JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–When I was 8 years old, I had the chickenpox. I was bumpy and feverish and completely miserable. I lamented to my mom and dad, “This is even worse than going to church!”
Mind you, I had no option about going to church: Dad was the pastor and the tiny mission church where he served met in our home. Our living room was our sanctuary and the children’s Sunday School classroom was the bedroom I shared with my brother Steve.
As preacher’s kids (PKs), Steve and I were under intense scrutiny. It seemed as though everyone knew each error we made precisely because our lives as the pastor’s family were so public. PKs are under sharp scrutiny in their home churches. Many have reputations as being spoiled, disobedient or even outright rebellious. Fair or not, everyone knows who they are. There is no invisibility for PKs!
Now that I’m an adult, I have a special place in my heart for PKs. I teach at Union University, and in our classes we have scores of Baptist PKs (I include the children of church staff members and missionary kids in this catch-all term). When I meet these students and they tell me that their fathers were pastors, I always sigh knowingly and remark, “I’m in that club as well. In fact, my father, my uncle and my grandfather were all pastors!”
As a grown-up PK, I’d like to offer some suggestions for my fellow church members as they relate to their pastor’s kids:
— Treat PKs’ parents with respect.
I know many PKs who no longer attend church, in part because of how their fathers were treated by church members. Conflicts are bound to occur and pastors make mistakes, but take care as to how you talk about the pastor and how you handle these situations. Too many times, pastors’ families bear the painful brunt of church conflict.
— Invite PKs to be a part of your family.
Despite what some people may think, pastors work on more than Sundays and Wednesdays! Most pastors work 60-plus-hour weeks and are in meetings or out visiting several nights a week. PKs often are not able to attend sporting contests or special events with their families because of packed church schedules. Go out of your way to have your pastor’s kids over for a special cookout or for play dates. By the time I got married, I had so many special church “mamas” that my poor wife had lost count of them. These were the women who made sure that I felt welcomed in their homes, as though I were an adopted son.
— Celebrate with joy your PKs’ life-milestones.
My dad’s church flooded me with graduation gifts: I spent all summer writing thank-you notes! When I got married, the ladies of dad’s church threw my wife a wonderful bridal shower. A huge crowd from the church traveled for an hour to my wife’s home church for the ceremony; many of the ladies even volunteered to serve at the reception.
— Cut your PKs some slack!
Like all kids, PKs go through stages of rebellion or soul-searching, especially during their teen years. Certainly there are times when they need to be reported to their parents or even admonished on the spot, but treat them with fairness. Parenting experts say that discipline without relationship leads to defiance; this principle applies to the other adults in the church community who provide discipline.
When I was an obnoxious teenager, I really did listen to church members who fussed at me, especially those with whom I had a personal relationship. I knew that they loved me and that they wanted the best for me. Even when I grumbled, I knew deep-down that their discipline was correct.
Look at your church’s PKs with fresh eyes. How can you encourage them? How can you make a difference in their lives? Your kind words and actions can make a huge difference in the life of your PKs.
Gene C. Fant, Jr. chairs the English department at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.