What do you do with pastors kids gone wild? Why do children of ministry staff fall away from their faith?
Do you know what the Kings of Leon, Marvin Gaye, the Jonas Brothers, Condoleeza Rice, Phil Jackson, Denzel Washington, Daniel Tosh, Jessica Simpson, Aretha Franklin, Arsenio Hall, Anne Heche, and Katy Perry all have in common?
They’re all ministers’ kids, commonly known as “PKs” (short for “preacher’s kid”).
Pop singer Katy Perry is currently one of the highest-profile ministers’ kids in the country. Katy was born to Keith and Mary Hudson, ministers who travel the world sharing the gospel. Katy traveled with her parents and began singing in church at age 9. Their home had strict guidelines, and Katy had limited exposure to secular music. Katy continued to sing gospel music through her teen years but then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in secular music. She rose to fame in 2008 with her hit single “I Kissed a Girl.” She has experienced great success, having sold over 11 million albums and 81 singles worldwide (as of 2013), making her one of the best-selling artists of all time.
But while her career has gone uphill, her faith in Jesus has gone downhill. In an interview with Marie Claire magazine, she said, “I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell or an old man sitting on a throne. I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable.” To GQ magazine she said, “I believe in a lot of astrology. I believe in aliens. I look up into the stars and I imagine: How self-important are we to think that we are the only life-form?”
When it comes to ministers’ kids straying from the faith, Katy isn’t alone. A whopping 40 percent of ministers’ kids have gone through a period in which they significantly questioned heir faith, according to a recent report from Barna. The study also shows that 33 percent of ministers’ kids are no longer in church and 7 percent no longer consider themselves Christians.
Behind these stats are real stories. There are stories of ministers’ kids who’ve grown up to love Jesus—and stories of ministers’ kids who’ve left the faith completely.
One of those stories is mine. I have a special place in my heart for ministers’ kids because I am one. I went to church every week of my childhood, multiple times most weeks. And when I wasn’t there on Sunday, I was there on weekdays attending the Christian school that was part of the church. And yet with all the good, bad, and ugly that came with being a minister’s kid, I grew up to love and serve Jesus.
As you consider my story and the stories of other ministers’ kids, you may change how you think about and minister to us.
If You’re a Parent…
If your role is that of a pastor, ministry leader, or children’s ministry leader, take these principles to heart when it comes to your family.
Your first ministry priority is your family. Mark 8:36 asks, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” When it comes to your ministry, read the verse like this: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your family?”
People carry deep wounds from growing up in homes where ministry came first and family second.
“My father has ministered all 47 years of my life. Church was always first and still is. Don’t miss church for a ball game, etc. Meanwhile, no family time and no time for our personal interests. Now, I can’t stand church.”
“I’m a PK who was raised where church was the most important thing. It came before everything. And the members of the church got the best of my parents. We got the leftovers.”
“My father rarely ever showed up (maybe twice) to any of the events I performed in as a child up to the present. I’m fighting tears as I type this. When I was younger, I dreamed of ways to get even with my father for all the things he put me through. So forgive me if my view of this subject is a little tainted, because it is.”
Spend time with your children. Of ministers surveyed, 42 percent said they wish they’d spent more time with their kids. Remember, before you’re a children’s minister, you’re a father, mother, husband, wife. Someone else can fill in for you at church, but no one can fill in for you at home.
Be home when you’re home. Your kids need your attention and focus when you’re home. Don’t fall into the pattern of bringing work home with you. They need you talking to them rather than talking to a church member on the phone. They need your eyes on them, not on a text message from a volunteer.
Learn to say no. We’re shepherds and we care deeply about people. We love to help people and meet their needs. But this can’t be at the expense of our kids. Jesus didn’t heal everyone. And at times, he pulled away from people to rest. We must do the same. It’s okay to say no to some things so you can say yes to what matters most—your kids.
Set boundaries. Set clear boundaries around your time with your kids. People will ask for you during these times. Simply reply that you have an appointment already. And you do—with your kids.
Take your day off and use all your vacation time. Don’t cheat your kids by working on your day off or not using your vacation to spend time with them. I know you feel you must save the world, but remember: That job is already taken. The most spiritual thing you can do on your day off is to spend time with your family.
Practice what you preach. Growing up, I could argue with some of the things my father taught, but I couldn’t argue with the fact that he practiced what he preached. He lived during the week what he taught on Sunday. I found this echoed by several other PKs who grew up to love Jesus.
“I’m 17 years old. I’m a Christian and plan to stay in ministry. My mom and dad both have made sure to spend time with me. My dad was a dad to me first. They practiced what they preach. I thank God for my parents.”
“My dad had a deep and sincere love for God. He was the same man at home as in the pulpit and community. We had his undivided attention when we needed it. I’m quite sure that’s why all three of us left home loving Jesus and headed into ministry ourselves.”
Help your kids choose good friends. The friends PKs choose play a huge role in their spiritual development. Guide them toward good friends. And not all kids at church fall into the “good friends” category. Any child who’s a wrong influence in your child’s life can undo everything you’ve taught at home.
“The biggest struggle I’ve had in my life had to do with a friend of mine who was also a PK. We were best friends for a few years, but as we grew closer, I started noticing things that really confused me. He seemed to have no personal boundaries concerning modesty and purity, both physically and mentally. He pressured me into sensual conversations I wish I’d never had, and he wanted me to send immodest pictures. It was only my personal morals that stopped me from going too far…I was shocked that a PK could be so loose and inappropriate and then turn around and say how much he loved God and wanted to please him. I think a lot of PKs come across people like this during their adolescence, and it confuses them so much that they begin to doubt how real Christianity really is. Hypocrites are everywhere, and I think PKs of all people need to be taught that.”
Don’t make your kids live at church. This is a mistake I made with my kids. They spent many hours at church waiting on me to finish up my “church work.” At times, I had them at the church late into the night because of deadlines and responsibilities I had no one to blame for but myself. Thankfully, both my boys love Jesus and serve him in spite of this mistake. I’ve apologized to them and am thankful for their forgiveness.
But many PKs no longer go to church because of bitterness they hold about having to “live there” growing up.
“We put the church before our son. We spent seven days a week building it. My son was raised at the church and spent many hours watching videos while I worked at the church. My husband would leave at 6 a.m. and get home usually around 8 p.m. We regret big time putting that church first. We sacrificed our son for 12 years, and when we resigned we weren’t even given a going-away party or a thank you…We almost lost our son and it’s only by God’s grace he forgave us. Put your family first. People can wait and the church can wait.”
Share the blessings. Your attitude, countenance, and positive words leave an indelible impression on your kids. Rather than complaining and whining about the valleys of ministry life, fill their lives with praise reports, stories of life change, and victories.
Protect your kids from the negative sides of ministry. If you’ve been in ministry very long, you know there’s a negative side. Sheep can bite at times. Everyone won’t like you. There are politics in church because it consists of people, and people aren’t perfect. But do your best to protect your kids from the messiness.
Give your kids room to question and own their faith. Most kids go through a period of questioning. Foster an atmosphere where your kids feel free to come to you about anything. Help them see their identify is in Jesus, not in being a minister’s child.
Pray with and for them. Pray daily for your children. Ask God to move in their life. Ask God to help them make wise choices. Ask God to surround them with Christian friends. Ask God to protect them.
Pray daily with your children. As a teenager, my son went through a difficult time. He was discouraged and couldn’t find a job. He’d applied to several places with no success. We were in the living room with him when he got the call that a friend had committed suicide. There was a heavy spirit of hopelessness in the room. We began to pray with our son, asking God to show him that he had hope and a future planned for him. In the middle of our prayer, the phone rang. It was a business calling to say they wanted to hire our son. That moment was the beginning of a breakthrough for him, and it all started with prayer.
If You Minister to PKs…
Keep these things in mind if you serve children of ministry staff.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Ministers’ kids and the kids of staff are just kids. They aren’t perfect, and we can’t expect them to be. The last thing they need to hear is, “You should know better than that; you’re the minister’s son!”
“I hate the fact that you’re looked at with a stronger eye. When I was younger, I’d do dumb, immature stuff just like all the other kids. Why? Because I was a dumb, immature kid—like all the others. But because I was the PK, I’d always get a stronger scolding. With each one, I’d get more and more bitter.”
“My two brothers and I couldn’t breathe without everyone hearing about it. My dad got calls if my dresses were too short, my brothers’ hair too long—I could go on and on. There was a lot of pressure to be perfect.”
“I am a PK and it’s a sorry fact that I can never say ‘was’ one. The expectations are unreal and you never live your own life. A PK will forever be under the scope and judgment—from the day he or she is born. You make a mistake, even a simple one that many ‘normal’ people make in life, and it’s not just your fault: It travels up the chain and people see it as your parents’ fault also. Half of PKs wouldn’t turn their backs on faith if they’d simply been treated as regular human beings and not some kind of God-chosen kid. If I could relive another life I would forsake it all. There isn’t one good thing that came out of it. Yes, I believe there’s a God, but for many of us he’s not worth chasing or loving.”
Love them. The PKs in your ministry need unconditional love just like every other child does. Show and speak love to them through your actions and words. They want to know you love them, not because of who their fathers or mothers are, but because of who they are as individuals. Don’t mistreat their parents. With leadership comes criticism, pressure, even slander. Don’t be the source of it. Even if their parents shield them, PKs can sense when there’s strife. Promote unity, and stand behind your pastor and ministry leaders.
One of the churches my dad ministered at voted to build a new building. They decided to hold an auction to raise funds for this project. People were donating valuable items with the proceeds going toward the new building. I was in elementary school, and God spoke to me about what I should donate: my Honda XR75 motorcycle. My dad had bought it for my birthday. I loved that motorcycle. When I told my dad I wanted to donate it, he was shocked. He questioned me to make sure that’s what I wanted to do. He was almost trying to talk me out of it, but I was insistent that it was what God wanted me to do. I gave the motorcycle, and a great joy came over me knowing I’d obeyed God. But then my joy was shattered. A group of people in the church who didn’t want the new building started a rumor that my dad had told me if I’d give my motorcycle, he’d buy me a bigger one. It was a total falsehood. He’d never said a word to me about donating my motorcycle. To this day, it stings when I think about it. Remember: When you intentionally hurt a pastor or ministry leader, you hurt that person’s kids as well.
“I’m a PK and I’m not going to lie, I was scarred by the church growing up…Christians can be really mean. My dad tried to do everything right. In fact, when faced with adversity in the church, he pushed through it doing everything he could to keep the church and its people intact. There were so many times when I’d come home from school and he’d be crying in the garage because he didn’t want us to hear. I vowed to never marry a minister, much less become one.”
Pour into these kids. Just because their father or mother serves in the church doesn’t mean they don’t need other people to teach them, mentor them, and speak into their lives.
Don’t expect their parents to frequently be away from home. A good percentage of PKs grow up resenting the time their parents spend at church. Partly to blame is the minister or ministry leader for not setting boundaries. But it can also be a result of unrealistic expectations congregations place upon the ministry leader. When you expect the pastors to be at every single event, Sunday school class party, dinner, wedding, funeral, and surgery, it creates a schedule that isn’t healthy for his or her family. And the kids end up paying the price.
Pay their parents a livable wage. Some churches believe it’s their job to help the minister stay humble by keeping him or her broke.
“Elders at one church my father ministered at got angry when my father refused to house our family in the fellowship hall of the church; therefore, my father bought a tiny 600 square-foot home for our family of six. We lived in poverty.”
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As parents, ministers, ministry leaders, volunteers, and church members, it’s our job to nurture the hearts of PKs by cultivating the soil, planting the seeds, and watering their budding faith. As we create communities of love, hope, unity, faith, and forgiveness, we’ll see these kids grow up to love Jesus and his church.
Dale Hudson is the director of children’s ministries at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. He’s the co-author of four children’s ministry books, including 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Children’s Ministry