Preachers’ Kids

When I heard of Rick Warren’s son’s tragic suicide I immediately thought of the issues of Preacher’s Kids (Elder’s and Deacon’s Kids can also be included). The symptoms that preacher’s kids carry into adulthood are:

1. Shame

2. Feeling like a fake or a fraud

3. Dependent on others’ opinions

4. Low self-esteem

5. A feeling of entitlement

6. A need for attention

7. Sexual addiction

8. Depression or anger

Why would adult children of preachers have these symptoms? There are many reasons:

1. The congregation has high expectations of preachers’ kids.

2. The preacher would prefer that his kids not embarrass him. He is supposed to be an example to the congregation of how to lead a family. If he can’t lead his own family, how can he lead a congregation? So he puts far more pressure on his children to behave. Even when he doesn’t say anything, the children feel the pressure.

church parking3. Preachers’ kids have experienced a pressured father driving them to church on Sunday morning, yelling at them for making him late, and then seeing him jump out of the car and greet congregants cheerily. His reputation, self-esteem and salary depend on the preacher showing the world that he can grow a congregation. The kids wonder if the worship is genuine, yet they can’t admit to themselves that they doubt, because doubters are not permitted in their house.

4. Whenever a preacher’s kid expresses negative emotions her parents are tempted to tell her that she does not feel that way, and certainly God is not pleased when she expresses those feelings. By age three she knows that if she feels negative, not to express it, and good people don’t’ feel that way. She hates the way she feels inside. She is ashamed.

5. He doubts himself whenever he is angry, lonely or afraid. He needs others’ to affirm him, but their affirmation is never enough.

shirley temple6. The long hours that the preacher puts in take their toll on the child. She learns to gain attention by performing, but the performing gets her attention for her fake self, not her real self, so it is never enough.

red shoes7. He is deeply lonely. No-one knows the real person inside, so he is vulnerable to addictions that promise to alleviate loneliness: like sex. Sex is never a comfortable subject in a preacher’s house to begin with, and all the campaigning around sexual sin just makes sex a taboo subject. Sexual addictions make him more ashamed, more lonely, and more vulnerable to more addictions.

8. Preachers are sometimes (often) drawn to preaching because of low self-esteem and a need for attention and adoration. They become stern and angry towards children who stand in their way of receiving love and admiration from their congregation. Many preachers are the children of alcoholics, or of a parent with bipolar disorder. Many preachers are vulnerable to having an affair with a congregant (statistics range as high as 30% of preachers have had an affair with a congregant and 77% say they do not have a good marriage). These family dynamics leave the children lonely.

9. These issues are exacerbated by a sect or church that has a tacit agreement never to say anything personal in a Bible class or sermon. No emotional pain, loneliness or doubts are discussed in a real and open way. The children learn to keep all these feelings to themselves.

If you know a child of a preacher, go out of your way to make a safe place for them to express real emotions. Start by expressing real emotions to them yourself.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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4 Responses to Preachers’ Kids

  1. Phil says:

    I would hate to be the kid of a preacher. Or even an Elder. It’s not fair for them to have to carry the image that their father’s occupation places on them. However it’s not fair for a child to be raised by an substance addicted parent either.

    Privately, I wonder how many preachers kids would choose not to be a preacher’s kid if they had the choice?

    • Eric says:

      Every child is suppose to be raised in an environment where their parents lifestyles are that of “preachers” so that’s not a burden, it’s a blessing and commanded by God… God fearing, humble servants, holy ppl who edify Christ with their lives.

      But see Rick Warren is a wolf in sheep clothing and operates under/welcomes anti-godly spirits which is why his son was seduced by one. He uses God name for profit and fame.

      • Eric says:

        Also the reason why preacher kids are usually so bad is because this religious system (no matter the denomination) is not in God’s order for His ppl so therefore bad fruits manifest from it. Read about the Harlot system in Revelations to free yourself ….

  2. Gary Cummings says:

    I think the whole idea of “preachers” is foreign to the New Testament, and that is why there are so many screwed up PK’s. Many times missionary’s kids are actually in a worse state, as they have lived in other cultures. There they came of age as teenagers and many experimented with drugs and sex. I have met some of those. Sometimes the missionary is forced to come home to get his kid into treatment.

    Some of the PK’s I met in college lived like pagans, or were even worse legalists than their parents.
    Being a preacher, as it is currently practiced, is just an unnatural job. The preacher’s family lives in a fishbowl. The wife is gossiped about by the style of clothes or hairstyle, The preacher is judged by the kind of car he drives or neckties. It is actually a crappy life. It is no wonder that many times they produce crappy kids.

    I think Rick Warren means well. He has helped a lot of people. I am sorry about his son. Some of the PK’s I met back in the 60’s were a bunch of racists. Many were bullies. Many exhibited the characteristics of being children of alcoholics.

    Lord, have mercy-Gary

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