“Children who grow up in a preacher’s home are privileged children. They are being raised by godly, committed parents in a home that is permeated with the Word of God. They live right in the center of the greatest work in the world; they will meet some of the finest men and women that have graced this planet, and they will probably go places, see things, and have experiences others can only dream about. They will tend to be more personable, outgoing, and independent.” (Women in Ministry, by Vicki Sargent)
That is the positive side of raising children in the ministry. The other side of the coin is that children who grow up in a preacher’s home are vulnerable, and generally under a lot of pressure and criticism. If you were to ask people to complete this sentence, “The preacher’s kids are ______________,” what do you think the answer would be? According to several surveys done among church people, the prevailing answer is, “…the worst of all!” And of course, the long standing joke it that the preacher’s kids got that way by hanging out with the deacon’s kids!
We can laugh at that, but to me it is very sad to see the many young adults that have grown up in a preacher’s home who are now out of church and no longer even claiming salvation. It is not a small issue and one that needs to be investigated. What is causing this problem?
There are many factors, but we want to look at a few of the most common ones.
* Unrealistic expectations from those in the congregation. For some reason, there will be people who expect preacher’s kids to be perfect and forget that they are little sinners, just like other children. Preacher’s kids are expected to be smarter than other kids and to know their Bible well, even at an early age. These expectations put undue pressure on your children. If these expectations are present, when your child misbehaves, you will be sure to find out about it!
On the other hand, unrealistic expectations may come from us as parents. Sometimes we forget that our children are just children, and they will misbehave. They will need correction. They will not be perfect, and we should not expect them to be. We need to let them be children. If your children feel that the success of their father’s ministry is directly related to their behavior, you have placed unrealistic expectations on your children!
* Lack of attention from parents. The Christian leader and his wife must be careful not to give their children the impression that the work of the ministry is more important than the family. Your children need to know that they are important to you and that they are not disposable. Although your time may be limited, you and your husband must plan definite time to spend individually with each child. Many preachers have poured their lives into their ministry, only to lose their children and maybe even their wife in the end. Our children need to know that that are precious to us and they come first, before the ministry.
* Insisting on rigid standards without giving a biblical basis. Children ought to be taught to do or not to do certain things because the Bible teaches it, not simply because someone in the church will criticize them. Parents say, “Oh, you can’t do that because you are the preacher’s kid and you need to act right.” So the kid grows up hating the people of the church because he feels they are always looking down on him.
I have heard preachers and preacher’s wives that told their children, “You can’t act that way. What will the people at church think? You can’t do that because if you do, the people at church will not like it.” Whenever I hear those statements or something similar, it always sends up a red warning flag. The parent that makes such statements is letting the fear of man dictate their life, rather than a fear of God. They are making the people at church the standard, rather than the Word of God. Never use such statements to try to get your child to behave right. You are making a big mistake.
* Poor attitude of parents toward ministerial problems. If either the mother or father or both display bad attitudes toward people in the church, or are resentful about certain problems, this can have a very detrimental effect on the children. Parents need to be very careful what they say about church members in front of children. They need to see your heart of love for people, not your criticism.
* Lack of discretion in discussing problems of the ministry. Parents will need to exercise care and discernment about how much they discuss of church problems in front of their children. Younger children do not have the emotional and spiritual maturity to handle talk about problems within the church. My husband and I were always very careful to not discuss problems at church in front of our children, especially when they were young. As children get older and understand more of what is going on, you can give them a few facts and ask them to help you pray about the situation.
* Assuming spiritual growth in children is a natural result of being a PK or a MK. Sometimes parents wrongly assume that their children will become strong Christians just because they grow up in a pastor’s home, attend church regularly, have family altar, etc. A Christian leader’s children, just like others, need definite instruction in salvation, personal devotions, and character development. You as their parent need to be personally involved in these things. Don’t leave it to the Sunday School teacher or the Christian School teacher.
* Failure to provide a well-balanced life. Even the Christian leader’s children need a happy social life, time with family and time with friends. Life in the pastor’s home ought to include wonderful times of fun and fellowship, with opportunities for socializing with friends. Don’t let a lack of money keep you from having fun family times. There are many things you can do together that don’t require money.
* Lack of proper discipline. There are two extremes to watch out for in discipline. One is the overly severe and unreasonable discipline, the other is no discipline. They both produce the same result—rebellious children. As parents, we need to balance correct discipline with love.
* A wrong attitude about sacrifice. Some preachers and missionaries talk about how much they have had to sacrifice to serve the Lord. The kids get the idea that they are missing out on life because they have had to sacrifice so much. When they grow up, they want nothing to do with the Lord or with going to church, because they feel they have sacrificed enough in their lifetime. We need to teach our children that serving the Lord is a privilege. Don’t point out the things they are missing, but the opportunities and the privileges they have that no other children have.
What do you do when church people criticize your children?
* Thank them for coming to you. Do not be defensive. Let them know that you appreciate their concern.
* Say, “I will look into that.” Then do it—in private. Be sure not to deal with the child in public. That will only cause resentment in your child.
* Do not automatically assume anything. Find out the whole truth of the matter. Don’t just come down on your child because someone thinks he did wrong. You will need to get both sides to have the complete story. If possible, check with another adult who was there.
* Take appropriate action. If the child did wrong, be careful to discipline him. Don’t excuse the wrongdoing. People in the church need to know that your child will be corrected if he did wrong. Your child also needs to know that he is not going to get away with wrongdoing just because he is the preacher’s kid! If your child did not do wrong, help him to see some lessons he can learn from the situation.
* Be sure that you don’t get bitter toward the person that comes to you with criticism. Your child will pick up on that bitterness, and it will destroy their life as well as your own.
Beverly is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She and Doug Hammett have been married for over 35 years. Since her father was a pastor and her husband was already a pastor when she married him, she is well acquainted with the blessings as well as the problems of the ministry! Bev’s favorite things to do are read and spend time with her family.
In Autumn of 2010, Doug stepped aside from his position as senior pastor at LVBC to reach and train men in Botswana and South Africa. Beverly continues to write for our ladies publication, giving her unique perspective of life in the ministry, and now life on the mission field. You can read more about their ministry here.