Today Barnabas Piper’s book The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity is being released. Being the son of John Piper (who wrote the forward), he draws on his own experience of growing up as a PK. Pastors who want to raise their kids as best as they can will benefit immensely. Barnabas provides several quotes from many other PKs, too, representing a broader perspective on being raised in a minister’s family than just his own.
I was greatly helped by The Pastor’s Kid. Barnabas addresses many dynamics of the PK’s experience that I never could have seen coming. I recommend it not only to pastors, but also to their wives (Mrs. McKiddie swiped my pre-release copy, and she’s already a third of the way through it). Curious to find out more, I threw a few questions his way about what it’s like being a pastor’s kid.
1. What similarities and difference have you experienced in how you were treated as a PK as a youth, and now as grown up son of a famous pastor?
There are far more similarities than differences. People still think I ought to behave a certain way, talk a certain way, etc. and get freaked out when I don’t. People still know creepy amounts about me and my family, maybe even more than when I was a child. People still love to ask me about my dad and what it was “like to be raised by JOHN PIPER!!!”
I think the biggest difference is my own relationships. I can more easily connect with those people who will be good, straight up friends. I can pick out those who are trying to get close just because I am a Piper. This allows me to find a relational space to be me, to grow, to express my faith and doubts and personality.
2. You talk about the “fishbowl”: living your normal life with all the congregants watching. They know about you, but don’t really know you. How does that experience work out on the level of your peers? How can pastors guide their kids in making wise choices with friends?
I suppose it’s a challenge for every parent to guide their kids, especially teens, in making the “right” friends. For PKs, the biggest challenge is finding those he can simply trust. This means trust to be a good influence on the one hand but also trust to let him be himself. He needs to be able to have a breather from the pressures. I think for the pastor this means being a sounding board for his kids in their relationships, fostering a home environment his kids want to bring friends home to, and generally being aware of who his kids’ friends are. If the pastor has a good relationship with his kids this will kind of work itself out.
3. The pastor has to sacrifice potential success of his ministry for the sake of loving and discipling his children: agree or disagree?
Disagree, but mostly in a semantic way. I would say any ministry that comes at the expense of the family is inherently unsuccessful. If a pastor sacrifices certain vocational objectives for the sake of his family he is being successful. He is being what both his family and the church need most. The church just might not realize it.
4. Pastors should never use their kids in sermon illustrations: agree or disagree?
Agree, if he is using them without reaching an understanding with his kids. Some kids are cool with it. Some aren’t. Regardless, though, it ought to be a fairly rare thing because PKs don’t need any more time in the spotlight than they already have.
5. What advice would you give a pastor faced with a surprising confession of sin from his son or daughter, whether youth or adult?
First, don’t be surprised. You know your own capacity for sin (or you should), and your kids are no different. If you act shocked your child will feel judged. They won’t want to talk to you or let you work through it with them. They know it was a sin; that’s why they’re telling you.
Second, show them grace. It’s likely they know their sin. If they don’t, harping on them won’t solve the problem. Just as Christ won us with His profound kindness, you should seek to do the same. They may need a place to land, a helping hand, a listening ear, or someone to cry with.
More than once I have put my parents through this. I have floored them, overwhelmed them. And it was their persistent love for me that sticks with me. Sometimes they harped too much. Sometimes they pushed when they should have waited. But they loved me, and they made it clear. Do that.
6. Do you recall if it was helpful or not-so-helpful to overhear conversations about your church between your mom and dad?
I think it was helpful, but that was because my parents were pretty intentional in which conversations I overheard. If I had heard the conversations they had behind closed doors I can only imagine the damage it could have done because I just wasn’t mature enough to handle it. They fed me what they thought I was ready to handle, and it was a decent amount without overwhelming me. It made me feel connected to their ministry and have a better understanding of the church.
7. In your conversations with other PKs who had really bad experiences growing up, how often does it appear that the parents made big mistakes? How often does it appear that PKs are using their experience to rationalize sin?
For those PKs who have left the church and/or the faith it always involves the latter to some degree. Maybe they are playing the victim card, harboring bitterness, or simply not seeking Jesus on their own. Most of them were legitimately hurt by their parents or the church, but they use that as an excuse not to take the responsibility they ought for their own life and soul.
For those who had rotten experiences but are trying to follow Jesus and figure out their relationship with church, I see less holding onto sin. I see people who were hurt, often by pretty egregious parental mistakes, and are trying to process through it.
Most often it’s a sort of cocktail of mistakes by the parents and problems in the church that lead PKs to a place of real pain and struggle. It’s usually not one or the other.
8. What advice would you give pastors to help them give their children room to develop theologically, even if that means taking different (though orthodox) views?
My answer would be “major on the majors and be gracious on the other stuff,” but a lot of pastors see the “other stuff” as the majors. Your particular soteriology, for example, may be the center of how you see God, but that doesn’t make it a major. It is a system of understanding God, but your kids may find a different system. But God, the triune God, is the major. If you’re Arminian and your kid is a Calvinist or vice versa, that’s ok. It’s the passion for God and the commitment to Christ that matters. Those are the things pastors should look for first.
Second, pastors should have lots of gracious patience. Kids question and challenge and work through different beliefs. Answer the questions, but don’t argue. Converse, but don’t preach. And realize that if the aim is to know Jesus and find truth, God will be faithful to your kid in that pursuit.
9. You mention in the book that the pastor and his wife get to choose whether they go into ministry or not, but their children don’t get a choice in the matter. In retrospect, if you had to do it all over again, would you choose to be a PK?
Wow; that’s a tough question. I think the answer is, “I’m glad I don’t have to choose.” I am so thankful for where God has brought me. But there were so many times I would have bailed on being a PK if I could have (their still are sometimes). God is so remarkable in His ability to use hard things to make good things happen; the two are inextricable. Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t change it. Knowing what I did growing up, I probably would have.
10. How has growing up as a PK helped you as a parent, even though you are not a pastor?
Every parent plays the comparison game. Is my kid making me look good by behaving well? Are they answering the questions in Sunday school? As a PK, I am hyper aware of the hurt this can do to a kid. I try really hard to let my kids be kids and hold them to expectations that don’t vary depending on the circumstance. PKs get expected to do and be so many different things in different contexts, and it’s miserable. I want my kids to have an eye on honoring Jesus, respecting others, and doing their best – that’s it. I want that to be the case at school, at church, at home, with guests over, in public, and anywhere else.