I am a Pastor’s Kid: How I went from being son of my dad, to child of the Father
David Foo // July 13, 2017, 10:05 am
What is it like to be the Senior Pastor’s son? If I had a dollar every time someone asked me that, it would probably be a lot harder for me to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).
I wasn’t actually born a pastor’s kid. I lived the first half of my life quietly as the eldest son of Christian parents – until I turned 14, when my father left his job to take up post as the Senior Pastor of our church.
After which, I lived the second half of my life even more quietly as the eldest son of the Senior Pastor.
People tend to think that being the family of a pastor – or Senior Pastor, no less – makes the entire household extra holy or devout as believers. To me, it’s actually no different from growing up in a Christian household; the only difference is in how people may perceive you.
With a father in the church spotlight, it was hard to avoid the attention that extended to his family. Sometimes people assumed I was the feedback channel for the sermons my father gave, other times, people thought I was testing them when I asked a Bible related question.
After years of church conversations starting with “so what does your father have to say about … ” or “no offence, but your father …”, I seriously toyed with the idea of changing church altogether. I kept a low profile, never attending youth camps or mission trips.
Most of it was a subconscious censoring of church involvement. Besides the invisible expectations weighing upon me as long as I was in the social context to be known as “Senior Pastor’s son”, I struggled to discover the Christian faith for myself inside the walls of church.
I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.
I hesitated to go for altar calls because I knew my dad would, well, be at the altar. I had questions about the faith but I knew I’d be directed back to my dad. I was assumed to be spiritually “okay” because of my regular church attendance and Bible knowledge.
Most Christians get away with leaving the “holy-holy” behaviour to pastors and church leaders, thinking that only they are special and have the ability to pray every day, read the Bible cover-to-cover once a year and serve tirelessly in church. I’m just a normal Christian. I go for service very good already – right?
Like most of us, I would have been pretty content to live the normal Christian life – but somehow when I became a pastor’s kid, I couldn’t use that excuse anymore. You mean you don’t serve in church? How can? You pastor’s kid leh.
It sounds strange, but I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.
For me, the Senior Pastor wasn’t someone who had special God-given abilities to be extra fervent; he was just my dad. And if he could live the all-in Christian life, then there was no reason I couldn’t if I wanted to. I was the Senior Pastor’s son after all.
The problem was that I didn’t really want to. At least not all-in for God the way my dad was. I just wanted to be like most of my friends: A “normal” Christian.
And so I started purposefully building a life outside the church, sometimes venturing into territory considered unbecoming – by church standards – for a pastor’s kid. Inside, I knew I was not pleasing God. In fact, I knew I was living for myself, rather than for Him.
Yet, it turns out that although I may have kept my presence in our relationship at a minimum, I was actually very much still searching for His presence in my life.
What I didn’t see coming was that He would find me first.
God showed up in the form of a few Christian friends I made who showed me what it was like to follow Him. Through their lives and our conversations I discovered aspects of the faith that breathed new life into my understanding and experience of what it was like to pursue Him.
I may have tried as much as I could to avoid the church – but by the grace of God, the Church came to me. It was all around me, in the lives of the people who came alongside me when I was struggling to understand my faith beyond my father.
With their lives, they evangelised to me. Even without a pulpit, they preached the Gospel as I’d never heard it. They were my spiritual mentors, my disciplers, my pastors – just by being my friends.
It was only a matter of time before I found my way home.
I believe that there is a special grace for us pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run.
I never actually stopped going to church because I’d simply followed my parents Sunday after Sunday – it was easy to just show up – but as I discovered God for myself, my heart was changing. I didn’t resent the attention or expectations as much. I learnt how to cope with my own and other people’s expectations of how I should behave.
The God in the songs I’d heard countless of times in service had reached out and touched my life.
I still have a lot of sympathy for pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids; it’s so easy to feel like we were dragged into a life we didn’t choose. The urge to rebel and escape from the identities forced upon us, to hate the ministries that took our parents away, is real.
But I also believe that there is a special grace for us. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run. A grace that helps us find peace with our circumstances and to choose the God behind them for ourselves.
These are the two choices we have:
(a) Turn away from the church, forcing people to see us for the sinners we are
(b) Pursue God and slowly grow to match the impressions the church has of us
Looking back, I think I’ve done a bit of both.
“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)