I have been on vacation the past two weeks and have taken the opportunity to do a lot of reading. One of the books I read early on in the vacation was Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid. You might have guessed from his name, Barnabas is the son of the well-known pastor, John Piper. And so when I saw that he was coming out with a book on what it is like growing up as a pastor's kid, I wanted to read it for three reasons.
First, I am a pastor. Second, I have children. Third, I love them dearly and want to do everything I can to help them avoid any stereotypical or extraordinary demands placed on them because I am a pastor. I was happy to find out that my third reason is the main reason Barnabas wrote this book. He seeks to correct wrong thinking of expectations placed upon the children of pastors.
In the beginning of the book, he calls for pastors, and churches in general, to back off of an undue expectation of the Pastor's Kid (PK) to be someone different than every other kid in the church. He shows how it is unfair for the PK and creates a wrongful expectation of perfection that is impossible to bear. He shares how he felt everyone expected him to be perfect because his dad was the pastor. That is not only unfair, it is impossible. He talks about living in the fishbowl, where everyone hears and knows things about you . . . but they don't know you. That's painful for the PK. He shares,
"PK's want to be known, not just known of. We want to be in relationships that cut through the facades and fronts and unearth the insecurities and needs. We long for those friends and mentors who will willfully set aside all they think they know of us as PKs and get to know us as people. These friends will engage our passions, our interests, our fears, our confusions . . . PKs struggle, and if all we have are people around us who know of us, we bottle those struggles inside and the pressure builds. Being known is a release, a way to pour out our problems and be helped, supported, corrected, taught, and simply known" (37).
I was really drawn to my children through reading this book. It made me want to do a better job shepherding them in this area. I have had many conversations with my oldest son, who is now 14, about this issue. I often ask him if he feels any pressure from anyone because I'm the pastor of the church. So far, he says he doesn't. Only he knows if he is being honest with me. I hope so. I consistently reaffirm to him that if he ever feels that, he needs to let me know. I want him to feel freedom to be real; to struggle, to grow, to develop his own relationship with Jesus.
Barnabas offers several solutions to these problems faced by the PK. For one, he says what the PK needs more than anything else is grace. Of course, doesn't everyone? But what he means by this is that the PK needs to see grace from his parents (specifically dad) more than hear about grace. He shares one way this happens . . .
"What the PK needs is parents who not only admit to being sinners but actually admit to sins. It is far more powerful for a child to see his parents admitting, apologizing for, and working to correct real, actual sins. When a father refers to himself as a sinner and says he needs grace but doesn't make a habit out of admitting and apologizing for specific failings, he mixes up his kids. PKs see the lost tempers, the harsh words, the overwork, the pride, the gossip. We know what sins our dad commits, but if he doesn't admit to them, we can lose respect for him. We also fail to learn to recognize sins in our own lives, and even if we do see them, we won't admit them. Why should we? Dad doesn't" (79).
My guess is that this is good parenting advice, not just specifically for pastors.
But he also says the church needs to show grace. He consistently begs that the church treat the PK as they would treat any other child in the church. In the appendix of the book, Piper offers Seven Rules For When You Meet a PK (pg. 145-147). These are helpful and could be expanded upon in depth. But they are things that are helpful for those in the church to think through.
- Do not ask us 'What is it like to be the son or daughter of . . .
- Do not quote our dads to us.
- Do not ask us anything personal you would not ask of anyone else.
- Do not ask us anything about our dads' position on anything.
- Do not assume you can gain audience with the pastor through us.
- Do not assume that we agree with all the utterances of our fathers.
- Get to know us.
I feel our church does a good job of this. But it is one thing I will continue to keep an eye on in the future.
While I assume my children are having a different experience growing up in a church being my children than Barnabas did being John Piper's son (size of church, breadth of ministry, popularity, etc...), he makes many great points I need to pay careful attention to. No matter if you are a pastor, pastor's wife, or a congregant, I hope you will give some thought as to how you can care for the children of pastors. After all, as one PK was quoted as saying in the book . . .
"Where is there a safe place to go with your struggles? Who can you talk to? Not even the pastor . . ."
That touches me deeply.