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Pastor's Kids: living a life most people could never comprehend

Posted Nov 05 2009 10:01pm


Last month here at Survive and Thrive Ministry Wives I wrote about protecting our PK's (pastor's kids) from the enemy's assignment. We know that it is the goal of the enemy to steal, kill and destroy all of us, (John 10:10) however I believe he has a special assignment against PK's. First of all, he knows that the greatest way to hurt a pastor is to hurt their kids! I can handle a lot of things in life, with grace. But harm my kids, and it's not a pretty scene. I am like a Momma bear, protecting her cubs, as most mothers are. There was once a mother who who was walking along pushing her baby in a stroller. Suddenly a pit bull appeared and ran up to the stroller and began barking and growling. Two men were off in the distance and saw this. One man exclaimed to the other, "oh no!"   and the other man said, "Oh no is right!  I feel sorry for that pit bull!"  One thing is for sure, mothers have a natural instinct to protect their children that sometimes borders on craziness. In the pastorate, ministry wives have an immense challenge in protecting their PK in the natural as life for the child of a minister is often so complicated. 

PK's walk such a tightrope between needing to be treated as normal kids, and having a few perks to offset Target on shirt the often challenging things they face.  You often hear admonitions for people in the church to "treat PK's as they would any other child" and indeed it is important to give them room to be themselves, and to just be kids. However at the same time it's important to give them some benefits or recognition to encourage them. These are the things that often keep PK's going when the going gets tough.

This past month during pastor appreciation one of our pastors -- George Dearborn and his family, came to the platform to do a presentation for my husband and I and they asked our children to come to the platform.  They honored them with gifts and then the Dearborn's daughter Rebecca, now age 23, shared how important it is to encourage PK's because in her words, they are "often harshly judged and live life under a microscope."   

Rebecca  (affectionately known as Becca) shares the following about how PK's can be a target of mistreatment at the hands of unhappy parishoners:   "There was a difficult situation at my Dad's first church that he pastored in New Hampshire where the pastor's children were required to attend the church's Christian school. I was in the third grade. At this school and church one family was pretty much in charge of everything. Then when my father came along with a vision for change and growth and they didn't like that much. The children of this family went to the school I was good friends with the daughter but the son used to pick on me until I screamed or cried or both. His grandmother was the principal of the school and never punished him for anything that he did to me. This was mostly because of the problems she had with my father. She took it out on me. I remember coming home and crying, sitting under my desk crying, and getting detention for yelling at him to stop bothering me. This lady always accused me of all of this being my fault and she hated me simply because my Dad was a good pastor. After that I vowed to NEVER go to a church school ever again, and my mom agreed with me because of what I went through, and thankfully never made me do that again." 

It is said that vocational ministry defies explanation to those living outside of it.  This also extends to the offspring of pastors. The children pay the price at times for people who are angry at decisions their parents have made. 

Jealousy is another factor. People become envious of the smallest things, with little knowledge or regard for how much children have sacrificed for those blessings.  For instance, our children have "grown up in the church" - literally.  Larry and I have both worked there full time since they were all three born.  I nursed and diapered babies in between meetings and they've taken naps while I've counseled.  We had cribs in the church office,  and closets full of toys. Playing tag and hide and go seek in the church as well as skating or biking in the parking lot were common.  The church is truly their second home and many times they probably felt like it was their first. Sometimes they love it, sometimes they hate it.  They have their ups and downs.  In practically living there, they are able to do things other kids are not.  It can get old living at the church day after day. Like most parents, we try to make it fun and accentuate the positive.

One summer day when the boys were little, they were playing at the church while we worked.  At one point during the day, a woman dropped by to do something at the church and she had her  children with her.  Earlier, Jordan had come into his Dad's office, asked for a piece of paper out and started drawing. He was busily amusing himself while Larry and I worked.  Suddenly some of the other children ran into the secretary's office and asked for paper and supplies to draw on.  She said she did not have supplies on hand to give to all of the children. The other children's mother angrily stepped in and grabbed Jordan's paper off of of the table where he was drawing and said, "if my children don't get a piece of paper, neither does he!"   Keep in mind Jordan was quite young at this point and he was defenseless against this woman.  He said, "I am allowed to have a piece of paper from my Daddy's office.  He gave it to me to draw on while I was waiting."   The woman wouldn't hear of it and said, " It's not fair.  If my kids don't get paper, you aren't getting it either just because you're the pastor's son!"   She snatched it away, put it in her purse and left with it.  Jordan was upset (and rightfully so) but I didn't find out about this until the whole thing was over and the people were gone from the building that day.  Keep in mind, when those other children left with their mother and went on to play at home or do other things, my son was still waiting at the church, finding things to do while we worked.     

You might think a situation over a piece of paper is small but it's the principle of the thing that I want to get across. You see, the woman in question was just "stopping by the church" for a brief time to do something and happened to have her children along. She wasn't spending most of her waking hours at the church. She was also not employed there. To illustrate in another way...if you owned a sandwich shop or even managed one, if your child came to the shop and you gave them a piece of cheese to eat, would anyone be upset about it?  No. You run the shop.  The fact that your kid is there and ate a piece of cheese would be no surprise to anyone nor would it be seen as inappropriate.  What is different between a piece of paper and a piece of cheese?  Nothing. But for some reason, in ministry things are different. Sandwich shop owners/manager's children are not under a microscope nor are there any expectations to any great degree unless they are older and happen to work there.  However for pastor's kids the variables are enormous, throughout their lifetime.  My own boys have faced these challenges and thankfully experienced  breakthroughs and emotional healing at pastor's kids camps and retreats. I've never attended one of those but my children tell me they are filled with many crying children at the altar, reaching out to God and others for hope and healing. 

A pastor friend of ours had some church members question the fact that his children played basketball in the church gym that was normally locked/off limits during non-service or event times. Some members also got upset that his kids played video games in the fellowship hall while the pastor was working. The pastor explained to them that his children had given up a considerable amount that their children never had to. Their children did not have a vacation cut short because someone died and their parents had to come home and do a funeral. Their children did not wait long periods of time after services to go home because their parents had a line of people waiting to talk to them. Their children didn't have the phone ring non-stop at home for their parents, interrupting their family time and  often taking their attention away at times when the kids really wanted it or needed it. Their children didn't grow up in the "fishbowl" that is the ministry, often a cruel place when it should be a nurturing one. He explained that for all that his children had to deal with in their lives, the perk of playing in the gym or fellowship hall during "off times" was quite small in comparison.  

Dustin and Savanna in Pool Children are children and as such as still learning and growing in dealing with jealousies and other such negative emotions.  What amazes me is when ADULTS who should know better become jealous of  things PK's receive versus what their child gets, or what they perceive is the glamorous life of the PK,  living in the limelight and being continually bestowed with blessings. The truth is, what blessings children of full time ministers receive in exchange for the burden they bear is quite small. 

One parishoner was upset years ago and spoke to my husband and I about "keeping our children's blessings a secret from the other children in the church so that there would be no hurt feelings."  Again, to relate this back back to the comparison of the sandwich shop/manager's child -- would such a person go to great lengths to hide the fact that their child ate a piece of cheese?  Of course not.  Think about this - if a child's parents owned a sub shop they would probably say to their friends, "I love that I can have sandwiches from my parents shop anytime I want to.  It's a cool part of them having this shop."   Nobody would think a thing of it, in fact they would probably say, "that's great that he/she has that benefit."  Why should a pastor's child have to hide their blessings because other kids might be jealous?  It seems to me it would be a marvelous time for those parents to teach their children about the dangers of envy and jealousy.

Just because minister's children have some additional blessings doesn't mean there should be unfair demands.  PK's must be released of unfair expectations by the congregation (after all, they didn't ask for this life nor sign up for it), and it's important that they have a few blessings unique to them.  It helps them to see that there are actually some benefits to being PK's and it's not all sacrifice.  It encourages them that God's people love them and want to reach out to them in special ways.  While they are "normal kids" they are not exactly the same as every other child in the church, as what they live with is often a yielding of their immediate desire for that of the church people.  For that sacrifice, it is nice to be rewarded once in a while.

Pastor's wives, it's important that we watch out for our kids and be there to correct injustices when we see them.  It's also helpful to explain to others that our children are in a unique and sometimes challenging situation that is helped by understanding a periodic blessings along the way.   Our children didn't sign up for ministry - we answered the call and thereby put them there.  Now that they are there it's important that we watch out for them, and make sure they don't get swallowed up by the jealousy or envy of others who take opportunities to knock them down a peg or two whenever the opportunity presents itself.  It's so sad to say but there are those sick people in the church who actually love it when the pastor's kid screws up because then it makes them feel that their kids aren't so bad, or that they aren't such a bad parent.  That is just unconscionable to me that some people would actually think that, but they do.  Sadly there are those who are just waiting for the PK to  make a mistake because somehow they believe in their erroneous minds that it makes them or their child look better.  Of course we know there's only one thing that makes this better -- those folks getting to the altar and and being changed by God.  We can't change them, only the Holy Spirit can.  But in the meantime, while we are waiting for them to be changed, they can really affect our kids unless we keep an eye on the situation.  Mothers in the faith, we must be diligent watchwomen on the wall for our children both in the spirit and in the natural.

It's a sha me that we should even have to speak of such an issue but it is reality to affect PK's for a LONG time.  Recently I encountered a man who is a PK and is still  coming to grips with hurts from when he was a child and not only received no blessings for sacrifices made but dealt with a lot of injustice.  He recalls a situation 30 years ago when he the church his father pastored was having an evangelism/attendance contest and was giving an Easter bunny away to the child who brought the most visitors for Easter.  He wanted to try along with all of the other kids to win the bunny, but the church purposely excluded him, thinking that if the pastor's son won, it would be favoritism. This man says the following:  "[When I was growing up] if you were a pastor's kid or a child of the Sunday School Superintendent you were always disqualified from any real good incentives by the fine print of the contest to avoid any special treatment complaints. This always bugged me and 30 years later still does."   

I'm sure Beth and Becca some people will think that is petty and that it is ridiculous that a man is still upset about such thirty years later. However keep in mind he isn't simply upset about an Easter bunny.  He is dealing with the aftermath of an entire childhood filled with such injustices.  The cost of  repeated situations like this in PK's lives can be tremendous, so much so that many walk away from the church and ultimately the Lord.  

 Last month Pastor George's wife Irene closed the time of sharing about our children by saying something to this effect: " Due to these kind of things in their lives [that Becca described], many PK's do not end up serving the Lord. But our pastor's kids ARE serving the Lord. And for this we are very thankful." 

Indeed.  I am very thankful.  And intentional.  Pastor's wives,  remember that few understand or comprehend the life your children live.  You are their advocate here on earth.  Yes, they have Jesus but you are "Jesus with skin on."  Of the Proverbs 31 woman, the message Bible says, "She keeps an eye on everyone in her household..." ( Verse 17)  Take up your role as nurturer and protector of those God has entrusted to you.  Keep an eye on them and protect them as much as you can from the unfair treatment,expectations and jealousy of others.   


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