I recently came across a blog with an article entitled “Pastors’ Kids: Seven Things Pastors Would Like Church Members to Know about Their Children” from Thom Rainer. The article listed seven comments from an informal survey of pastors and their spouses on the issue of their children being held to a different standard than any other child in a congregation. I have raised two wonderful children in the public eye of church ministry and believe it is true that some children of pastors are held to different standards and levels of responsibility than many adults. It seems as though the pastor’s children are purposely singled out whenever they do anything that does not meet the approval of those who watch their behavior. Even when the pastor’s children are really behaving appropriately for their age, there seems to be someone who believes they can do better. Even when they are expected to attend, participate, and contribute to many church events or called on to fill the gaps for others, they should do so with a perfect smile.
My own son told me often that he was tired of having to pray at every youth event, as if there were no other youth in the room. He felt he was called on all the time because his father was the pastor, and he had to represent that and be proud about it. Although it was frustrating for him, he gained the benefit of learning to be a clearer communicator in the long run and has more confidence as an adult. It also has helped him deal with the critics he faces in the world now. The only thing about this kind of learning is that the child carries the burden of living through the expectations and criticism and, if we are not careful, it can interrupt the child’s faith development.
Why pastors’ children are being held to a different standard has been a true mystery, and no one has been able to explain it to me with satisfaction. Some people speculate that individuals of the congregation may be angry with the pastor and take their frustration out on the children, or some say church members are jealous that the children receive more attention and gifts than most congregational members. There are others who think that the whole clergy family has been hired by the church, and therefore they feel they have the right to tell the children how they should and should not behave. Plus, many congregants think they know how to better raise the children of the clergy, and as a result there are many opinions about how the pastor’s children should be disciplined. I am not sure why the standards are different; I just know and have experienced that they are different and have experienced the resulting criticism that happens more often than not. I would be open to your responses to this mystery, and you can add your responses in the comment section beneath this blog post.
Every parent, including clergy parents, wants to raise their children in a loving, healthy environment and not in places where their children will be criticized publicly for the things they do. Every parent wants positive, thriving spaces for their children to grow and find the path for their life. Unfortunately, for many clergy families, the privilege of living in these kinds of settings is not always available to them. Therefore, many children of pastors have become despondent toward the church, and many of them leave the ministry completely when they become of age and are able to make their own decisions due to the past challenges of trying to be the perfect role models for others’ children without going through their own natural stages as a child. Many pastors’ children have left the church because they don’t believe the people of the church are real about the love of Christ nor do they believe the members even care. It is possible to find many clergy children who want absolutely nothing to do with the church because of what they have experienced.
Though I know that clergy parents cannot shield their children from every comment or expectation of the church, I do know that there are ways that clergy parents can help their child to not become scarred by the difficulty of criticism directed at them. My next blog post will explain three ways to help clergy children get through the difficult experiences of criticism. I invite your insight, wisdom, and comments to this very difficult and sensitive subject. There is wisdom out there on this subject, and I would love to hear from you.
Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.
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