Posted on February 28, 2023 by Rev. David Gunderson, tLMFT
Church Worker Wellness
One day, our seven-year-old son was entering the church with me when we noticed two men entering immediately before us. One man was Carl, a retired teacher who now served as the Church Music Director, and the other man was George, a retired minister who belonged to the congregation. As we approached the church door, George proudly turned to my son and said, “Did you know that you and Mr. Nielsen and I have something in common? All three of us are PKs.” Our son smiled politely and nodded his head in agreement. Once inside my office, he turned to me and asked, “Dad, what’s a PK?” At that moment I had to explain to my son what a PK was. Yet, at the same time, I felt good in him not knowing he was one. To him, I was his dad, fishing partner, and occasional soccer coach. He knew I worked at the church and that I was the pastor, but he had not seen himself as a PK.
What is a PK? The simple answer is: A preacher’s kid. But for this article, I’m using the term PK to refer to any child being raised by parents who are professional church workers. As Christian parents, church workers strive to make sure their children know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Like other parents, PK parents also strive to make sure their children are healthy, happy, and hopefully functioning well socially. But, unlike other parents, church workers are often striving to help other church members care for their children as well. Church workers (especially pastors) are on a 24/7 schedule which can make spending time with their own family challenging. In addition, these church workers and pastors are raising their children in what is called the “goldfish bowl.”
The “goldfish bowl” is used to describe life in the public eye, or (for PKs) life in the congregation’s eyes. Thankfully in most congregations, preacher’s kids are considered a blessing. Both of our children received positive encouragement from church members. Our daughter recently shared, “A favorite memory of mine was growing up as a pastor’s child in our congregation. It felt like an extended family…. I think because those extra people care about the pastor and his family, it did make me feel that there was some extra attention at times. Most of it was highlighting accomplishments mentioned in the newspaper, but I also felt that I needed to be the ‘good girl’ growing up and not get any negative attention.”
Sadly, “negative attention” does happen. Many tend to believe that pastor’s children should be perfect and spotless. But this belief is unhealthy and can have negative effects on kids as they grow up. Parents and church members need to remember that PKs are like all other children. They are not perfect. They are sinners, just like their parents and like everyone else in the church. As sinners, PKs will at times make the wrong choices, just as we all do. Feelings of inadequacy, guilt or shame can be common emotions when children feel they don’t meet expectations placed on them (especially in religious settings). But, instead of condemning the PKs and their parents, we need to support them in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1) and do all we can to help the pastor or church worker care for their family.
The following are some helpful tips for congregations and their members in helping their church workers/pastors raise PKs.
1. Make sure your pastor/church worker’s salary and health care benefits are sufficient to provide for their family.
2. If your church worker lives in congregational housing (parsonage) make sure it is in good condition and adequately provides for them and their family.
3. Remember to include your church worker/pastor and their children in your prayers.
4. Offer to help your church worker’s spouse with their children during worship services when the church worker is busy leading services.
5. Take time to visit with PKs before and after church services. Ask them how school is going, or if they participate in any activities like band, choir, scouts, or sports. Take time to get to know their interests and to share your own with them.
6. Offer to provide child care for the PKs in your church so their parents can have a night out.
7. Remember preacher’s kids on their birthdays with a card or even a small gift.
8. If you give a gift to your pastor/church worker at Christmastime, try to also include PKs in the gift. For example, a gift card to a family-friendly restaurant in town, or maybe giving them a family game.
9. Strive to provide privacy for your pastor/church worker’s family time.
10. Encourage your pastor/church worker to take time to attend their children’s activities, even if it may mean missing a church meeting once or twice a year.
Helpful hints for parents of PKs, in collaboration with a licensed counselor and certified child therapist, who also happens to be a PK herself.
1. Always keep your children in your prayers, no matter how old they are.
2. Be curious. Recognize and validate your child’s emotions. For example, tell them that it’s okay to cry if they are sad or hurt, even if they are a boy. It’s also okay to be angry or discouraged at times. Talking about emotions, stress, struggles, and useful tools helps your kids know they are not alone. It also helps normalize that everyone has mental health.
3. Schedule a weekly family meeting to help plan your activities for the week, making sure you have family time scheduled. Include older children in your planning for their thoughts.
4. Make intentional time and connections with your kids. For example, offer to coach or assist with your child’s sports team, scout troop, or activity. Be deliberate in building memories with your children, such as having a weekly pizza night, game night, or family movie night.
5. Establish healthy boundaries as a parent and pastor/church worker. Identify ways to be present for your child as their parent, not as their pastor/or church worker. For example, no cell phones or calls during dinner. Find ways to leave work at church and be present with your family.
6. Plan and take vacations for the family to enjoy. Try to include the PKs in the planning of the trip by asking them what they want to see and do.
7. Take your child with you when you attend conferences and spend time with them. Please note: Conferences are not a substitute for family vacations.
8. Give your child a break. They don’t have to do everything at or related to church. And as they grow older, let them choose how they want to be involved at church.
9. Take your spouse out once a week on a date or for dinner. Having a strong and happy marriage is the foundation to a strong and healthy family.
10. Pay attention to your own emotions. Modeling self-awareness and self-care (especially during stressful moments) helps teach your children coping tools for life. Don’t be afraid to seek extra help and support if needed during challenging times. Know that you can have Jesus and a therapist too!
Lutheran Family Service provides therapy for anyone, including church workers and their families. If you or someone in your family is struggling with issues, we invite you to contact LFS at 605-271-1081 or (515) 573-3138 or lutheranfamilyservice.org
Article provided by Pastor David Gunderson Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Intern with Lutheran Family Service & Kristen (Gunderson) Dua, a Licensed professional counselor (LPC), Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) & Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor.
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