A review of Barnabas Piper’s book, “The Pastor’s Kid,” by Beth Duren Lancaster

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]arnabas Piper’s new book, The Pastor’s Kid, dropped last week. Barnabas became a fast-friend after joining the company where I work. He blogs regularly at BarnabasPiper.com where he exhibits a fascination for people who throw out the first pitch, and those who sing the National Anthem at sporting events.

Barnabas was kind enough to furnish a review copy of his book, but rather than write a bunch of “After 25 years in ministry and three kids…” kind of old preacher talk, I asked my oldest daughter, Beth Duren Lancaster, to read and review it. I am not a PK. My dad worked at an auto assembly plant. He never spent a day in pastoral ministry. My relationship to “the pastor’s kid” is different than that of a pastor’s kid The Pastor’s Kid seems the kind of book best understood and explained by kindred spirits rather than observers no matter how invested they may feel.

I asked Beth to be honest about her own experiences in addition to her thoughts on the book. Her review was a surprising read in some respects. While I might have guessed a few of her expressed feelings I was caught a little off-guard by the way she phrased one particular thing. You will see it in bold near the end.

Review of The Pastor’s Kid

My dad became a pastor when I was about four years old, so I have no memory of growing up as a “regular” church kid. Pastor’s kids grow up in an uncomfortable spotlight, and frequently face all the scrutiny, expectations, and double standards that come along with it. While many PKs are sheltered to some degree from the “non-church” world, they certainly get a strong dose of intensely-human faults such as judgment, hypocrisy, bickering, gossip, and more from those they attend church with several times a week. PKs will also face immense pressure to perform and to please in most aspects of their lives, far more so than most kids will. In “The Pastor’s Kid”, Barnabas Piper speaks first hand of the realities of the PK experience and the effects they tend to have on PKs for much (or in some cases, all) of their lives.

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas Piper, clearly in deep thought.

This isn’t an autobiography, so if you’re looking for any juicy stories about John Piper (whatever that would look like), don’t expect any here. The important thing is that Barnabas Piper writes from a generic position of being a PK, rather than his specific story, which would render it not relatable for most people. Throughout the book he includes quotes from other PKs he interviewed, and the reader is able to get a feel for how common many of these experiences are for the PK.

While I feel like I was spared some of the more harmful occurrences that Piper and others mention, given that my most formative years were spent at a church that was far from megachurch size and had more understanding congregants, the experiences that are related in the book are far from uncommon. When reading this book, I certainly felt fortunate to have missed out on a lot of the legalistic boundaries and nosy-nature of many church goers.

Growing up as a PK means you’re growing up in a world immersed in church life. This is true for many faithful churchgoers, but as a PK you become well-acquainted with human nature–more so than some people will ever be. A PK grows up learning that many of those they thought were angelic church members are actually devils, and it’s often not until adulthood that they learn to forgive and release the bitterness. Or at least, it’s best if they do those things. I imagine many have lost faith in God entirely after seeing first-hand the cold hypocrisy, the petty disagreements that split churches, and the lives that never seem to be changed by the life-changing power these same people talk so much about on Sundays.

One story Piper mentions is especially eye-opening as to how many areas of a PKs life can be affected by the challenging environment they’re raised in, and how long these effects can last. He tells the story of Callie, an associate pastor’s daughter, whose relationship with her parents and with the church so heavily affect her that even after college and marriage she still struggled with her relationship with God and with the few close people in her life. She had to learn to relate to God in a way that wasn’t determined by her parents or the church she attended. This, I feel, is one of the greatest challenges the PK will face as they grow into adulthood. They must seek a personal relationship with God while being watched by their parents and church members, yet they must throw off the weight of their expectations. In doing so, they risk judgment, gossip, and the strong possibility of disappointing those whom they love.

The pressure felt by PKs to perform, to be hyper-spiritual, and to conform to the standards of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of church members can cause extreme frustration, or for some a lifelong struggle to always be a doer and a people-pleaser. Some have it far worse, and they grow up feeling like they always fall short of God’s expectations and aren’t able to accept grace. Grace often feels like nothing more than a Sunday School buzzword, and it can be difficult for PKs to understand how things like grace and mercy apply to their own lives. He says,

The biblical realities of grace, forgiveness, and identity in Christ can seem unreal and unattainable to PKs no matter how steeped in the Bible we have been since we could walk and talk.

Many church members may not realize how strongly their lives and how they treat the pastor’s family affects the PK. While Piper’s book might be called “The Pastor’s Kid”, I feel that pastors and congregants will benefit from the book as much as or more than many PKs will. While I read the book, I generally felt many of the issues he writes about were things I remembered, recognized, and have in some sense made peace with. But as I think back to the lessons I had to learn, I realize that many church members and pastors will never know how PKs feel unless they’re shown the difficulties of having a parent who is a pastor.

Not only does Piper give insight into the lives of the PKs, but he also discusses the importance of allowing your pastor more than adequate time to spend with their own family, and encouraging them to make the family a higher priority than the church. Ministry or no, at the end of the day, the pastorship is still a profession, and like any profession, it can easily displace one’s family if one isn’t careful. The pastor’s family should never have to compete with church members for the attention and affection of the pastor. Church emergencies happen and isolated events occur that may require the pastor’s time when it is inconvenient to the family, but Piper speaks on behalf of the family when he writes,

It is wrong, sinful, to put us on the sidelines and treat pastoral ministry as if it is the “primary” or “real” calling. Pastors must keep the dual calls in proper relation to one another, as difficult as that may be.

I think The Pastor’s Kid will be a very eye-opening book for many pastors, church members, as well as PKs.

I wish this book would have been around when I was in high school. I’m willing to bet that this could spare a lot of PKs the hardship of having to learn these tough lessons as an adult. If they’re being subjected to a lot of the pressures Piper discusses in this book, I know it would help many to realize that they aren’t alone, and that their relationship with God is a very personal one that doesn’t have to be subject to the wants and whims of the people in their lives. For pastors, this book will help them have insight into what their kids’ lives are like as a PK. They may not see or hear comments from church members or be aware of those attitudes toward the PK, so this may urge them to be attentive to what’s going on in their church. Church members may have some clue as to the difficulties of being a PK, but I very seriously doubt that most even know the half of it. They may not treat PKs any differently than they treat other church kids, but I wonder if church members realize just how much the way they live their lives can shape the lives of the PK. The Pastor’s Kid is written in a way that is very accessible no matter what one’s position is in the church, and I feel that it is certainly doing a favor for many PKs by explaining some of the common struggles they face growing up in church.

Beth Duren Lancaster, the firstborn of our three children, majored in philosophy at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She’s an avid reader, indie music aficionado, barista, cook, and backyard farmer. She and her husband Jacob have a dog, and share a cat with their neighbors.

Follow Barnabas Piper on Twitter to read his oft rumblings about his favorite losing MLB team, The Minnesota Twins.

To purchase a copy of “The Pastor’s Kid” click the link to Amazon. You get the same low price and I get a small commission.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Meg

    Thank you Beth! I look forward to reading the book. I’ve asked my children if they feel that pressure, and when they said yes, I was surprised at the extent of the pressure they feel as PK’s.