13 Ways to Keep Your Kids From Preacher’s Kid Syndrome

How can you plant well and parent well so your kids aren’t victims of preacher’s kid syndrome?

Preacher's Kid

How can you plant well and parent well so your kids aren’t victims of preacher’s kid syndrome? God has called you to ministry, specifically church planting. But has God called your kids? Will they have preacher’s kid syndrome?

Yes, that’s a thing. And Preacher’s Kid Syndrome is defined as: A term that dignifies the response of children raised by a parent or parents of a religious order—e.g., preacher, pastor, deacon, vicar, lay leader, minister or other similar church leader—who rejects the family’s and church’s values, i.e., through drug use, alcohol abuse, and/or sexual activity.

The aberrant behavior in the above list could be symptoms of something much deeper–a loss of faith or a demonstration of a faith that never was.

While it is a tragedy to “save the world and lose your kids,” you may not have as much ability to ensure that your kids find Christ as you do that your community finds Christ. God is the One who draws, converts, sanctifies.

You are the one who is faithful. That’s all. You can’t make them believe in Jesus. You can’t make them love the church. You can’t make them enjoy the ministry of church planting.

And while it may feel that I’m saying you have absolutely no control, there are some things that you do have control over to guide your children toward the throne of grace.

So what do you have “control” over to keep your kid from Preacher’s Kid Syndrome?

Try these 13 ideas.

Megan Briggs’ article called “Katy Perry and Why You Need to Give Your Preacher’s Kid Choices,” gives these critical pieces of advice.

  1. Give your kid choices. “More often than not, PKs end up spending more time at church than anyone would willingly volunteer for. Whenever there is the option, ask your kids if they’d like to come or participate. Respect their decision when they say no.”
  2. Nurture kids’ outside friendships. “Do what you can to help them have friends and life outside of church—just like the other children who attend your church. If they feel they have no choice but to build their social life around the church, they will feel coerced and constricted. “
  3. Make your parent-child relationship a priority. “Do your kid a favor and choose him or her over the elder meeting, over the choir practice, etc. whenever possible. I understand this is not always possible, but sometimes when kids are in crisis, you dropping something super important to you or your job will communicate your highest priority.”
  4. Be honest with your kid. “Be honest with your kids. Admit when you are wrong. Help your kids understand you are not perfect and neither are the members of your congregation, which is precisely why we all need Jesus to help us. Then, show them how you are asking Jesus to help you.”
  5. Don’t force doctrine on your kid. “As church leaders raising kids: God gives us free will and the ability to choose—sometimes to our own detriment. Who are we as created beings to believe we know how to parent better than God does?” “7 Things Christian Parents Should Do to Keep Their Kids From Abandoning God“, is not geared specifically to preacher’s kids, but there’s a lot of wisdom here to glean. Frank Powell quotes Christian Smith, the author of Soul Searching: ”The most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”Church planting or not, you as a Christian parent, have a tremendous impact on your children. Here’s how to apply Powell’s wisdom to your church planting/parenting context.
  6. Don’t hand off their faith to youth leaders. “Parents, you have the primary responsibility for building faith in your children. Youth leaders exist to equip you and supplement the work you are doing in the home. They don’t exist to replace you.”
  7. Care about their struggles as much as you do their salvation. “Parents, what you can do is show the love of God to your children. This starts by helping them see their present struggles as God’s concern. Sit down with your children. Talk to them. Show them grace.”
  8. Answer questions they’re asking. “Yes, these conversations are awkward. Yes, they create tension. But your children are asking them. Unless you create space for the hard questions, they will turn to other sources for answers. And that usually doesn’t end well.”
  9. Stop protecting them. “As a parent, your goal should not be to teach your kids how to flee from evil. Your goal should be to show them how to engage it. For the glory of God. In those spaces, they will see the gospel. And it will become real.”
  10. Show them that God is more than rules and church attendance. “If you boil Christian living down to church attendance and morality, your children will notice. And who wants to follow a God who is nothing more than rules and showing up to a building? I sure don’t.”
  11. Be authentic with your struggles and doubts. “Parents, your kids have doubts. And they need to see that you have doubts as well. Otherwise, when questions about God come, your kids will either internalize them or turn to another source for answers. Both are bad options.”
  12. Pray for them. “Plead for God to build and sustain their faith. Parents, in the journey to lay a foundation of faith for your children, nothing is more important than prayer. Pray for your children. Pray with your children. Every day.”Our final point comes from an article by David Simms of Alpharetta, Georgia, who wrote “A Preacher’s Kid’s Deconversion Story” for Patheos.com. It’s worth the read. One of the most compelling thing we can learn from Simms is this…
  13. Your reputation does NOT depend on your kids. Simms writes, “Besides being potentially more indoctrinated than your typical Southern Christian, growing up as the pastor’s son came with an additional albatross.  I was consistently reminded that anything I did directly reflected on my father’s character and his ability to lead his flock.”

Let your kids off the hook–your profession and calling is yours. Not your kids’.

For my career–I’m a journalist. I know grammar and punctuation inside out. When my kids were younger and I edited their papers (they asked), they were chagrined by all the marks I’d make. If I believed for even a second that their skill and commitment to things grammatical reflected on me, our home would’ve been much more stressed.

Work to separate your “career identity” from the work that God is doing in the lives of your kids. Remember: You are NOT responsible for the outcome of your kids’ decisions related to faith in Christ. That’s up to God.

And if your church members don’t understand that, help them learn that for the sake of their own children as well.

Whatever you do, don’t buy this lie from GotQuestions.org: “When preachers’ kids, so-called PKs, walk away from the faith in which they have been brought up, it is a sad thing and a poor testimony to the truth of Christianity.”

What your kids decide about Christianity is what your kids decide about Christianity. And what they’ve decided today is not what they’ll decide five years from now. Ask God to help you partner with Him through grace and unconditional love–and your own passionate faith in Christ. Then leave the outcome up to God!

Oh, and by the way, the testimony of the truth of Christianity does NOT revolve around your children’s path of faith. If you have them on the hook for that, please take them off the hook!

Christine Yount Jones
Christine Yount Jones is Content Director for Outreach Media Group. She has published several books and hundreds of articles about ministry in the last three decades. Before his death in 2003, Michael Yount and Christine had three children. Now, she and her husband, Ray Jones, together have five grown kids.