When Pastors’ Kids Go Bad

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JOwen

Puritan Board Junior
We’ve all heard the stories of pastor’s children walking away from the faith. I remember reading a true story many years ago of a pastor sitting in his car, weeping for his 17-year-old son. This man was the pastor of a very large Baptist congregation in the mid-west. The congregation had grown from 120 souls to over 1100 in just under a decade. The congregation has just moved into a multi-million dollar facility, and as a gift, they gave the minister the new parsonage, title and all, as a thank you gift. The pastor himself was a charismatic personality, who’s excitement for the gospel often spilled over into the congregation. They had new programs, many church leaders, and a passion for the lost that few churches possessed. Outwardly speaking, this pastor had every reason to rejoice. But there he sat, weeping for his wayward son. He later confessed, “I would trade every trapping of my success for an opportunity to live my life over again. I would spend more time with my family.” His children were now all grown, and almost all of them had left the God of their father. This story could be told countless times over in other towns and cities all over North America.

We all know that Pastor's Kids (PK’s) are sinners like everybody else. We know as well that the child that leaves the faith, while surprising us, does not surprise God. Yet we cannot minimize the fact that there are often human elements that can be pointed to that, from our lateral perspective, have contributed to this sad event. As a father of 8, two of them now teenagers, I often stare at them, wondering what I can do to minimize the potential of this ever happening to us. First I can pray for them, pleading the promises of the gospel. I can be faithful in family worship, teaching their hearts and minds about sin, repentance and faith. But is there more that can be done? What contributes to some defections in PK’s. Here are my thoughts.

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Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Pastor, thank you. You have written an excellent piece. I hope you attempt to have it pulished only so that a wider audience might benefit from it.

On a related note, I didn't know until recently that John Piper had a prodigal son. You can read about it here.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Jerrold, Your first point is incisive. The other parts of your article are the problem areas which are often pointed out, and there is much the pastor himself can do about those things; but the first point looks at a dynamic which is virtually out of the pastor's hands.
 

Vonnie Dee

Puritan Board Freshman
I have to say, as a PK myself, that I agree with what you have written. It really was like my dad didn't really belong to me. In addition to my dad's duties at church, he worked a full time job. I didn't leave the church permanantly. However, one of the questions I asked my husband before we got too serious about dating was, "Do you feel called into the ministry?" If he had answered yes, I would have stopped seeing him. I had no desire to be married to a pastor. Since then, I have seen pastors who take more help from other men in the church. I know don't think it would be terrible to be married to a pastor. Of course, now my husband says he does feel called to ministry. It is well with my soul.
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
Well done, pastor!

As a father of five, one a prodigal, most of them raised during my service in three pastoral roles, I can identify with your piece. There is no way to predict how the same love and discipline will produce fantastic results in one case and a heartbreak (even if temporary) in another. Up until about five years ago, you would have thought we had the "perfect" family.

My eldest son is a pastor with a wife, three sons, and one "in the oven." He has been an adjunct professor at a major Bible college.

Our second son finished first in his class for his MBA and magna cum laude in law school. He and his wife are active in their church and expecting their second child later this year.

The eldest daughter finished college and seminary (summa cum laude) in 4.5 years, served on the mission field working in Germany with the daughters of missionaries, teaches in a Christian school, and is 38 wks pregnant with my first granddaughter.

Our fifth child, also a daughter, is concluding her first year in a Christian college and will be working at a day camp outreach for a Christian youth center in the midwest this summer.

Our "prodigal" was rambunctuous, but a faithful church member and evidently Christian kid, until he went off to college to become a pastor, dropped out in the spring of his sophomore year, got into all kinds of unhelpful/unhealthy/unchristian stuff and broke our hearts. He finally married his girlfriend (eloping), became addicted to two legal substances, and ended up nearly dying last fall when a case of pneumonia (aggravated by heavy smoking and hanging out in smoke filled bars) turned septic and the docs removed 1/2 of his right lung. Two weeks ago his wife took off her ring, left the house, and said that she was "open to other relationships." He is devastated and bewildered; my wife and I were crushed.

We pray for every one of our children and their families every morning as part of our Bible reading and devotional time together. Understanding how four can go soooo far in one direction and another so far in another is a mystery. It leaves a pain that never goes away entirely.

My counsel to younger folks, particularly those in ministry, is to read your piece and the testimony by Piper's son cited in post #2. You must love your kids, keep the lines of communication open no matter what happens, and be prepared to face some heartbreaks along the way. We never experienced an unruly child in his/her pre-school, elementary school, middle school, or later teen years. Our first one came during his college years. He is now 25 and we pray that the Lord will change his heart and incline it toward himself.

During the last five years, we have validated in experience that the Lord is more than sufficient and he will give grace to bear up under it while you pray earnestly for the repentance of your son or daughter.

While writing this post, our son texted his mom. His estranged wife announced today that she is disinterested in trying to work on the marriage and that she "doesn't love" him anymore. Guess what, God is still the Lord and his grace is more than sufficient!
 
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JOwen

Puritan Board Junior
I have to say, as a PK myself, that I agree with what you have written. It really was like my dad didn't really belong to me. In addition to my dad's duties at church, he worked a full time job. I didn't leave the church permanantly. However, one of the questions I asked my husband before we got too serious about dating was, "Do you feel called into the ministry?" If he had answered yes, I would have stopped seeing him. I had no desire to be married to a pastor. Since then, I have seen pastors who take more help from other men in the church. I know don't think it would be terrible to be married to a pastor. Of course, now my husband says he does feel called to ministry. It is well with my soul.

Dear Evon,

My wife read this with delight! May the Lord strengthen you and your husband as he looks to the ministry.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
The truth is, when others sin, they are often forgiven of those sins. But when a PK sins, that sin may be forgiven, but seldom forgotten. PK’s live in a glass house with their parents.

I find this very sad: it suggests a distancing rather than loving acceptance as part of the covenant church family. I feel more of a mama bear reaction: when something is impinging on my pastor and his family; I want to go and defend.

While we are not a PK family, may I make an observation as someone dealing with a prodigal daughter? We are saddened to see her choices and lack of interest in the gospel, but we're also seeing the natural effects God has designed. Her chasing after what is contrary to His word is bringing real consequences and difficulties in her life -- lessons we could never get her to hear from us. Also, we have a neighbor girl whose freedom and "things" our daughter often envied when she was younger. This other girl is now practically living as a prostitute and looks thoroughly miserable. While our daughter is not on the path we would have envisioned, I think she has definitely benefited from the grace of knowing God's word, even if it appears to make little spiritual difference right now.
 

JOwen

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks, Pastor. Have you considered writing about the unrealistic expectations some congregations seem to have for the Pastor's wife? That's another good subject to address.

Several times actually. It is a subject of equal or greater importance. The same "glass house" reality has produced some very different results as far as I can see it. I do plan on writing something on it once I have wrapped my mind around the implications as well as the subject.
 

JOwen

Puritan Board Junior
The truth is, when others sin, they are often forgiven of those sins. But when a PK sins, that sin may be forgiven, but seldom forgotten. PK’s live in a glass house with their parents.

I find this very sad: it suggests a distancing rather than loving acceptance as part of the covenant church family. I feel more of a mama bear reaction: when something is impinging on my pastor and his family; I want to go and defend.

I think every congregation has a few of these kind of people in them. Ours does, and they are life savers for us at times. I remember years ago, when we were facing some hard times in our congregation, and the pressure was almost more than i could handle, several mama/papa bears came to our rescue. We will never forget their love to us as a family.
 

O'GodHowGreatThouArt

Puritan Board Sophomore
Pastor, thank you. You have written an excellent piece. I hope you attempt to have it pulished only so that a wider audience might benefit from it.

On a related note, I didn't know until recently that John Piper had a prodigal son. You can read about it here.

Can you verify that link please? It appears to be broken on this end.
 

pesterjon

Puritan Board Freshman
I am not trying to sidetrack this thread, but growing up as the second son of a Baptist solo pastor I do believe polity bears weight in these types of situation. Multiple elder polity in the local church situation should be of assistance in a pastor having a more "normal" family life.
 

JOwen

Puritan Board Junior
I am not trying to sidetrack this thread, but growing up as the second son of a Baptist solo pastor I do believe polity bears weight in these types of situation. Multiple elder polity in the local church situation should be of assistance in a pastor having a more "normal" family life.

Agreed. But the problem transcends polity lines. I have found this event occurring in every circle, from Charismatic PK's to strict subscription Reformed and Presbyterian PK's. This post should not be considered as a blanket statement for EVERY son or daughter that walks away from the church. Simply one possible reason, and what, if anything can be done about it.
 

pesterjon

Puritan Board Freshman
Right, and I hardly meant it as an accusation. It just seems that the "team" approach to ministry could potentially be less inflammatory for this type of problem. My grandfather had two pastors and three angry rebels, and my dad has three church-goers and three non. So we are running 50% in our Baptist family. I am Reformed, none of them are, but it will only be through God's grace that we do any better.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Pastor, thank you. You have written an excellent piece. I hope you attempt to have it pulished only so that a wider audience might benefit from it.

On a related note, I didn't know until recently that John Piper had a prodigal son. You can read about it here.

Can you verify that link please? It appears to be broken on this end.

Sorry brother. I am 100% sure that it worked when I originally placed it a few days ago. The website must have moved the page.
Here you go - Let Them Come Home
 
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