Reflections on Growing up a Pastor's Kid

Reflections on Growing up a Pastor's Kid

So what's it really like living day in and day out with the label "pastor's kid"? Here's what 12 of them had to say about life on the inside.

Kristi Rector is assistant editor of Vital Ministry Magazine. Reprinted by permission, Vital Ministry Magazine, Copyright 1999, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.

If there's one group of kids in church that gets stereotyped, it's the pastor's kids. Whether they're seen as holy terrors or heavenly angels, the expectations put on them by church members, Sunday school teachers, elders, and often their pastor parents, are typically sky-high. And the eyes of the congregation are always watching them.

So what's it really like living day in and day out with the label "pastor's kid"? Here's what 12 of them had to say about life on the inside.

In the Spotlight

No matter what their personality, PKs attract attention, Some enjoy the extra notice given by their extended church family. "Every­body's always glad to see you at church and watches out for you and takes care of you and wants to know what you're doing," says 16-year-old Michael Nevergall.

"I enjoyed getting special attention from church members," says 30-year-old Tim Allmann. "It was like having a little celebrity. I still get that extra attention when I go visit the churches tmy dad] has served in since I've left home, even though people there don't know me all that well. Having that attention made me realize that my dad was very special."

However, he says, "The attention also brought certain expectations. It spoiled me and gave me a bit of a big head, I think. My mother may have grown a number of gray hairs as a result of keeping me in line as a child!"

Yet just like celebrities attract the critical eye of the media along with the glamour of attention, PKs also experience their celebrity as a double-edged sword. "There was absolutely no privacy, no secrecy. Everybody knew who you were, everybody knew who your dad was, and that just hung over your head constantly," says 50-year-old Ruth Allmann. "Plus our parents didn't help much because they reinforced, 'You are the pastor's daughter, and you will act accordingly, and you will do this and you will do that because you must uphold the image of your father.' You constantly had this cloud hanging over your head of what you could and couldn't do, and you felt really restricted about developing your own personality in a lot of ways."

Mirror, Mirror

Unlike many jobs, pastoral duties can turn into family affairs. "We take lots of trips to visit people, mission­aries, or someone in the hospital. My dad takes us there and we'll visit people. I like getting to meet people," says 16-year-old Darcy Fisher.

At the same time, PKs can often feel like their life is not their own because of the demands church ministry places on their parents. "1 didn't like being the first to arrive and the last to leave every time the church doors were open for a service or special event," says Mavis Sanders.

John David Nevergall says he gets annoyed when his family has to attend the church activities atm .st every weekend of the month: "That really chews up a lot of time."

Tim Altmann says, "I missed the opportunity to spend a lot of week­end time with my dad. I was always jealous of those other boys who would go camping and fishing for a weekend.'

But on the positive side, Jennifer Murray, 29, found comfort in her father's unusual schedule. "Because of my dad's flexible schedule, he was able to make it a priority to be there for us a lot in the mornings before school and to attend all of our activities. I took that for granted until I realized that it wasn't the norm for dads to be around that much."

In addition, participating together in the many aspects of ministry provides pastors with opportunities to shape the character of their children. Bryan Sandmann, 34, says, "The most beneficial part of being a PK is to have been raised in a loving, caring, and Christ-centered home. Having this as a basis for my own life means that I have a different outlook and demeanor, and I've learned how to be supportive of others."

And thankfully, the pastor's family often has a wide support network in the church. "It was great just to he such a part of something, to have that really good foundation of Christian faith, and to feel like you were part of a family larger than your own," says Ruth Altmann.

A Distant Reflection

The variety and richness of relationships was a common praise of PKs. Amy Simpson, 26, says she enjoyed being exposed to a wide variety of people within the Christian community. "Church functions, missions conferences, pastors' conferences, and other experiences gave me opportunities to interact with different age groups and people with various peispectives. That gave me a rich, well-rounded sense of community as I was growing up," she says.

Teenager John David Nevergall agrees. "You get to meet a whole lot of nice older people. Going to church, they all know who you are. You don't feel left out when you go to church. Like at baptismal dinners and things like that, you always meet a lot of new people, and that's always interesting."

Despite the fact that her father pastored in rural Iowa, Mavis Sanders says, "Our home was an international crossroads. My mother, gifted in entertaining and the ability to 'make do' with a food budget that had to feed a family of 11, creatively entertained missionaries, denom­inational leaders, educators, and drop-in acquaintances. We learned that [simple food] was a feast when shared with people from whom we could learn so much."

One reason PKs have so many opportunities to meet people is that they often move many times during their growing-up years as new churches call their families to serve. "We seemed to move every five years, and I always kind of liked that," says Ruth Altmann. "I was really into 1.en pals, so I never gave up all the friends I had in the old place because I was writing back and forth to them. And I made new friends at the new church, so I always felt like I was luckier than the other children because I had this huge circle of acquaintances and friends that I still kept in touch with."

However, many PKs are resentful of the fact that the pastor's job forces them to tear up their roots several times during their growing-up years. "I blamed the church for all my problems, such as having to move and uprooting me from life as I knew it. My real problem was not learning how to adapt to new people and new situations. i would feed my anger with stubbornness," says Joshua Allen, age 19.

Through a Glass Darkly

One of the most difficult aspects of being a PK is the sense of being under constant scrutiny by people in the church and community. Like many pastor's kids, Simpson says she grew up under the weight of other people's expectations. "I didn't experience much grace among Christian people. And many non-Christian people would change their behavior around me."

Twelve-year-old Betsey Rumley also feels the weight of her parents' role at church. She says, "Bible school teachers treat you unfairly because you should have your lessons done even though no one else does them." Sandmann echoed similar thoughts about his experience as a pastor's child. "The one tough thing about being a PK is that sometimes you're held to a higher standard by others who feel that, of all people, you should be setting an example."

Michael Nevergall says, "A lot of people think that you know more than you do. They'll ask questions about what our dad's doing, and that gets kind of annoying because you have to try and tell people stuff that you don't even know. They come to you when it's not even your responsibility."

Despite the constant watching eye, pastor's kids are often put into a personality box before they arrive at a church. "You were either the goody­two-shoes or you were the rebellious devil-type who was wild and crazy because you'd been restricted so long. You just weren't allowed to be a normal, average person," Ruth Altmann says.

A Clear View

So what can you do to make your children's experiences of growing up a PK positive?

  • Take advantage of opportunities to show them that they're more valuable to you than your job is. Don't cancel family plans when an unexpected church function could be handled by someone else. Use the flexibility of your schedule to spend time with your family when they're home. Guard your days off and plans with family, and let them hear you say, "I'm sorry, I can't do that—it's our family time." Be willing to stand up for them against nosy church members.
  • Show them that they take priority over the congregation. Occasionally you'll have to break plans with your kids for church members, but do everything in your power to avoid it. For example, if you've promised to take your kids out for pizza after the evening service, and some­one accepts Christ during church, schedule a time for follow-up or have a lay leader counsel the new Christian instead of breaking your date with your kids.
  • Share your job with them. Take your kids with you on visitations to new members. Or get involved with a ministry in your church that your whole family can do together.
  • Respect their individuality. Help them find a unique place of ministry that fits their personalities—don't force them to sing in the choir if they hate to sing. Gently guide them in discovering their spiritual gifts and general interests, and then encourage them to pursue their talents whether it's through church or an outside avenue. "My parents were a ministry team who encouraged all of us to be involved with them and to use the gifts God _ ave us," says Sanders.
  • Allow them grace to "fail" at home. Don't tell them that their mistakes will reflect poorly on the pastor. Understand that despite the job their parents have, they're normal kids. Don't hold them to a higher standard than others their age, but do give them boundaries for behavior.
  • Give them privacy from the church. Always ask for their permission before using them in sermon illustrations, and don't use them too frequently. If you sense your kids are burning out on church life, allow them to take a break from the whirlwind of activities.
  • Show them how to have a relationship with God that doesn't revolve around how things are going at church. They're bound to be frustrated at some point with the church organization; help them to separate those conflicts from their spiritual walk.

Pastor's kids have unique growing-up experiences. But with a little extra attention and sensitivity, you can make it a rich and rewarding time for both you and your children.

Kristi Rector is assistant editor of Vital Ministry Magazine. Reprinted by permission, Vital Ministry Magazine, Copyright 1999, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.