Dec 11, 2020

Can I Quit Being a Pastor’s Kid?

It was Shakespeare who wrote the words, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them”. The experience for PK’s is not dissimilar; they never felt a calling to their dad’s ministry but find themselves thrust into an unusual position that they never asked for. In fact, it’s a position that many PKs desperately want to get out of; I frequently ask the question “Can I quit being a Pastor’s Kid?”

I have friends who have described the painful experience of—at a young age—waving goodbye to their ‘normal’ life as their parents responded to God’s calling to ministry, but for me, growing up in the ministry is all I’ve ever known. My dad has been pastor of the same church here in England for 30 years (and counting!) so I was quite literally born into it. This has been a tremendous blessing, enabling me to see the Lord working in many ways but it would be disingenuous to pretend that being a PK is a normal upbringing or is an easy life: it’s not.

When I was 6, I called on the Lord to save me for the first time – I’d had a troubled conscience all weekend so instead of doing what I usually did in church that Sunday (belting out some hymns before drifting off into my own world as soon as the sermon started!), I paid close attention to what Dad was saying from the front, and it was a day or two later that my fears were relieved as I put my trust in Jesus.

Sadly, not long after this, I was exposed to how unkind some professing Christians can be as my dad faced attacks on his ministry. At the age of just 6 or 7, I witnessed my own father being violently sick as a result of the stress he was facing and while it was good members of the church who looked after my siblings and me while my parents went to the doctor, seeing this happen had a lasting impression on me.

One of the greatest challenges growing up for my siblings and me was knowing that our misbehavior might reflect badly on my dad. I cannot count the number of times I have heard variations of the dreaded phrases, “someone wasn’t listening to Daddy’s sermon this morning!” or “I’m disappointed in you – you’re the pastor’s son!”. While other children were taking as many biscuits (cookies!) as they like after church and running around the building, we knew that we could only do the same when we had the church building to ourselves.

I often wonder if some Christians believe that verses such as Romans 3:23 don’t apply to the pastor’s kid! “Surely I have been a sinner from birth”, says Psalm 51:5 (NIV), so to expect a PK to be anything other than someone who makes mistakes is not only delusional but unbiblical.

The pressure and expectation has always weighed heavily and there were two notable occasions when this became too much for me.

When I was somewhere between 9 and 11 years old, I suffered from seriously low self-esteem. I was struggling at school and having a difficult time trying to make friends, particularly because no one else in my school was a Christian. Sadly, church was not much better. The average attendance of a church service in the UK is around 54 and while my church is now slightly above that average, at the time, my church had a very small number of children so I had no one my age that could help to relieve the feelings of isolation and separation that I was experiencing. Until recently I had never shared the full extent of these experiences with anyone.

I would regularly hit myself and bang my head against a wall to try to punish myself and I started to contemplate how I could make a more permanent escape. First, I thought about running away from home but this plan was foiled when my mum and Nan discovered a bag of clothes in my bedroom! As I got more upset and felt more and more worthless and stupid, I began to seriously consider how I might end my life. I’d formulated a plan and had even written down who I would like to have my teddies and how I would like the contents of my piggy bank split.

Thanks to the support of both sets of my wonderful grandparents (2 of whom are now in Heaven), my loving and caring parents, and other family members, these thoughts began to subside as I realized just how precious I was to Jesus, how He sits unmoved on His Throne, and how loved and valued I was by other believers. By God’s grace, those thoughts have never returned.

Most PK’s will tell you that as you grow up, expectations of you also grow. You’re expected to be present every time the Church doors are open and you’re expected to help out at every activity of the Church. There is an expectation that the PK will never be down and will always be upbeat, because, much like your parents, you need to be ready to pick other people up and impart spiritual wisdom or provide practical support to individuals often many years your senior. On the contrary to this, there are times I have gone to Church feeling thoroughly miserable and it is a miracle that I even got there at all!

An attitude that I still resent to this day is the way some believed that it was their responsibility to discipline me or take me to task (sometimes in an abrupt way) on very personal matters. I remember well a moment during my mid-teens when I was told off by a member of the congregation for having too many spots on my forehead and that “your parents need to stop feeding you pizza!” I was upset about this, not only because it was a particularly personal remark but because I felt someone was using something perfectly normal to discredit my parents.

It’s especially hard as a PK to watch other people in the Church be showered with praise for doing things that you have been doing all of your life, while your input often gets ignored or dismissed. The sad reality is that often Christians expect a greater level of commitment, holiness, wisdom, and spiritual maturity from the pastor’s family than they would expect from anyone else in the church. This is a particularly heavy burden to carry when growing up in a society that has an incredibly different set of expectations from young people.

As such, between the ages of 16 and 17, I started to secretly backslide. I had begun to convince myself that saying and doing all the right things at church would be enough. I had become so immersed in my dad’s ministry that I had no chance to unplug or ‘come up for air’.

I understood what was expected of me and quite enjoyed giving off the impression to others in the Church and to my Christian friends that I was a ‘good Christian’. I was at church every Sunday and was actively involved in the work of the Church, supporting my dad whenever I could. I knew my theology fairly well, and had picked up all of the big, impressive words from my dad, and was even thinking about a calling to ministry myself.

But reading my Bible and spending time with God became a chore and I eventually stopped. I had grown cold to the gospel that I had grown up hearing my dad faithfully proclaim week by week.

The consequence of this was that I lived a double life for several months. Sunday was still The Lord’s Day, but every other day, I lived almost as if He didn’t exist. I became more argumentative and arrogant while deliberately and willfully choosing to do and say things that I thought would give me satisfaction and impress my friends when, in truth, they really didn’t think any more of me as a result.

During this period, I was tempted at times to stop going to church and abandon the faith altogether; I entertained the prospect of being free from the pressures of being involved in ministry and romanticized running away from the faith. But the Lord never lets His children stray too far and the words of Psalm 139:7-8 (ESV) always rang true,

“Where can I go from your presence? If I ascend to Heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

As I started to drift, I was confronted by the undeniable and uncomfortable reality that there truly is a God and my attempt to put up a veneer of piety to cover my lack of love for Him was dangerous. With an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and control of my life, I searched the scriptures in a way that I had never done before and I spent all of my spare time listening to sermons from other pastors.

Many PKs I know are so immersed in their Dad’s ministry that they never have the opportunity to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 (ESV). For a time, my sincerely held faith was not my own but rested entirely on what my dad did. Without a steadfast prayer life and growing in holiness by looking to Jesus, a PK (just like anyone) will begin to wander and I have learned that I am not immune to this danger, and won’t be until Heaven!

As I’ve continued to walk with God, I have become convinced of my own calling to serve as a pastor, something I’d always thought about but desperately hoped would never happen! If my dad’s experiences weren’t enough to put me off, both my grandfathers were also pastors, and so is one of my uncles! Despite many attempts to ‘do a Jonah’ and escape this calling, God’s plan for me became unmistakable and I preached my first ever sermon aged 19 and I now regularly preach at my church and other local churches.

I often thought that being a PK would get easier as I got older but I don’t think it really has. I still experience the age-old questions of ‘how can I show Christ-like love to the people I know have made Dad’s life a misery?’, ‘why are people so senseless in their comments and critiques of those in the ministry?’ and ‘why does God allow those who serve him most diligently to go through the greatest and darkest trials?’. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t worry or think about my dad’s ministry. The temptation to retaliate and give a knee-jerk reaction to the latest issue is often too much to bear. Sometimes, I find myself wanting to give people in the church a good shake and telling off to make them appreciate my dad and our family more!

However, fastening myself to the ‘Rock of my salvation’ (Psalm 89:26 ESV) and desperately clinging on to God in prayer each day makes the pain and the frustration more than bearable and reminds me that my identity is not found in my dad’s job, my identity is not found in what I can and can’t do for The Church and it’s certainly not found in my reckless rebellion against God, but it is found in Jesus Christ alone – my one true delight and joy. It is a true joy to know Jesus Christ and to be known by him and what I find staggering is that He loves me in such a way that He understands my frustrations, my doubts and my fears. I know God uses our unique calling as PKs to teach us perseverance, determination and dependence upon him.

There are also so many different things that PKs can take advantage of to help them in their daily Christian life. I highly recommend regularly listening to sermons from other pastors who are not a part of your church, as this is a great way of ‘unplugging’ and taking time to work on your own faith and identity in Christ. I also recommend sharing your burdens with fellow PKs and know that no matter your situation, there will always be someone who understands and will be on hand to pray for you.

“We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear”

 

John Fawcett, in his hymn “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”

I remember a number years ago, I had entered a cross-country race on a cold and wet morning. There had been a bit of a mix up with the age categories and I had accidentally been entered into the wrong race – a much longer race with boys much older than me! The organizers offered me the chance to drop out but I chose to run. “I came here to run a race,” I said. It wasn’t the race that I wanted to enter and it was much more difficult than I expected; but I ran the race. That is very much like what being a Pastor’s Kid is like. It’s often a much more difficult race than expected and it may not be the race that anyone would choose, but it is the one that God has called us to. If we seek Him in everything we do, we will be able to sing those great words in one of my favorite songs, “When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat, “Yet not I, but through Christ in me!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

By <a href="https://pastorskids.org/author/jonathan-wood/" target="_self">Jonathan Wood</a>

By Jonathan Wood

Jonathan Wood is a Pastor’s Kid and preacher from Kent (near London), England. He has three siblings and two siblings-in-law, Thomas (married to Rachael), Bethany (married to Nathan) and David. He also has a 14-year-old dog called Megan and a 3-year-old rabbit called Bobby. While still at school, Jonathan ran his own travel business and still loves traveling and flying. He is also a keen skier, kayaker, runner, tennis player and footballer and would insist that he is great at all of these sports! Jonathan is a big follower of his favorite soccer team, West Ham United. Jonathan enjoys reading but has an obsession with Christian podcasts and listens to several a day!