80 hour weeks, almost always took Friday evenings off; we would spread an old tablecloth on the floor, have fun finger food, and watch a movie together. We looked forward to it all week. And when we were older, Dad would drive us to work on his way to his study at the church, so we got one-on-one time then, too.
What advice would you give to future pastoral parents? To mothers: it is very easy, when your husband is so busy (and especially if you are home schooling and/or you have a large family), to allow your oldest child/daughter to function like a nanny or a maid. She is a child, and she needs a childhood – don’t rob her of it. I’m thankful that my mother was very careful to not burden me with work that needed to be done because of my parents’ callings. I just had normal chores. To both parents: pastoral ministry is more than a calling – it is also a lifestyle, similar to farming or being in the military. The whole family’s way of life is strongly stamped by dad’s work. As your children grow older and more independent, they will develop interests and abilities, etc., that are not related to ministry and that can make the ministry lifestyle harder to “do” on a practical level. If the child’s interests and abilities are not recognized and facilitated somehow, your kids can easily feel as though they are living someone else’s life. Some pastor’s kids (especially the ones with strong personalities, often young men) are frustrated and neither they nor their parents know why: everyone loves everyone else, the child is a believer and respects his parents, but the child and the parents are frustrated and it can be hard to put a finger on it. Often, when there is no sin issue, the kid is merely frustrated because they feel trapped in another man’s calling. So there are two main directions you can take in this situation: one pastor’s family we know let their son start businesses in the basement. They gave him a chunk of the house, some guidelines and a lot of freedom, and he started carving out his own life. If you don’t have that option because your house is too small or it is full of home schooled siblings all day, then you have to do what my parents did to two of us: get them out of the house as soon as you wisely can. For me, that meant moving out of the house at seventeen, and living an hour away from my parents, going to university, where I also worked. So keep in mind that living someone else’s lifestyle can cramp your children; even my siblings who were happy and helpful at home all blossomed personally and spiritually after moving out. So that’s just something to watch out for.
What did you like least about being in a pastor’s family? Unrepentant sinners and their sins. Even though you don’t know the details (although they sometimes do come out publicly), people’s problems are a constant, whether that’s the phone ringing in the middle of the night to announce a death, whether that’s a woman showing up asking for protection from an abusive husband – it’s pretty in-your-face. When there is a presbytery or congregational fight/split, you’re in the thick of spiritual warfare, and the pastor and his family are easy and obvious targets. I can’t tell you how hard it is to watch your parents suffer spiritually, mentally and physically because of those divisions. As the child watching, it’s hard to not become bitter toward the people who are creating the problems.
What did you like most about being in a pastor’s family? Saints and their holiness! That doesn’t mean that the saint’s don’t sin (they do!), but it is wonderful to have close fellowship with other believers who are walking in repentance and faith. Just as the problems can be in-your-face, so can the Christ-likeness. The love of the saints is an amazing comfort and support and has really shaped me and my siblings, especially during trials. That love is precious – a foretaste of heaven! The other thing that is priceless is seeing my parents deal with that conflict in a Christ-like way: watching them turn the other cheek when they’re being attacked personally; seeing them stand up for truth when they know it will bring hardship; finding out that they didn’t take an easy out from suffering because they didn’t think it would please Christ – just watching someone sanctified, up close in many different, difficult circumstances gave me a real view of what holiness looks like.