What I Learned from Living in a Pastor’s Family

I am a third-generation pastor.

My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a pastor of several churches. One of them in the suburbs of Chicago grew tremendously. He had stuff going on every night and it was the right time in American Christianity for such things.

As his church grew his family took a back seat. He largely ignored his kids after his church took off. My mom said she knew to hide on board meeting nights because he’d come home mad and she didn’t want any wrath directed at her. Pretty much the only time she was noticed was as an example to the church.

This was during the age of the miniskirt. My grandpa enjoyed talking about grace and flaunting his non-legalism. He insisted his teenage daughter wore the shortest skirt in church. I still can’t believe how messed up that is! He also didn’t help by informing his daughter about her weight and how she looked in those miniskirts.

Meanwhile, he was developing a nation-wide radio program for marriage and family advice from a Christian perspective, a new thing at the time. He rode this wave to much notoriety and money. You better believe I picked up on the irony at a young age.

My mom married a pastor from the hills of Pennsylvania. When they got married my dad was my grandpa’s associate pastor in the thriving suburban church. My grandpa made my dad do all the annoying stuff he didn’t want to do.

My dad’s first solo church was a very small church in rural Michigan. He loved it there, but he also had a strong drive to prove himself, to move up to a bigger church, and compete with his father-in-law more or less. He specifically admitted he left that church because it couldn’t “go anywhere,” which meant it couldn’t grow huge.

He moved to a church in Wisconsin and grew the church to several hundred. He was getting closer, but he felt this church had run its course too, so he took a church in Illinois and got to work growing that one. Unfortunately he died of cancer about ten years into his time at that church.

Most of my growing up took place at the church in Wisconsin. I hated church as a kid. I was there constantly. My parents talked forever after every service. One night as a teenager I picked up my mom and carried her to the car so she would leave and get me home.

My life was more or less spent living for my dad’s church. My dad was a nice guy. He’d do anything for anyone, and I often joined him. He bent over trying to please the craziest of people. In the end, after all that effort and patience, the people would still get ticked off and leave.

A pastor’s unhealthy motivation for ministry will be felt by the pastor’s family.

I saw example after example in my life and my mom’s life of how church was more important than family. The pain our family had because of church. The sacrifices I was forced to make, that I did not volunteer for, really burned me. When I left for college I didn’t go to church for several years.

I was willing to sacrifice some things for the church as a kid, I got it, it was part of the job. But man was I forced to give up way more than I think was right and healthy.

It is only by the grace of God and several godly people in those various churches that I am even in a church today. I saw glimpses of what it could be and that keeps me hopeful.

Pastoral ministry is a strange job. I don’t know that many come out of it with healthy family relationships, which is ironic, since having healthy family relationships is a qualification for ministry according to 1 Timothy 3:4-5!

People often trot out Jesus’ words about hating mother and father, and wife and children to follow Christ as a justification for pastors ignoring their family for their church. I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about at all.

If your family relationships are struggling, you’re not doing ministry right. According to Paul, you shouldn’t be in ministry.

Much pastor family tension arises over forcing the family to live up to the human standards placed on them by a church. This destroys kids’ souls when forced to do this. My parents constantly made my sister and I perform for the church. We were examples for other families. We couldn’t just have our friends at our birthday parties; we had to invite every single kid in the church lest someone at church find out their kid wasn’t invited to the pastor’s kid’s party and leave the church.

My entire childhood was dictated by our appearance before the church. Don’t do that to your kids. They are not showpieces, they are not examples; they are people with souls who happen to be your kids.

Pastors: protect your kids from the church. If you have to leave ministry to guarantee your kids will not hate Christianity, please do so. The eternal weight of your kid’s souls will be far more important to you on Judgment Day than whether you kept the Robinson family happy for one more month.

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