Three Lessons Learned From My PKs

Young boy preacherBy John McGee

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step into your children’s shoes – in other words, to have you as a parent? How would you feel if you were the PK in your family?

Recently, a friend was sharing some thoughts he had gleaned from Barnabas Piper’s book about growing up as a Pastor’s Kid. This made we wonder what my kids might say if they ever wrote a book about being a PK. Rather than waiting 20 years for the book, I asked them what it’s like to be a PK at our church. There were no “made-for-TV” moments in our conversation, but there were a few things that they all shared.

They told me: “We like being with the people on your team.”
My wife and I try to bring our kids to the office regularly so they can be around the people on our church staff. My team does a great job interacting with our children, who in turn have grown to love and respect the people I work with. Several of my kids have talked about how they view members of our staff as role models, and would even consider serving in similar capacities someday.

I’ve never wanted my staff to be perceived as the people who take Dad away, but rather as great folks whom Dad gets to love and serve. Every year my wife, Pam, and I plan our team’s Christmas party and involve our kids. They love helping with the planning and gifts, and they have fun creating a “best music of the year” CD for every family.

So, one question to ask your kids might be: “How do you view the people I work with?” I was encouraged that our children didn’t feel like they have to compete with the church staff for my time, but rather were glad that I serve with those that I do. From this, I’ve drawn that one advantage of being a PK is the opportunity to be around some godly and gifted people that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see up close.

They told me: “We’re expected to know the answers.”
All of my kids mentioned that in every Sunday school class or meeting they attend, they’re generally called on or looked to – especially if no one else knows the answer to a question. When I asked them if they feel burdened by this expectation, they replied honestly that there are times they would like to be anonymous. However, they also emphasized that this dynamic is something that keeps them on their toes. We discussed how “I don’t know” is always an acceptable answer. We also talked about the importance of leading because they are followers of Christ, not just because of their last name.

It might be good to ask your kids if they feel any extra pressure because of who they are, and to reassure them that you love them and have their back. I know that too much expectation can be crushing to anyone. At the same time, I also know that expectation provides an opportunity and environment for growth. I believe that this can actually be an advantage of life as a PK, as long as these expectations are not unreasonable.

They told me: “Our lives are full.”
Like most PKs, their dad is busy. Meetings, appearances, trips, and phone calls eat into time that could be used to play catch in the front yard. Perhaps the most disruptive factor in our family’s schedule is that just about every Wednesday night is spent at church. I am definitely aware that a potential pitfall of ministry is that our kids could end up resenting (or even hating) the church because of my pace, or the fact that they spend too much time at the building.

Each of us, as pastors, will have to find our own answers to this dilemma, but here are a couple of things I’ve tried to do:

  1. Where possible – and appropriate – I try to take my kids with me when I can. I recently needed to interview several people to hear their testimonies, so I took my son along. I listened to the first couple, and then let him lead out with the rest and clarify the gospel with everyone who shared.
  2. Another thing I try to do regularly – such as after every ministry cycle – is share some of the stories of life change our congregation has seen. Recently, as I was relating some of these accounts, one of my kids asked: “So, do we kind of get credit for that?” I replied that they absolutely do. I want our children to see that this ministry is a family endeavor.

A good question to ask your kids could be: “How do you feel about my schedule?” Listen carefully, and look for ways to involve them appropriately. Include them in celebrating what God is doing in your church. I’ve come to see that being a PK provides a unique opportunity to view God’s work up close, and hear about the things He is accomplishing in our congregation. I hope that will translate into a desire in my kids’ hearts to be continue to be deeply involved in ministering to others as they grow. I want my kids to love the church and invest their gifts in the church.

I was intrigued that one particular image did not show up in my conversations with my children – the caricature of the “church lady” telling the PKs to behave simply because of where their dad was employed. I wasn’t surprised, given our particular congregation’s culture, but I’ve often thought that this would be a terrible thing for any kid to endure. We talked about and role-played some conversations. I told my children that if anyone ever told them they were to behave a certain way because their father was on the church staff, I give them permission to respectfully reply: “My dad said that if anyone ever said that to me, I was supposed to tell them that they could just talk to him about it.” I want to do everything I can to let my children know that a great relationship with them is more important to me than a good reputation with those in our church.

Articles like this one generally close with a dire warning about the hazards of being a PK – and rightly so. Stories abound about kids who despise God, the church, and their parents because of their experience growing up in the church. However, I think the opposite side of the conversation is just as important. If parents are intentional and supportive, growing up as a PK could actually provide many incredible opportunities. That’s why it is so important to make sure that your occupation doesn’t keep you from being on the sidelines, cheering for your kids, taking them on date nights, and simply being present and engaged with them. What kids need most is to experience love from, and spend time with, their parents.

Humanly speaking, you as a parent will be the primary determiner about what your kids will say about their experience of being a PK. So make sure to ask them what it’s like for them in your situation, adjust accordingly, and don’t forget to dream big.

Your role at church could be a potential liability – but I have been growing in my belief that if we are intentional, our kids’ experience as PKs could be a great blessing that they will cherish rather than resent. So on your next date night or car ride, ask your children what it is like to be a PK. Take good notes, and look for the opportunities that are uniquely yours as a pastor.

Copyright © 2014 by John McGee. Used by permission.

John McGee (@JohnMcGee) is the Director of Marriage Ministry and re|engage at Watermark Community Church in Dallas Texas. He is passionate about helping churches prepare, establish, enrich, and restore marriages in their communities.

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