There is a phenomenon in the church world referred to as the “PK.” The initials “PK” traditionally stand for “preacher’s kid,” but could also be understood to represent “pastor’s kid” for those who wish to be more inclusive and holistically minded in their ministry terms.
The PK is an interesting breed to say the least. In Scotland, the PKs are called “children of the manse” and being raised in that climate supposedly has a strong influence on who you become. In Germany, PKs are “Pfarrerskind” and their nature is summarized with the colloquial expression: “pastor children, miller cattle come rarely or never.”
PKs often begin to reveal themselves at a young age as they write sermons in crayon, baptize Barbies in the bathtub and loudly sing the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer in the mall food court. They grow up thinking “DMin” stands for “time with grandma” and that everyone spends their sick days on the couches in the church parlor.
Their adolescence is filled with mixed expectations and varied temperaments as they tire of playing Jesus in all the children’s performances, develop an irrational fear of candles every Christmas Eve and become completely obsessive about the alignment of the hymnals in the pew racks. They develop a taste for bread dipped in grape juice, they can completely disappear during a lock-in game of sardines and they are abnormally quick at the set-up and take-down of long tables and folding chairs.
I grew up as a PK and my children are growing up as PKs. I do think there is a usefulness to this term and I do think there are defining attributes and sociological norms for this collective, but I do not think the stigma PKs often have is deserved.
I have repeatedly heard the statement “all preachers’ kids are crazy.” My response is threefold:
- Please define “crazy” as you are using the term.
- The word “all” is often an unneeded exaggeration.
- If you take any random assortment of people, there are bound to be some “crazy” people in the mix. Many grocery-store-manager-kids seem to be a little off in my opinion, maybe we should all be extra cautious around the GSMKs!
The media has not helped us with this either. Everything from the love ballad “Son of a Preacher Man” to television’s Jessica Lovejoy (Simpson) and Chrissy Snow (“Three’s Company”) – the PKs are often thought of in terms of the extremes from rowdy rebel rousers to naïve angelic innocents. I’m not even going dignify the recent Lifetime Show “Preachers’ Daughters” with a comment.
PKs do have a communal identity, but each PK is an individual who acts independently of the collective. Every PK will make mistakes and have regrets – but who doesn’t? All I ask is that you do not keep a list of these mistakes either in the sermons or the newsletters and that you back up a bit. Give them some space. Allow them to be them. And next time you see one, flash them this super-secret PK hand signal to let them know you understand.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. He is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk.