Sarah Elizabeth Farish is graduating from the University of Illinois and will begin at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in the Fall. You can follow her on Twitter @farahsarish and read her blog at www.sarahelizabethislearning.blogspot.com.
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for the families of people in full-time ministry. This is incredibly personal to me because I grew up as a pastor’s kid and it has deeply affected my life. There are millions of opinions out there on pastor’s kids, pastor’s wives and pastor’s families.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about a pastor's (or any ministry leader's) children and families is that their lives are often more in the public eye than those of other families. A pastor’s life is constantly under scrutiny. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pastors need to be held to a high standard and they should be setting an example for believers on how to live. Just like all Christians they need to lead not only by their words but also by example. But this means that when pastors inevitably make mistakes or even make decisions some people don’t agree with, it can cause their children to feel isolated and hurt when their parents’ decisions are criticized in the church community. Sometimes I heard criticism of my father’s decisions and it often sounded more like criticism of my father himself. That was unsettling to hear at a young age. We need to make sure that a critique of the church, which can be a healthy, helpful thing, is communicated in a non-personal and judgment free manner. No matter the situation or circumstance, we must pray that our thoughts on the church and its' leaders are shaped by the gospel and Jesus' redeeming work on the cross. Our criticism should not be shaped by our worldly or personal ideas about what church should look like.
When I was growing up I often felt that my dad’s profession shaped my life a lot more than I wanted it to. Whenever people asked what my dad’s job was I would mutter with much embarrassment, “he’s a pastor.” Sometimes the questions that would follow were funny – “so is he a priest?” (no, a priest’s celibacy would prevent my existence were that the case) to “does that mean he doesn’t drink alcohol?” (that’s a personal decision and not really related to his job) to “so does that mean you’re going to try to convert me?” (a question that always irritated me because as a Christian my calling is to preach the gospel regardless of my father’s occupation). However, by God’s grace I have come to love the fact that I grew up a pastor’s child. I got to see ministry firsthand and had many experiences that a lot of people didn’t get because of my dad’s day job. I was taught theology and biblical truths from a young age and I am so joyful that the Lord gave me those precious gifts.
Being a pastor’s kid is not a negative experience. As I was growing up the church was a second family to me. There were countless times I could count on a faithful church member to pick me up from school if my siblings or mom was sick, or to bring meals when one of my siblings was born, or even to give us really kind and thoughtful Christmas presents during the holidays. I am so grateful that I got to see the body of Christ at work in a behind-the-scenes way. I felt so loved and cared for by the church, and it was really special to me that in many ways my dad’s position in ministry gave me my own role in ministry.
However, it was not without hardships. I often felt frustrated and insecure about being the pastor’s kid. In a church of about 350 people I felt a lot of pressure to perform at certain standards. I felt like I always had to look good, act good, and like I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes or have struggles. Part of this was my own perpetuation of these ideals, but in some ways the church made me feel like I had to follow a standard of perfection. I felt a constant sense of inadequacy; a feeling that needed to be met with the gospel.
Pastor’s kids are normal people. They are sinful, broken children and teenagers who are becoming adults and experiencing all the growing pains that other non-pastor’s children are experiencing. Here are some ways to love them well:
Extend grace to them like you would any other kid in the youth group. It’s hard growing up in ministry and feeling like your family life is on display sometimes.
Think carefully when speaking to pastor’s kids about their lives and decisions, and be especially careful before offering criticism to them. Being in ministry is the most amazing thing in the world but also incredibly difficult.
Encourage and bless those whom the Lord has chosen to live out his calling to shepherd our churches.
When pastor’s kids make mistakes, love them through it and support them. When they struggle and suffer, care for them and make it clear that they are loved unconditionally not only by you but by their heavenly father. Pastor’s kids who look like they have it all together need to be pointed to the gospel just as much as the drug addict or cutter. The church is a picture of God’s love for us and we are called to love one another as he first loved us (1 John 3:16). Let’s make sure that those in leadership and their children are on the receiving end for that as well.