The Failed Pastor’s Kid

“And that was our last Sunday at Wildwood Baptist.” My father tossed that line off as if it were no big concern. I was shocked, there had been no clue this had been coming. That morning in the service there had been no mention of our leaving, no tears, everything had seemed completely and entirely normal to my mind. My mother turned in her seat and confirmed that it was indeed the last time we would be there. I had no idea that my father had just been fired as pastor of the church for having an affair. It would be the start of a whole new life that ended my parents marriage and would find my mother as being a children’s pastor at an even larger church. 

Over the past weekend I flew through Barnabas Pipers excellent little book The Pastor’s Kid. It’s one of the rare books that I found almost nothing to disagree with, or even quibble. It was just a easy read, solid thinking, and as a former pastors kid it pretty much nailed my sisters and my experience. With one exception.

Piper writes about what it is like to grow up as a PK to a faithful pastor. By all accounts his father ended his pastoral career well*. And that is something to celebrate and rejoice with Barnabas over. However, I was left thinking it would be nice to have a resource for or about PK’s who are in the awkward position of dealing with parental failure on a public stage that moves them further into the public eye.

There is something about disaster that moves people into the spotlight. Some of it is genuine compassion and kindness. But there is also a voyeuristic schadenfreude that makes people gawk and hope for a little more. After my (now) single mother was employed at the new church my sisters and I found ourselves again in the position of being the PKs. Even though we were not the official ones, the drama of our situation was just too much for that Southern Baptist Church to ignore. This was the late nineties and Jame Dobson still had evangelicals focusing on the families and ours was the family to watch. 

Simply because of who I am I managed to easily fill the budding theologian (or at least Bible encyclopedia) role. But because there was no strong man for me to look up to Dobson had taught the church I was a time bomb of rebellion just waiting to go off, or worse due to my slender fame and disinterest in sports a future gay. My mother was terrified, she even resorted to hiring young men in the church who were cool to “disciple” me. And I don’t blame her she had three PKs with all the watchful eyes of the women’s prayer circle on her and us. 

Perhaps the vast majority of pastors who disqualify themselves somehow hold off until their kids are out of the house. I doubt it. Being a PK comes with a standard low level stress from the spotlight. A PK whose life has been upended by the sinful and disqualifying actions of their father brings a whole new set of complications. I might not be the one to write about it, but perhaps someone should.

*Though for a retired man John Piper certainly still seems to be going full steam ahead.

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