Under the Church's Watchful Eye





A pastor's family life is too often overshadowed by ministry demands. And our children are paying the price.
Many people in the church believe that being a preacher's kid (PK) is a grandiose honor similar to that of being born into royalty. In this spiritual monarchy, the prince and princess are believed to live happily ever after in a perfect little kingdom, gladly accepting the attention they receive as every stage of their lives is exposed to the populace.

People view the pastor's home as the king's castle in a fairy tale, in which a picture-perfect family never misses a meal together, spends quality time together without interruption and doesn't mind being at the beck and call of their constituents. They are always ready and available to save the world on a moment's notice, and do so gracefully. Their children are classy, diplomatic individuals who specialize in foreign affairs. These princes and princesses gladly give up their privacy for the sake of duty, for their one desire is to please the king and to one day be found worthy of wearing the crown.

The real life of a PK, however, is no such fairy tale. PKs are born into a world of intense demands and expectations. At an early age they begin to experience the pressure of living in a glass house where the eyes of others are always on them. To make matters worse, the congregation often assumes that if their parents are ministers, the kids are spiritual giants by default--able to quote the Bible from cover to cover and pray with eloquent words that God hears and responds to quickly because they have the inside track.

And God forbid if PKs were to make a mistake. The congregation often believes it is their duty to correct them. It's also assumed by many church members that they have the right to give their opinions on what a PK should and should not wear, with whom they should and should not socialize, how they should and should not behave, and where they should and should not go.

The list of expectations doesn't end there. PKs often hear comments about how they should carry themselves in private and public, how they should relate to others, who would be an acceptable marriage partner, what their involvement in ministry should be, and what their skills and talents should be. They are put on a pedestal and often compared to their other siblings and children in the church.

In response to the pressure, PKs quickly learn how to play a role. They learn to display a calm, cool and collected persona at all times, acting as if they do not have a care in the world, demonstrating that they are secure individuals with no struggles.

It's no wonder that, according to some studies, 80 percent of PKs suffer from depression and often contemplate suicide as a way out.

Ministries Today recently interviewed 25 PKs as well as pastors from various denominations to learn what issues PKs struggle with and how the church--and especially pastors--can better support this often misunderstood demographic. Their responses were candid, open and honest and provided the framework from which we derived the following summary and conclusions. We changed their names to protect their privacy.

SACRIFICIAL LAMBS

A minister's family life revolves around the church's programs, obligations, needs and demands. PKs quickly learn that theirs is a life of sacrifice. They come to understand that other people's needs are all too often of greater importance than their own. Sharing their parents with the world is the norm.

It is odd to see a pastor's family sit down for a meal without the interruption of a phone call or an unexpected visitor at the door. Some pastors even live on church property and, after each service, members automatically go to the pastor's home for fellowship. On the plus side, PKs develop hospitality skills in this scenario. But when this happens excessively, it can cause resentment.

Our survey revealed that many PKs never get to know their parents as "plain ole Mom and Dad." Their parents often bring home the burdens and pressures of ministry and transmit them to the rest of the family. And many pastors forget to exit "lecture mode" once they leave the sanctuary.

"Every time I tried to talk to my dad, all I heard was a sermon," a 39-year-old preacher's son told us. "Even at home he was still preaching."

This man's comments were consistent with others' feelings as well. One 31-year-old PK told us frankly: "Parents need to learn how to listen more and preach less." Often all a PK desires is to talk to Dad and be listened to without hearing a sermon in return.

When asked if there were anything they wish their parents would have done differently, the No. 1 response was, "I wish my parents would have spent more time at home with me."

Proof again, as the saying goes, that many ministers sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry. They believe that if they are serving God, then God will take care of their family. Although it's true that God does care for ministry families in a special way, parents must learn to better balance their time for the sake of family--which should be their first ministry.

"If you want your family to love ministry, you must make them your priority," one second-generation pastor told us. "If you don't spend time with them, your children can be scarred for life and may come to reject or even hate ministry. Your family must be your ministry."

"The children deserve to feel they, not the church, are their folk's priority," says Jack Hayford, founder of The Church on the Way and chancellor of The King's Seminary in Van Nuys, California. "They will grow to perceive and profit from this as their parents demonstrate: (1) the provision of time that is solely the kids'; (2) the availability of the pastor-parent at any time the child or spouse calls; and (3) the cultivation of understanding of the child, so that he or she will understand what the family's life is about as servants of Jesus."

Sam Hinn, pastor of The Gathering Place in the Orlando, Florida, area agrees. "We must learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. I refuse to lose my wife and children--they are my ministry. I will not allow my kids to be a statistic and struggle to hold on. My kids are my legacy."

More often than not, however, the legacy we leave our children is the pressure to be perfect all the time. Many PKs become perfectionists, putting on a mask of confidence and security. But behind that facade is a hurting, insecure individual.

"I had a severe identity crisis," one PK told us. "My experiences caused me to suffer from a fear of failure that to this day, at the age of 31, I still deal with. Because of that fear of failure, it has taken me years to answer the call upon my life."

Other PKs live with the fear of letting their parents down because they feel their failures are a reflection on their parents. Sometimes they might even hear Dad or Mom say, "If you keep this up, you will destroy my ministry." These PKs end up viewing God as someone who judges and punishes.

Of course different personalities react differently to each situation. Some PKs follow all the rules and maintain a good testimony while others rebel. A stereotypical phrase often heard is, "Preacher's kids are the worst." But many times those who rebel do it because of their need for acceptance and attention. They are not necessarily the "bad seed"--all they are doing is crying out for love, acceptance and help.

The situation is complicated by the fact that developing an intimate relationship with a PK is not that simple; one must earn his or her trust. PKs' distrust is usually birthed out of painful experiences in which people they considered as being friends betrayed them and used them. Sadly, this is not an uncommon experience.

One 25-year-old preacher's daughter told us, "People would befriend me in order to get close to my dad, and when they were upset at dad, they would take it out on me." Such unhealed hurts must surface and be dealt with. It can literally become a life-or-death situation if they are not addressed.

"During my teen-age years, most of my thoughts were of suicide," confessed a 45-year-old pastor's daughter. "I saw myself through my parents' eyes. I had no self-esteem and had much insecurity. Depression was my constant friend."

"The hardest thing I ever did was admit that I needed help," recalls another PK, 32 years old. "Confronting myself and my emotions forced me to deal with issues that I had no idea had affected the way I viewed my relationship with God. The sense of freedom I gained through forgiveness is unimaginable, and the intimate friendship I developed with my heavenly Father was the result of it."

Says Hayford: "The PK needs to be helped to separate between what disappointed, violated or bruised him or her in the name of Christ or the church and helped to see that God--the ultimate and wise parent--loves him or her deeply and wants to help them find His purpose for them...in His love, life and grace."

PKs long for transparency and authenticity. They know religiosity all too well and have memorized the spiritual lingo, but their desire is for someone to be real and to genuinely care about them. They long for a friend or mentor with whom they can honestly share their battles, ask questions and get some answers.

CHILDREN OF DESTINY

Despite the difficulties, being a PK is certainly not all bad. There are many positive experiences, too. And growing up in a ministry environment gives these individuals special opportunities to develop their gifts and talents and discover their destinies.

One pastor's daughter who is now a ministry leader told us: "The benefit of growing up in a glass house is the opportunity to develop leadership skills and talents in music that not everyone gets to do. I learned how to be a leader, develop people skills, how to relate to all kinds of people, and how to handle myself on stage and in public, all due to being a PK."

Another gift PKs are able to develop is the gift of service because they have the experiences of relating personally with different ministries, people and cultures. Many of them are graceful and have perfected the gift of hosting and entertaining.

"I recall always having a full house of visitors," recalls a pastor's daughter we interviewed. "Many a times I had to give up my bed and sleep on the couch or sofa, but it did not bother me whatsoever. I enjoyed it immensely and had tons of fun. Those were some of the best of times."

One of the greatest blessings of being a PK is the special covering of prayer they receive not only from their parents and other family members, but also from other church members.

"There is no doubt in my mind that I am where I am today because of my mother's prayer," Sam Hinn says. "Mom lives to pray for her children. She is seeing the effect of her prayers not just in her children, but her grandchildren. She is seeing firsthand that the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much, as she watches her grandchildren hunger and pursue God."

Growing up in a fishbowl helps one develop character and prepares these children for life and future ministry.

"God shapes us into who He wants us through the fire of our hardships and pain," another PK told us, "and He uses those difficult people and situations to refine us and toughen us up. The hardest people I've had to deal with have been in the church body, yet I must confess that it was through those same individuals God has brought the greatest amount of healing to my heart and life."

This trial-by-fire schooling can prepare PKs to fulfill God's plans and purposes for their lives. But while statistics indicate that 50 percent of PKs enter into full-time ministry as a vocation, they don't all follow their parents' footsteps. Many spend most of their lives running away from the call of God.

Those who do find their calling and purpose do so as a result of their love, dedication and commitment for the Lord, not out of a sense of duty or family obligation.

"Some ministry children, I believe, are called to carry on the ministry of their fathers," says Calvin Lyerla, a pastor in South Florida. "But the Spirit of the Lord will always confirm that--not Mom and Dad."

Many PKs, in fact, are called to a very different pulpit from their parents'--they are called into the corporate world. The church should be careful not to look down on them or see their callings as inferior to those who have a platform ministry. In addition, there are some PKs who have a less visible ministry behind the scenes--and if that is where God has called them, the church should affirm them.

The key to PKs' success in ministry is only entering into ministry in God's timing, understanding that God--not man, not one's parents--is the one who calls, separates and promotes. PKs we talked with suggested that prior to entering into ministry, PKs should make certain they are emotionally and spiritually whole and healed. This will secure longevity and prevent spiritual burnout.

Another great privilege of being a PK is that they have a spiritual heritage and can walk in generational blessings. And though PKs may not always see their unique situation as a blessing, just about every PK we interviewed confessed that through the years they ultimately discovered the blessing, privilege and honor of having received a heritage of righteousness and godly living based on the Word of God.

Says Hayford: "I do believe there is a compounding benefit--an accumulation of spiritual blessing--that accrues in the family where, generation to generation, wise and godly parenting begets children who transmit the blessing of spiritual family life, warmth and values to each successive generation."

"My children will walk with a double portion of what is on me," Hinn says. "They will need that double portion for their generation. I may have birthed the work of God and the call of God on their lives, but it is up to them to carry it on.

"I have to develop a support system around them so that they can fulfill the call of God upon their lives," he continues. "My children are my legacy and my inheritance."

Being born into spiritual "royalty" may not be as lovely as it seems. It's a long and bumpy road. But there's great recompense at the end for those PKs who don't give up, stay on course and make it to the end of the journey.

PKs today, in fact, have the opportunity to accomplish greater endeavors than what their parents may have ever hoped or dreamed. They just need us to believe in them.

Parenting a Pastor's Kid

PKs face demands, expectations and challenges most other children never have to even think about. Here's what you can do to give your children the support they need.

Do not sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
Spend time with each member of your family individually. Enjoy simple, everyday moments with your kids. Involve your family in your decisions and ministry.
Don't neglect your family's devotional life. Spend family time in God's presence. Minister to, pray with and bless your spouse and children.
Lay a firm foundation and set boundaries. Teach your congregation to respect your family time. Make it clear that your family is your first ministry.
Be authentic. Practice what you preach both in and out of the pulpit.
Let your children see your fun and human side. Enjoy them. Regularly go on a "date" with each child.
Listen to your children and speak candidly to them.
Respect and protect your child's privacy. Don't expose his or her life in a sermon illustration.
Give your children the opportunity to be normal. Don't pressure them with unrealistic expectations or force them to grow up prematurely.
Love and support your children through all the challenges they will face. Allow them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Use wisdom and be sensitive to allow God to be the one to promote your children into ministry. Don't push them in prematurely because of your own desires or need for help.
Give your children a prayer covering and a spiritual inheritance they can pass on to their children.

Survival Tips for PKs

The life of a PK can be tough, but there are things you can do to not only survive, but also thrive.

Don't expect perfection from yourself, and don't be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes.
Be yourself, free to be the person you were created to be. Your worth is not based on what people think of you. See yourself the way God sees you. You are priceless to Him.
Guard your heart. Don't harbor any bitterness or resentment. Live a holy and pure life.
Be transparent. Do not pretend everything is fine when it is not. Confront yourself and confess your problems.
Find a friend, mentor or counselor with whom you can open your heart and share your struggles.
Be straightforward in communicating with your parents. Honor, love and forgive them. Bless and pray for them. Make it a priority to spend quality time with them.
Learn to forgive and forget. Ask God to help you discover the blessing that can come out of every heartache. Forgive yourself and forget the past. Your past will not determine your future.
Develop the talents and gifts God has given you.
Get to really know God for yourself, apart from your parents. He longs to spend time with you.
Develop a close relationship with Him.
Find your identity in His presence. Discover who you are in Him.
Realize that people are imperfect, but the Lord will never let you down.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Love and serve God with a pure heart and motive. Trust Him with your future--which may or may not include traditional pulpit ministry. Whatever plans He has for you--whether up front, behind the scenes or in a secular arena--will be the best.
Don't expect man to promote you. Allow God to promote you. Know that when He opens a door for you, no one will be able to close it. Wait for His perfect timing. He is never late.
Know God's will for your life and do what He has called you to do. Don't spend years running from His call. God's purpose and glory in you will birth a destiny far greater than you can imagine.
Don't run from your destiny. Walk in the freedom of knowing your steps are ordered by God.


Liz Eden is a PK, the daughter of Adib and Yolanda Eden, who pioneered People's Cathedral Church in Miami, Florida, in 1974. After her father's death 12 years ago, her mother became the senior pastor, a role in which she continues to serve today.

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