Pain, anger and frightening expectations of perfection — that’s what a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor read when he asked preachers’ children, or PKs, who are now attending the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary to write about their childhood.
His conclusion on the results of what he called “an unscientific survey” is that much of the negativity is avoidable if ministers, their spouses and churches will remember one thing:
“They’re real kids with real experiences and normal kid feelings,” said Ian Jones, associate professor of psychology and counseling, reading one response at a retreat at Southwestern for pastors and their wives. “Don’t overlook their needs for real human parents to play with them and be friends with them.”*
Jones, who is also director of Southwestern’s Baptist Marriage and Family Counseling Center, pointed out the responses are from seminary students who represent “the ones who made it” and that even more negative responses might be found in a more representative sample. He also emphasized that not all the responses were negative and much of the advice came from
respondents who had positive childhood experiences and relationships with parents.
Some of the problems revealed in the responses included difficulties making friends because of frequent job changes, feeling out of place because they couldn’t afford good clothing or clothing that fit and rebelling to prove to friends that “a preacher’s kid can have fun.”
Jones used the responses to outline nine ways that parents in ministry can help their children grow up in a healthier environment.
1) Maintain a healthy balance between ministry and family.
“The most negative thing parents can do is neglect their children for the sake of ministry,” a student wrote. “Family has to be the number one priority. Neglecting family will drive children away from the Lord and ministry — the things that children see as taking their parents away.”
2) Relate to children as a parent, not as a preacher or minister.
“Let your children know that they are not responsible for their father’s success in his work,” another student wrote. “Let your children know that they are important to you because you love them.”
The student went on to recommend encouraging children to express their emotions and to listen to them with respect.
3) Spend time with your children.
“The most important advice I can offer a minister or any other parent is to make time for their children,” a student wrote. “Listen to them and talk about what they want to talk about. Take
interest in their lives.”
Another student advised making family traditions, playing family games whenever traveling, including the family in moving decisions, planning regular family night outs, staying involved especially during transitions in their lives and spending a lot of one-on-one time with the children.
“Keep God the center of the home,” another student wrote, adding parents should have family devotions on a regular basis and should involve children in ministry.
4) Pray for your children.
“Pray for your kids daily. Make prayer a vital part of family life,” a student wrote. “Parents need to teach their children how to pray.”
5) Don’t assume that your children will adapt to new situations.
“They’re exposed to a lot and absorb many unhealthy things without you knowing,” a student wrote. Another added, “Do not assume kids will automatically develop good Christian morals and values merely because Dad works in the ministry.”
Other responses included the importance of consistency between what parents preached and how they lived and the need for direct moral instruction.
“A positive aspect was that my parents lived what they taught,” one student wrote. “Seeing that consistency and integrity is so important.”
6) Protect them from people in the congregation who might hurt them.
“Defend, protect their children from the congregation’s criticism,” a student wrote.
In another response, Jones noted the underlying anger and unresolved issues in a PK who still remembered “with sadness” how her mother did nothing while a deacon scolded her little brother.
7) Keep the communication lines open and be vigilant.
One student confessed that the son of a deacon molested her regularly and she never said anything because she didn’t think anyone would believe her.
“I listened to their [her parents’] praises of the deacon and his family and kept my guilty secret to myself,” she said.
8) Don’t single them out as different from other children in the church.
Responses included advice to avoid saying, “You must behave this way or that because you are the pastor’s child,” and putting children in inappropriate situations like at an adult Sunday school party where no other children are invited.
“The comments [from other children] of Don’t do that/Don’t say that around her because she’s the preacher’s kid’ bothered me,” one student wrote. “I hate being put up on a pedestal. I wish my parents would have let me talk through my feelings about those situations, but in my house feelings were not discussed.”
She added expectations of perfection are placed on them and that their parents can help by “allowing their children to be normal children who sometimes get into trouble.”
9) Love them.
“The most positive things a parent can do,” one student wrote, “are to love their children unconditionally, involve them in ministry, encourage their spiritual growth, demonstrate a vibrant relationship with the Lord and teach them to love people as Christ does.”
On the sometimes-controversial issue of friends, several respondents advised parents to teach their children to witness to friends and to maintain an open house where friends can experience a Christian home.
Another piece of advice involved setting up a support group where PKs can talk with other PKs their age about “the unique stress they experience as ministers’ kids.”
“Part of what has brought healing in my life has been the experience of sharing with other PKs who have watched churches split and parents lose their jobs as ministers,” one student wrote.
“PKs are helped when they find out there are other PKs out there who are frustrated by being expected to live up to impossible perfection.”
* The retreat was sponsored by Southwestern’s Center for Ministry Empowerment, a service of the Hultgren Chair of Pastoral Care, currently occupied by Professor C.W. Brister.
Copyright 1999--Ministry Health website. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Rowland Croucher, Editor, John Mark Ministries http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 883