In Theory: Do pastors' kids have it tough?

Growing up can be tough, but children of preachers face an extra element — the added pressure to keep up appearances and not give in to temptation.

Also dealing with the church takes up a lot of parents' time, and that means more stress and more temptation to rebel. In the article, "Beneath the stereotypes, a stressful life for preachers' kids," on Religious News Service, Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, says that as a preacher's child, he was expected to be happy all the time, even during tough periods. "You start to feel like you're a prop because you know that behind the scenes, mom and dad fought on the way to church," Bakker says. In the book, "A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling," Israel N. Levitz writes, "...the higher expectations placed upon children of clergy create for them inordinate difficulties in growing up," and says that many act up in an attempt to assert their own identities.

Q: Do you think the children of pastors have a tough time?

It's tough just being a kid these days. The entertainment they're exposed to has reached all-time moral lows. Technology has ramped up exposure to all kinds of temptations and ways to get into trouble. Public schools have become places where open, gross immorality is tolerated. Pastors' kids are exposed to all of these things, but they also have the extra pressure of others' expectations to be perfectly behaved in the midst of it all, biblically knowledgeable, and often self-sufficient when their parents' time is taken up serving others. Even when others don't actively pressure clergy kids, they often take it upon themselves.

God is not unjust. I believe he rewards the sacrifices demanded of clergy kids. When Peter reminded Jesus that he and the disciples had left all to follow him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the Gospel's sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).

Pastors' kids do have a tough time, but they also have a good God who appreciates every sacrifice they make.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


It all depends on the kid.

I have more than 10 years in youth ministry and I have seen hundreds of students come through my church. While church life can be a hard time for some children of clergy, others find that their church becomes a welcome center of their childhood development. Some kids rebel, others follow in their parents' footsteps and become clergy themselves. I think the difficulty arises when churches fail to model healthy social systems for the children.

Jay Bakker does not present an accurate reflection of what a healthy system for children of clergy should look like. He had a family that was one part ministry and one part celebrity. They were in a social system where their religious authority was derived from their ability to appear as a happy model family. Of course that poor kid is going to get used as a prop.

The truth is that clergy families are just like everyone else. Sometimes they fight, other times they are sad. Sometimes the pastor wakes up on a Sunday morning and does not want to have to deal with his church that day. I think Israel N. Levitz's observations are great reminders that faith communities need to provide space for clergy, as well as their children, to be regular, old, messy, unique human beings, as God intended. When that happens, I think the church is a place where clergy and their kids can thrive.

David Derus
Student, Fuller Theological Seminary


Yes, it can be tough at times to be a son or daughter of a clergyman or woman. The fact is, however, that children of clergy have their unique challenges — as do children of astronauts, teachers or elected officials. Every job has its unique requirements and often an entire family — including children — is required to sacrifice a bit for the greater good of a family unit.

If a child's father is a rabbi, for instance, that would require him to behave exceptionally well in synagogue, since all eyes are upon him. Of course it can be very difficult for a 10-year-old boy to sit still for two or three hours, especially through a sermon. But so is the life of a girl whose father is in the Navy, because she may find herself going to a different school and making new friends every two years or so. The point is that regardless of occupation, children will inevitably have some stress directly related to the line of work of their parents.

I believe that clergymen and women have the same responsibility as any parent to focus on the positive and bolster our children's respect for the positions we occupy. As good parents, our objective should be to empower our children and have them recognize their unique ability to be part of our extraordinary work of making this world a kinder, gentler and better place. I feel that when children of clergy truly feel that they are part of the team, it makes it much easier for them to shoulder the stress associated with their parents' jobs and enables them to appreciate the privilege of being a participant in God's holy work.

Rabbi Simcha Bachman
Chabad Jewish Center


Yes, preachers' kids can have it tougher than other kids, but not always. My own minister, when I was in high school, had two daughters younger than I, and he made it a point to spend time with them. They turned out OK, although I'm not in touch with them now, so I can't say for sure.

I ran this week's question past my wife, who is a psychologist. She and I both know of clergy kids who suffered from — in her words — verbal neglect. The problem is, assuming the clergy parent is male, that the kid never gets enough Daddy. He's "saving souls" or "doing the Lord's work," and the child is probably made to feel guilty for wanting to keep Daddy from doing those important things. So eventually the child will act up or act out his/her frustration of not getting enough Daddy.

By the way, clergy aren't the only sinners here; any parent who worships his/her job can be just as guilty of child neglect. Some men, clergy or not, think it's the mother's job to raise the children, so they opt out, emotionally as well as physically.

Raising children isn't easy, for clergy and non-clergy alike. Also, not every person who can procreate should procreate, whether clergy or not. It's easy and fun to have sex, but it certainly isn't easy to be a good parent. It may be fun, but it isn't easy.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


Good Lord, yes. I think it's a little better than it used to be; parishioners have gotten more sensitive and compassionate about the pressures placed on PKs (pastor's/priest's kids), and have taken off some of the heat. Still, it can't be easy. And yeah, PKs are famous, or infamous, for acting out in order to prove they're nobody's angel.

Other truisms about PKs, at least in the Episcopal tradition, say that once it's their own choice, one kid per family might stay in the church into adulthood — maybe even become a priest themselves — while their siblings will disappear from church as soon as possible. We tell ourselves that it's not a judgment on their parents or even on the church; they just know too much about how the sausage is made.

But let me brag about my kids — whose stepmom I became when they were already young adults. My husband and his ex are both priests too — imagine the potential for trouble with not one, but two (now three) priestly parents. But no; they are a wonder.

From growing up in church circles, they're remarkably poised in social situations, flow effortlessly into the rhythm of hosting a meal for a large gathering, and can set up and take down folding chairs and tables like nobody's business. They give money generously and work for political causes. One or the other of them is always doing something — something major, something hard — to help out a friend in need. And in a crisis, even that of a stranger, they spring into action unbidden by anyone, roll up their sleeves and help out.

Our own PKs are, all of them, people who love their neighbor and regularly do what they can to make the world more like what God wants it to be.

Turns out some of this church stuff sank in after all.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


God bless 'em, they certainly do have a tough time. A clergy friend and her husband recently adopted a baby girl, and I know that even as we met this long-awaited child, we were evaluating her ability to be in a crowd of strangers. Can Lily be at ease with so many eyes upon her, and so many hands with implicit permission to touch and hold? It is all so loving, but inevitably so overwhelming. We pray for Lily to thrive in the really big extended family that God has given her.

My friend is so in love with her new daughter; of course she will find reasons to include anecdotes about child-raising in her sermons. Pastors already accept that our lives are exposed to our congregations. This is part of the calling and the deep desire to identify the myriad ways in which God moments intersect and transform our human moments. If we identify them in our own lives, maybe you will be able to identify them in yours. And there's nothing like parenthood to transform us into people of greater love — so many stories! But the day will come when Lily will scrunch further down in the pew as her story is publicly told, rolling her eyes and scheming activities that will be completely pulpit-unworthy.

Lily and her mother will have to find grace for one another again and again.

The congregation will have to find grace for my friend when she chooses Lily first and them second. My type-A friend will have to find grace for herself when she realizes that not every person can be visited or every meeting attended when you are growing a healthy, well-adjusted PK. The best outcome will be a young adult Lily who looks back and sees not "church people," but "lots of people who love me." A Lily who has learned through grace that what is broken can be repaired. A Lily who knows that God cares for her and has good work for her to do in building the kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.

The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church


"I know you're my father, but you don't look like him." These were the first words that I spoke to my father when I came to the United States from Korea with my mother and older sister. My father had proceeded us several years earlier to pastor the first Korean Southern Baptist Church in the United States.

The man who greeted us that day bore little resemblance to the photograph in my mother's bedroom in Korea. Even though we were reunited, my father remained largely missing in my life. In addition to being a pastor, he ran a dental technician business on the side.

My sister was an excellent student and my father expected me to follow her example. Unfortunately, I could not match her performance. To my father this was inexcusable, and he punished me severely for my mediocre grades.

By the time I reached junior high, I gave up on academics, my father and his religion. I experimented with drugs, and rejected Christianity, becoming a Buddhist. In high school, I was dealing drugs, sporting long hair and a rebellious attitude. I knew my behavior embarrassed my father, but I didn't care.

I had money, popularity and girls, but found myself feeling hollow inside. One night, bored and alone in a back room at a party, I cried out, "Jesus, if you exist, and you're like the God I've heard my father preach all these years, make yourself known to me." Immediately I was flooded with an intense love that left me sobbing for the next three days.

Meeting Christ marked a turning point in my life. My relationship with my father began to improve, although it took many years for a full reconciliation. Being a preacher's kid was tough, but I wouldn't trade the outcome for anything!

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


A prominent Mormon leader, David O. McKay, has been quoted as saying, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

His statement reflects the Latter-day Saints view of a family's potential as an eternal unit. The comment is especially pertinent to clergy as they try to meet the requirements of their callings and their responsibilities to their children.

In the LDS church there is a difference in that men are called to lead congregations as lay bishops and then released after a number of years of service. Any child can become the LDS equivalent to the preacher's kid and if they do, they know it won't last forever. There is another factor that may mute criticism from adult members of the congregation. Any couple can, potentially, become the parents whose children are placed under the microscope as the bishop's kids.

Even so, pressure exists. Parents can alleviate it by assuring youngsters that they are loved unconditionally and that they are not expected to be model children, or "props," as one of the background articles put it. Parents also must actually publicly show that attitude of unconditional love in moments when the child may stray.

I once served with a bishop whose son rejected church activity. The bishop's solution was to give even more of himself so that he could meet the needs of our members and also be a father to his troubled son. This burden, very taxing on the bishop, didn't immediately solve the boy's problems. However, I've no doubt the son knew he was loved and that the door was always open for him to return, without recrimination.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


When I asked my son about this question he just grunted, and I'm guessing that's a nod to the truth of unique difficulties he faces, but I also notice he uses his PK identity as a video-gamer and on his email accounts. So, while he may feel several pounds of pressure being the pastor's son, he also revels in the identity. My expectations for him have only been what I imagine any Christian family might exhibit, and there really should be no superior morality that pastor families exemplify or we'd be demonstrating falsehood. All Christians should do what God says do, and shouldn't do what he says "don't." God expects simple obedience from every Christian, and pastors are merely docents in the local tour group of this spiritual path. Perhaps that's the catch, we should know better than the laymen, so our failures are met with less grace and more repercussion.

The biggest thing I perceive, though, about whatever pressure may fall on PKs is that it first comes to their dads. We're employed by fellow sinners and are sometimes at the mercy of their personal tastes regarding church matters. Suppose some parishioners of position think the pastor isn't "pastory" enough, or doesn't pray like Elijah, or that his kids are too rambunctious — he's going to be out of a job. So that economic threat may find its way into PK corrections.

I couldn't tell you how grateful I am for how my kids present themselves and are perceived, but how much is simple survival and how much is personal conviction? Time will tell. When I'm sitting in my rocker one day, I'm sure the boy will fess up and send me to heaven gritting my teeth. I jest, but I do think the Bakkers and Grahams were under a bit more scrutiny that most.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


Most of us have parents who are known for something by other community members, especially in tight-knit neighborhoods. But there are certain professions that carry higher expectations. Doctors, judges, politicians and religious teachers carry a burden of expectations that most professions do not have. Depending on the size and closeness of the community, members of these occupations find themselves being well-known and visible to everyone else. These jobs also appear, in other people's eyes, to have a need for increased moral righteousness and responsibility.

Children in these families often face a higher visibility among the neighbors, as well as assumptions about their grace and capabilities, they cannot always meet. So children who have well-known religious teachers for parents will have a tough time growing up and meeting the expectations of their community.

All people face challenges in moving from childhood to adulthood, but children of local leaders, like children of celebrity, have additional obstacles in their path to maturity.

Steven Gibson

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