No wonder they’re misbehaving…They’re Preacher’s Kids!

Several months ago, I read a blog post titled something like, “Ten Things Your Pastor’s Introverted Spouse Would Like You To Know.”  Curious, I read it.  But since I’m not an introvert, I couldn’t relate to a single thing in the post.  

Not. One. Single. Thing. 

Nonetheless, I was so appreciative that someone took the time to peel back the layers of the onion so to speak and shed some light on the feelings and thoughts of introverted pastor’s spouses.  I learned some things, and it gave me some new tools to work with when I encounter an introverted pastor’s spouse in our ministry.  I am better for having read the piece.

Since then, I’ve thought some about what I would say if I wrote a blog post like that from the perspective of my own temperament.  And truth be told, I was stumped.  I’m pretty transparent, and I’m a “what you see is what you get” kind of girl, so I couldn’t think of much to say that most people don’t already know about me.  Particularly since they have access to this blog where I try to be vulnerable and honest.

But there is one unspoken thing I’d like people to know about me that most people probably don’t already know.  It’s something that reared its head after we became parents, and it’s something that continues to pop up from time-to-time in the course of our ministry as a family.  And every time it does, it really concerns me.  

I’m sure it’s well-intentioned.  But as the mom of three children who sacrifice a lot for our family to be in ministry, I become concerned every time I hear this phrase:

“Well that’s to be expected.  Their preacher’s kids!”

It may not sound like a big deal to you.  But let me give you some context.

When our daughter was a little over two years old, she attended a wonderful Children’s Day Out program three days each week at the church we served. As is the case with many pre-schoolers, her teacher was beginning to have some obedience issues with her and decided to share those issues with Kory one day when he picked her up from school.  

As Kory listened, our daughter’s teacher explained the situation to him and ended her speech with a big smile and this remark:

“But I guess that’s to be expected.  She’s a preacher’s kid, after all.”

“Say what?” I asked Kory when he came home and shared the conversation with me.  

“What does that even mean?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  And he agreed to sit down with our daughter’s teacher and talk with her about it.  They had a good conversation, he explained why the statement was concerning to me, and she never said that again.

Seven years later, though, I’ve heard the statement time and time again from a variety of people when our children have exhibited less-than-stellar behavior in public.  I’m still not sure what it means, but I’m certain of what I hear when someone makes that remark about our kids:

1.  Preachers (and their spouses) are inept in the area of child training.  As a result, preacher’s kids are the victims of their parents’ inadequacies, and they just can’t help themselves.

2.  Being a preacher’s kid is akin to a disease that impedes their ability to obey.  As a result, they just can’t help themselves.  

3.  And because preacher’s kids just can’t help themselves, there is an unspoken (but known) lower standard of obedience that is acceptable for them.  (Bless their hearts.)

Right or wrong, that’s what I hear.  Even though it’s probably not what’s intended.  

More importantly, I also wonder.

What do my kids hear when people say that in front of them?  

Because they do say that.  In front of them.  

I’ll never know because I wouldn’t ask my kids about it for fear of drawing even more attention to it.  But I do wonder.  How has it affected them?  Or, as they grow older and gain more self-awareness, how might if affect them in the future?

This concerns me as their mom.

It happened again recently as I was corralling our kids out of worship and onto the shuttle buses to the remote parking lot at church.  Yes, they were misbehaving.  And yes, I needed to deal with it.  

But their misbehavior had nothing to do with the fact that they’re “preacher’s kids” and had everything to do with the fact that they’re tiny little imperfect humans, ages three, six, and nine, who just sat through a long church service after being up way too late the night before.  I’d probably misbehave if I were in their shoes, and I’m not a preacher’s kid.  My parents were in a band for crying out loud!  (Well maybe that explains it.)

I tried to speak with the person who made the comment but the moment came and went so quickly that the opportunity passed.  Before I knew it, the person had disappeared into a sea of people, and my mischievous kids were beginning to tear at each other’s clothes.  I had to prioritize.  So just like Elsa, I decided I needed to “let it go.”  

Except I didn’t.  Not really.  

It’s been on my mind constantly since it happened.  And I’ve continued to wonder why people say these things about my kids.  Because simply being a “preacher’s kid” has little, if any, bearing on a child’s behavior.  In fact, I’d venture to say that preacher’s kids aren’t any better or worse in the area of obedience than the average kid.    

They do, however, tend to live under a microscope, and people probably notice more of what preacher’s kids do than they notice about the kid next door.  That’s the part of ministry that can be unfortunate for preacher’s kids.  

People are watching.  

All the time.  

And just like we often hear the worst stories about child birth, we often hear the worst stories about preacher’s kids.  Because bad news sells, and good news?  Well, it doesn’t always sell.

Kory seems to think that, just like some of the inappropriate things people say in the face of someone else’s tragedy, people use the “preacher’s kids” line when they don’t know what else to say.  Possibly in an effort to be funny and to alleviate the awkwardness of a moment when our kids are not on their best behavior.  

I appreciate the intention.

But it’s not funny to me.  And it actually makes things awkward for me.  

So if you fall into the category of people who aren’t quite sure how to respond when you are confronted with misbehaving preacher’s kids, here’s what I want you to know.  From the bottom of my heart.  And with every ounce of sincerity in my being.

When (not if) my kids disobey in front of you, it’s not awkward for me.  So please don’t let it be awkward for you.  We’re not perfect parents (gasp!), and they’re not perfect kids (double-gasp!).  

We mess up.  

And they mess up.  

A lot.  

And we’re cool with that.  

We don’t view these not-so-picture-perfect moments in public as blemishes on our record.  Or theirs.  Nor do we think that you are going to pass harsh judgment on us or our children.  We really do trust you, and we’re comfortable being ourselves in front of you.  We view these moments as teachable moments for all of us, and we try really hard to embrace these moments and teach into them.  We also try to lead by our example for other families who are watching us and use these moments not just to train our children but also to serve as a witness to others.  

Sometimes we succeed.  

And sometimes we fail.  

And either way, these moments are great reminders of why we all need the grace of Jesus Christ.

I also want you to know that we have really high standards for ourselves, our marriage, our children, and our family.  We reject the notion that to have a vibrant and fruitful ministry, things must necessarily be a mess in our own backyard.  In fact, the day that happens is the day we have to start reevaluating our approach to ministry.  Because how can we effectively minister to others, if we can’t manage what’s going on in our own home?  (1 Timothy 3:5)

We are working really hard to try to “train up our children in the way they should go.” (Prov. 22:6)  So we will never use the fact that we are in ministry as an excuse for our children’s bad behavior.  

(And get this.) 

We don’t want you to either.  

We are an ordinary family trying to live the life God has for us.  Some days are better than others, but we would never consider lowering the standard for ourselves or for our kids.

So if you’re working with our kids as part of your service to our church, school, or community?  From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. If you ever find yourself struggling with our kids, we want you to have the freedom to treat them as you would any other child with whom you are working. We really do want to know about any situation you feel you can’t handle on your own. We’ve got your back, and we’ll do our best to take care of it. 

Whatever it is. 

We promise.  

Because we want our kids to grow in wisdom and stature, and we want them to be a blessing to you and to others.

And please know this.

I didn’t write this post out of anger, nor is it intended to shame or judge anyone.  As Kory reminded me on the heels of this latest encounter, generally speaking, people who use the “preacher’s kid” line mean well.  But that doesn’t make the “preacher’s kid” line OK.  And I realized this week that it isn’t fair for me to harbor these kinds of concerned feelings in private.  Instead, I should shed some light on the subject with the hope of making a difference.  

For all of us.

No doubt that we all need to learn to laugh at ourselves.  And that’s why Kory and I choose to take the lawyer and pastor jokes in stride.  (We give you all so much to work with!)  

But our kids didn’t choose ministry.  

Ministry was chosen for them.  

And ministry isn’t always easy.  

So I decided to speak out.  For myself.  And for my kids.  And possibly for some other pastor’s families out there who share the same concern, but for whatever reason, don’t feel that they have the freedom or ability to speak out themselves.  

As I wrote this post, though, I realized that God was placing a message on my heart with broader application than what we should or shouldn’t say about preacher’s kids.  

So here it goes…

We all place expectations on one another. Some of our expectations are low. Others are high. And we place these expectations on one another because we have predisposed ideas of who the other is, what the other is about, what the other should do, and what the other is (or isn’t) capable of. 

But God knows the heart. (Luke 16:15)

Both yours and mine. 

He knows all the hairs on our heads. (Matthew 10:30)

He knows we are each unique.

And he knows what we are (and aren’t) capable of.  

And yet, God’s standard for how we should live our lives doesn’t change. Not for me.  Not for you.  Not even for “preacher’s kids!”

So what’s the alternative to the “preacher’s kid” line?  How might you respond to a pastor or a pastor’s spouse who you find struggling with their kids?  The answer to that question will vary from pastor family to pastor family, so I won’t try to speak for everyone.  

I will only speak for myself and my family when I say that any of the following (along with a host of other encouraging things) would be well-received and greatly appreciated:

A reassuring smile.  

A pat on the back.  

A wink that says, “I’ve been there.”  

A prayer.

An encouraging word.

Or maybe best of all?

You could offer to babysit!  

Because haven’t you heard?  Preacher’s kids are a lot of fun!







9 thoughts on “No wonder they’re misbehaving…They’re Preacher’s Kids!

  1. Hello Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I especially liked your suggestions for how to respond the next time we see preacher’s kids misbehaving. You see, my problem is when I see kids, any kids, giving their parents a little run for their money, sometimes, (not always) I’m smiling or (horrors) even laughing a little. And you may see it or hear it. So I want you to know it’s not because I am trying to encourage bad behavior, I understand no parent appreciates that. It’s because I have the luxury of not having to deal with it at the time. And sometimes I am delighting in the moment of kids being kids, even if you parents are not, at that moment-having the time of your life. So if you see me or someone like me (kindly lady past the age of reveling in the joy of young kids’ mischief on a regular basis) enjoying the moment, be patient and know we will try to be better and give you that silent wink. I promise I never have or ever will say “no wonder—their preacher’s kids”. However lawyer’s kids, now that’s something else entirely. I know because there were 4 of those in my house once upon a time. Bless you for all you are and all you do.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Beth:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read the post and to write a reply. I love engaging in conversation with my readers, and your gesture means the world to me!

      I can relate to what you’re saying. When I’m on vacation or am otherwise away from my kids, and I see other parents dealing with the same things I would be dealing with if my kids were present, I smile too. At least on the inside. Probably on the outside as well! Because it is a reminder of how blessed I am to have been given a break at that particular moment.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective with me! And I bet your kids are terrific! Even if they have a lawyer for a parent!

      Blessings to you!

  2. Praying for you! And I appreciate you not accepting the comments. I’ve known some pastors who do use the stress of being in a pastor’s family as an excuse to why their kids struggle. As assistant pastor and wife, we do not have to deal with comments like this often, but I know others who do. I love your ending comments that show people what to do or say, because many times they don’t know what to say and are trying to just lighten the moment.

    • Thanks for the affirmation! And I agree that so often, saying the wrong thing stems from not knowing what to say in the first place. My husband really helped me see that. As a result, I felt God leading me to speak out on this. Not to shame. But to educate. Hoping it will make a difference in the lives of some families! Thanks for reading. And blessings to you in your ministry!

    • Thanks so much for the prayers. It’s a privilege and an honor to serve but like anything else, it has its stresses too. I know you can relate! I agree with you that most of the time people simply don’t know what to do. Hopefully the post made a difference for someone. Praying you all have had a wonderful summer.

  3. Jennifer,
    I will babysit your kids anytime!! I have fallen in love with your family. You are doing an awesome job of raising a busy family and having a career at the same time. I understand where you are coming from on the PK comments. Unfortunately, it is another stereotype in our society. Feel free to call me anytime for babysitting! I am missing my college girl and could use some kid love.

  4. Hi Jennifer,
    Excellent article, and one that hit the spot. I am a new(ish) minister at a small church in the Midwest. Sadly I find myself saying to my children entirely too much, “Like it or not, you are preacher’s kids, so there are higher expectations for you.”

    Then I put myself in their shoes and think, “Wow, what a rotten thing to say to us, Dad. We didn’t ask to be in this position. If anything, you should be more grateful that we and Mommy agreed to move halfway across the country to be with you.”

    Fair points. It petrifies me when my oldest (who struggles a bit more in social situations than my youngest) acts out during Sunday morning service or even Wednesday night dinner/BIble study. Are the members of the congregation wondering how I can lead the church if I can’t lead my own family?

    Hopefully this is an irrational line of thinking on my part, but, boy, does it keep me up at night.

    Anyway, thanks for posting your article. I really needed to read that tonight.


    • Matt: Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your thoughts on this post. We’ve been in ministry a long time, but I remember how I felt about the pressures of it all when Kory took his first appointment as Senior Minister in a very small country church. We didn’t have kids then, but I was worried enough about how the congregation would size ME up! Your concerns are certainly understandable. But a word of hope for you! It turns out that 15 years later, serving in two different churches, we have been blessed to see the goodness in God’s people. Our congregations have loved us with immense grace and compassion. Sure there have been times when we’ve had negative experiences, but the negativity certainly doesn’t characterize our journey. My best bit of wisdom for you and your family is to be yourselves. Because that is honest. Embrace those teaching moments with your children under the microscope of your congregation and demonstrate what it looks like for parents to hold their children accountable and show them the love of Christ, all at the same time. Your family is an amazing tool for ministry! Use it! I’ve found that our congregations have loved our family BECAUSE we are imperfect. Not inspite of our imperfections. They appreciate our transparency, learn from it, and grow closer to us in the process. It’s quite liberating to have permission to be ourselves. I hope you will find that freedom to as you settle in. Many blessings to you and your family as you walk your own path! If I can ever help, let me know.

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