Growing up can be tough, but children of preachers face an extra element — the added pressure to keep up appearances and not give in to temptation.
Also dealing with the church takes up a lot of parents' time, and that means more stress and more temptation to rebel. In the article, "Beneath the stereotypes, a stressful life for preachers' kids," on Religious News Service, Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, says that as a preacher's child, he was expected to be happy all the time, even during tough periods. "You start to feel like you're a prop because you know that behind the scenes, mom and dad fought on the way to church," Bakker says. In the book, "A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling," Israel N. Levitz writes, "...the higher expectations placed upon children of clergy create for them inordinate difficulties in growing up," and says that many act up in an attempt to assert their own identities.
Q: Do you think the children of pastors have a tough time?
It's tough just being a kid these days. The entertainment they're exposed to has reached all-time moral lows. Technology has ramped up exposure to all kinds of temptations and ways to get into trouble. Public schools have become places where open, gross immorality is tolerated. Pastors' kids are exposed to all of these things, but they also have the extra pressure of others' expectations to be perfectly behaved in the midst of it all, biblically knowledgeable, and often self-sufficient when their parents' time is taken up serving others. Even when others don't actively pressure clergy kids, they often take it upon themselves.
God is not unjust. I believe he rewards the sacrifices demanded of clergy kids. When Peter reminded Jesus that he and the disciples had left all to follow him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the Gospel's sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).
Pastors' kids do have a tough time, but they also have a good God who appreciates every sacrifice they make.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
It all depends on the kid.
I have more than 10 years in youth ministry and I have seen hundreds of students come through my church. While church life can be a hard time for some children of clergy, others find that their church becomes a welcome center of their childhood development. Some kids rebel, others follow in their parents' footsteps and become clergy themselves. I think the difficulty arises when churches fail to model healthy social systems for the children.
Jay Bakker does not present an accurate reflection of what a healthy system for children of clergy should look like. He had a family that was one part ministry and one part celebrity. They were in a social system where their religious authority was derived from their ability to appear as a happy model family. Of course that poor kid is going to get used as a prop.
The truth is that clergy families are just like everyone else. Sometimes they fight, other times they are sad. Sometimes the pastor wakes up on a Sunday morning and does not want to have to deal with his church that day. I think Israel N. Levitz's observations are great reminders that faith communities need to provide space for clergy, as well as their children, to be regular, old, messy, unique human beings, as God intended. When that happens, I think the church is a place where clergy and their kids can thrive.
Student, Fuller Theological Seminary
Yes, it can be tough at times to be a son or daughter of a clergyman or woman. The fact is, however, that children of clergy have their unique challenges — as do children of astronauts, teachers or elected officials. Every job has its unique requirements and often an entire family — including children — is required to sacrifice a bit for the greater good of a family unit.
If a child's father is a rabbi, for instance, that would require him to behave exceptionally well in synagogue, since all eyes are upon him. Of course it can be very difficult for a 10-year-old boy to sit still for two or three hours, especially through a sermon. But so is the life of a girl whose father is in the Navy, because she may find herself going to a different school and making new friends every two years or so. The point is that regardless of occupation, children will inevitably have some stress directly related to the line of work of their parents.
I believe that clergymen and women have the same responsibility as any parent to focus on the positive and bolster our children's respect for the positions we occupy. As good parents, our objective should be to empower our children and have them recognize their unique ability to be part of our extraordinary work of making this world a kinder, gentler and better place. I feel that when children of clergy truly feel that they are part of the team, it makes it much easier for them to shoulder the stress associated with their parents' jobs and enables them to appreciate the privilege of being a participant in God's holy work.
Rabbi Simcha Bachman
Chabad Jewish Center
Yes, preachers' kids can have it tougher than other kids, but not always. My own minister, when I was in high school, had two daughters younger than I, and he made it a point to spend time with them. They turned out OK, although I'm not in touch with them now, so I can't say for sure.