Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper

The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and IdentityThe Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity by Barnabas Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that really hits on important issues.  There are times, however, where it misses as well.  As a whole, it is a must-read.

Piper is clear with his intention in writing:

      My aim in writing this book is threefold. First, I want to speak for PKs, not as an expert observer or master researcher, but as one of them....I want to give voice to the PK who doesn’t know what to do with his challenges.
      Second, I want to speak to pastors. Ministers of the gospel, your children are in an enormously challenging position. You are in an equally challenging position. While the prudent among you know this, I fear you may not fully understand the depths of the struggle they face (or will face)....
      Third, I write to the church, because the congregation has more responsibility than it knows to care for and ease the burden of the pastor and his family. Too often the church has fostered a culture that puts enormous pressure on the pastor and his family....It is people, individually, who contribute to the burden PKs carry, and I hope this book opens some eyes to things that need to change.

Piper is at his best when he is sharing the heart of a PK.  He gives a beautifully heartbreaking portrait of what it is like to grow up with a plethora of plank-filled eyes focused directly on you and whatever speck can be discerned(or, if need be, created) in your character and life.  Piper speaks with anecdotal authority, both his and other PKs he interacted with in researching and writing, and gives a clear picture of what the child of a pastor feels and experiences.

The reality that PKs are normal humans (as much as anyone is “normal”) is the drumbeat of this book in some ways. I keep bringing it up because so much of the expectation and assumption for us is abnormal.

Piper’s comparison of a PKs life to a pressure cooker and to a fish bowl were both quite informative and, for me at least, quite convicting.  I have been one to treat PKs with improper scrutiny and impossible expectations (in fairness, I extended this courtesy to the Pastor as well!).  And I noticed that, apart from the congregational scrutiny, many of the issues he brings up are quite applicable to the child of any dedicated Christian parent—which makes this book that much more valuable and necessary.

One telling aspect of this work, and the place from where a lot of the troubles he illumines actually seem to spring, is the assumed aspect of 1 church 1 pastor.  Many of the issues he addresses are directly related to a lack of genuine plurality in leadership.  If there is one pastor(either practically with one pastor/elder ordained for the church or functionally where there is a group elders but one person dominating the pulpit and thus being “the pastor” in most minds) then many of the complaints Piper addresses (scrutiny, celebrity, and time/work hours, specifically) would be greatly alleviated.  I am not sure why Piper did not address this being an issue but I assume it is due to the fact that the primary focus of the book is on the PKs experience and most churches hold to this dangerous and unbiblical model so most PKs know this as a reality.

The Pastor’s Kid is a great book but it is not perfect.  I think it is at its weakest when Piper begins dealing with what the PK “needs”. Piper, oftentimes, seems to elevate his/other PKs experience over Scripture(even in the places where he gives very good counsel, which is quite often).  The tone and the content felt like a young man sitting down with his father and saying, “This is what I needed.”  While there is much benefit in that, there are also limitations to this type of conversation—including an overemphasis on felt needs to the expense of what is genuinely necessary as revealed in Scripture and confirmed in a broader view of experience.

Where this book shines it shines brightly—very brightly.  Piper takes the reader on a tour of the heart and experience of a pastor’s kid and this is a must read for pastors, ministry leaders, and church members in general.  Piper offers a warning in the introduction that is worth noting.  

Lastly, my intent in this book is not to hurt anyone, but hurt may happen. Pastors may feel attacked. Churches may feel criticized. PKs may feel exposed or even misrepresented. Please know this: I respect those in pastoral ministry, I am devoted to Christ’s church, and as a PK, all I want to do is be a voice to bring about healthy change.

I think this book could go quite far in bringing about healthy change—especially if church members will read this book, learn from the experience shared, pray for pastor, pray for his wife and kids, and love them all as you love yourself.  This is an insightful work that will cause a good bit of introspection and repentance and hopefully lead many to more graciously and lovingly engage the children of the men the God has given to love and lead his churches.

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I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.