PK’s and Parental Pressure

The pressure can be intended and it can be unintended, but it is not uncommon for children to feel the need to break the mold as they individuate. Pastor’s kids (PK’s) are a good example.

How do you church leaders deal with this? 

Beneath the stereotypes of preacher’s kids as either goody two-shoes or devilish hellions lies a tense and sometimes taxing reality, the children of clergy say. Studies show that many PK’s, as the lingo goes, struggle with issues of identity, privacy and morality. There’s even a support group, Preacher’s Kids International, dedicated to the “celebration and recovery of those who grew up in the parsonage.”

It’s unclear how the pressures of life as a prominent pastor’s child affected Matthew Warren, who took his own life on April 5. Warren was the son of megachurch pastor Rick Warren.

Warren and leaders of his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., declined to comment on Matthew, who was 27 when he died. After his son’s death, Warren said in a statement that Matthew had “struggled from birth from mental illness, dark holes of depression.”

If Matthew Warren also battled with his role as the son of a world famous pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren did not mention it in his brief statement.

Still, after Matthew Warren’s death, several pastors and children of clergy stepped forward to offer empathy.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • YoungOwen

    “Celebration and recovery” kind of rubs me the wrong way, but I wouldn’t dispute that PK-dom is particularly complicated in the teenage and college years, where “individuation” has the highest possible premium. In my own circles I would observe that there are disproportionately more PKs and MKs in the pews than the Ks of many other, more common professions — it could be that over time, we realize that it is even *more* individual and differentiating to embrace the values of our youth than to sign onto those of the current culture. Not that I have data to back that up.

  • http://twitter.com/RobCarmack Rob Carmack

    As a pastor, this is one of my great fears for my kids. Both of my children are toddlers, and I already have tons of anxiety about trying to keeping them from feeling the weight of the PK role. I may have chosen to be a church employee, but they didn’t. And I’m so new to all of this that I am positive that I’m doing something wrong. I would love to hear how other pastors have navigated the minefield of parenting from within the spotlight of the church.

  • Derek McGuckin

    I’m a PK/MK and a pastor and Dad. Some of the things I do to support my kids in the church environment.

    1. Never, ever tell a story or make an illustration involving your kids in a sermon or any other pastoral duty. The fishbowl is big enough without you adding to it.

    2. Don’t force them to do things in the life of the church that they don’t want to do. Very challenging!

    3. Stand up for your kids if anything comes up in the church. Your relationship with them is more important than your relationship with the church.

    4. Always remember: you are their Mom or Dad, not their pastor!!!

    That’s a start, and quite challenging!

  • Jeremy B.

    Thankfully, our parents never put pressure on us to act a certain way
    but I knew a bunch of other PKs that weren’t so lucky. If someone tried
    to pull the “but he’s your son” line, Dad’s reaction was immediate and unambiguous.

    Of course, now that we’re all grown up, we make regular appearances in sermons. haha That said, he’s always asked for permission if it was something he felt was too personal.

    I think the biggest impact on me was from the church community. We were the center of attention and everyone knew what was going on. I remember one particular time where people extended their sympathies to me over something they shouldn’t have even known about. “Well-meaning” gossip was a fact of life. Everyone was watching and we knew it.

  • Annie

    I’m an MK who has kids who are PK’s. When my parents were on furlough, we all hated the spotlighted attention that was ours as we visited churches. We must have been fascinating. So now as a parent of PK’s, I’ve tried to let them be as anonymous as any other kids – something that’s easier since my husband is not the lead pastor and our church is biggish. We do have some PK’s in our church who are much on display as their parents try to illustrate the importance of family. To each his own. In fact, there are quite a few people who don’t even know I am married to one of the pastors, and I feel like I have an identity of my own, not as Pastor’s Wife.

  • John

    I think its really up to the individual, my sister and I who are both PKs have reacted completely different, I have just started leading my church’s youth ministry whereas my sister gave up her faith a few years ago. Same environment, different reactions

  • http://davidbrush.com mrdcbrush

    Growing up a PK certainly had its pressures. I felt considerable scrutiny on my choices, like everyone was watching me. Also, the other kids treat you different when they know you are the pastor’s kid; especially in a smaller town where everyone knows you are a PK. College was a very important time for me to explore my own identity and in many ways make my life and my faith my own.

    It’s not all negative however; there are aspects of it that I really did love. I love(d) the people of our church.

    Some things I would change, but mostly it was a positive thing being a PK for me.


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