I never thought too much about it at the time, but growing up, I sort of assumed that once I moved out of the house, I would effectively stop being a PK: someone else would be my pastor, I would not play board games in the basement while Dad counseled an engaged couple upstairs, and I would not hear the phone ring in the middle of the night. Wrong.
It’s true, my dad is no longer my pastor, I don’t play board games much, and though I’m married to a pastor, he’s serving as a professor and students don’t tend to call at 2 A.M. But being a pastor’s kid never stops. Perhaps it comes into clearer focus once you move out: the challenges and the benefits continue and even amplify, just as most people’s childhoods do in adult life.
But it’s being a parishioner in a church not pastored by your father that comes with specific challenges. Pastor’s kids don’t always make great parishioners – they are used to being on the inside of things and (usually) see their dad’s style and habits as normative.
It can be hard to be in a church where you are just another member, suddenly without regular knowledge of what is happening in the church and no pre-made relationships because of your parents. While the congregation has every right to have you earn their trust and really get to know you, it can be hard to have to go through that process. Some people are even wary of having a pk around – we can be an opinionated bunch, with Scripture verses to prove our point. My husband and I have moved a lot, and I have had to take the new member’s class in many churches. Much of it has been good; I’ve learned things about the congregation and the pastor. But much of it is simply sitting through another class; I was raised by a Presbyterian minister, so sitting for an hour to hear that we hold to something called the Westminster Confession can be tedious. And it takes a lot of time and effort to get to know and understand the congregation, as it would for any new person.
It can also be difficult to have to go to your pastor or elder with a question or problem. At home, Dad could answer questions at the dinner table and he usually knew what your problems were before you did. Now you have to go to someone whom, for the first while, you don’t know all that well and who doesn’t know you all that well, and lay out your issues. That takes not only humility, but also vulnerability; you don’t know how they will react or what sort of counsel they will give.
Sometimes it is hard to listen to an exposition of a text that your dad did a better job explaining and applying. I have not struggled with this, but some pk’s really do; the frustration of an unfamiliar preaching style can be bewildering and jarring. You can wonder if this fellow is on track and if you can trust his exposition as implicitly as you trusted your father’s.
It can also be uncomfortable seeing the congregation vote for or do something that you know from past experience is a bad idea. It is hard to be submissive to the elders when you disagree with their leadership when you have grown up right beside the leadership. We have not agreed with every decision of the session in every congregation we’ve been part of. Often, there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes we were right, sometimes we learned that we were wrong.
These issues will crop up no matter how wonderful the church is and how godly the leadership is simply because they are different than what you are used to and you are in a different position than you are used to be. We have loved every pastor we’ve had and appreciated every congregation we’ve been in. But it’s not all easy. You can do three things to ameliorate the difficulties.
First, pray much. Just as you needed the Lord’s help in the manse, you’re now going to need His help out of it, for very different reasons. Pray for humility, thankfulness for the past and the present, and an ability to look for marks of grace and love the people there where they are at.
Second, don’t say much that’s not positive. If someone asks you for your opinion, or you think that something blatantly unbiblical is happening, then graciously express your concerns. Otherwise, keep mum. As the new(-ish) member and especially as a pk, your disagreement with the status quo could create division. That’s a weighty thing to have to answer for. At the very least, your dissent on a secondary issue will likely distance you from other parishioners and certainly the leadership. If the issue is not a matter of doctrinal faithfulness, just let the church go through the growing pains that you see coming up. Or maybe they will surprise you, and pull through differently than you thought. Don’t be the negative voice that’s always complaining at congregational meetings and writing to the elders.
Third, work hard. Wash the mugs, participate in Sunday school, host a small group, practice hospitality – earn the trust and respect of the congregation by your love, not your credentials. People aren’t generally impressed by credentials, and those who are usually aren’t the ones you want to impress. And remember that while work in the church will earn respect, if it’s not done out of love for the Lord and His bride, it’s not going to bear eternal fruit. It will only be seen by people and get their praise (Matt. 6:1, 5). Your work should never be done with the goal of being in the “inner circle” of the church, but in being able to minister more fully and fruitfully, because that is what every believer is called to.