I did not grow up as a pastor’s kid but I married one. My wife’s experience shaped many of the tough decisions I had to make as a father first, parish pastor second. One of those tough decisions was how to protect my wife and children from the incredibly high expectations the church would place on them. I signed up for this high calling, my lovely wife agreed to come along for the ride, but my children had no voice in the decision. They were a gift from God, but as children, they still had the right and healthy right to make mistakes.
No matter how much I wanted it to be different, children take risks, they break things, they make bad choices, they do interesting things with crayons and paint. Children are supposed to experiment, make mistakes, learn that every action has consequences. Bumps and bruises, breaks and brokenness are all a part of our formation. But as a pastor there was enormous pressure to make sure my children were perfect. Every time a child cried in the church I prayed it wasn’t mine. The need for perfection was not just at church, it was in school, at restaurants, and stores, on vacation. My children had to be perfect anywhere a church paparazzi might be larking. The bigger the congregation or the smaller the community the more likely a church paparazzi was in earshot. Imagine parents living life in the fishbowl and we wonder why so many pastors and church worker kids reject the church. This is not a church hit piece. I loved most of my time in the parish, but my kids were expected to live up to unrealistic standards.
Why are well losing Church Worker’s Children? Is this the result of living under immense pressure?
I don’t like making untested assumptions so here are some data to back up my claims.
The Reasons Pastors Believe their Kids Struggle with Faith from Barna Research
1. Pastors’ (and I would add many church workers’) kids are raised in a unique culture of expectation.
My kids discovered early on that their words and actions, even their attitudes reflected directly back on me and my leadership as the head of the household and the one who held the office of the Holy Ministry. I remember one time in particular when someone approached me about something they thought my child did and questioned my fitness for the office. My response back was simply and respectfully that, “Of course my child is a sinner, they are a chip off the old block.” Just a reminder you called your pastor or your church worker to the ministry not their spouse and definitely not their children.
The survey results show pastors are not oblivious to this heightened scrutiny of their family.
- ” In fact, pastors (28%) name unrealistic expectations of their kids as the number one reason pastors’ kids struggle in the development of their own faith.
- ” The second reason listed by pastors (18%) is exposure to the negative aspects of the church.
- ” Nearly two out of 10 (17%) pastors link their own preoccupation as too-busy parents with the frustrated faith of their children.
- ” And about one-sixth of pastors trace the prodigal tendencies of their children back to the lack of faith modeled consistently at home (14%).
- ” Other reasons given by pastors include the influence of peers and culture (9%), the child’s free will (7%), and their never making faith their own (6%).
2. The Parenting Successes and Regrets of Pastors
You may never grasp the pain associated with the regret church workers have when their children stray from the faith. These faithful workers sacrifice so much of themselves and their families to be there for others in their hours of deepest needs, walking people daily through faith crisis after faith crisis. Yet, how heartbreaking when your own child needed that same spiritual guidance and you were not there for them.
Here are the statistics on parental regrets:
- ” When asked what they feel they’ve done best in raising their kids, pastors (37%) overwhelmingly answered that they introduced their children to Christ and maintained a Bible-focused home. Only 5% wish they had done better in this area, by giving their children more biblical instruction.
- ” Overall, a startling 19% say they wouldn’t change anything in their parenting methods, even if they could turn back time. Yet for those who do admit parenting regrets, things get a little more personal.
- ” While 21% of pastors believe they were good parents in terms of supporting and spending time with their children, twice that amount have regrets in this area – 42% say they wish they had spent more time with their kids. Perhaps in reference to the unrealistic expectations pastors agree are placed upon their children, 8% of pastors also said they wish they had been more understanding with their kids.
The point of this post is not to make anyone feel guilty but I beg you, the church, to help support those who care for you. Encourage them and support them as they care for their spouse, their children, and finally themselves. They are a gift from God to help advance His kingdom.