Every Kid’s a Preacher’s Kid

Jonathan SBy Jonathan Storment:

A few weeks ago, during a sermon at Highland (the Church I serve), I told a story about something that happened last year with my (then) 6 year old daughter, Eden.

It was, what I thought, a really cute story about her running onto the Arkansas Razorback field when she and I got to go down to the ground level last year. I said that at first I was embarrassed that she was doing that because we were with some important people from the University of Arkansas, but how, in reality, my daughter was doing what I really wanted to do. I was just too embarrassed to do it.

At the end of the sermon, I came back to that story, and I told about how kids can teach us to have wonder and lose our pride, and how I knew in that moment I was being offered a chance for great joy, and so I eventually followed suit.

I ran an incredibly slow lap around the football field at the University of Arkansas.

It was, I thought, a powerful ending to a sermon about being childlike …until Eden reminded me again what a child was really like.  Because right in the end of this sermon, in front of a thousand plus people, my oldest yelled at the top of her lungs: “That didn’t happen at all! You didn’t run around that field!”

Preachers, how do you come back from that?

By the way, I really did run around that field, and later when I asked her about it, I said “Remember I told you to stop running, and then we took pictures and then after pictures we ran around the field together?”

And she said, “Yeah, but you only ran after we took the pictures.”

I’m not sure, what the breakdown was in Eden’s mind, but I know what it was on my end. I broke the standing rule I have with my kids that I will never tell a story involving them without their permission.

Trust me, I won’t make that mistake again.

I recently read an article in the New York Times about how the kids that are growing up today wish their parents wouldn’t post stuff about them on social media without asking them about it first.  Those cute pictures of them sleeping in the back of the car, or crying while potty training aren’t so funny a few years later…especially if you decided to share the memory when Facebook reminded you 5 years later.

All of a sudden every kid who was born after 2004 is growing up in a fishbowl…and we are just now starting to learn the implications of that.

But when I read the article I immediately had another thought about this.

Growing up these days, every kid is a preacher’s kid.

Maybe you grew up as the child of a preacher, and you don’t need to me to explain what that means.  But for those who didn’t, let me assure you, this is a real weight on those children’s shoulders. Often their pastor parent is missing meals for meetings, little league games to visit people in the hospital, and doing all around good stuff but often at the cost of neglecting the ministry at home.

But that is not the worst of it. Being the child of a pastor (especially if they are the preacher) is incredibly difficult because many of the personal illustrations involve you, and it is rarely going to be a story about you at your best.

Being the child of a preacher is a whole different kind of childhood. Or at least it used to be, because today, with the advent of social media, everyone has a pulpit, and every parent has lots of cute stories that seem harmless to share.

But trust me, they only seem that way.

Barnabas Piper is the son of the well-known pastor John Piper, and a couple of years ago Barnabas wrote a book on the challenges of growing up as the son of a pastor. If you are a pastor/parent this is a good book to get. It changed several of the things that I did personally, but there’s one story that particularly stood out to me after reading that Times article.

Here’s Barnabas:

My dad has a sermon called “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain.” It is one that has become sort of a seminal message for his ministry. The thing that stands out to me about it, though, is one little story, the story of me as a little boy running home crying after a group of boys in our inner-city neighborhood had stolen my bike. As the story goes, my dad saw this as an opportunity to teach me about suffering and making sacrifices for the gospel. And that is what the story means to the thousands of people who have heard that message now. You know what it meant to me? It meant hurt, embarrassment, and sadness at the loss of a bike, the kind of sadness only a little boy can have at the loss of his favorite toy. In the years since that message became popular, at least a dozen people, mostly strangers, have asked me about that story—a story that in any normal circumstance they wouldn’t even know. They know something about me. They have gained an awareness of me. These strangers shouldn’t even know my name, yet now they have questions about a private moment from my childhood. The pressure of this sort of expansive awareness builds on the shoulders of the PK through small things, the side comments people make about things they have no business knowing. These comments aren’t usually malicious, just misplaced. People feel they “know” the PK, so they ask about his football game last Saturday. That’s really nice, but how do they even know about that? Or a woman might congratulate him for getting into a particular college. Thanks, ma’am. Who are you again? Every one of these little comments expresses an awareness of the details of life. A PK might hear ten comments or questions on a Sunday from ten different people, each of whom has no intention whatsoever of prodding or snooping. Even the sheer number of people who greet the PK by name is constricting. It all adds up to a feeling of being watched. And watched is what PKs so often do feel, all the time, in everything. It is life in a fishbowl, exposed, on display.

Preacher kids have always been notorious for having a more difficult childhood than other children.

The expectations on them are higher, the pressure is more pronounced and, as Barnabas is saying, it is a horrible experience being known by everyone, especially if it cuts them off from being known by anyone.

So my modest proposal is what if we approached posting those cute pictures and status updates the way preachers have had to learn how to approach telling those stories?

Eventually your kids are going to be able to start having accounts of their own, and they will be able to give some commentary of their own.

Tweet them as you would want to be tweeted.



About Scot McKnight

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