Before our daughter, Hildegaard, was born, my husband and I discussed the weight of raising a pastor’s kid.
We wrestled with the fact that kids who grow up in ministry are often placed under extra scrutiny—and many end up bitter with the church, walking away from the Christian faith altogether.
I am a pastor’s kid myself. I know firsthand the privilege it is to be steeped in the truth of the gospel and the rhythms of church life.
But I also know the constant, albeit unintended, pressure to look right even when you’re not all right—to feign righteousness instead of being honest about your struggles and flaws. In the background, there was always that verse in 1 Timothy, the one about pastors being able to manage their families. My siblings and I knew that our actions could cost my dad his job.
Hilde will inevitably have similar experiences to untangle from growing up in the front row at church.
But one thing missing from the current conversation about the need to deconstruct and sort out our church baggage is the good of an evangelical upbringing—the good of being raised in the church, the privilege of having Christian parents, and the beauty of knowing the gospel before we could walk.
A few months back, I asked my Christian Twitter followers to share which aspects of their faith they want to repeat with their children. I received over a hundred replies, and many admitted that—although their own relationship with the church may currently be tenuous—they knew they wanted their children to experience Christian community, to have a grasp of Scripture, and to be able to talk honestly about grief, faith, and doubt.
What I noticed in their responses was that many of us are trying to figure out which aspects of our Christian upbringing were righteous and worth repeating and which were not.
For example, I am still working through some false guilt attached to the pressure of daily Bible reading. But when I hold my daughter, I know that I want her washed regularly in the Word. There are plenty of extrabiblical evangelical messages I want to avoid, yet I look forward to telling Hilde all the Bible stories and teaching her to praise the Lord and pray the Psalms. I can’t wait to show her Jesus.
We can take things apart and examine them, but our children make us want to put those things back together again in healthier, more God-honoring ways.
As for my own story, I am grateful my parents taught me the Bible and instilled value for the local church. But I am also so thankful that their example went beyond just talking about Christianity to actually living it out. They put flesh on the concept of faith for me, showing me what it means to know and love God by enjoying creation and caring for the vulnerable.
I learned from my dad that enjoying God’s good gifts is a form of holy worship. He has always delighted in the little things—the tastes and smells and textures of life. Before I ever heard of John Piper’s now-famous mantra, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” I watched my dad cook.
Every herb he diced, every splash of olive oil or vinegar he added was an act of tangible joy. I would listen to the onions sizzle in the pan with anticipation, and it wasn’t hard to thank God before dinner in my family because we had smelled every step of the dish and already knew that it was a sign of God’s kindness.
Sitting under my dad’s preaching gave me a love for the gospel and a firm theological foundation—but watching him enjoy life also had a lasting impact. Whether we were eating ripe mangoes, walking through a redwood forest in Mendocino County, or looking at the tide pools in Bodega Bay, he taught me what it meant to worship God through all five senses in the enjoyment of nature.
My upbringing taught me that all of creation declares the glory of God and that we can know something of his character through the variety in the created world. We lived out this theology by spending hours at the ocean in search of bright orange starfish with rough, white-spotted backs. My dad continues to touch and taste life to see that God is good.
While poets like Mary Oliver and William Wordsworth taught me how to express my gratitude for nature, my dad is the one who taught me to see the beauty of God in every ocean breeze and coconut curry. As an adult, I still take off my shoes whenever I find a patch of soft grass or a sandy beach, just so I can feel the textures of earth beneath my feet.
Growing up, our home was a refuge for all kinds of people—rebellious teenagers, single moms, troubled marriages, and the homeless. My mom taught me to look for the lonely, whether they needed new shoes or someone to hold their grief. Because of her gift of mercy, we regularly added an extra chair to our dinner table.
My mom is the kind of person who will strike up a conversation with anyone, whether it be her cashier at Walmart or an awkward teenager at church. She is the kind of Christian who always carries a few toys in her purse for kids who get restless in church or other public places.
She also had a heart for those who were living in homelessness and would minister to them whenever and wherever she came across them—whether at street corners or outside McDonalds, where we were frequent patrons.
As a public charter school administrator, my mom developed relationships with at-risk students who remained in her life well into their twenties and thirties. She would give them rides to the doctor, help them find safe places to live and work, and make sure they had food to eat.
Christians often talk about the importance of hospitality and helping the poor, but my mom is someone who truly lived it out. To this day, every person she meets feels at home and knows he or she has a place around our table.
I have learned from her that hospitality is more than just sweeping the kitchen floor and putting something in the oven—it’s about showing people they matter.
I don’t know how rare my experience was. Perhaps those who are currently deconstructing their faith come up empty when asked, “What was the good of your evangelical upbringing?” But I count myself privileged to have watched my parents flesh out the Christian faith in word and deed, and I want to pass that example on to my daughter.
I hope she learns something of God through the sermon on Sunday as well as the flowers that pop up between the fence and the wood stack in our yard. I hope she sees the gospel when she forgives someone for hurting her or is forgiven for hurting someone else.
While it would be wonderful if she memorized Philippians 2:3, I want to watch her live it out by talking to the lonely kid in the cafeteria with the acne and body odor, offering him her pudding cup.
I know that those of us raised in the evangelical church have so many things to sort through. It is not only good but necessary for us to figure out which teachings are a true reflection of God’s Word and which are distortions and perversions that should rightly be torn down.
But when Hildegaard grows up and does that same work of discernment—of reflection and rebuilding on the foundation of Christ—I hope she will also encounter the beauty of being raised in the church.
Rachel Joy Welcher is an author, poet, and acquisitions editor at Lexham Press .