Why does it seem like preachers' kids often walk away from the faith?

Preachers' kids, also commonly referred to in church circles as "PKs," have a troubling tendency to leave the faith. This is an interesting phenomenon, and one that should not be taken lightly. These children have had the benefit of growing up in the home of a minister of God, have heard the Word preached since their earliest years, and have been surrounded by Christian people all their lives. What causes them to walk away, often in anger, from a faith that offers grace and forgiveness, and a loving community of people?

We know that repentance, belief, and continued faith, are acts of the Spirit (John 15:4; Hebrews 10:10, 14; Ephesians 2:8-9). A soul must be regenerated by God's intervention, and even growing up within the ideal family and the ideal church is not a guaranteed catalyst for that regenerative work of God. When a person leaves the faith, it may be simply a phase, or a necessary part of their journey towards God. It is unwise for us to attempt to judge a person's eternal state based on temporary behavior. Until a person dies rejecting Christ, we can always hope that they will return to Him (1 Corinthians 13:7). However, this does not explain the high percentage of children specifically raised by pastors who choose to walk away from the faith.

Some churches overwork their pastors, taking them away from their families, and thus creating anger and resentment in the preachers' kids towards the church. Some churches are filled with conflicts, and hypocritical church members who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week. Preachers' kids are in a prime position to see the reality behind the shiny façade, and their proximity to the pastor himself gives them a front row seat for both conflicts and hypocrisy. Worst of all, preachers' kids in these kinds of churches often see their fathers being hurt and frustrated by church members and leadership. All of this adds up to leave a bad taste in their mouths about church and religion. That said, not all churches are abusive. All churches deal with some measure of conflict, but many congregations deal with it as biblically as possible. Yet, even the children of pastors serving in average, normal, biblical churches, have a tendency to leave the faith.

Most children raised in Christian homes go to church on Sunday with their families, and rely mainly on their parents for spiritual guidance. But it is worth noting that preachers' kids are literally raised in and by the church. They are immersed in the church atmosphere in a way that other Christian children are not. They are up-close-and-personal with all of it: the parts that work and the parts that don't. For the preacher's kid, there is also an added pressure to really know and understand God and the church that normal, everyday Christian children do not experience. Average Christian kids do not need to identify themselves or their parents with the church. They can afford to take a more detached stance towards it. Not so with the preacher's kid. They have to know it intimately. It is possible that when faced with a system that is inherently flawed or contradictory, preachers' kids, in their honest and deep desire to understand, have a natural response of frustration and doubt. This, in turn, is perhaps met with fear from their parents, who misunderstand the child's frustration and doubt as a rejection of God and of themselves. This then results in a vicious cycle that ends when the child finally rejects the faith.

Legalism also plays a big part in preachers' kids walking away from the faith. Many children of pastors feel great pressure to be good Christians, as a way to protect the reputation of their father, and as a way of pleasing him. This is a recipe for disaster if the child is not able to grasp the truth of the gospel—that none of us can be perfect (Romans 3:10) and that everyone is saved not by his own good deeds but by Christ's (Romans 8:1-4).

Unfortunately, many evangelical churches today are characterized by this dilemma: people have a very good understanding of what is required spiritually and socially, but a bad grasp on the gospel. This is the natural result of a system that places much emphasis on performance, service, morality, giving, missions, and social responsibility, and not enough emphasis on dependence, inability, humility and submission to the Spirit. It is very possible that preachers' kids are the proverbial "canaries in the coal mine" telling us that it's time to reexamine the way we do church, the messages congregations are receiving from leadership, and the way we present the gospel.

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