Being a pastor’s kid (PK) is not something most of us can relate to, and yet the PK is someone we cannot avoid. PKs live in a world different from ours, a world where their family’s every move is under intense scrutiny. But even if we’re not a PK, it’s important to understand the unique difficulties they face.
Barnabas Piper has written a book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, hoping to use his experience to encourage PKs to trust in Christ and to seek community in the midst of public and private struggle. It is also an instructive book for those of us who want to love our pastor’s kid better.
Barnabas was kind enough to answer a few questions for GCD, and I hope it will encourage you to buy the book.
BRANDON: What made you feel like this message was the one to turn into a book?
BARNABAS: I was reluctant, at first, to write a book from the perspective of PKs. I doubted whether it would connect with enough people and wondered if it might seem whiny or navel-gazing. But as I corresponded with PK after PK I heard the same stories and perspectives over and over again, and they meshed with mine almost perfectly. I saw a persistent need and consistent desire. After I wrote a couple articles on being a PK the responses flooded in—each one hit a nerve. I saw a clear void in resources speaking to and for PKs both to encourage them and help their parents too.
BRANDON: Pastors have the unique expectation of discipling everyone in the church at the same time, in some form or fashion. How did this affect your dad (John Piper) in discipleship at home with you and your siblings?
BARNABAS: My dad was always a preaching pastor. His calling was to preach and his gift was to preach, and he was uniquely gifted at it. For him, discipleship of the church was primarily in consistent faithful exposition of the Bible. It was similar at home, just without the booming voice and gesticulations. He exposited and applied scripture. It was a strength and a weakness. The consistent pointing to God’s word laid a foundation for understanding, but it sometimes fell short of feeling personal and relational. There are dads, especially pastors, who use scripture verses like a magic cure for every ailment. My dad was not one of those. He was never trite in his use of verses and he didn’t proof text to make a point. Sometimes, though, I just wanted normal conversation and connection and his default was digging into the Bible.
BRANDON: Pastor’s kids often carry the unfair weight of being expected to be perfect because of who their dad is. How can people in the church help pastor’s kids feel more “normal”?
BARNABAS: The short answer is “treat them like you do all the other kids.” PKs get singled out for misbehaving and even small indiscretions get noticed and reprimanded or reported. Where one kid might be called out Sunday School for being a distraction the PK will have his mother or father called about the same sort of incident. PKs often get singled out to answer questions in Sunday school even if they don’t want to or don’t really know the answer. In fact, not knowing isn’t really allowed either. It creates an expectation of perfection, or at least a faking of it. Last, let them ask questions, doubt, wonder, explore, and find faith. Too often faith is expected of PKs and what is actually there isn’t a relationship with Jesus but a recitation of what is expected.
BRANDON: What advice would you give pastors seeking to better disciple their own kids?
BARNABAS: Converse, don’t ever preach. Relate, don’t always council. Connect with your kids over what they enjoy and over what you enjoy. This means have a hobby that can be shared (not just reading or studying). Listen, don’t always teach. Sometimes they need to be heard and to know you care. Show them you enjoy being with them. And admit to your sins, not just to being a sinner, but to actual sins. Then ask their forgiveness. These kinds of actions create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and openness. Such an atmosphere is where faith is worked out, questions are more safely posed, and a real relationship with Jesus can be exemplified and developed.
BRANDON: What advice would you give pastor’s kids struggling with the pressures they face?
BARNABAS: Trust somebody. Find one or two friends. (You don’t really need more than that.) No they might not totally understand, but they care. It will help you process your struggles to talk through them. You’ll begin to see the holes that exist in your life that only Jesus can fill.
Then look for Jesus. Sure, you’ve heard all about him for your whole life, but go look for him. What you see may differ greatly than the impression you have of him. He’s not your daddy’s boss. He’s not a killjoy or a judge. He’s not an angelic, halo-wearing, choir boy. He is profoundly powerful, gracious, loving, and present. What find see when you look for Jesus is that you find him. He will introduce himself to you in a way that is so real that all those pressures and challenges and issues become something that may still hurt but are manageable and secondary.
Brandon D. Smith is Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and serves in editorial roles for The Criswell Theological Review and The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He is also Editor of Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus. He is proud to be Christa’s husband and Harper Grace’s daddy. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonSmith85.