Ogres or cherubs?

Actually, "preachers' kids" are children——no more special than any other child, and no less, either.

Brad Grabill, a "preacher's kid" himself, is minister of youth and Christian education at the Missionary Church of Van Nuys, California.

Among the hallowed pews of the sanctuary and down in the catacombs of the fellowship hall one occasionally hears muted voices: "What makes the preacher's children so special? They're no different than any other kids." "The preacher's kids are the worst in the whole church school." "The pastor's children are very well behaved. They have to be; they're examples, you know."

The real truth about "preachers' kids" probably lies somewhere near the middle of all the cliches. They aren't ogres whose life goal is to besmirch the reputation of church and pastor. Nor are they cherubs who are too prim and proper to get grass stains on a trouser knee. Actually, "preachers' kids" are children no more special than any other child, and no less either.

A "preacher's kid" is like all other children, because aspects of his child hood are universal to all. A "preacher's kid" is like some other children and unlike others. He may share with many, but not all, children such common factors as geographic location, economic status, and parental interest and ability in child rearing. No doubt the most familiar group the "preacher's kid" identifies with is other children of preachers. Obviously, there is also a sense in which "preachers' kids" are like no other children. No matter how similar the back ground or physical characteristics, no two children are exactly alike.

Is there anything particularly pro found in the fact that each child in a pastor's home lives a life that is universal, similar, and individual all at the same time? Perhaps not. But a survey of more than 150 church pastors seems to under score the fact and offers some insights that can help those who find themselves in the challenging position of being both a pastor and a parent.

The survey, taken among a representative sample of Missionary Church pas tors across North America, revealed overwhelming agreement that a past personal attitude about his own role in the ministry is a primary factor affecting his children's decisions about their own future. Thus most parsonage children share the common understanding that "what Dad thinks about being a pastor and how he responds helps me imagine what my future could or should be like." Of course, such an attitude certainly is not exclusive to preachers' families. Every parent is both a model and a mirror to his or her children.

The pastors in the survey apparently placed a low priority on the importance of their children learning problem-solving skills. Asked to rank ten possible advantages of being raised in a pastor's home, the preachers put problem solving on the bottom. At the top of the list were having frequent guests in the home, strong influence of the church, and the example of Christian parents. As important as are these advantages, it seems surprising that pastors who have so many opportunities to minister to the varied needs and conflicts of humanity should consider such an environment of relatively little value to their children. And yet, perhaps in this attitude preachers' homes are not so different from the majority of American families. The great American struggle today seems to be to avoid problems rather than to accept and cope with them.

The truth is that although we cannot be totally in control of our environment, we can take personal responsibility through the Lord's help for responding appropriately in it and to it. Problem solving would seem to be a key element in developing that responding process, and a preacher's home would seem to be an ideal laboratory for this discovery and nurturing.

Interestingly, 90 percent of the survey questionnaires returned were filled out by preachers who were not themselves the child of a preacher! Such a fact says two things. It says that the previous generation of ministers' families in the Missionary Church were not primarily responsible for the current group of pas tors. This is not to say that the ministry should be some kind of monarchical hand-me-down system from father to son. But the statistics seem to show a clear trend in how church leaders are produced as well as to demonstrate one result of home influences upon a preacher's children.

Second, it seems to verify that there is no pre-cut mold from which a pastor comes, and thus, no identical mold for a pastor's children, either. A child's individuality simply cannot be totally stamped out. It may be violated, ignored, and suppressed, but there is no such thing as cloning preachers.

Thus the results of this limited survey indicate that ministers recognize the impact on their children of their own relationship to the ministry, that they do not emphasize the importance of problem solving as an advantage to their children, and that pastors do not primarily come from pastors' homes.

Let's consider how this information can improve our understanding of what it means to be both a pastor and a parent by posing three questions to ourselves.

Why not make the ministerial situation of our families as full of purpose and enjoyable for our children as possible? This means keeping priorities in balance as we juggle ministerial duties and home responsibilities. Don't let a short-circuited relationship either with our God or with our family mar our children's opinion of full-time Christian service.

Why not realistically consider how much of our time and energy are given to confronting barriers and conflicts? By our positive attitude to such situations, we can affirm the problem-solving process and person and become a model for our children in coping with problems, not escaping or avoiding them.

Why not recognize that the peculiarities of our ministerial role affect our family's life? A "preacher's kid" may become a preacher himself, but he may not. Let's not try to mold him in advance by expectations and personal projections.

"Preachers' kids" are not a rare species to be kept in isolation for fear of extinction. Neither are they just one of the crowd. They are only trying, in common with all Christians, to serve and grow in the role God has called them to fill. It's true that "preachers' kids," as well as their moms and dads, are examples in a sense. But the whole benefit of an example lies not in the fact that it is so perfect that it becomes distant and unreachable, but rather that it is sufficiently like us that we can identify and emulate. With a little mutual under standing we can stop those muted mumblings about "preacher's kids," as well as the reasons for them.


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Brad Grabill, a "preacher's kid" himself, is minister of youth and Christian education at the Missionary Church of Van Nuys, California.

May 1980

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