Nov 26, 2019

Six Lessons I Learned as a PK

Being a pastor’s kid is the only life I ever knew as a child. My dad pastored several small-town churches in West Texas in my early childhood, and when I was in elementary school, he accepted the call to a young church in a suburban area of Dallas-Fort Worth. He stayed at that church for almost 25 years. South Oaks Baptist Church was my family throughout most of my childhood. After college, my husband and I made the decision to return to South Oaks and assist in the ministries of the church as laypeople. Even as an adult, I was still the pastor’s daughter, so that PK life didn’t really leave me. I had babies and they became little PGKs, Pastor’s Grandkids. It’s only been 3 years since my dad resigned from the church to work for the state Baptist organization, mentoring and supporting pastors all over the area. We stayed at our beloved church as the church has undergone tremendous changes and I still feel like I am adjusting to not having my dad as my pastor and not having that role of PK. But, at this point in my life, I can look back at the unique experience of growing up as a pastor’s kid and I can see how it shaped me in so many positive ways to become the woman that I am today. I think, in ministry families, we have some perspectives that allow us to learn things about church and serving God that others may not immediately see. So, I decided to list out some things that being a PK taught me that have helped me into my adulthood in ministry and life. Maybe you are learning some of these same lessons without even realizing it.


1. No church is perfect.

As a pastor’s kid, you can be painfully aware of this. You know that church people can sometimes be really terrible to each other and to their leaders. But, learning this reality early in my life helped me to go into church life with realistic expectations. So many people start on the surface level with a church and then, as they get more involved and see people arguing in committee meetings or complaining about minute details of the building, they get disillusioned and sometimes even leave to find a “better” church, or just give up on church altogether. Now, obviously, some churches may have a very unhealthy culture and I’m not saying that we should submit to spiritual abuse from our churches, but if we walk into a church expecting it to always be a perfect picture of heaven, we will always be disappointed. Churches are made up of people and people are sinners. You will not like everyone you meet at church, and even reasonable people can disagree about big decisions. Learning this from the perspective of the pastor’s family has helped me to show more grace and love to my church family. Just like a real family, even when people act in ways that make them hard to love, we can still love them with Jesus’ love and see them as a sinner in need of a Savior, just like all the rest of us. A willingness to ride out the waves can sometimes give us opportunities to see God’s miraculous restoration of damaged relationships and churches.


2. Leaders of churches are real people.

Church leaders have feelings and bad days and people who love them fiercely. When people are unnecessarily critical or harsh, it affects the people leading the church in real ways. As a PK, I learned this and try to remind myself of it when I feel the urge to complain to a minister. Constructive discussion and differences of opinion are completely fine, but should I make that snide remark about the songs all being in a key that is too high? Should I complain that the pastor preached too long or that the donuts are from a different place this week? Should I expect “my” minister to always drop everything to take care of my own needs, without regard for the needs of his or her own family?

Mentally, I try to apply this lesson to all people in the public eye, not just ministers. The company CEO, the politician, the author, the celebrity on TV- they are all real 3-dimensional people who are hopefully trying to do the best they can. If someone writes something terrible about them on their website, they read it, and it affects how they feel about themselves. Even a very confident person like my father has personal insecurities that people can step on. Critical words can bring them down and haunt them for years. Many pastors that I know have struggled with depression and anxiety at various points in their ministries, much of it tied to the constant scrutiny, criticism, and unrealistic expectations that people have of them.

Another piece of this is accepting the ministers in my life as full people, with strengths and flaws and needs. Pastors need friends that they can feel comfortable around. As a PK, you see first-hand how isolating it can be to be a pastor or minister. Most people in the congregation want to keep the pastor in his role over there and not invite him to their backyard barbecue or guys’ night out. They feel like they have to act a certain way around him or his family, so they don’t want to have him or her around to “spoil the fun.” Or they just don’t think about it at all as everyone just assumes that the minister is too busy or too serious for social events on the weekend. Yes, ministers are often pretty busy but most seem to really appreciate the people in their life who will pursue friendship with them anyway. Ministers need the ability to be themselves around people they know they can trust. As a PK, I feel like I have a unique ability to be that kind of person for ministers in my life. I’m not intimidated by their position, I don’t expect them to act like a robot, and I know how hard the ministry life can be sometimes.


3. Leadership often looks more like cleaning the bathroom than telling people what to do.

I can’t tell you how many times I watched (and was “voluntold” to help) my dad stay late at the church after a Saturday wedding to make sure the place got fully cleaned up before church the next day. Maybe the janitor couldn’t come up or didn’t finish everything. It didn’t matter. The church needed to look nice for Sunday and so he just did it. He literally helped hang the sheetrock in one of the buildings of the church. He mopped floors and put up chairs. Whenever a need popped up, he was never above it. He felt the full responsibility of making sure that things were taken care of for his teachers and for the needs of the congregation members. He didn’t make excuses or tell someone else to do it if he could handle it himself. His servant leadership consistently reminded me of Jesus, who washed the disciples’ feet when there wasn’t anyone there to do it. The feet were dirty, it needed to be done, and Jesus loved his disciples enough to take care of that need for them.

Leading people well is about loving them. Responsibility means that you are the last line of defense to keep things together when necessary. These lessons are applicable to any leadership role in life. At work, it might mean jumping in to help someone else when they are struggling to get things done. At church, it means jumping in to take care of those small needs that come up, like a spill on the carpet, or trash left around the sanctuary. At home, it means serving my family in small ways and working together to make sure that everyone has what they need.


4. There is often much more going on below the surface in people’s lives than you can see.

As a pastor’s kid, sometimes you know things about congregants that most people don’t. You see the wife show up at your house in tears because her husband is having an affair and she didn’t know where else to go. You know that those parents in the third row are worried that their teenager is getting into drugs. Even if your parents try to be really careful about not telling you things, you pick up a lot. All of the “you can’t tell anyone about this” conversations that my parents had with me growing up have made me really good at keeping confidentiality in my job as a therapist. But my biggest takeaway from this experience was the knowledge that you can’t always see people’s pain and struggles on the surface. The family that looks really put together a few rows down might be completely falling apart in reality. The comparison game really loses its power when you accept that everyone has problems and struggles under the surface, even if they look really shiny on the outside. And, maybe we should all stop trying so hard to look perfect and just be open with each other about our own struggles and pain.


5. Live a life above reproach.

My dad was also a PK so this is something that his father taught him and then I learned it from him. It was very important to my dad to avoid even the appearance of evil or misconduct in his life. This can definitely be taken too far and become its own kind of legalism, but that’s not the way he did it. He made sure that his office always had a window into it so that he could minister to anybody in a confidential way, but that people walking by would know that nothing improper was happening when the door was closed. He was transparent regarding the finances of the church and made sure procedures were in place that ensured shared responsibility and accountability. He is a man of moral character but he knows that you can’t trust everyone, and that we all face temptations in life. He knew the value of environmental and structural boundaries. He did not even want there to be a possibility that someone might think he was abusing his role or the power that a pastor may have in a person’s life

This principle can be applied in many areas, for all of us. In ministry, it means implementing and following policies for volunteers and staff that work with children or teenagers, to help them avoid the types of situations that could be dangerous or cause people to question what may have happened. Rules like this can help contribute to a safer environment, with the knowledge that you don’t always know who you should be suspicious about in the moment, so you have these expectations for everyone.

It is also applicable in my marriage. I’ve seen friends destroy or almost destroy their marriages with affairs, and it typically starts with a seemingly innocent friendship. So, yes, I will have friends and colleagues who are of the opposite sex, but I’m going to be cautious about the way that I approach these friendships. I’m not going to spend lots of time alone with someone of the opposite sex or start talking to them about things that I wouldn’t share with my husband. My husband and I know each other’s phone passcodes and have free reign to see social media, text and call histories whenever we want. We regularly use text groups of both of us and both members of the other couple when communicating with our friends so that it does not appear that we are trying to be secretive about anything. Just as my father demonstrated that he did not want to give anyone a reason to think he might be doing something improper, I don’t want to give my husband or others a reason to think I might be behaving inappropriately either.


6. The church belongs to God, not me and not the pastor.

This lesson is easy to agree with but harder to live. My pastor father taught this and tried to live it in his life. He led the church well, but not alone. He made sure that the church was structured for laypeople to lead in ministries and decision making. He never wanted people to make church about him. He reminded us that the church was bigger than any one person, and the church’s mission was bigger than the church itself. The church belongs to God and our mission is to bring people to Jesus, not to church. When we make the church about one central personality, the church can fall apart if that person leaves or has a moral failure. It can also give too much power to that one person and make it easier for that person to abuse that power without accountability or transparency. A good pastor needs to lead humbly and point to Jesus and not himself.

On the other side of this, it is easy to start thinking about the church we attend in terms of “MY church.” While it is important to take some ownership and responsibility for the church that you choose to be involved in, it is never “your” church in the sense that it is there for just you, your preferences, or your needs. Through our service in a church, we serve God. We work and pray to build the kingdom of God, not just to grow our own church or promote our ideas. If we aren’t careful to stay focused on this, we can start making our church, our pastor, our programs like idols in our lives, more important than God and His Kingdom.

Two years after my dad resigned as pastor of our church, the church determined, for multiple reasons, that God was leading us to merge with another church in our community and offer our facilities and membership to help start a new campus for that church. This was one of the most challenging transitions I have ever walked through. Letting go of control of “my” church to leadership that already had their own ideas and ways of doing things was harder than I ever could have imagined that it would be. But, ultimately, the church is not about me and what I like. It’s not about my dad and how he did things. It’s not about a name or specific programs. It’s about building the kingdom of God. And for that reason God brought us together so that we could do more for His kingdom.

The church is more than a building or a man. It’s people. People in the congregation, people on staff, people volunteering, people who need to be reached for the Kingdom of God. All of these people need to know and experience the love of Jesus.

What experiences or life lessons have you learned as a PK that you can use to love on others, encourage them, and further God’s kingdom?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

By <a href="" target="_self">Crystal Williamson</a>

By Crystal Williamson

Crystal Williamson grew up as a Baptist pastor's kid in Arlington, Texas. She is still living the ministry life, but now as a layperson and ministry volunteer in her church. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working in private practice as a therapist. She lives with her husband, Tommy, and three growing children in Mansfield, Texas.