Barnabas Piper|10:00 PM CT

7 Things a Pastor's Kid Needs from a Father

Pastors, your position is a demanding one, and those demands bring unique struggles on your family. A pastor's wife bears a great burden, but she usually enters into the ministry willingly. A pastor's children, though, are carried on the current of their parents' calling. It is often a life of singular struggle and uncommon needs. These struggles often stem from the failures of the father. This isn't to cast full blame on pastors for their children's problems. But it is to say that pastors need to work to be good dads.

My own father has worked hard at this. He had his blind spots and weaknesses, and they have been a source of tension between him and me. But to this day, in his 33rd and last year of pastoral ministry, he has never stopped trying to be a better father. As I wrote this I thought of his failures, yes, but I also thought of successes. Lots of them. I also thought of dozens of conversations with fellow PKs about such struggles and their own relationships with their fathers. So know that my writing does not stem from bitterness of heart or some jaded desire to expose a good man's faults. I love my dad. My desire is to see struggles avoided or defeated for other pastors and PKs.

So here are seven of the most significant ways a pastor can be a good father to his children. Pastors, your child needs . . .

1) A dad, not a pastor

Yes, you are called to pastor your family, but PKs want a dad---someone who plays with them, protects them, makes them laugh, loves their mom, gives hugs, pays attention, teaches them how to build a budget and change the oil and field a ground ball. We want committed love and warmth. We want a dad who's not a workaholic. It's hypocritical to call your congregation to a life of love, sacrifice, and passionate gospel living while neglecting your own family. If a mortgage broker or salesman works too much at 60 hours a week, so do you. Leave work and be present for your kids. Your children will spit on your pastoring if they miss out on your fathering.

2) Conversation, not sermons

Sermons are an effective way to communicate biblical truth to a congregation, but not to your kids (or wife). Preaching at your children will stunt their view of Scripture, dull their interest, and squelch what passion you are trying to stir. Speak TO your children about the Bible in a way that's interesting, applicable, and conversational. Help them see the Bible as a normal part of life. Rather than teach lessons, imbue your conversation with biblical worldview to help your children shape their life lenses. That way they'll think they, too, can interact with this important book. Sermons at home separate them from the Word by implying that only the learned can understand it.

3) Your interest in their hobbies

Jonathan Edwards may be your homeboy or Seth Godin your muse, but your first-grade daughter doesn't give a flip. Her love language is playing Barbies and dancing to Taylor Swift. Your son wants to build a Lego fort, beat you soundly at Modern Warfare on Xbox, or learn how to run a 10-yard out pattern. Your hobbies are yours alone, but engaging your children's interests speaks love that matters deeply to them.

4) To be studied

It gets harder to share time with kids as they get older. So study them as hard as you study your Greek lexicon. They're more important, anyway. Would your high school son appreciate going out to pizza with you or chilling on the couch and watching college football on a Saturday afternoon? Does your teenage daughter want you to take her shopping or to coffee? Maybe they don't want recreation but just help---so talk through their friend challenges or algebra problems, whichever are the most pressing. LEARN these things, even if it seems like there are no right answers. Teenagers are hard; they treat parents like idiots all the time. But these acts, when done consistently, add up. Make them a pattern so that when your kids are done thinking you are a moron they have a path to walk with you.

5) Consistency from you

No one can call hypocrisy on you faster than your kids (and wife), and nothing will undermine you in the home faster. If you stand in the pulpit on Sunday and talk about grace after spending Friday and Saturday griping at your family, grace looks awfully cheap and unappealing to your son in the second row. If, however, you treat your son as if you need his grace and forgiveness for your crappy attitude, it may open a door to God's grace. (And use phrases like "crappy attitude"; it sounds more like you actually know what you're apologizing for.)

If you act like the great shepherd in the pulpit but the hired hand who runs away at home, your children will see church and all it entails as phony because you are phony. If you encourage a life of joy but are morose or exhort your people toward a life of sacrifice but are lazy and spendthrifty, nobody will notice faster than those in your home. To your family, your interactions with God and them are far more important than your Sunday sermons.

6) Grace to fail

Pastors speak much about grace. It is the basis of our salvation and the source of hope. But when the rubber meets the road, do you offer enough of it to your children? PKs feel enormous pressure to be "good" and to be confident in all things biblical. But we are often not good and often lack confidence in biblical realities. We sin and doubt like everyone else, but when we do, the road to restoration and peace often feels like an impossible one to travel. Are we allowed the same grace to fail and to doubt (assuming you preach grace to your congregation)?

7) A single moral standard

One of the graces PKs need is a single moral standard. Too many PKs feel the pressure of their fathers' priestly profession in our moral lives. The pastor and elder qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus feel like a threat: "If you screw up, your father not only looks bad, he will be out of a job." But those standards are the same ones that every Christian should be held to (other than the ability to teach). Nobody else's dad is at risk of being unemployed if his kid is rebellious, but mine is. The additional pressure to be morally upstanding does not help my heart. It creates a convoluted soul environment in which temptation to rebel and temptation to be a hypocrite battle the desire to honor Jesus and my dad.

You have heard that it was said PKs should be holier than their peers, and their parents should raise them better, but Jesus says to us all, "Be holy for I am holy." So it should be.

Barnabas Piper (blog, Twitter) works in marketing and acquisitions at Moody Publishers in Chicago. He is the son of John Piper.

Categories: Ministry, Opinion
  • Brad

    As a seminary student, husband of one, and father of four, and with the pastorate a future possibility, I want to say thank you for this article. It is much appreciated. I value getting "practical" advice about being a dad while being a pastor.

    Thank you, again.

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  • Heidi Heinsch

    I love this. Well written. And it makes me more thankful for my husband who has done well(not perfect:) in these areas.

  • Neo

    Excellent post. Speaking as a pastor's son, this is a message that pastors need to hear. Of course you could have gone further than just 7 (no mention of nightly family worship time, for instance) but this is a good start (other than mention of a child listening to Taylor Swift, which I would consider negligent parenting...)

  • Steve Erickson

    A good word. I am constantly looking for good advice on how to be a good dad to my PK's

  • Joanna King

    As a pastor's kid, and now as a pastor's wife, I can echo those 7 sentiments pretty heartily.

    I would love to see an article about what pastors' kids need from their fathers' congregations. Even with the best pastor/father, a child can still lose passion for Christ's church and kingdom if met with undue criticism, skepticism, judgement, and ridicule.

    My husband does an awesome job making our children a priority. But the momma-bear in me surfaces anytime I sense people being overly concerned about things my children (who are Perfect, by the way) are doing. They are not employees of the church, and shouldn't be regarded as such.

    • Michelle

      I would love to see this as well! The pastor at the church we were at before this one always said he felt blessed that his congregation saw his kids as sinners in need of trans formative grace just like everyone else, and it helped me to think through the pressures put on PKs to out perform others, when that's the last thing they need!

  • Non-PK

    I would say this is good advice for any father.

  • John Pastor

    Barnabas and I went to Wheaton College together, although we never hung out that much. However, when we did interact I always felt a strong connection about and support for the inherent difficulties of living in the "PK fishbowl", even though his Senior Pastor father is a lot more famous than my Senior Pastor father. This article is right on as to the unique fatherly challenges of a minister, and I highly recommend it.

  • Brandon Clements

    This is so encouraging for me, a hopefully soon-to-be father. Thanks Barnabas.

  • Pete Scribner

    "Your children will spit on your pastoring if they miss out on your fathering."

    Wow. Powerful. And true.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Herman J Grobler

    I should have read this post 30 years ago! Yet where I failed in all these requirements, Go in His grace allowed my children to grow up and still love my wife and me as parents, and have accepted and in following Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Thank you for this post. All glory to God!
    God bless!
    Herman of

  • Joshua Waulk

    Thanks for this, Barnabas. I need to go love on my family, now...

  • Seth Fuller

    Thanks for this Barnabas. This is applicable to laymen fathers as well. I particularly appreciated points 5 and 6.

    For His glory,

    Seth Fuller

  • PJ Hanson

    I grew up in a God denying home. Drugs, alchol, violent anger and sexual immorality were normal. When I talk with people who grew up in the church, much of what I hear is mocking and unthankfulness. This post is obviously not to the level of Franky Shaeffer but I think we need to be careful here. By God's grace alone I love Jesus and want to follow Him with my whole heart. When we focus on the sins of others we are ignoring Jesus when he says to first take the plank out of your own eye. To what extent is my sinful heart to blame for my rebelious teenage years? Maybe X box, movies or fun is not the vision a dad has for his family? Does that make him an ignorant uncaring fundamentalist? God has different roads for each of us. We should be thankful for God's grace and gracious to those who tried to follow Christ with their whole heart. At the same time we do need to warn of hypocrisy and this is where the church needs to be discipling men to be servant leaders. A delicate balance of grace and truth is needed. Thank you for your post.

    • Drew

      My dad is a paster and has been one my whole life (I'm now in my 20's). I am thankful that I saw my parents persevere in their faith and in ministry. But I also feel like I didn't have a dad most of my life because he was so burned out all the time. And it's too long to explain here, but you cannot compare "people who grew up in church" to pastor's kids. Their situations are very, very different. This article is about pastor's kids not simply people who grew up in church.

  • Tucker Else

    Well said.

  • Carrie

    Great post... could you write one, also, on what PK's need from their moms? I'd love to hear how your mom helped the family, supported your dad, led the kids when Dad's gone a lot, etc.

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  • Joanna King

    Okay, I couldn't leave it alone. I had to go write another one myself. What your pastor's family needs from YOU, Church.

  • Michael

    Wouldn't this apply to all Christian fathers?

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  • Deborah Gilbert

    As a pastors kid I find some of these things great. I was also probably the strangest pastors kid who wanted to be just like my dad. I loved when we talked church stuff and he let me attend the classes he taught at our Bible College (and I read their text books). But I also knew that I was going to be in ministry as an adult so I wanted to learn as much as I could early on.

    My dad did an amazing job at being my dad and my pastor. And now that both my husband and I are pastors we get to experience the flip side of PKs. Being a mom and pastor is a lot of work (I might say it is more work than being a dad and pastor, but that is because I work from home).

  • Rick Owen

    As churches transition away from the solo preacher/pastor model toward a more-biblical, (truly) fully-functioning plurality of elders, the stresses of one man carrying the load of church leadership, and the consequences experienced by 'PKs,' are greatly alleviated.

    To remix an old expression, "Many elders make a load light."

    • Moe Bergeron

      Rick, Bingo!

      Barnabas, Thank God for fathers who share a God given vision for our heavenly Father even while they display before us day in and day out their own brokenness. Thank you for your pastoral insights.

  • Aaron

    As a Pastor and a parent of 3 - I say THANK YOU for writing this!

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  • David

    Thanks Barnabas for sharing! This was helpful and appreciated!

  • Markus Watson

    Great post! As a PK and the father of PKs, I think you nailed it. And as my kids begin to grow up (the oldest is 7), I think I'm going to need to remind myself of these things on a regular basis.

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  • Jeff M.

    As a PK myself, I can appreciate the intent behind this article, as well as its applicability for a very specific kind of pastor (in terms of personality, people skills, etc.).

    However, not all pastors (including my own father) struggle with these specific issues. Perhaps it would be helpful to make note of this? Barnabas' own experiences as a PK are most likely not the same as many other PK's experiences.

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  • mirembe Florence

    read this honnnie i loved it

  • Steve

    I am in an interesting position . . . I am a pastor's kid of a pastor's kid. My dad truly understood what it meant to be both pastor and father. He made up for some mistakes he saw from his Dad who was also a pastor! He understand commitment to his calling and to his family! I am blessed!

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  • Chris McGarvey

    Hey Barnabas, Thanks. I really appreciated this. Hope you and your family are well. Grace and peace, cm

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  • SL

    Thanks for this article. I found it hit many of the points that I've had years of not being able to put into words as a PK. Now in my late 20s, my relationship is always on the verge of crumbling with my dad. The hypocrisy of the example set at home vs the front kept up at church are a clear indication of his heart and if anything, makes me plain sad. After 5-6 yrs of cutting him off due to his toxicity and verbal aggressiveness, I sought counseling and healing from God, knowing that God calls us to make peace as best we can. No matter how much grace and love I extend him, it is never enough. He prefers to wage apologetic wars with me rather than rejoicing in the fact that despite his squelching, I love God, attend a great church and want to grow my relationship with God. It's a little late now for him to implement these ideas but I pray that God would work miracles in his heart to soften it and bring our relationship to a place of of mutual respect and grace.