What could cause a pastor’s child to grow bitter?

The rebellious, bitter child cliché exists for pastor and missionary kids (PKs and MKs) for a reason.  In reflecting on the lives of many PKs he had known through the years, Billy Graham said, “PKs often have difficult, if not disastrous, periods in their lives.  Maybe people expect too much of them because of their parentage.  Or maybe they themselves expect too much, making unreasonably high demands on themselves in order to live up to others’ expectations.”

I would like to add one more reason through my experience that PKs struggle in life. In talks I have had with several PKs and MKs throughout the years, this rebellion towards parents and disenchantment with the church comes from suffering subtle broken promise after subtle broken promise from their parents.

A pastor promises his son that he will be at that ball game, but he had to study longer.  A pastor promises to be home for dinner at a certain time, but never arrives on time.  A pastor assures his daughter he will read with her on a certain night, but that phone call took longer than expected.  PKs and MKs experience unique pressures just as the pastor and his wife, but the pattern of broken promises chips away at the credibility of that pastor in their eyes.

A bitter child is ultimately the result of a sinful heart that needs Christ.  Pastors, pray for the souls of your children.  Regeneration is the only remedy ultimately to prevent our children’s growing bitterness towards us and the church.  Having said that, we should not ignore that this bitterness could be evidence of neglect that should be identified and addressed.  Broken any promises to your kids lately?  Did you blame the church?  Honestly identify the neglect, then strive by God’s grace to do what you say you will do.

Posted in Home and Family, The Pastor's Soul
8 comments on “What could cause a pastor’s child to grow bitter?
  1. Thanks, this is very challenging.

  2. Adam Winters says:

    I’m thankful to have seen all that you do to prioritize and serve your children, Brian!

  3. Good words Brian. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Vaughn says:

    Something you didn’t mention which I think is also a factor in PK/MK rebellion and bitterness is spiritual warfare. Our enemy desires to undermine our work and one of the fastest ways to do so is to destroy our families.

  5. Randal Pollock says:

    As usual there are many fine points in your blog and in the thread following.
    However, one that I have encountered many times through the years which you have not mentioned is PK’s who watched their parents abused by churches and church leadership. One too many bitter business conferences, a bully deacon, a shrill woman leader who is manipulative. Children suffer in silence as their parents are tomented. My wife and I made it our top priority to protect, perhaps to over protect our son. We did not talk in front of him, were care in our reactions to people simply to keep him from any accumulation of reasons for bitterness and rejection. The result was a child who had some acute discernment skills and generally could read people and situations like a book. Actually, much better than his father.

    • JR says:

      i agree about one of the most detrimental things for a pastor’s kid being the abuse of the pastor at the hands of the church. my own bitterness towards the church stemmed from this almost solely. even though the church leadership never undermined my father, there were plenty who abused his generosity and his willingness to be there for his flock. one lady insisted my dad perform a funeral ceremony for someone he had never met simply because she thought he should. as a pk, i saw and heard about all the dirty laundry of the “churchfolk” long time and some wonderful people (especially my wife) to help me overcome much of my bitterness and be able to enjoy going to church again.

      • Vaughn says:

        Thanks JR…good to hear a PK’s perspective. You said, “i saw and heard about all the dirty laundry of the “churchfolk””. This is an area I need to be more diligent about. The children shouldn’t have to be burdened by these issues.

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