How likely is it that preachers’ kids will lose their faith? Is it any different from the general population?
The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, just published the results of its study of pastors’ children to see whether it was true that ‘those who’ve grown up closest to the church are the quickest to leave it….’
I think it’s important to point out here that all of these results came from telephone conversations with pastors, not their children.
The results of this poll aren’t as important as its methodology, but the above links do make for an interesting read if you have a spare 20 minutes.
Longterm readers know that I was a preacher’s kid. I spent all but the last six months of my childhood immersed in subculture that holds pastors and their families to a very different standard than is expected of the average Christian family. Explaining what it’s like to grow up in this environment is like emigrating to a new country as an adult and then attempting to explain your childhood to people who have no personal experience with the culture or history of your home country.
Now imagine someone who grew up elsewhere deciding that they know your life better than you do. When people ask why you emigrated, they start spouting off statistics about the increasing number of polar bear attacks or your chances of drowning in maple syrup.
Yes, sometimes they might actually stumble upon the truth. There are people out there who are sensitive to unspoken assumptions and cultural mores, but the fact still remains that they’re putting words into your mouth. Their experiences are not yours, and as important as it is for them to learn about other points of view being told what something is like is no substitute for actually living through it. Even preacher’s kids from the same family can have very different reactions to their childhoods. I know PKs who are Atheists and devout Christians, straight and gay, traumatized and deeply happy as adults.
Gather 20, 50, 100 of us in the same room and you’ll find 20, 50, 100 different stories. Invite our parents to join us and I have no doubt that in many cases their understandings of where we are now won’t be the same as ours. It doesn’t mean that anyone is lying, only that families are complicated, past experiences colour present expectations, and not everything in life in static.
Ideally there would be no spokespeople. Asking a handful of people to speak for an entire group usually leads to only certain stories being told. Everyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of what is acceptable is filtered out during the selection process, and that only leads to more misunderstandings.
But at the very least you should be directly interviewing the subjects of any study. No one who wants to be taken seriously would poll men on what women think, teachers to speak for firefighters, Christians to weigh in on Tibetan Buddhism, or straight people to explain what it’s like to be LGBT.
If anyone from the Barna Group ever reads this, I would be happy to participate in a new poll. I would pester…er, encourage all of the other PKs I know to hop in as well. If you want real data, we can help.