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Barnabas Piper on Being a Pastor's Kid

Fun fact: Barnabas Piper, son of pastor and author John Piper, was the editor who acquired my book, The Church Planting Wife, for Moody Publishers in 2012. The book was turned down by multiple other publishers, but Barnabas believed there was an audience for it--church planting wives like you and me--and that the audience was eager for resources. I'm obviously indebted to him and to the work he did on my book, and I got to tell him so when I recently met him in person.

Fun fact #2: Barnabas Piper is now the author and, happily, I am now the one who gets to help his book get into the hands of an eager audience. Barnabas has written a much-needed book called The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. In it, he examines the unique challenges that PKs face, addresses pastors and their wives about how they can help their children navigate these challenges, and calls the church to care for PKs and ease the pressures they face.

I simply cannot wait to read it! As a pastor's wife, I'm concerned that my children grow up with a deep love for Christ and His church, one not tainted by anything they've seen or heard from us or from others. I cringe when I hear jokes about rebellious PKs or when, as happened recently, my oldest asked me if I did something "just because" I'm a pastor's wife. So I put some questions to Barnabas, both about his book and about raising a PK.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

BP: I guess things just sort of built up to writing it. I wrote an article here and there about being a PK and each time I felt there was much more to say. The response to those articles was always remarkably strong, so I saw a desire from both PKs and those raising them for something more. The more I reflected the more I realized a handful of articles just wasn’t enough. I saw there was nothing else out there speaking on behalf of pastors kids and to our parents, so I wrote The Pastor’s Kid.

Q: What two things do you most hope readers take away from The Pastor's Kid?

I hope PKs come away with a sense of hope – hope in God’s big grace, hope because they aren’t alone, and hope because the book helped them make sense of hard things in their lives.

I also hope pastors see the struggles of their kids in a new light and take steps to help. I want this to be a book that, although pointed, brings pastors and their kids closer to each other and to God.

Q: People are often curious about what it's like to be a pastor's wife. I've developed a short response to give when asked, but it's pretty near impossible to explain. Are people curious about what it's like to be a pastor's kid and what is your response when they ask?

BP: I completely resonate with the “nearly impossible to explain” sentiment. My response is usually to turn the question around and ask them what it was like to be a salesman’s, teacher’s, or accountant’s kid. It’s kind a smart aleck thing to do, but I mainly want them to see that nobody can explain briefly what it’s like to live their own life. It’s just life.

Q: What kinds of pressures do pastor's kids face?

BP: There are several, and they mostly stem from unrealistic expectations. I give a much better explanation of this in the book, but people expect the pastor’s kid to be any number of things: a super smart bible scholar, a perfect angel, a theologian, a leader. And on the other hand they also expect him to be a little deviant troublemaker. It’s all very confusing and frustrating. It’s tough being a normal person facing the expectation to be so many things to so many people when you just want to be yourself. It is a constant feeling of being pulled in one direction or another.

Q: In your book, you say that pastor's kids struggle with identity issues. Explain why that is and how you've worked through those.

BP: For me this was the biggest struggle of all. When your faith is handed to you on a silver platter, all systematized, organized, with questions answered and doubts allayed it’s hard to know if it’s real. When people have so many expectations of what you should be it’s tough to figure out what God made you to be. It’s not that none of those things is real, necessarily. It’s that it’s so hard to tell which parts are.

For me this all led to a significant collapse a few years ago. For years I had not allowed my faith to seep into the deep places in my life and sin grew until it crumbled the supports of my life. I didn’t know what I believed even though I know all the answers about what I should believe. I lost a job. It strained my marriage to near breaking. It put me in a position where enough was stripped away that I finally saw Jesus for real. That was when I found a deep faith and, in it, a real identity. I began to understand what God made me for and some of the abilities he’s given me to use (like writing; I never wrote before that).

I think this is the only way for PKs (or anyone, really) to sort through identity issues. Without connecting with Jesus in a personal way, a way where He becomes more than daddy’s boss or dinner time conversation, there is no finding identity.

Q: What are the best parts of being a pastor's kid?

BP: The donuts. And knowing where the janitor’s keys are in the church.

Just kidding. Sort of. The best part of being a pastor’s kid, for those of us who grew up in relatively healthy churches, is just that – the church. Growing up all my closest friends were through church. I learned to see church as a center of community and relationship. At various points I have been fed up to my eyeballs with how stupid the church can be, but leaving it has never seemed like even a moderately reasonable choice. It’s home. It’s family. And like family it has good and bad. PKs know that as well as anyone. Like family it provides some of the greatest joys and greatest hurts, and PKs know that as well as anyone. Knowing all this makes some PKs run from the church, but helps many of us love the church realistically and well.

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