Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a former pastor’s kid & current ministry wife. It’s funny how we’re brought full circle to places we’ve said we’d never go again. There is one question that was always a given in a conversation when I shared that little known fact. I always enjoyed waiting for people to ask it.
Did you go through a rebellious phase?
I’d smile, boldly answering, “Nope, never did. Never had a rebellious phase.” It felt good to say I fought the good fight, stayed away from drugs + the typical pressure during life as a teen. It wasn’t until years later, with my father out of ministry, after a nasty church debacle, loss of friendships, loss of a church, that I realized I did in fact have a rebellious phase.
It just didn’t look the same as everyone else’s.
Straight As, soccer captain, avid church youth leader, volunteer, leading worship, and my first job at 15. You name it. I was involved. All these things were good pieces of my life as they hold great memories + are place holders for experiences that shaped who I am today. I don’t regret them.
They also housed my greatest anxieties, fear of failure, perfectionism and the anticipation of tests, with the dread of running mile after mile post- 7 hours of classes. I never rested. While school always came naturally to me, I never really enjoyed it once I hit junior high. Something changed when my Dad went into ministry when I was 14. It was like a switch went off. I was being watched. Deciding early on that the easiest way to get that attention off of me was to not let anyone have anything to talk about, I poured myself into good outlets.
Don’t let them talk, I thought. The church people, I don’t want them up in my business, so I won’t give them any business to report.
Oh, sweet rebellion. It rebellion was there, it just looked different. No drugs or sex or parties. My rebellion revolved about GPAs and squeaky clean activities. The control. It felt good. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I stayed away from the typical gossip-worthy transgressions. For a while, it even seemed to work.
Then came then talk.
The talk I wasn’t expecting. It wasn’t even about me. People were talking about my Dad — didn’t see that one coming. “Come on Lisa. Get with it. You’re 15. You understand the world. You should have seen this coming.” Thank God I’m a planner because I ad-libbed my way right into Plan B: How To Navigate Church People 101.
When people talked directly in front of me, they’d come over so I was within earshot; never bold enough to say it to my face. I remember I was working in our coffee shack, prepping a tall latte. It was a beautiful morning. The foam was perfectly fluffy. Through the window, two women, who I’d known my whole life were standing there spewing lies about my Dad. I could hear every word. This happened frequently because people knew I worked there.
If I volunteered in our nursery, there would be talk. If I went to youth group, there would be talk.
I even had a teacher try and fail me out of a class at my public school by ‘losing my work’ because he didn’t like my Dad’s decisions. Copying hundreds of pages of homework as backup, knowing each time as I headed into class I’d face silent-talk. It was a hellish year. On top of that, the pressures of just being a normal teenager were there.
I always figured these people wanted me to tell him what they were saying. I didn’t bite and kept quiet, thinking I had won and beat them at their own game. I was having a different kind of Pastor’s Kid Rebellion.
Never did I realize how much the game beat me.
I held lots of things that people said on my 15-year-old shoulders for years. It was exhausting. My parents never asked me to. I did it because I figured if it stopped with me, these people, they couldn’t talk anymore because I didn’t feed their desire for war.
People were harsh and nasty. People I knew well. My mom worked hard to keep things focused at home. Bless her. I’m sure that was a task all in itself. Meanwhile, I focused myself further into my outlets to distract my mind — the rebellion in full motion. I pre-planned responses to people I knew would get more bold as time went on. I was armed and ready with conversation exit strategies.
I had ministry as a pastor’s kid down.
Steven and I were 2 months away from being married at this point and in a pre-marital counseling session, the realization of how much the church affected me hit me between the eyes. I remember her looking at me, sad and confused saying, “You’re really hard on yourself. You think these things about you are reality, but they aren’t. Steven knows you better than you know yourself right now.” What?!
I felt anxiety creep in. This kind of anxiety wasn’t allowed. It was the anxiety that comes when you’re not in control. No. It can’t be true. They got to me. I tried so hard. All that work. Failed.
After getting married, I went back to work (at the church) and took part in a staff meeting. Leadership didn’t know who I was related to. I remember every single word that came from that pastor’s mouth that day. Anger rushed over me. The lies weren’t true. It wasn’t a denial of truth on my part. He was lying to people about my Dad. My heart beat so loudly I thought everyone in the room could hear it. The staff knew me. I felt them staring into the back of my head; wishing they could help me, but knowing they had to choose a ‘side’ to maintain employment. I felt alone.
The next thing I knew, I was being called into a closed door meeting. Just the pastor and me. Awkward, right? Just 5 minutes prior he’d said things he knew to be untrue and sold them as truth. I was the ONLY one in that room that knew he was lying… and he knew it. I’ve never seen a grown man stumble over his words so profusely. I’ve never seen someone get caught in a lie and watch them reach for words to patch the hole he just dug, just enough to send me on my way. My mom always referred to this type of scenario as “Getting caught with your pants down.” Yep. That was this moment.
I remember leaving the church that day completely destroyed by the climate of what ‘ministry’ was being sold as. Blanket terms with no integrity to them. My parents remained silent publicly while slander + financial hardship pressed them personally. Their decision to walk away instead of speak to divide was frustrating to me at first because I didn’t understand meekness at that level. Their hearts for the church to remain un-divided superseded their need for justice. I learned so much about what ministry really was from my parents that year.
So, why share all this now?
For years, I’ve felt I needed to wait to tell my part of the story. The burden that a PK faces. It’s real and it’s there. I felt I had to wait until the people who did ‘bad’ things in the name of ministry forgot that they did them. Maybe until they were out of leadership or maybe until there wasn’t the slightest possibility that someone would read this blog knowing who I was speaking about.
Fear gripped me because I didn’t want to be divisive or be seen as speaking out in hurt. For years, I wanted to speak to something that made a difference in just one person’s life. That speaking to this, would give someone a story to hold on to. A story to feel like someone else shared their journey. Sharing my story is also part of finding my voice. A voice that was quieted for years in the name of ministry. Jesus and me. Thank God for that relationship because if I didn’t know who he was to me, there are so many others that have told me that my relationship with Jesus was wrong. Not quite right. Maybe try a little harder. Get it together.
Over the years, church people, broken people just like me, just in different areas…have tried to quench a fire of Jesus in my soul. This voice has been on a long journey of healing. One of forgiveness, release and freedom.
For pastor’s kids out there that feel like they have to carry this burden for the church and for their parents. You don’t. Please don’t carry it. It’s lonely and rough. You have a voice. Speak it. You have a gift. Use it. You have a story. Share it. You are not alone. Don’t let anyone tell you you are. That’s where the bitterness sets in. The point where you feel no one understands. No one is hearing me. The battle might not be won in man’s eyes, but the the territory claimed by the war you wage on your aloneness is one of peace. One of reconciliation. One of grace.
My mind goes back to the day I stopped answering the rebellion question with a ‘No.’
We have a need in the Church. A new kind of rebellion. It’s lacking in part because few of us speak, so the need goes unnoticed. We need to start developing support for families in full-time ministry. This needs to be a thing. A new type of ministry. Not an outing during Christmas time, but true support when the going gets tough. Specific to church leadership and their families.
My hope is that one day there would be healthy support and leadership for our Church families. The silent ones now have something to say. Let’s start sharing our stories, even the ugly ones have value. Your wounds have value.
*Updated* This story is less about the transgression, even though it fully is about my struggle. My hope is restoring relationships for people that have been ‘lost’ by the Church. I write this as a way to say. I see you. Your story matters. I’ve felt it, processed it, and am now free enough to share it. I’m thankful to be brought full circle in so many ways and I hope that that circle, covered in prayer, can help just one person on their journey through ministry.