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

Over the past 24 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 “fishbowl” life; some, in fact, used a “magnifying glass” image rather than the fishbowl. Either way, they didn’t want to put their own families through the same experience of always being in the public eye.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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?



  • Jerry N Watts says:

    What an ‘on-point’ piece. The personal one that my kids would add is ‘on me’, not the church. They didn’t like being used as ‘sermon illustrations’ – and I wish I hadn’t done that so much, but they were (and are) my life. I learn much from them (both good and bad) and hope it will help someone else. Thanks for the good word.

  • Cathy Bratton says:

    The unkind things that happens in churches effects all the children. While serving as a youth leader I heard many youth sharing unkind things that had been stated at other functions by adults within the church. Yes, the minister’s children suffer most of all.

  • Trent says:

    Has anyone ever considered a church with no pastor or minister? Imagine a room full of a handful of friends believing together, reading together, praying together, with no ambition to ever own anything, sell anything or control anything. Even though we can’t see Jesus in the flesh there is no reason why we should be looking for his flesh substitute. It might actually help us believe in him more strongly because we’d be exercising or faith instead of becoming so dependent on a person that their kids grow up despising the church.

    • Tyler E Callahan says:

      Trent, you’re describing Quakerism pretty accurately. However, the NT pretty clearly indicates that churches should have elders who lead the church (NOT do the WORK of the church, just LEAD the church). The solution isn’t do away with ministers (vocational ministers); it’s to help every believer take hold of the ministry to which they’ve been called because every believer is a minister of the Gospel and a minister to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Rebecca Gates says:

    Perhaps the only reason ministers’ kids ought to want to become ministers is because of “call” (obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leadership) and love for Jesus. This should be cultivate, taught and modeled to children/youth. Period.

  • Tyler E Callahan says:

    I think it’s worthwhile here to make a distinction between paid ministers (i.e. elders and church staff) and non-paid ministers (i.e. literally every other member of the church). It’s the job of church leaders to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4) and when church leaders are doing the ministering instead of the equipping, the church goes upside down and it creates a headache for everybody — the believers who have no outlet for their God-given talents and desires to minister and the leaders who are getting burnt out because they’re having to do all the work themselves.

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