The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper: A Book Review
We love our Pastor’s kids. After reading Piper’s book, I will be more diligent in my prayers for them. Even more important, I will be more fervent in my prayers for their parents. As an involved church member, I have witnessed the “PK phenomenon” first hand. I have heard pastors lament that their children do not share enthusiasm for their pastor-father’s calling. Now I have read 151 pages of in-depth analysis of how one person felt growing up in that role.
My interest in this book has been very high from the moment I first heard that it was on its way because, although we are not involved in vocational ministry, my husband and I have been volunteers in our church since all four of our boys were very young. This has been fairly public involvement that has involved Sunday morning visibility, more dinner-time phone calls than average, and lots of schedule adjustments around church activities and business. It is also relevant, I think, that we made a conscious decision at one point to relinquish some responsibilities because we saw that the demands of our family were escalating as our boys matured. Go figure. It takes more energy to greet the teenager at curfew than it does to comfort the toddler with an ear infection or feed the baby twice in the night. Having said that, I spent some time as I read the book trying to assess whether a pastor’s family really does have more of a “burden” to bear from the church than the highly-involved church member. After all, those who are doing “vocational ministry” are able to give themselves to the job seamlessly. Obviously, it is going to involve more than forty hours — there’s hardly a professional position out there that can be accomplished in forty hours. Volunteers are balancing their 40+ and then doing church business on top of it. Therefore, their children are also “sharing” their parents with Jesus (who, by the way, is also their dad’s and mum’s “Boss”). Because I have this question about Piper’s thesis, I questioned two of my kids (ages 15 and 12) and one of their friends (age 12 and a deacon’s kid) as they were digesting their morning waffles. Do you feel as if the people at church know more about you than you are comfortable with? Do you feel as if their expectations are higher for you than for other kids? Do you think they expect you to be an angel? (Snorts over this one, as they regularly give evidence to the contrary.) Do you feel as if you have to fake it/perform because your parents are involved at church?
No. They do not seem to be suffering from the fish bowl effect. Clearly, my sample is smaller than Pipers, and it is likely that my survey group was basking in the attitude-enhancing warmth of a belly full of chocolate waffles with peanut butter sauce. Nonetheless, my heart aches for Barnabas Piper and his comrades in the fish bowl. Some of the questions he raises seem to be borne out of so much sadness that he is unable to see the grace of God he eventually gets around to trumpeting in later chapters. For instance, on page 25: Of course children are not “consulted” in their parents’ call to ministry. Is God not sovereign in His placement of children in families? Does He not, by virtue of assigning the PK to a pastor’s family (and an MK to a missionary family and a DK to a deacon’s family), promise grace to that child to BE and to DO and to endure the assignment?
Did the author really bristle under all the attention he received at church? Does his mastery of “The Tricks of the Trade” (page 54) really arise from his identity as a PK, or would he have become an “onion” even if his father had not achieved rock-star status? Has Barnabas asked himself whether his book would have ever seen day light without his father’s reputation and notoriety?
I hesitate to mention one factor because I am aware of it only because of John Piper’s books (and possibly a sermon or two); and I applaud his transparency, even though I know that this has been a sore spot for his son. Piper the elder has made no secret of the fact that he and Noel have weathered some tough times in their marriage. So, even though it may not be any of my business to even WONDER about, I do question whether some of Barnabas’s thin-skinned and prickly response to life in a pastor’s home might be a result of the particular pastor’s home where he gathered his data for 18 years. When Mum and Dad are barely cordial to each other for extended periods of time, even though they are on their faces before God about it and working to make things better, it has to affect the children.
Fortunately, the cloud in The Pastor’s Kid lifts, and Piper does give some very encouraging news about adult PK’s who experience benefit from their years of “apprenticeship” in a pastor’s home. This book, the fruit of Barnabas Piper’s apprenticeship, should be read by every parent who is called to ministry, whether full-time or as a volunteer. Our attitudes toward ministry are contagious. Our Pharisaism is deadly. Perhaps this book will prevent further heartache, and hopefully it will spark more conversations like we had this morning in our home — and hopefully more waffles, too.