Book Review: The Pastor’s Kid

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I read quite a few books. And, by dint of being a Christian who is passionate about the local church, a lot of those books are written by pastors and other Christian leaders. One of those – whose books I’ve reviewed and whose thoughts I’ve written about often – is John Piper, who for 33 years until March 2013 served as pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This book is not by or about him. The author of this book, as perhaps hinted at by the title, is Barnabas Piper, son of John. This is a book by a Pastor’s Kid, for Pastor’s Kids, and about Pastor’s Kids. As I read it – my dad is an elder, so I’ve been vaguely aware of church leadership since a young-ish age – I saw some of the things in myself (through being a ‘church kid’), but especially had come to mind some friends of mine, Pastor’s Kids from a range of backgrounds and denominations. So what is the point of this book? Why does Piper feel the need to address the unique challenge of being a ‘PK’? That segways neatly into the first chapter of the book (after a fascinating, humble foreword from John Piper), as Barnabas explains.

Piper writes, at the outset, that this book has three emphases; “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… Third, I write to the church“. This last part is perhaps where this book can be most helpful. As Piper writes, “the congregation has more responsibility than it knows to care for an ease the burden of the pastor and his family“. The first chapter asks the question “What’s wrong with that boy?” (or girl, obviously!), and considers the way that PK’s have a unique and confusing level of expectation, challenge, and so on. Or, as Piper puts it, “two paragraphs into this and we already have two conflicting stereotypes: the derisive expectation of failure and the legalistic one of perfection“. Readers of this review could be forgiven for thinking, at this stage, that Piper is writing a negative book – he isn’t. The simple reality is that there is a problem and difficulty in being a PK, one that Piper is uniquely positioned to appreciate and speak into and out of.

Piper is a careful and confident writer – as well as an honest one. At the outset he attempts “to be clear on what this book is and is not”, a helpful caveat which makes this book useful rather than disappointing. The author is also generous with his platform – Barnabas’ is not the only voice here. As well as the aforementioned foreword by his father, where that pastor bears his soul, the book is peppered throughout with quotes and observations from other PK’s. Piper is clear that he  isn’t writing as a statistician or a social scientist – but the quotes from other PK’s give his words an extra layer of authenticity – one that echoes with what I would say is a reality, in my UK-centric experience at least. After his introductory work, which Piper calls “vague allusions”, he clarifies his premise, and almost immediately begins giving some helpful practical advice. Piper puts it thusly:

PK’s face unique obstacles that create an environment that can lead to significant spiritual, identity, and lifestyle challenges

So this book paints a powerful picture of the challenge that PK’s face. Fortunately, the bulk of the rest of the book considers the practical realities of PK life, and offers some practical advice. One of the most helpful sections is where Barnabas outlines several “Assumptions of Awareness”, offering the five most pervasive. Firstly, and perhaps most damagingly as an assumption, that “The PK Has a Great Relationship with God“. Secondly, that “The PK Has a Great Relationship with His Family” – a challenge, but one we would do well to heed. As Piper notes, PK’s are normal people – and so have normal (by which, read ‘often dysfunctional or strained’ relationships with their families. Thirdly – and this is complex, given their parent/s’ calling/vocation/job – that “The PK Loves the Church“. Fourthly, that (perhaps as a result of being brought up in church) “The PK Is Confident in His Beliefs“, which often means it is difficult to have an honest conversation about faith and doubt. Finally, and I hope to blog on this soon, the dangerous and often unhelpful assumption that “The PK Is a Leader“. Piper’s suggestions move from these five unfortunate assumptions – and he continues to share his own experience and story.

Piper closes his book – before giving  seven very helpful rules for when you meet a PK – with a hope-filled call for change. He closes with a story of one PK, who is reconciled to God and her parents. Piper is careful, too, noting that “not everything I have written applies to every PK, and some PKs face struggles I did not address”. This is the strength of this book, the honesty and the hope. It means that whilst it isn’t a book that provides all the answers for Pastors, PK’s and their families (nuclear and church), this is a book that needs to be read. I would strongly recommend The pastor’s Kid to pretty much everyone involved in churches, and especially to pastors, whether your children are grown up or even unborn. As Piper closes, “Grace is here for all of us“, and this book is a great example of trying to work that truth out in the difficult day-to-day.

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