On Being a “PK:” Encouragement for Parents in Ministry

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This article by Rooted Steering Committee member Katie Polski was originally planned as a workshop at our 2020 conference. But in the spirit of flexibility, and until we can all be together again, we bring you Katie’s wisdom to you in written form instead! We are offering six workshops, three plenaries, and a panel discussion (as well as various other treats and surprises) through our Rooted Micro Conferences on September 24. We hope you’ll join us

I grew up as a pastor’s kid or, as it’s popularly labeled, a “PK.” In elementary school, I remember a teacher identifying me as a PK, and when a fellow student asked what that meant, another kid chimed in: “She’s a potential kid.”

Besides the view that a PK is a budding human being, there are many stereotypes stuck to the pastor’s kid label. I’ve heard story after story of kids in ministry who resented their father or mother’s job in the church. My story as a PK is a little different. It wasn’t all roses and rainbows, but my experience with a father in ministry was positive and even life-giving; by God’s grace, I have developed my own deep love for God’s church.

This growth did not happen because of some innate well-behaved demeanor. (Just ask my 5th grade Sunday School teacher who kicked me out of class for talking nonstop with my neighbors, only to find out that I had tried to get kicked out in order to play on the playground). And the growth certainly did not occur because of my parents’ ability to do everything “right.” There is no such thing, friends, as a mom or dad who does this parenting thing without mistakes and failures. It just doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. It’s the reason we need Jesus every step of the way.

My love for Jesus and His church developed by God’s grace alone. There’s no simple formula for keeping our kids in the church (whether we’re in ministry or not), and many of our children’s stories will include pain, difficulty, and even rebellion. But each detail is a part of God’s work to mold, shape, and grow His children. Our responsibility is to teach them God’s Word and to show them Jesus every opportunity we have. I have this joyful responsibility with three of my own “PK’s” who have grown up in the church where my husband serves as Senior pastor and I work as the music director.

As ministry leaders, we must rely daily on this grace at work in our lives and in the lives of our children. Within this framework, there are some practical lessons I learned from being a pastor’s kid that we have tried to implement in our own family. While my dad was by no means perfect, there were three intentional practices that I believe helped me to have a positive experience as a PK.

Not Just Another Sheep
This is not necessarily unique to those who work in the church, but now that I’m on the parenting side in church ministry, I recognize how easy it can be to prioritize the congregational sheep over our own children. Especially as I grew in age, it was important for me to know that I wasn’t just one of the congregants, but that I was my dad’s child, and he showed me this in a number of different ways. Sometimes it was just in answering his phone when one of us called, even if he was in the middle of teaching preparations or meetings. Dad’s job meant talking with many different people, but we were never asked to wait our turn in line.

As a younger child, when I would run up to him after a sermon, he always took a moment to turn, look me in the eye, and give me a hug back. I distinctly remember these moments as a kid because they displayed to me how much dad cared about my presence.

His availability, however, did not mean that he attended every sporting event or extra-curricular activity. There were times when he was absent because of a responsibility with other church members or activities, but this in no way made me resent the church. Perhaps this was the case because I knew that when I’d see dad again, he would take time to talk about my game or choir concert, and he’d show genuine interest. I knew that the congregation meant very much to him, but I knew I meant even more.

A Joyful Responsibility
Church work is not always a joy.

What? (*Gasp*).

It’s true.

While there are glorious aspects to this job, I do know how hard it can be to remain joyful in the midst of the calling. Because of this, I’m thankful for the example of my parents who viewed church ministry as a joyful responsibility. My dad wasn’t always smiling, but he never trudged into church as if his responsibilities were a burden. Whether it was a Bible study he taught or a sermon he was preparing for, dad moved forward in his work with a sense of anticipation. I know there were times when the ins and outs of ministry wore on him, and as we grew older, he was more honest with us about the challenges. But rather than complain, dad talked about the difficulties within a framework of trust in the Lord and joy in the calling.

I’ll never forget standing in the sanctuary with my dad after a Good Friday service. Once the room had emptied, he pointed out how the special lighting added to the impact of the service, and how the words in the music tied together with the themes from Scripture. He was so excited about the details that went into planning one worship service, I couldn’t help but smile. His joy for the work in the church came from the Lord, it flowed through his ministry, and it showered onto all who were around him. I often felt drenched from dad’s joy in the Lord and in his calling.

A Part of The Calling
I went on a few hospital visits with my dad when I was younger. While it wasn’t an amusement park or an ice cream shop – although I knew how to talk him into a candy bar from the hospital gift store – I enjoyed these visits because of who I was with. When my dad incorporated me into his ministry, not only did it strengthen my relationship with him, I was able to see first-hand what my dad’s role as a pastor actually looked like. I remember thinking it was something special.

When our family prayed together at dinner time, dad would often include prayers for people in the church. Whether it was intentional or not, by doing this, I was ushered into an opportunity to minister to these friends right alongside my father. And when my younger sister developed in her musical abilities, dad asked her to write a piece for the Christmas service at church. These kinds of gestures gave my sisters and I the opportunity to be welcomed into church ministry with my father. We weren’t just observers of his calling, we were laborers with him.

The calling to serve in the church is not an easy one, and I understand now more than ever the concern over these PKs resenting the ministry to which their parents have been called. But I have also experienced how beautiful and how joyful it can be to encounter the ins and outs of ministry together with our children. Ultimately, the Lord will do His work in our kids through us and sometimes in spite of us. I echo the prayer my dad wrote in one of his journals, and I pray this for my own PKs and for all children growing up in the ministry: “Lord, keep my kids close to you. In spite of our failures, we feebly pray that they will always love you and love your church.”

Amen.

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