Voices: Churches need to care for the pastor’s kids


My sister’s first job was at Whataburger. Between the financial compensation, the comradery of fellow employees around her age and the benefit of free food, it was a dream job.

She worked that job excellently for a few years until her academic and athletic responsibilities created a scheduling conflict for her.

Fast forward 30 years, and my sister hates Whataburger. She hates the logo, the food, the smell and even the look on the inside of most of their restaurants.

This is by no means to disparage Whataburger and its management or business practices. However, my sister says she has seen too much, eaten too much of that food and smelled that smell too much to have anything to do with it again.

My sister and I are pastor’s kids. And while by the grace of God we both are heavily active in our faith and service in the local church, we know so many other pastors’ kids who hate church. They have seen too much, eaten too much of that food, smelled that smell so much they do not want ever to be involved with it again.

This poses a question: How do we care better for the pastor’s kids?


There is an unfortunate stereotype around pastors’ kids. The research suggests “the dominant stereotype of the pastor’s kid is the prodigal—the wayward child, the rebel who has fallen away from the faith, the backslidden who’d rather strike out on their own than live in the shadow of the steeple.”

That same study states: “Overall, one–third of pastors (33 percent) say their child is no longer actively involved in church,” and “close to 45 percent of pastor’s kids wrestle with their faith through extreme difficulty.”

We see here two major issues for pastors’ kids. One is an issue of expectation. The level of scrutiny around a pastor and his family is unrealistically high. The expectation to be the model child academically, athletically and, most importantly, spiritually becomes undue and unjust pressure for most pastor’s kids.

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Because of these expectations, the pastor’s kid is not able to be a kid. There is this perception that somehow, magically or by anointing, pastors’ kids will want to reject the party, the extracurricular activity, the social connection or even the extra sleep on a Sunday morning after a busy week. This expectation is funneled through channels in and outside the home.

The pastor feels the pressure of the congregation’s perception of his family, and the child feels the same pressure from that same group of people. The pressure from the parents and the parishioners is often unchecked.


Experiences is the other issue. Pastors’ kids—or PKs, as we call ourselves—have seen too much. We have heard too much. We have experienced way too much.

“Too many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people,” Chap Bettis, author of The Disciple-Making Parent, states.

It is hard to disconnect the God of the faith from the people of the faith. This is especially difficult when the leader of your faith constantly is persecuted by those people.

When you have watched your pastor, who is also your father or mother, disparaged, disappointed, demeaned and devastated, it is hard to come back from that. When you have seen the financial struggles and the myriad of pain points churches go through, it is easier to go the other way.

Caring for the kids

As a PK myself and now a pastor with children, I have heard 1 Timothy 3:5 quoted often: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?”

Faithful pastors often wrestle with how to love God’s family and their own properly.

Care for pastors’ kids should be a priority in the benefits package churches provide their pastors. This care is not an entitlement, but is in recognition of a pastor’s unique position.

Organizations such as Care for Pastors have felt this call and offer resources and programming to minster to pastors.

Church is supposed to be a community of people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus. Acts 2 paints a picture of commonality and support for all. That must include the pastor’s kids.

Churches should ask themselves if the standard they are holding the pastor’s kids to is the same standard they have for their own kids. Creating safe spaces for pastors’ kids to develop and receive praise and prayer for their imperfections like others provides healthy care for pastors’ kids.

I include praise, because the watchful eye cannot be simply a monitoring system. It must also be one that applauds the heart and service of everyone in the congregation, including the pastor’s kid.

Respect is especially important as the children grow older. … If others verbally express respect for the pastors, the children’s view of their parents will rise,” Bettis asserts.

Honor of both the parents and the children goes a long way.

Finally, we must be intentional about creating margin and space for pastors to be present and active at home with their families. Their first priority and ministry must be their family. Giving their family the leftovers of their energy, time and witness does the most harm to a pastor’s kid.

The hope and prayer of every congregation is for none of their children—especially the pastors’ kids—to have my sister’s Whataburger testimony.

Ralph S. Emerson is the senior pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth. He is a Master of Divinity student at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. The views expressed in this opinion article are those of the author.

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