Why Minister’s Kids Don’t Want to be Ministers . . . and How the Church Can Help

Over the past twenty years as a seminary professor, I’ve worked with a lot of students who had a parent who was a minister, but who were at first certain they would never follow in those steps. When I’ve asked what their first objections were, here’s what I’ve most often heard in no particular order: 

  1. “People always watch you.” My students had experienced the “fish bowl” life; some, in fact, used a “magnifying glass” image rather than the fish bowl. Either way, they didn’t want to put their own families through the same experience of always being in the public eye.
  2. “My parent was always too busy.” It’s been difficult for students who love their parents to express these feelings, but the feelings are nevertheless real. They didn’t like it when church work got in the way of family. In general, young leaders today verbalize such a strong commitment to family first that they don’t want to risk breaking that commitment.  
  3. “Some church people are just mean.” The kids themselves didn’t always experience the meanness, but they saw it when their parents experienced it – even when parents thought they were keeping it hidden. 
  4. “I don’t want vacations and meals to be interrupted.” When I’ve pushed, I’ve learned that such interruptions didn’t happen often, but they were memorable to the kids. They didn’t want to complain, but they also didn’t forget.
  5. “Ministry is emotionally hard work.” It is hard, of course, but the point is that kids often recognized that truth. They saw how hard their parent worked. They saw the tears, sensed the frustrations, and heard the honest complaints.
  6. “We struggled financially too much.” It’s tough to watch when your friends have more than you do. It’s also difficult on the family when both parents are required to work simply to pay the bills. Ministry kids who lived that experience worry that their family will face the same struggles.
  7. “Everybody said I’d be a pastor or a missionary.” Some of my students admit that they rebelled at first simply because they wanted to make their own career choice. They didn’t like the pressure of always hearing what others thought they would do.

So, what can the church do for ministry kids? Think about these suggestions:

  • Know their names. Define them by their first name rather than by their position.
  • Let them be kids. Give them room to grow.  
  • Pray for them when you pray for your own kids.
  • Love them. Be a friend. Have fun with them.
  • Act like a Christian should act. Don’t give ministry kids any reason to be disappointed with the church.
  • Guard your pastor’s family time. Interrupt them only for genuine emergencies.
  • Give their parents annual time to attend a marriage retreat. A strong marriage will only help minister’s kids.
  • Pay your pastor well. More than one generation will be affected by your generosity.

What would you add to this discussion?

18 Comments

  • Dale Roach says:

    Not only do pastor’s children not want to be ministers, many simply don’t wish to go to church at all. When children have witnessed number 3, trying to convince them that church is a good idea just does not work. Too often the children of ministers have seen offensive actions in the church that they have not seen in their place of work or occupation. Things people say about a minister can be vicious. The children of many pastors/church staff have heard statements that James defined as “set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6) I am convinced that if we ever hope to reach the next generation for Christ, congregations must love their pastors and their families. The reason I am in the ministry today is because my father, grandfather and father-in-law all had congregations that loved them. I saw the loving actions of congregations as I grew up toward all three of these men. However, it is sad to say that my kids have seen some really nasty behavior in their lifetime toward church leaders.

  • Dino Senesi says:

    Awesome insights Chuck. Thank you for this. I wish I could have read it 30 years ago. Much of the pressure I put on myself and my family was self-induced, not ministry induced. That’s my biggest regret. Some of the pressure was truly out of our control. But there was more in my control than I realized at the time.

  • Daniel says:

    It’s also hard to make real friends because everyone other just wants emotional help, or they don’t trust that you would make a good friend because you’re a pastor’s kid and are held to higher moral standard. It’s almost a church position “Pastor’s Child”. Expectations are also to high. So why go into ministry where people are going to be distant and hard to work with, when you can work a regular job where it is easy to have friends and community.

  • Jim says:

    Having pastored three churches,my family and I have gone through so much crap. I totally get what these kids go through. At my first church, church members would go after my kids during Sunday school. Soon after they started with my wife. We finally had to leave it was so bad.

    My hope is that my kids never get involved in vocational ministry. It just sucks the life out of you and your family.

  • Vivian says:

    Fish bowl: It is true that people are always watching. Sometimes they make good and bad remarks. To the good I say thanks and to the bad I say aren’t you glad I’m not perfect. Usually I have some kind of comeback which makes then have to look at what they said.
    Busy parent: Both parents had very high powered jobs. The children probably had more time with their parents than many. Yes, there were interruptions but I don’t think this was the most critical area for the kids.
    Mean church people: Oh my, I could write a book. Smart remarks, lies, back stabbing, may not happen every week but the kids see it and get treated rudely by others. It hurts them to see their daddy get spoken to in ungodly ways or find out people who are nice to them are trying to get their daddy fired.
    Vacations/meals interrupted: Of course this happens. It happens to all of us. When it did I explained to the kids that while we have to change plans these people are having great difficulty and this is what we do when people are in need. If you go out to eat; then enjoy the fact that others like you enough to say hello. No big issue here.
    Ministry is hard work: The emotional toll is great on the pastor. He is concerned about people’s soul. He sees bad things and people making bad decisions. He buries his friends year after year. He sees children die from cancer, wrecks, etc. He endures snide remarks after he has poured out his heart at a funeral or a church service. It is not for the faint of heart and that is why so many don’t make it in ministry.
    Financial struggles: This is all too true for so many families. Some churches are very generous and love their pastors but some look at pastors as hired hands who they can fire at will. Those churches are usually controlled by a few and aren’t concerned about growing. Run from these churches. That’s why I always worked and was blessed to make well.
    Expectations of children to go into ministry. Last time I checked it is a calling. If God isn’t calling you to a life if ministry do something else. Just because your dad or mom was in the ministry doesn’t mean you are suited for it. We need great lay people on the church willing to work.
    Pastor’s wife. Over 30 years in ministry.

  • Nathan says:

    As a second generation SBC pastor, I resonate with each and every one of these issues. I never had a desire to pastor growing up. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with ministry. I’ve often been told that I’m a pastor “just like my dad” but the truth is, I’m a pastor in spite of my dad. If I’d based my career choice on his experiences, I’d have done anything else in the world rather than preach. Dad was and still is the greatest pastor I’ve ever known. I wish my own ministry were even remotely close to his. But the longer I serve, the more of the same negativity that plagued his churches affects my own family. It is increasingly difficult to stave off bitterness in the manner of Jonah. I knew it would be like this when I started, but I answered the call anyway. Every day that goes by, I ask myself why I did that.

  • Paulo Freire says:

    Every vocation has its hazzards, but in ministry those hazzards are shared up front with family. The very beauty of shared lives in the church is what makes ministry so detrimental. How unfortunate it is that we (the church) who profess the Bible as our standard have so repeatedly violated the Scriptures while professing to uphold it. The constant struggle for souls and the never ending fight to maintain unity in the midst of diversity is wearing. The emotional upheaval of failed counseling sessions, the countless hours of passionate prayer for our sheep, the pleading from the pulpit for faithful men and the constant effort to address all the themes in the Bible and making it applicable to every person week after week only to be met with nonchalant stares, or worse yet, disdain can be overwhelming. My children have seen it all and they silently watch me as my frustration grows and my energy sinks. Thanks be to God for the many members who have been exceedingly kind to us, true friends, who display an eagerness for the kingdom of God, are teachable and desire to serve others. God’s grace has proven sufficient for my family but it has often been a severe grace, very uncomfortable. As my eldest son prepares for ministry, I have surprised myself in likening his preparation to that of a son drafted off to boot camp during wartime. I fear for him. He is certain to be injured, but I do know he will be healed… And an honor will await him in eternity. I keep expecting that soon my church will not be such an intensive care unit, but then again, I suppose that is why some come. The good news is that God never said to me what he said to Isaiah in chapter 6. The bad news is that the workers are still few and that around here, the harvest does not appear to be plentiful. May God protect our families in the process.

  • John Quigley says:

    Church health is as important as its doctrinal purity. Personal and communal relationships can be characterized as either healthy and empowering or toxic and damaging. I am now a pastor mature in years and in the Lord. My relationships are much healthier now than when I was a young husband and father. I am a recovering “people-pleaser.” We are all products of our homes of origin and the blending of two family systems. The church needs the wisdom of mature senior elders and clergy to model and teach the biblical marks of healthy congregations and families. Church leaders need to call out unhealthy communication and behaviors that take place in the church. For me, the Beatitudes list the eight steps toward healthy and functional relationships in the home and church. Godly, inter-generational church leadership, is best equipped to offer balance and wisdom to the relational issues of each church member, staff, and congregation.

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