How Churches Can Care for Their Pastor’s Children

A young pastor recently asked for my advice over lunch. His church plant was maturing, and he was looking down the road. His own children are ages 6, 4, and 1. Knowing the problems that pastors’ kids can have, he wisely desired to cast a vision of care for his children.

church-sleepy-kids-szdToo many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.

But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.

What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?

Word to the Congregation

These children running around among us are precious to God. One day they will not be 6, 4, and 1. They will be 26, 24, and 21. In the meantime, they are watching you and listening to you. And by that observation, they are deciding if the gospel is real. Jesus said, “By this all people (including these children) will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What will they say about your church when they are adults? How did you help or hurt their walk with Christ?

1. Give grace to the pastor’s children on Sunday. Sunday is a workday for his family unlike any other person’s workday. While her husband is ministering, a wife is parenting alone. The pastor’s kids are often the first ones to arrive at the church building and the last ones to leave. You can minister to his family by giving his children grace, talking with them, and enjoying them. When his children are young, you can also offer to help his wife.

2. If you have a concern, talk to your pastor about behavior that characterizes the children. But do so with an attitude of loving acceptance. As a shepherd of my family, I wanted to know when my children acted up. But I also knew any report I received was from an adult who cared about me, who knew that children will be, well, sinful children. They did not look at my children as PKs (pastor’s kids), but only as kids.

The issues that should concern us are not individual actions but behaviors that characterize a child. The phrase “managing his household well” (1 Tim. 3:4) refers to the father, not the children. It doesn’t mean a pastor and his children are perfect. It does mean he handles true problems well.

3. Be generous in your praise. Respect is especially important as the children grow older. A pastor’s children will soon figure out that their family doesn’t drive the newest car or take the fanciest vacation. But if others verbally express respect for the pastors, the children’s view of their parents will rise. Men especially who express respect to a pastor’s son can make a substantial difference.

4. Limit church criticism and complaint to private conversations among adults. Every group of people will have problems. Issues will need to be aired (see Acts 6). But know that young people are watching how the adults are handling problems. As a teenager, I was keenly aware of the conflicts and hypocrisy in my church. Make sure you keep those comments among adults. Take any issues privately to the leadership. Don’t make sniping complaints to young people or in the hearing of young people.

5. Be brave and rebuke the critics. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation will follow this suggestion. When grumbling and faultfinding spill over in front of you, speak up. Tell “Nitpicking Nora” not to talk in front of the children but speak directly with those in charge. Remind her that these are just children. The souls of these little ones are precious and need to be guarded. A united elder team can be especially helpful in speaking to any who engages in unwarranted faultfinding.

6. Give your pastors room to deal with their children’s hearts. Older children will go through some spiritual ups and downs. How will you think about those bumps? With care and affection? Or self-righteous judgment? Your pastor’s children are like all of us. They are in a process of becoming like Jesus. You can embitter them with sharp comments. Or you can love and accept them even as they grow into adulthood. Pray for them regularly by name as they make this transition.

7. Give your pastors margin to minister to their families. Children need their father. But many leaders will be tempted to neglect their families to meet the unending needs of the church. Carping and demanding church members will make that temptation even greater. Even as a church member, you can encourage your pastors to care for their families. Are they taking their days off? Are their vacations uninterrupted? Don’t demand that they minister to your crisis at the expense of their own family.

Influence Well

By God’s grace, my children have no bitterness from my 25 years of pastoring. They know their church wasn’t perfect, but they look with admiration and affection on these aunts and uncles in the faith.

Church member, some day the young children in your church will be adults. They will be spiritual soldiers or spiritual casualties. And yes, you will have an influence on that outcome. They are watching you and listening to you. Use that influence well.

  • Curt Day

    One other way that churches can care for the pastor’s children is to pay the pastor enough so that he can better care for his kids and help them prepare for their future.

  • Samuel D James

    As a PK (pastor’s kid) for almost 25 years, I can say YES YES YES to this article.

    I want to especially urge churches in regards to point #7. My Dad ministered in a single-elder model all my life. It is impossible to overstate how tethered he was to the life of the church; vacations were rescheduled and postponed because of deaths; not deaths of members, but deaths of former members’s relatives. That that expectation rests on the pastor I always found amazing, but that was Dad’s job, and he did it faithfully.

    PLEASE make sure your pastor is getting the rest and recharge he needs. Make him take 1 day per week away from church duties completely, even if he doesn’t want it. An extended sabbatical every few years, especially for single elder pastors, makes a lot of sense.

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  • Randall Curtis

    As a pastor’s kid and as an assistant pastor, I have to agree wholeheartedly with this article. Pastor’s kids see the church as an extension of their family. They survive best when the members of the church go out of their way to notice and “adopt” them. I know I had many surrogate parents and grandparents who loved me, took an interest in me, talked to me, prayed for me, and even helped to keep an eye on me on Sunday mornings. This not only freed up my parents to do the ministry they needed to do on Sundays, but it also helped me as an individual feel like I belonged to a larger family. I think that churches have a choice. They can let the pastor’s family feel isolated and under constant microscopic inspection, or they can step up and take in the pastor’s family as part of their own. The first option produces hypocrites or hoodlums. The second option makes the church feel so home-like that even a prodigal will have a hard time staying away.

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  • DC

    I may be alone in this, but sometimes when I see a pastor’s young child or missionary children acting up, being loud and crazy rather than sitting nicely, folding their hands, and being quiet, I breathe a sigh of relief because it’s apparent that those children are not being raised to meet unreasonable “pk” expectations. People think that a child being, well, a child is a bad thing, and that these children should never act up in church, run in the hallways, or be loud and obnoxious, else the pastor seems like he’s not “managing his household well.” Hello! That’s childhood! If your 4-year-old isn’t doing those things, I would be worried! If the pastor is not allowing his children to be children, THAT is a sign that he’s not managing his household well!

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  • LJ Mc

    I think tips 4. and 5. apply to all those little ears and eyes who surround so many of our conversations at church and elsewhere.
    My Mum went to the grave bitter towards the church because of the hypocrisy she saw as a little girl.
    She was bought up by loving devoted farming grandparents when she was orphaned and went to church with them.
    In one moment she would see people greet them with smile and kisses and nice conversation and in other moments over hear their comments about being poor and farmers etc.
    When bringing up her own children she went to great lengths to ensure no religion in the house and we were ‘free’ to make our own choices. By the grace of God I am the only one of 4 children now a Christian. And more than that, the other 3 have been tossed around in the wind and waves of life without an anchor and are on medication to varying degrees due to different mental health issues.
    See the lasting impact of your words.

  • Chet Andrews

    How about offer to keep their kids so mom and dad can have a date night. That would be a great help.

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  • Shona

    I’m in total agreeance with point 2. I grew up in a Church where the Pastor’s son could get away with murder. He could bully and victimise anyone and get away with it completely. He would even encourage other children to bully one another.
    The last I spoke to him he had become very good at appearing holy, while inside he clearly still held the same attitudes of arrogance and superiority I had seen in him as a child. Don’t treat a kid like Jesus just because his father is a Pastor! They still need to learn a lot of lessons!

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  • John T

    This article struck a cord with me. I am one of those PK’s. Always measured to an unreachable standard by the congregation; could never resolve the differences between what Jesus said & what the congregation did. I felt the call of God to ministry when I was 10, but never acted upon it because of all the bad experiences I had watching the ‘body of Christ’ treat my father, mom & I as lower caste citizens of the church.
    I just turned 50 and still grit my teeth when I hear words that come out of nosey, gossipy ‘children of God.’ Probably my own fault, but People in a church need to be just as understanding of Rev so & so’s kids just like they would with their own. Hug a PK and better yet….invite the family over for a play date, lunch, dinner and show them that you really love them.
    I can tell you…I try to minister to the PK’s I run into…

    God Bless,
    John T.

  • DC

    I’m not a PK, but I’ve known a fare amount of them. And by all means, each person is responsible for his own sins. However, most PK’s I’ve known (not all, mind you) have been some of the most carnal people I’ve ever met. Like I said, everyone is accountable for his own actions, however, nurture does impact who we become, I believe. And it seems that PK’s, from how I’ve seen them treated to what they say about themselves to how I see some of them living out their lives and interacting in church, it seems that the following issues are common:
    1. Little concern or love for the “church people.” Those are the people that they have to “be good all the time” in front of and they are tired of it. They’d rather be around the lost than the saved because the saved just put too many unreasonable expectations on them.
    2. Little interest in church services. It’s little more to them than daddy’s workplace, and Sundays and Wednesdays are just “work conferences” that you have to dress up for and look and sound like you know what you’re talking about.
    3. Distance from Dad. They get the feeling Dad is only concerned about them because his job is dependent upon his cooperation. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of some pastors who have even told their children that they need to shape up because of this reason. This tells the PK that their value is mostly contingent upon their reflection of daddy’s ministry. No child wants to be invested in because of daddy’s job. Children want to be invested in because their daddy loves them.
    4. Relatively low involvement in Christ’s body when they are on their own. They are tired of it all. They want a break from that atmosphere, and often their vacation ends up turning into retirement.
    5. A life-long struggle with works-centered Christianity. Their whole childhood was defined by “look this way, talk this way, act this way, do this-not that,” etc. It’s not like you can just flip a switch and turn your children into abounding-grace Christians. They will view their relationship with God the way they are nurtured to.
    NOTE: this is not an overview of all PK’s. Just many that I’ve known and spoken to.

  • Laura Blalock

    I would add that limiting criticism and complaint is not only good for PKs and not only good for other children, but good for everybody. Of course there may and probably will be issues in the church that need to be corrected and resolved. Take them to the people who can solve the problem. Complaining and criticizing among people who can’t solve the problem accomplishes one thing only: it drags down everyone who hears it.

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