Why exactly is it that pastors’ kids (PKs) need prayer? What makes them so special? Actually, nothing. They are just like all their peers—the same weaknesses, the same proclivity to sin, and made in the image of God, too. All in all, PKs are a pretty normal bunch.
And there you have it, the reason they need prayer: they’re normal. Yet when you put normal people in uniquely challenging circumstances, things get difficult, and growing up in a family wherein the father’s vocation is full-time ministry is definitely uniquely difficult.
A pastor’s family often functions as the “first family” of the church, setting the bar in all things spiritual and moral. They are the exemplars of ministry and life. They’re always being observed, and with that comes expectations. The church expects certain behaviors and personas from their leaders’ families.
So you can see why it is that a pastor’s kid could use some extra prayer. Growing up is a challenge all by itself—learning, growing, hormones, identity crises, unrequited love, sports heartbreak, relational drama, school, spiritual life, siblings, parents, and more. Now imagine doing all that while a church watches, expecting you to be a good little Christian. Where can a PK hide? Where can she hide her mistakes and her insecurities? More deeply, where can she connect with Jesus deeply and genuinely, not as just another expectation?
Most people in the church love the pastor’s family. They have no intention of adding to the pressure or pain of PKs, so what can they do to ease the burden? More than anything, the church can pray.
One of the most significant challenges PKs face is a true connection with Jesus Christ. All the knowledge and trivia and Bible memory doesn’t equal a saving relationship with Christ. On the contrary, sometimes knowing all that good stuff actually tricks PKs into thinking they have one. So many PKs know of Jesus, but all the morality, expectations, and knowledge blind them to His heart-transforming reality. Only a miracle of the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus to someone can truly save. Pray this miracle, that Jesus would be visible through all the stuff that happens in His name.
When people grow up under significant expectations, it is natural to gauge themselves by those expectations. Am I what I am supposed to be? Am I pleasing the right people? PKs see themselves as what others want them to be instead of what God made them to be. For PKs, those standards often look very “Christiany,” very moral, very “churchy.” Christian kids know they are not to measure themselves by “worldly” standards but rather by biblical ones, and these churchy standards sure look biblical. But something is amiss. Meeting churchy standards still feels empty.
Why? Because it is the wrong place to find one’s identity. A follower of Christ is a new creation in Jesus. With that comes freedom to live a life made full by honoring Jesus instead of a life made harried by meeting expectations.
Pressure crushes things, and a cracking family is one of the devil’s favorite ways to undermine a pastor’s ministry. It’s an exploitable weakness and a nerve to be jabbed. When a PK crumbles under the pressure of ministry, she often blames her parents. (Sometimes they even deserve it for heaping that pressure on.) More subtly, the practice of being “just so” for the church can carry over into the home and stilt relationships. Instead of honesty, transparency, trust, and love, there is a void between family members.
PKs see more of the ugly in a church than anyone but the staff does. They see how ministry can pull apart their families. All the expectations can frustrate and embitter them. That’s why some PKs rebel and abandon church altogether. On the other hand, PKs get to see the best parts of the church too—deep friendships, changed lives, needs meet, souls transformed. Pray that the good would outweigh the bad, that they would recognize that there is bad everywhere humans gather, and that the church provides hope and richness like nowhere else.
People who grow up in church hear all about grace but often know very little of it. It is God’s grace that reveals Jesus and connects a PK to Him. It’s grace that overcomes and redeems the failures of family and church. It is God’s grace flowing through the church to the PK and through the PK to the church that enables the relationship to flourish. Grace is the thread that ties each of these needs together and the means by which God can grant them. Pray for the miraculous grace that covers a multitude of sins, restores the fallen and the bruised, and ties God’s people together.
This article was originally published for Ligonier Ministries.
For more on serving pastors’ kids well and the challenges they face check out my book The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. If this blog is all the reading you can handle you can get the audio book with I read instead. I’m no Morgan Freeman, but it’s not too bad.