The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Kid

Let me start with a couple disclaimers: First, for everyone out there who thinks that growing up as a PK is an automatic death sentence, that wasn’t the case for me. My experience growing up as a PK was amazing. I was blessed with a dad who understood that family was his most important ministry and lived it out, a mom who didn’t resent the church and actually enjoyed being involved in ministry and a loving church family who treated us like… well family. Sure there were plenty of moments where I got frustrated and even angry with the brokenness that exists within the church but it never hardened my heart towards God.     

Second, you should know that even though my experience growing up as a PK was truly blessed, I still rebelled. I decided to do things my way and completely ignore everything I had been taught. I would describe my journey as one part the prodigal son, wanting to experience everything I thought I was missing, and one part Jonah, running from what I knew God had called me to do because I was stubborn and scared. Let me be clear, my rebellion had nothing to do with my dad being a pastor or growing up in church but rather the brokenness of my own heart. Thanks to prayers of those who loved me the most, that season of my life was brief and I’m proud to say that this May, I will celebrate 23 years in vocational ministry. 

Growing up as a PK is a unique experience and as such offers both unique blessings and unique challenges.

Now that those disclaimers are out of the way, I can pull back the curtain on the true purpose of this article: growing up as a PK is a unique experience and as such offers both unique blessings and unique challenges. The problem is that no one tells you this – or at least no one ever told me. I don’t think it’s because people don’t care or think they need to hide the truth from you. The reality is that they just don’t know. Unless you have lived life as a PK and spent the time to examine and unravel its complexities, a PK seems like any other messed up kid – but they aren’t.

It took many years and multiple conversations with pastors who were trying to navigate ministry and raise emotionally/spiritually healthy kids for me to figure all this out. With each conversation I began to dig deeper into my own faith and the role being raised as a PK played in my story. As I’ve unpacked some of the hidden struggles, unspoken expectations and self-imposed legalism three core truths have been revealed. These are the things I wish someone had told me about navigating life as a PK.

# 1

Worry about who Jesus created you to be NOT who the congregation (or your parents) thinks you should be.

I was out of line and what I’d done was totally wrong. My words and actions had hurt someone else. I needed to be corrected and disciplined. My dad knew all that and did his best to communicate to me that the way I treated people mattered. He wanted me to understand that my actions towards others were a reflection of my relationship with God. Unfortunately, what I heard was, “As a PK everyone is watching you. You represent me and you represent the church. You’re held to a higher standard. Do better.”

Living up to the expectations of others is a weight none of us were designed to carry. What God desires from a PK is no different than what he desires from every other disciple of Jesus. There’s only one standard. God has created each of us to be a unique and priceless masterpiece so that we can complete the good works HE planned for us long ago. We should be focused on obeying him and living out that calling, not trying to please people – even if they do sign our Dad’s paycheck. 

# 2

Remember you’re NOT alone

The kids at school knew my dad was a pastor so I never got invited to the “good” parties. The guys on the team and even the coaches would apologize if they cursed in my presence. Teachers would single me out in class to share my opinion on certain topics. In college I got dumped when a girl found out I was a pastor’s kid because, “we’ll never be able to have any fun.” I understood that as a Christian I was supposed to be in the world but not of the world, however, all of the attention was just awkward and made me feel alienated. 

On the flipside, the kids at church knew my dad was a pastor so they were always on their best behavior when I was around. Their parents forced them to invite me over even when they didn’t want me there and my parents made me go – even when I didn’t want to be there. The youth pastor always treated me differently than the other kids, not in a bad way, but definitely in a way that made it feel like he wanted to make sure the boss’ son was happy. All I wanted was to be treated like a normal kid and all of the extra attention was annoying. It felt as if I didn’t fit in at school or at church and that left me feeling extremely lonely. 

All I wanted was to be treated like a normal kid and all of the extra attention was annoying.

Looking back, it really wasn’t as bad as I made it seem. I had friends at both school and church who accepted me for who I was and included me without hesitation. I had teachers, coaches and mentors who challenged me in a healthy way and helped me deepen my faith. I dated a great Christian girl and we had fun together (in a totally appropriate and God honoring way!). I had an amazing biological family and an amazing church family that were always there for me. I wasn’t alone, I just needed to open my eyes and see the people God had placed in my life. The ones who really knew me and loved me and ignore all the others who just didn’t get it.

# 3

It doesn’t look like it now but you’re NOT missing out on anything

I knew it was wrong, but I still wanted to try it. It looked like everyone else was having so much fun. Was it really that bad? While this probably applies on some level to any kid raised in the church, the temptation is especially strong in the life of a PK. There’s no doubt that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are mesmerizing at times, especially when it feels like they are the key to be accepted and valued by the world around you. No matter how many testimonies I heard telling me that the things of this world would leave me feeling empty and broken, there was something inside of me that wanted to experience it for myself.

Unfortunately for me, I made the choice to experience that emptiness and brokenness firsthand. I pursued everything the world had to offer and I learned my lesson the hard way. Years later a teenager in my youth group named Kenzie put it all in perspective for me. She was sharing her testimony with another girl in her small group. I’ll just put it this way, even as a 16 year old her testimony was extensive. The other girl, who had grown up in a great Christian family, replied, “I wish I had a testimony like that.” Kenzie immediately responded, “your testimony is way better than mine! God saved me OUT OF so much hurt and brokenness but he went a step further and saved you FROM all of that.” 

If only I’d had the maturity to realize that the life God blessed me with allowed me to experience so many beautiful and amazing things. If only I could have seen it was actually the world that was missing out. It would have saved me so much time and I could have avoided so much pain and hurt. Sometimes the best testimony is the testimony of what you didn’t do.

If only I’d had the maturity to realize that the life God blessed me with allowed me to experience so many beautiful and amazing things.

While these three truths are by no means exhaustive. I hope they offer some insight and understanding into the heart and mind of a PK. At the end of the day PKs struggle with all the same issues that normal kids do. The difference is that our perspective and the options we have to deal with these issues are radically different. I want to close with this warning: Far too often the call to vocational ministry becomes a generational curse, not a generational blessing. When that happens, what should be a beautiful legacy of faithfulness turns into a legacy of brokenness instead. When PKs hurt, the entire church hurts. If you’re a parent or even a PK who is struggling, please stop right now and reach out to someone. You are not alone in the struggle. There’s far too much at stake to try to do this on your own. Reclaim the calling and the blessing God has given your family. 

Justin McVey is the campus pastor for Sandals Church (; his contact is [email protected].



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