On Rebellious PKs – And Related Concerns

Church leaders – and their families – sure do need our prayers:

Most Christians at least should know what my title refers to. PKs (Pastor’s Kids) and MKs (Missionary Kids) can be a special breed, given the high profile nature of their parents. When you have parents who are routinely in the spotlight as they serve the Lord in various ways, life can be interesting.

Among other things, it is more or less assumed that if one has such active and very public Christian parents, the kids will turn out to be just the same. But sadly this is not always the case. Indeed, I have met many Christian leaders and those in full time Christian service who seem to have various problems with their children going off the rails.

And some of these Christians are among the most godly and dedicated Christians I know. So it is all the more shocking when you learn that their kids are not always staying on the straight and narrow. But one need not even be a well-known Christian parent: even “ordinary” ones who do their best to raise their children in the faith may not always see the results that they like.

The worst I suppose is when a devout spiritual couple see their children actually renounce the faith they were raised in. That would be so very difficult to take. But plenty of things can happen that can be equally heart-wrenching. A child may decide for example to engage in what they know to be sin, be it sexual immorality, or “coming out” as a homosexual, and so on.

As I say, I have met a number of godly and wonderful Christians who tell me such stories. They lament the fact that their son or daughter has left the faith, or has embarked on a life of serious sin and disobedience. That is some of the most heartbreaking stuff a Christian parent will face.

A few things can be said about all this. One, many believers will instantly point to Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This of course is a wonderful and comforting text indeed.

The question remains however as to whether this is some sort of ironclad guarantee. Let me try to answer that by broadening the discussion here: are the Proverbs as a whole meant to be taken as absolutes that will always come about? This is how I replied in an earlier article:

Thus these are not absolute commands that we must run with, but guiding principles to help us navigate our way through life. As Lindsay Wilson comments: “This actually helps us to see the nature of proverbs. Few proverbs are designed to cover every situation. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ and ‘many hands make light work’ both seem to be true, but they cannot both apply to the same situation at the same time.” …


As Fee and Stuart say in their quite helpful How To Read the Bible Book By Book:


“Their function is to offer practical instruction for the young, with the focus on how to live uprightly and well in a society that understands itself to be under God. It is important to remember that these proverbs functioned primarily in the home to reinforce the benefits of living prudently and well in everyday life; they are not religious instruction as such. Nonetheless, their goal is to mold the character of the young in ways that conform to the law, even if the law itself is not mentioned. Their method is the same as with proverbs universally – to express important truths for practical living in ways that are memorable and thus repeatable. This is done by overstatement, by ‘all or none’ kinds of phrases, or by catchphrases that are not intended to be analyzed for their precision.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/05/24/bible-study-helps-proverbs/

A second matter that arises is whether PKs are under extra special pressures that other Christian kids are not. I was the first one to become a Christian in my family, so I do not really know. I was not a PK or an MK or a CK (Christian’s kid). But some believe that they can be in a different category and with their own problems.

Recently for example I posted on the social media about a child of a very famous Christian who had sent in a comment to my website. It was a rather odd comment, and I wondered if she had perhaps gone off the rails as her brother famously had.

As to the latter, I refer to Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer. He seems to have become so embittered and angry at his parents and their God that he wrote a whole book which was one long and nasty rant in so many ways. Talk about turning against your own parents and their faith.

It was so bad that one colleague of Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, who lived with them at their L’Abri ministry in Switzerland, penned an article about it for Christianity Today. He said in part: it is a “scurrilous caricature;” “no one should take Frank’s allegations at face value;” and “no critic or enemy of Francis Schaeffer has done more damage to his life’s work than his son Frank.” https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/book-review-resources/2008/fathers-sons-francis-schaeffer-frank-schaeffer-and-crazy-for-god/

Yes, Guinness went on in his book review to say that the Schaeffers were of course not perfect and they did have some issues as parents. For example, Guinness notes one area where the Schaeffers may have failed:

At a deeper level, Frank’s baleful influence on his father is a textbook example of how Christian ministries and organizations can be ruined through undermining their own principles – in this case, through nepotism and family politics. We have a rash of nepotism currently afflicting evangelicalism across the board, so this point carries wider lessons. In the early 1970s, when I was considering my long-term future at the Swiss L’Abri, I remember asking John Stott and James Houston what sort of questions I should be asking. Among other things, they both made the same point: ‘Watch and see whether the Schaeffers truly give authority to those who are not family members, or whether the family members are always more equal than others.’

In my social media discussion about some of these matters, one gal seemed to be defending Frank against his parents, although she admitted to not having read his book. (I must say that I have had no desire to read it – but I have read enough of what others have said about it to want to steer well clear.)

This gal went on to say that she works with PKs and others like them, and from her point of view they have plenty of issues and problems, and that often the public persona of these parents can be quite different from who they really are at home. As I say, I am not one, and I am sure that in some ways they may have additional pressures and burdens that perhaps the rest of us do not have. But I did say this in reply:

Sure, but there are two extremes that must be avoided here. If we should never assume that any Christian public figure is perfect and pure, and is always an ideal spouse or parent, the opposite error is just as bad: to believe every word an angry, embittered and faith-denying person says as they lash out at family and loved ones. Some might have legitimate grievances and a right to be disaffected, but others are simply preferring to make excuses for their sin and darkness as they lash out at God and godly families.

And that leads to a third and final consideration. Yes in one sense it is tough for PKs and MKs. But it may be just as tough for the parents themselves. All those in a Christian leadership position or in the spotlight have all sorts of high expectations put on them.

Indeed, they are set up on a pedestal, and are expected to live exemplary and even foolproof lives. We demand so much of them that when they do fall or disappoint, we find it so hard to believe. And their crash is even more spectacular. But leaders and pastors are simply human beings – just like we all are.

Yes, there are many biblical injunctions and commands for leaders to be men and women of character, integrity and holiness. But they are still fallible and fallen. They are still people just like us, and they still put their pants on one leg at a time.

If we expect too much of them, demand too much of them, and raise them up too high as demigods, that will just make things even harder for them, and make their fall all that much more spectacular. So they need our prayers big time, especially given the fact that every week pastors, priests, ministers and leaders are quitting the ministry.

They are burned out, bummed out, and feel they have little or no support. They have legions of critics, but very few actual supporters. No wonder they are dropping like flies. And their children need prayer and support as well. It is true that children of big-time Christian leaders often are neglected or overlooked.

Image of Man of Vision: The Candid, Compelling Story of Bob And Lorraine Pierce
Man of Vision: The Candid, Compelling Story of Bob And Lorraine Pierce by Dunker, Marilee Pierce (Author) Amazon logo

I recall some years ago reading about the daughter of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, bemoaning the fact that she saw so little of her own father. He had built a great ministry, but seems to have neglected his own offspring in the process.

In 2005 Marilee Pierce Dunker wrote a book about this called Man of Vision. One write-up of her moving biography is found here: https://www.spiritofgrace.org/articles/nl_2013/various/00_bob_pierce.html

Part of the problem is that back in those earlier days, the standard list of priorities for Christians went like this: God, ministry, family. In more recent times many have realised that a much more biblical list of priorities goes like this: God, family, ministry. As to the matter of parental neglect, Guinness says this about Frank’s book:

Throughout the memoir he says he was neglected by his parents, which may have been true – though he was always central in the daily thoughts and prayers of his mother, and at the time he welcomed the neglect as freedom. Frank also hints at his ability to manipulate his parents because of their guilt over the neglect: ‘No one has more power over a loving father (especially if that father feels a bit guilty for neglecting his children) than a beloved son.’

In sum, I am NOT a counsellor or a therapist or an expert in Christian parenting and family life. Indeed, I often think I have been a bit of a failure when it comes to my own family, so I guess I am the last one you should come to for advice on these things.

But perhaps at the very least this article might help us all to be mindful to keep pastors, missionaries and church leaders in our prayers, along with their spouses and children. They certainly can use such prayer.

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19 Replies to “On Rebellious PKs – And Related Concerns”

  1. Read the book bio link you shared in this post. Sad to think such a great ministries founder was so bitter / had unresolved relationships with his children, Bill.
    I knew two different Pk’s children in 2 different families – one son out of 2 boys and a girl went off the rails. The other stopped church going etc but went back to his faith more passionately after having his own kids.

  2. I am a CK – there are 3 generations of Christians before me.
    The majority of my cousins are Christian.
    Proverbs 22:6 is a general statement, not a guarantee, as it is mostly true.
    Responsible Christian parents strive to bring their children up in a Biblical Christian manner, as with the vows taken at Christening/Infant Baptism/Dedication.
    If they have performed this duty, they have played their part.
    However, in spite of this, & no obvious dereliction of duty, some children do renounce the faith & turn away from their parents’ belief.
    Mysterious, but within God’s sovereign will.

  3. Interestingly Prof Allan Harman thought that the reason Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child . . . etc. did not work was that we had misunderstood it and that it meant – bring up a child in the way they want to go and when they are old . . . etc.

  4. Thanks, Bill.
    As a CK and a pastor, your words are very helpful, and should be helpful as a prayer guide for those who lift up those in Christian leadership.

  5. A PhD study by Daryl Potts on the effects of ministry vocation on their spouses, both male and female, and children has now been published as a book:
    Potts, D. J. (2020). As for Me and My House: Keys to a Flourishing Family and a Fulfilled Ministry. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
    Even though that study did not focus directly on the PKs, it has a a fair bit to say about them, but it has much more to say about what the families of pastors experience.
    Following that research Daryl is now researching the effects of parent(s) in ministry on the PKs in greater detail, hearing directly from the PKs themselves. Interestingly even in the first study it became evident that PKs experienced both positive and negative outcomes due to their parent(s) being in Christian ministry, usually the positives outweighing the negatives. This is an interesting finding as the negative side of growing up in a ministry family is more frequently highlighted.

  6. Hey Bill and readers. Thank you for your thoughts here Bill. I’m an MK and many of my high school MK friends rejected God. The community I grew up in was a town of missionaries surrounded by a patrolled fence to keep the locals out; quite bizarre. It was a dark place spiritually. We perceived the darkness in late high school. As you put it, it was very much kids last. My experience made me very concerned about the wider experience of MKs and so I taught in a Mission school in my early career. It was special. One missionary father told me it was the school’s job to look after his boys, they were busy doing God’s work. As you can imagine that made me very angry. I really do think this is the key issue. There’s also the complexity of mixed cultural/national identities for cross cultural kids that parents don’t experience as deeply because they didn’t grow up overseas. It’s intense to figure out when you look Aussie but inside you’re some hybrid that fits exactly nowhere.

    I recently discussed with one of my MK friends how his parents feel about their children not following in their footsteps, I believe he’s the only one. He suggests it’s merely a reflection of society, not his parents. Less and less pursuing a life of faith in Christian community…

  7. I think long ago Bill you once used the term ‘legalistic parents’, anyway my early ’70’s childhood was somewhat like that albeit Catholic. My mother went to boarding school as a 5yld and at 17 then became a Carmelite novice; ‘lording it over people’ would happen if you went to boarding school with nuns for 12yrs, then onto another 3yrs with mother superior herself, then quitting, and then more or less on to having kids of your own to raise!! Safe and loving yes, but life skills to pass on, not so much, she was no Haley Mills![Trouble with Angels*]. No one went ‘off the rails’ but that is not a standard to support yourself and others by. There is no ‘fault’ as she didn’t know anything else. Anyway that sort of childhood, legalistic, is not really possible today as there is nothing anywhere near similar in comparison; even the likes of the Ex Brethren or Later Day Saints are not a millennia old single sex Monastic Order — even Seminaries[Priests] are Canon Regulars I think! It’s really funny looking at it now, I suppose I shouldn’t complain Bill.
    All in all imho as long as your parents today have lots of religious friends, then their children will for the most part end up ‘doing the right thing’ or at least not willfully doing the wrong thing, for whatever reason. PK & MK are not ever going to be God, but as a kid it might feel like it to them that they are expected to be. Anyway Bill we all know hippies past or present will never be perfect. Just enjoy trying very hard.

    Love and God Bless Bill and thanks for all the good work you still do for us all, everywhere.
    *Bill, go watch a comedy like that, with someone telling you at the same time what it’s really like! It’s actually really good from memory.

  8. Permit me to address this from a different angle, please.

    I was married to an MK/PK/CK who went off the rails. His was a well-known Christian family.

    In desperation, I fled and eventually divorced him. Now, he’s a bitter, drug-addicted, alcoholic homosexual. Our children, now in their 20s, are still struggling with what happened, particularly the youngest who bore the brunt of the painful divorce and his father’s subsequent demise. None of my children are Christians. I pray fervently for their salvation and that they marry Christian spouses. So far, God has not answered my prayer.

    This is not a flippant issue. Lives have been ruined. But I don’t think the problem is that these MK/PK kids had famous Christian parents. I think the problem is that these kids, like all kids, when faced with the decision to follow Him, chose poorly. They rejected the God of their youth. The fact that theirs was a public rejection makes the repercussions of their choice more severe publicly, but not personally. Their rejection of God is no different than that of any other secularist.

    Does God hold PK/MKs up to a higher standard? I don’t think this is an answerable question, but if forced to answer it, I’d say “No.” He asks all of us to follow Him. If we choose to wallow in self-involved bitterness, we’re responsible for that choice as well as for the impact it has on others. It is quite possible to reject God. We are given this choice. Many do reject God. Most, in fact. The road is quite narrow.

    I was not a perfect spouse or parent. It’s interesting, now, to look back and see how our paths diverged. My faith grew exponentially throughout this ordeal. That of my children and ex-spouse did not. But … having said this, I do not feel responsible in any way for the choices made by my adult children or former spouse. Knowing the stakes, they chose to abandon God. They are responsible for this choice. And though their childhood was far from perfect, they’re still capable of choosing to follow our Lord and Saviour.

    On a personal level, I pray that God redeems the time and love I’ve lost, that He gives me a another chance in this life to have real love in a real marriage, but more importantly, that he uses me to further His kingdom.

    I have moved past the past.

    Redemption is possible.

  9. Absolutely correct that the priorities must be God, family then ministry. There are probably as many problems out there as there are people and those who are leaders present themselves as a target because Satan knows that attacking that one person could have result throughout the church.

    Having said that, however, the Apostle Paul was quit clear:-

    1 Tim 3:1

    Faithful [is] the word: If anyone reaches out to overseership, he desires a good work.

    2 Then it behooves the overseer to be without reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, well-ordered, hospitable, apt at teaching,

    3 not a drunkard, not contentious, not greedy of ill gain, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous,

    4 ruling his own house well, having children in subjection with all honor.

    5 (For if a man does not know to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

    6 not a novice, lest being puffed up he may fall into the condemnation of the Devil.

    7 But he must also have a good report from those on the outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the Devil.

    8 Likewise the deacons [are to be] reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of ill gain,

    9 having the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

    10 And let these also first be tested, then let them minister without reproach.

    11 Even so [their] wives are to [be] reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.

    12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling [their] children and households well.

  10. I am a PK and a fourth generation minister. And my dad was (I think) tougher than anyone’s dad. No cards, no comics, no sport on Sunday, no buying anything on Sunday, family prayers every morning (‘No Bible, no breakfast! He didn’t care about us being late for school), church 2 or 3 times a week, plenty of corporal punishment … have I proved my case? BUT these rules were not legalism, they were consistency to a principle – that our relationship with God was all that really mattered. So there was a level of good humour to his rules, we argued back (and sometimes won), I was allowed to light fires in the backyard and climb trees and roam with my bike and camp with my mates, as a family we skipped school on Mondays and went down the beach (and we all got multiple uni degrees), and though he worked hard, he gave himself to us on 4 week camping holidays … and so I was not inoculated against the Christian faith, but have seen it faithfully taught (he was reformed, evangelical, biblical) and lived, practiced, and enjoyed. So my three sisters and I are all Christian leaders. And most of our 50 or so children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are in a biblical church most Sundays (Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, A.O.G. – he didn’t care about that either).

  11. I think there is a “natural” rebellion that takes place in the teenage years that if not managed properly can be devastating to families. With PK’s though the rebellion against God would be more pronounced as the parent is also God’s representative to the community as a whole so is, in rebellion, a stand in for God. The world is quite good at taking teenage rebellion and exploiting it and exploding it to sever the parent/child relationship. So a preacher, all Christians actually but especially a preacher, must pay close attention to his children in these years.

    The world hates us. The devil hate us. If he can’t win YOU away from God he’ll win YOUR CHILD away as a prize. For the preacher this snatching of your child is DOUBLY effective because it many times neuters you by making you have a hard time preaching after losing your child’s soul OR by rendering you to less relevance or irrelevance “how can save us when he couldn’t even save his own son/daughter”.

    True God always comes FIRST but family has to be before calling in the second and third places. And family should start with immediate and then move to parents and grandchildren, siblings and nieces/nephews aunts/uncle etc.

    I believe in honor Thy father and mother but there are some men and some women whose parent(s) are still running their lives after they are married in there own house with their own kids. I don’t think God’s intention was for your parent to have a say in everything you do till they die else you aren’t honoring them.

    I love working with kids. Youth Ministries abound but even then you still must prioritize your OWN children and your relationship with them over other children you help in your youth ministry.

    A preacher must never forget his OWN children are PART of his ministry he must reach them too. What good it it to be a minister who preached to a entire continent yet neglected to preach to his child. Or bound the wounds of third World children but didn’t do the same for his own children’s wounds. As one’s day begins and ends at home so too must ones ministry. If the whole world EXCEPT your home is your ministry field, your place of business guess where satan is going to focus his efforts in regards to you?

  12. Well Andrew a couple of those rules I would argue are legalism. And while yes the state schools are full of indoctrination I don’t approve of ENDORSING AND ENCOURAGING skipping school, especially regularly, regardless of out come. (And personally I don’t think God would either!) The rest seems quite good though.

  13. I don’t think you quite got what I was trying to say, Paul.

    Yes, we saw some of his rules as legalism, but he applied the rules with good humour. So if we acquired a pack of cards, he didn’t lose his cool or punish us, but he hid them – and if we found them again, it was fair game. He didn’t take his ‘legalism’ too seriously or was nasty about it so we didn’t care.

    I was allowed to do far more dangerous things than my friends, because physical danger or injury was no god. Our relationship with God was far more important.

    And about school. What my father was saying that family relationships and our relationship with God came first. Because he worked on Sunday, he took Monday off, and made it our family day. And skipping school made not the slightest difference in our academic attainments. Though well educated himself, school was no god. My father’s consistent set of eternal priorities made a deep impression on me and is a standout reason why I am what I am. My ENDORSING AND ENCOURAGING skipping school was in a context of godly priorities.

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