Good Pastor, Bad Parent
Katy Perry. Alice Cooper. Jessica Simpson. The Jonas Brothers. What do all these have in common? They are all pastor’s kids.
Why do so many pastor’s kids turn out weird or wild? You’ve probably met someone who fits one of the two opposite stereotypes.
The first caricature is the sheltered Christian. This child can quote a million Bible verses but is entirely out of touch with the real world. Whether homeschooled or not, they rarely have friends outside the church. Most are fluent in various aspects of Christian subculture—Veggies Tales, Adventures in Odyssey, God’s Not Dead, Newsboys, etc.
Now we certainly don’t want our kids to become worldly. We must also remember how Jesus maintained his moral standards while consistently befriending tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14). If we are not careful, we can inadvertently teach our children that everything that isn’t “Christian” is evil.
The second extreme is the rebellious prodigal. These kids reject the faith and go out of their way to participate in debauchery. They want to distance themselves from their religious heritage publicly.
Most pastors who shelter their children are afraid of them becoming rebels. Other church leaders become passive in their kids’ discipleship for fear of “forcing faith on them.” It’s a tricky thing to get right.
Yet, God has always put the burden of discipling the next generation on parents. You see this clearly in the Shema.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. - Deuteronomy 6:7
Clearly, God is not worried about your children getting too much Jesus.
I’ve always hated the stigmas surrounding pastors’ kids because I was one. I don’t want to pretend like my parents did everything perfectly, but somehow all three of their kids are still strong in their faith today.
The topic of church leaders raising solid disciples is significant to me. From a ministry standpoint, I wholeheartedly believe that godly parenting is a pathway to revival in the next generation. Personally, I have three kids of my own. I’m thinking (and praying) daily that they would come to know Jesus.
As I read through the Old Testament, I’m haunted by the numerous examples of godly leaders who failed to train their children in the wisdom and instruction of the Lord.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. - Leviticus 10:1-2
Aaron was Israel’s first high priest. He made his share of mistakes (i.e., golden calf) but also helped free the entire nation from slavery in Egypt. God punished his sons Nadab and Abihu for carelessly offering strange fire before the Lord. It seems like Aaron’s sons learned more from his mistakes than his achievements.
Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. - 1 Samuel 2:12
Eli was a good priest during a bad time in Israel’s history. Yet, he did a better job raising his apprentice, Samuel, than he did raising his own children. God punished his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, by the hand of the Philistines in battle.
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. - 1 Samuel 8:1-2
Samuel was perhaps the greatest of Israel’s judges. He had a powerful, prophetic ministry and ushered Israel into the age of the kings. Eli passed his lack of parenting skills down to Samuel. While God didn’t punish Samuel’s children, the elders of Israel rejected them.
These men were good at ministry but disappointments at home. It is possible to be a good pastor but a bad parent. What good does it do to gain a thriving church but lose your family?
Undoubtedly, church leaders face unique challenges in passing their faith to their kids. Children of church leaders don’t have it easy either.
To be clear, I’m not saying that a parent is 100% responsible for their child’s faith. We’ve all probably met parents who did “everything right” (as if this is possible), but their children didn’t follow in their footsteps. I know how heartbreaking this can be, and I’m certainly not here to point the finger or heap judgment on anyone.
What I am saying is that parents have the most influence on their children. This responsibility includes their discipleship to Jesus.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’m eagerly asking questions. I’m reading books, listening to podcasts, and taking notes. I have a few hunches on why I think children of church leaders especially have difficulty developing resilient faith. But I want to learn more.
If you have experience in this area, I’d love to hear from you! I created two different 5-minute surveys (seriously, five questions). One is for church leaders who serve in ministry (pastor, worship leader, youth, children, missionary, parachurch, etc.). The other is for children of church leaders.
If you are willing to fill this survey out (with as much or as little information as you want), it’ll help me to continue to grow as a pastor and a parent. Feel free to share a link to the survey with a church leader or child of a church leader that you respect.
I hope to be able to help teach others in this area one day.
What did your parents do that helped you grow as a disciple? Let me know in the comments below!
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