Working with pastors’ kids has been an enlightening experience. I grew up a PK and am still one to this day. When I entered into this ministry position at Care for Pastors, I thought I could relate to all (if not most) PK’s. I have since learned that I relate in many ways, but also can’t comprehend what some may feel and experience. One thing is certain: I learn from every PK I speak to. Each has a voice and a testimony to tell. These voices and their stories circle in my mind day after day as I seek to find ways to encourage them and help them in their personal journey.
Not long ago, I asked a client, who is currently a pastor’s kid, to write a letter to her dad sharing her thoughts and feelings about him being a pastor. When she read it, I felt as if my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. As the words poured out through her shaken voice, I could almost sit there and join her in her pain as she expressed her heartache about her relationship with her dad. She prefaced it with this statement, “I love my dad and that’s why I will never share this with him. It would hurt him and I don’t want that. So, I will sit in silence with a smile on my face and keep going.” After composing myself from the unexpected shock of her expressions, I sat there in silence with her as she cried. I knew, not personally what she was going through, but that she wasn’t alone in her feelings and had lost herself in the background of her dad’s attention. I asked her if I could share her letter anonymously with you all. She agreed. Her letter reads as follows:
Lately you have been a jerk, and you are fighting more for your ministry than you are for our family. It breaks my heart more than you know.
You think that I am against you, when that is so far from the truth. I am against the bitterness inside of you. I am against you whining about our family. You have a good family, so please don’t take us for granted.
I appreciate all the things you do for us: cooking, cleaning, working. All of those things are great, but all I really want is a dad who values me more than his church or position.
I miss when you spent time with us doing things besides church stuff and watching TV when you get home. I miss when we played board games and ate dinner as a family. I wish you could put your family before the church.
I hate that when I try to talk to you, you turn things around on me. I think there is darkness inside of you that you are ignoring. You need to get help. I love you.
“I love you”. This set the tone for every word she wrote before that final statement. I share this with you, not to make you feel guilty, but to help give you a glimpse into what many pastors’ kids feel. As I said earlier, I am a pastor’s daughter, I was also a pastor’s wife. I know the sacrifice, time, and effort a pastor puts into his work—into the ministry of the gospel. I also know that sometimes pastors get lost in it all. They often feel the need to make everyone happy. Then, there’s the pressure to keep money coming in and the numbers growing. I know that pastors go home and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. But, I also know that the kids see this and carry it as well. So, I share this with you and ask you to humbly evaluate what type of pastor you are, but more importantly, what type of parent and spouse you are. Your family waits for you to come home. Your family needs you. They want to support you.
So how can you respond?
Evaluate your priorities: God, Family, Ministry
From a young age, my father would share openly about where we stood as a family. He would tell us that God always came first, followed by his family and then his ministry (our ministry). He was open that if those got out of order, then something went wrong and he would have to correct it. I stand by these priorities today and practice it in my own life now that I am an adult. As humans, we set our goals and sometimes those goals get out of order. We MUST stand on the foundation of our beliefs and be willing to admit when we get our priorities out of order—which leads to the second point…
Admit when you’re out of balance
This is difficult to do. Sometimes we do not even know when our priorities get out of balance. This is why open communication with your spouse and family is imperative. No one really loves to admit when they have done something wrong or have “messed up.” The first step would be to listen to wise counsel around you—especially when the counsel is within your own home. Someone I respect once said to me, “Be successful at home first.” I interpret this statement like this: seek holiness, spend time talking with God about this, and then go to your family and talk with them about it.
Communicate and Ask Questions
As stated in the point above, open communication is imperative. This is communication with the Lord, with your spouse and with your kids. Your family wants to talk with you. I encourage every pastor to take the time to talk with each person in your family and ask them how they are and how you can do better. Also, ask them what you are doing well. This creates a healthy environment within your home. Some things that are discussed may be difficult to hear, but with the right heart and tools, it can save the relationship with your spouse and with your children.
Take intentional time with each person in your family
One of the first things I tell families I work with is how important it is to spend time (away from the church) with their family. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of nice things. As I got older I remember this, but as an adult, I don’t remember what I didn’t and did have, but I can tell you every shopping trip, vacation, concert, game, and event I had with my dad (who was and is a pastor). Why? Because it was the time he took to show his love. He was a man of few words growing up, but he was there and created experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime—experiences I hope to pass on to my kids.
If you see yourself struggling and your family struggling, I encourage you to sit down with your spouse (and family if possible) and set boundaries to establish your priorities. Take the time to draw out a plan or a list of things that need to change, things that you can take a step back on and ways to be held accountable for your decisions.
Each family is different—each with a unique calling and a different story. Pastor’s families go through so much more than most people can imagine. If you are not a pastor and want to support your pastor and their family, please pray for him and for his family. Encourage each of them with words of affirmation or notes just to simply say thank you. Let them know you love them and ask them how you can be a support to them and to their families.