Preacher's kid

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German Pfarrerskinder (preacher's kids) play "church", in a painting by Johann Peter Hasenclever, c. 1847.

Preacher's kid is a term to refer to a child of a preacher, pastor, deacon, vicar, lay leader, priest, minister or other similar church leader. Although the phrase can be used in a purely descriptive way, it may also be used as a stereotype. In some countries, a preacher's kid is referred to as a vicar's son/daughter.


Children of clergy often experience pressure due to the expectations placed on them,[1][2][3][4] and may develop feelings of isolation and inner conflict as a result.[5] Parental workload (which, by definition, includes working on the weekend) may also be a source of stress.[4] Some writers suggest that there is a "preacher's kid syndrome", in which children of clergy reject religion and the church.[6]

Such rebellious children of the clergy are a stock figure in the Southern literature of the United States,[7] and this view is seen as a stereotype.[8] One literary example occurs in Eugene O'Neill's play The Iceman Cometh when the traveling salesman Hickey describes his life: "You see, even as a kid I was always restless. I had to keep on the go. You’ve heard the old saying, 'Ministers' sons are sons of guns.' Well, that was me, and then some." Other writers note that children of the clergy (both Christian and Jewish) may often become clergy themselves,[9] such as Martin Luther King Jr., son of Martin Luther King Sr.; and Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.

Children of clergy may be more exposed than their peers to the defining events of life. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recalled that he learned much about life, death, poverty, injustice and unemployment as the son of a Church of Scotland minister.[10] The "preacher's kid" phenomenon has been connected with the related phenomenon of "military brats" (children of active-duty military personnel).[11] Children of preachers who are missionaries (missionary kids) may also be third culture kids.


There are two different stereotypes of the preacher's kid: in one, they are perfectly angelic role models,[12] in the other they are rebels at the opposite extreme.[12][13] The existence of these stereotypes is a source of pressure on children of clergy.[13]

Examples of the negative stereotype include the preacher's son from Maine in the film Gettysburg, described as the "best darn cusser I've ever heard" and Jessica Lovejoy in the "Bart's Girlfriend" episode of The Simpsons.[14] On the sitcom Three's Company, the character Chrissy Snow played by Suzanne Somers played off a variety of stereotypes including the "dumb blonde", but also as daughter of Reverend Luther Snow (Peter Mark Richman), the character – as well as much of the show's humor – was developed around aspects of Chrissy's innocence and naïvety based on a stereotype of her religious upbringing in small town America. The TV series 7th Heaven is also a good example of the pastor's kid stereotype. The Camden family father, Eric (Stephen Collins), is a minister, and he and his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) have seven children. Sometimes they are perfect angels but most of the time the show displays the trials that the family go through as the children grow up, and often the children are criticized because of who their father is. Lifetime reality TV series Preachers' Daughters follows the lives of Christian preacher's daughters and their families.

An enduring image from popular music is presented in the hit song "Son of a Preacher Man," a ballad of young love remembered, places the minister's son as a "sweet-talkin' son of a preacher man", who is possibly more sensitive to women and thus able to emotionally reach the girl who claims that, "The only one who could ever reach me/Was the son of a preacher man/The only boy who could ever teach me/Was the son of a preacher man." Versions of the recording from major stars like Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin kept this image, drawn from a southern US setting, visible internationally. The "preacher's daughter" is also a pervasive negative stereotype ascribed to female children that has a particular set of connotations, often sexual, rebellious, or dark in nature. The stereotype is typically suggestive of a dual life: one lived as the expected descendant of piety and the other lived wild, outside of the morals of religion, cloaked in secrecy. Songs such as "Preacher's Daughter" by American R&B singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton exhibit this role: "She had a habit that she couldn't really stop, needed money so she had to hit the block, nobody knew it so she steady had to play a role, went to church, but surely tearin' up her soul... she was a Preacher's Daughter."

Other terms[edit]

In Scotland, to be a "child of the manse" is considered very influential on a person's upbringing.[10]

In German, the terms Pfarrerskind[15] and Priesterkind are used to refer to children of clergy.

Greek surnames with the prefix Papa- and Armenian surnames with the prefix Ter- or Der- refer to people who are the descendants of clergy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas W. Klink, "The Ministry as Career and Crisis", in Pastoral Psychology, v. 20 no. 6 pp. 13-19 (Springer: 1969)
  2. ^ Flanagan, Kieran (2009). A Sociology of Spirituality. Ashgate Publishing. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-4094-0259-6.
  3. ^ Douglas F. Campbell (August 18–20, 1995). "The Clergy Family in Canada: Focus on Adult PK's". Paper read at the annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Washington, D.C. Erindale College, University of Toronto. Archived from the original on 2006-10-07. Retrieved 2011-06-15.
  4. ^ a b J. Elizabeth Norrell, "Clergy Family Satisfaction Archived 2011-02-02 at the Wayback Machine," Family Science Review, Vol. 2, No. 4, November, 1989 pp. 337-346.
  5. ^ Levitz, Yisrael N.; Twerski, Abraham J. (2005). A practical guide to rabbinic counseling. Feldheim Publishers. p. 374. ISBN 1-58330-834-2.
  6. ^ Edwards, David Lawrence (1995). Glimpses of God: seeing the divine in the ordinary. Chalice Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-8272-1239-9.
  7. ^ Ramsey, G. Lee (2008). Preachers and misfits, prophets and thieves: the minister in southern fiction. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-664-23224-5.
  8. ^ Ford, Aundria H. Hawkins (2010). From the Pastor's Daughter: A Testimony of Life in the Ministry Through the Eyes of the Pastor's Child. Tate Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-60799-803-7.
  9. ^ David Peterson, "Preachers' kids; The children of preachers saw life in their church or synagogue from the inside. Many rejected the preacher's life, but others were drawn to follow their father's footsteps." (Minneapolis Star Tribune, byline Oct. 11, 1997, accessed Nov. 21, 2008)
  10. ^ a b Taylor, Alan (18 August 2007). "To the manse born". The Herald (Scotland). Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  11. ^ Kruger, Roger (2008). In Jars of Clay: Reflections on the Art of Pastoring. Hillcrest Publishing Group. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-934248-83-6.
  12. ^ a b Fichter, Joseph Henry (1992). Wives of Catholic Clergy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 152. ISBN 1-55612-474-0.
  13. ^ a b Tara J. Allman, An Analysis of the Stereotypes of Preacher’s Kids and its Application on their Spouses, Masters thesis, Marshall University, 2007.
  14. ^ Pinsky, Mark I. (2007). The gospel according to the Simpsons (2nd ed.). Westminster John Knox Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-664-23160-6.
  15. ^ Würzberg, Anja (2005). Ich: Pfarrerskind: Vom Leben in der heiligen Familienfirma. Lutherisches Verlagshaus. ISBN 3-7859-0927-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Amy L Woods (1995). Preacher's kid. Regent University, Virginia Beach, Va. OCLC 33477968
  • Everett, Liz (July 20, 2000). "Preacher's kids not any different". Amarillo Globe-News.
  • Keleigh Crigler Hadley (2009). Preacher's Kids: Secrets & Salvation (ISBN 978-1449504410) and Preacher's Kids: Wicked and Wise (ISBN 978-1451554106) (religious young adult fiction)
  • Daniel L. Langford (1998). The Pastor's Family: The Challenges of Family Life and Pastoral Responsibilities. Routledge (ISBN 0789005840)
  • Ruth A. Wallace (2003). They Call Him Pastor: Married Men in Charge of Catholic Parishes. Paulist Press (ISBN 080914171X)
  • Patricia Tipton Sharp and Dorothy Schleicher (1999), "The Portrayal of Clergy as Parents in Juvenile Fiction Over Two Decades," Children‘s Literature in Education, Volume 30, Number 3, pp. 203–212.