I am a “Pastor’s Kid,” or a “PK” according popular church parlance. But not just any pastor’s kid. No, I grew up in the home of a Pentecostal preacher. I guess that makes me a “PPK” – a Pentecostal pastor’s kid (trademark pending).
Pentecostals were, at least during my adolescent and teen years, considered fringe Christians. Some might say – rather, did say – fanatics. The churches my dad pastored were relatively small, “other-side-of-the tracks” churches, which was not uncommon at the time. Pentecostalism has come a long way since then.
Growing up in Pentecostalism during the 60’s and early 70’s was, to say the least, interesting. I developed some perspectives, beliefs, and understandings during this period. Many of these I now consider misbeliefs and misunderstandings. Indeed, many of these I now consider quite weird and humorous.
I describe a few of these perspectives, beliefs, and understandings here. If you grew up in Pentecostalism you may be able to relate. Then again, you may not. If you did not grow up in Pentecostalism, you may just be confused. You may even be offended (such a trivial word these days). Regardless, and I want to make this quite clear, these perspectives, beliefs, and understandings were solely the products of my adolescent mind. They were not taught to me by my parents nor anyone else. They were just, as I said, the products of an immature, adolescent, maybe even warped, mind.
That said, here are a few of my somewhat contorted (hopefully humorous) childhood perspectives. Enjoy (or not).
No matter how many times I asked God to forgive me and for Jesus to come into my heart, I was never sufficiently confident in my salvation. I lived in constant fear of missing the rapture, of being left behind with all the other “heathens.”
I remember numerous times coming home and not being able to find anyone. Immediately, my thought would be, ‘Holy crap! Where is everybody? Did the rapture take place, and I’ve been left behind?’ My next thought would be, ‘Okay, who can I call or quickly find to alleviate my concern?’ I would then go through a short mental list of people. Some I had doubts about, and quickly eliminated, others I was sure would also be gone if the rapture did indeed occur. When I was finally able to contact someone who I was sure was a solid rapture candidate, my fear quelled, and I once again repented.
I am so glad to be over that. Well, I’m pretty sure I am . . . for the most part.
(You’re still there, right? Are you still reading this? Oh, shoot, who can I call?!)
“Holy Roller” Confusion
When, on rare occasion, I told my young friends where I went to church, I was often told (maybe the word “accused” is more fitting) that I went to a “holy roller church.” I never fully understood that label. I mean, not once did I see anyone rolling around in church. Well, I think me and my brothers may have done so on occasion, but we were just causing a ruckus, and not a “holy” one.
I never saw anyone swing from a chandelier or any other light fixture. I never saw anyone do cartwheels or any other gymnastic exercise. I never saw anyone jumping pews. And I certainly never saw anyone handling a snake! Yet, for reasons I could never figure out, my church was a holy roller church.
If half the shenanigans the people in my church were accused of doing when I was younger actually occurred, we could have sold tickets and made a bundle.
Losing My Salvation
See “Rapture Fear” above. As I stated there, I lived in constant fear of committing a sin and thereby losing my salvation. I was afraid of, in the parlance of the day, “backsliding.” What if, in my momentary backslidden state, I was in an accident and killed? What if the rapture took place? What if . . . ? Well, the answer, in my mind, was that I would spend eternity in hell, separated from God.
Such nonsense. But that was my immature adolescent understanding. I am SO glad to be over it.
I was around quite a few itinerant evangelists during my childhood. They would sometimes visit the churches my dad pastored, or we would sometimes visit other churches that had invited them. No matter, I always lived in fear of them. I was afraid that one of them would “call me out” during or after the service. ‘About what?’ you might ask. Well, I was never sure. Perhaps, to point out some secret sin I was harboring in my heart (what that might have been as an adolescent is beyond me). Or, to prophecy over me about my future. Maybe to just let me know I was on the highway to hell.
Irrational? Yes. But I had seen it done before to others. Not a lot. But when you’re young, once or twice is enough to strike fear in your heart.
Most of the evangelists I remember would wear relatively fancy clothes. They would speak with authority. They were seemingly revered by congregants. I figured they must be special. I figured the “words” they had for others must be true, holy, and righteous. Well, true anyway. No matter. I wanted no part.
“Please, please, Mr. Evangelist, don’t look my way, ‘cause I ain’t looking your’s!”
The Devil is in the Details
The devil was everywhere. When something – anything – went wrong (no matter how big or small), it was his (her? its?) fault. Whenever my mind wandered to something it shouldn’t, it was because of that fiend. Whenever I disobeyed, it was that jerk’s fault. Whenever I lied, it was that creep who made me do it. Whenever something broke; whenever someone got sick; whenever someone died; shoot, whenever I spilled something (which I happened to do a lot when I was young), it was all a sick plot of the devil. Dastardly!
Believe it or not, I remember some goofball evangelist recounting a story of how the devil (or maybe it was one of his minions) opened the front door of his house, walked upstairs and into his bedroom, and began choking him. That is, until he rather authoritatively rebuked his attacker in Jesus’ name. Whereupon, his attacker immediately stopped, turned around, calmly walked down the stairs, and exited out the front door.
Was that story true? While I loathe to call someone a liar, I have my doubts. Regardless, it resulted in a lot of sleepless nights for me as a boy. I thought for sure I was the next victim.
Knuckleheaded evangelist. I’d like to choke him.
This one just kills me. How, why, and where I got this notion is beyond me. I actually had a ranking of various denominations/religions in my head. What I find even weirder, is that I would, at times, share my rankings with my friends.
I don’t remember the exact order, but I do know that my denominational affiliation – Assemblies of God – was, of course, “numero uno.” I mean, come on, we were (at least in my mind) the only Spirit-filled, full gospel denomination in town! I also remember ranking Catholic as the worst. Why? I have no idea. Going, now, in reverse order, I believe Lutheran followed closely behind Catholic. Then came Presbyterian, then Methodist, and then Nazarene. Baptist? Not bad. It was a close second behind the Assemblies of God. It was a good denomination, but not quite up to par with the A/G.
Man, how weird was that?
Sunday morning. Sunday night. Wednesday night. Is the church hosting an evangelist? Then tack on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday? What? He’s going to be here for multiple weeks. Crap! I may as well live at the church.
As a Pentecostal, and especially as a “PPK,” you knew that if the church doors were open, you were going to be there. Period. End of story.
I used to envy my friends who had to go to church only once a week, if that. I used to think I was missing so many good TV shows, so many parties, so many neighborhood baseball and football games, so much free time! Whether that’s true, I’m not sure. It’s certainly what I thought.
As I’ve stated elsewhere and at other times on this blog, I resented this practice as a child, but not so much as an adult. I do think less church in my childhood wouldn’t have negatively impacted me. But, it has certainly paid dividends.
Oddly, most Pentecostal churches now have only one or two Sunday morning services. Many have no Sunday School, no Sunday night service, no Wednesday night service, or service on any other night for that matter. And when was the last time you heard about days-long revival services? I can’t remember either.
Today’s PPKs have no idea . . .
Pop Culture Pretender
Because, as I just noted, I was in church a lot, I missed a lot of TV shows, especially on Sunday nights. Because, as I’ll explain below, we did not go to the theater, I did not see any of the popular movies of my adolescent years. So, on Mondays, whenever my friends would talk about, say, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” or the movie that was on TV the night before, or the movie that they went to see over the weekend, I would simply nod my head, and give a quick ‘Oh yea. Uh-huh’ at opportune times. After all, I couldn’t admit the truth. I couldn’t let them know I’d missed out because I was in church. I couldn’t admit that we didn’t go to movies. How absurd. How embarrassing.
Yep. I went through much of my young adolescent years pretending to have my finger on the pulse of popular culture. Lying, ever so discreetly, to keep my church attendance covert, and avoid being labeled a freak.
What a dork.
Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t go to movies. Don’t dance. Don’t wear makeup. Don’t get your ears pierced. Don’t get tattoos. Guys, don’t have long hair. Gals, don’t have short hair. And on and on it went. While I now abhor such legalism, as an adolescent these “don’ts” didn’t bother me too much. It provided me an easy way to “discern” whether one was, or was not, a “true Christian” (yea, right!). I also recall legalism rescuing me from an embarrassing situation when I was in elementary school.
For some odd reason, when I attended elementary school (I don’t remember which grade) our teacher got the bright idea that we should learn to square dance. But not just learn within the context of the classroom. No. We were going to square dance in some sort of schoolwide extravaganza – in front of everyone, students and parents alike! I was paralyzed with fear. That is, until I remembered . . . we don’t dance! Indeed, we CAN’T dance. This revelation almost made me do a dance.
Naturally, I hurried home after school and shared the horror with my mother. She unhesitatingly wrote a note to the teacher requesting (perhaps demanding) that I be excused from such debauchery (my word, not hers). I quite proudly delivered it to my teacher. I was the envy of every other boy in my class.
The downside is that I could not bring myself to dance in public until I was well into my forties. Now, I think my wife would prefer I just knock it off and sit down.
So Over It
So there you have it. A peek into the my warped little adolescent mind. Fortunately, I no longer think this way. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor. 13:11, NIV).
I no longer hold to most of the thoughts and reasoning I had as a child (especially those outlined above). While it was fun to reminisce about these childhood perspectives, I’m so glad to be grown up (well, mostly). I’m so glad I got over each of these beliefs, understandings, and perspectives. I’m so glad I put these childhood ways behind me.
If you can relate to any of these, or have your own childhood Pentecostal predilections, I’d like to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments.
17 thoughts on “Confessions of a Pentecostal Kid”
Paul, thank you so much for the trip down memory lane. While I am not a “PPK” I can completely identify with every observation you made. My dad was on the church board for my entire life growing up and we were in church a lot! I guess you could call me a “BMK” (Board Member’s Kid). I wish I had a dime for every time I got “saved” as a kid, I’d for sure be independently wealthy today.
The irony of my situation is that I now work for a church. Although, sadly, I still bare a few scars and carry some baggage of those memorable times growing up in the Pentecostal movement. I recall almost every Sunday morning that our pastor would tear his suit coat off and throw it on the floor, jump up on the altar and scream at us until lunch time. I too regularly remember suffering from Rapture Fear. I was regularly relieved to see my parents arrive home from work knowing that if they were there, surely Jesus hadn’t returned. I recall a time when one of my sisters, even as an adult, received a Rapture scare because she and her fiancé chose to go to a movie. (GASP!) When they came out, there was a storm brewing and the parking lot was eerily empty. When they got in the car and turned on the radio, the DJ, mentioning an ASU game that had just completed, said, “The devil’s done it again!” That’s all she heard. When they arrived home the rest of us had gone out and the panic really set it. She just knew that Jesus had come back and all the warnings of her youth had come true. “Do you think Jesus will set foot in that evil theater to take you back to Heaven?”
I’m so thankful that we have God’s word and His Holy Spirit to guide us through it and help us to weed out the chaff that man has a tendency to throw in the mix sometimes. Again, thanks for sharing! It was a good read!
Thanks, Bob. I’m glad you enjoyed this.
Wow, I just relived my entire childhood. Thanks a lot, Paul! Now I need to go back to therapy.
Like you, fear played a major role in my childhood. Not only did I go through “Rapture Fear,” I also went through “Satan Fear.” Stories such as those you described regarding the evangelist, who was attacked by an evil spirit, haunted me as a child. I remember staying up at night scared that an evil spirit was in my room. How messed up is that?
A few years ago, I made a three-part video series about the devil. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you the links. Be forewarned, my current beliefs differ from yours.
And, be careful calling that evangelist a ‘goofball’, as I believe you heard that story from my cousin who held a revival at my father’s church when we were kids .
I could comment all day on this, but I’ll leave some opportunity to others.
I look forward to reading your other posts.
Thanks, Steve. Please send me the links.
I could have written this…
Well, why didn’t you? 🙂
It is so interesting how I too as a child rated all the different churches just like you. I grew up in a very loving and liberally minded (Pentecostal liberally minded) home. I was not parroting my parents. It was something I totally came up on my own.
Jonathan, I’m glad you read it and could relate. I’m pleased that you found it humorous.
Thank you for writing this. I grew up very much this way. The adults in my life did swing from the chandeliers, jumped the pews, and “cast out demons”. I remember they would pray for me and lay hands on me and just completely push me to the floor until I submitted. I’m 42 yrs old and still carry this abuse, guilt, and baggage with me. It’s not good, but certainly nice to know that I’m not alone
Joy, thank you so much for reading this. May God richly bless you.
PPK here! Loved this, I laughed out loud as soon as I read “Rapture Fear.”
I too am a Preacher’s Kid…daughter…the worst label you can have. I have so many memories growing up in a Pentecostal Church, and I have learned God is much more than that. My worst fear/memory, is being told as a child, that the day would come that you would have to deny Christ. If you didn’t deny Christ, they would take you & your children to the guillotine & watch your children die if you didn’t deny Christ. The fear that overwhelmed me AFTER I become a Mother was at times unbearable, to the point I couldn’t sleep or eat. Then one day, through Bible studies & reading the word the way it is, I realized that that is not true. If I had to watch my children get beheaded for me not denying Christ, I would definitely go to hell. I could write a book about the misconceptions we were taught about God growing up. Now I look back and truly believe, ignorance is bliss. People put their “spin or interpretation” on what they “think” it means. God is a simple God. Man makes him complicated. I have had more peace now that I know how to “rightly divide the word.”
Thank you for reading this.
Obviously I found this blog while “Googling” ‘Being raised pentecostal was miserable’. I had no idea how much my childhood effected me. My parents were not pastors but my father was on the church board of an AG church. My entire childhold was based on fear…fear of everything…death, the rapture, sinning…etc. I used to ball my eyes out every night and tell my parents every wrong thing I could think that I did. And on top of all that, I felt so lonely and different than all the other kids I knew…my parents thought everyone was bad and I was not allowed to hang out with hardly anyone…our church was small and there was only a few girls remotely my age. I’m angry about it. I thought I was the only kid in my family that thought this way but turns out my brother and my sister did as well. Fear dominated my life when that was the time we are supposed to feel carefree. I believed everything my parents taught me…everything the church taught me. My mom and dad found the bad in everything, my dad’s family found the bad in everyone. It was such a negative, scary life. Dont get me wrong, my parents are horrible people and I love them very much but they were taught this and believe it. Anyways…it was good to hear others realized the negative impact of the AG doctrine. How damaging it can be to “work” for our salvation…in essence God saves us and its up to us to remain saved by being perfect as possible…because God forbid we have a heart attack and die while watching a PG-13 movie or something…just ugh. Its painful. Sad thing is I used to teach others this as well…its truly a miserable life and unless people are as miserable as you then they probably aren’t saved. Just crazy…
Thank you for reading.
Obviously I found this blog while “Googling” ‘Being raised pentecostal was miserable’. I had no idea how much my childhood effected me. My parents were not pastors but my father was on the church board of an AG church. My entire childhold was based on fear…fear of everything…death, the rapture, sinning…etc. I used to ball my eyes out every night and tell my parents every wrong thing I could think that I did. And on top of all that, I felt so lonely and different than all the other kids I knew…my parents thought everyone was bad and I was not allowed to hang out with hardly anyone…our church was small and there was only a few girls remotely my age. I’m angry about it. I thought I was the only kid in my family that thought this way but turns out my brother and my sister did as well. Fear dominated my life when that was the time we are supposed to feel carefree. I believed everything my parents taught me…everything the church taught me. My mom and dad found the bad in everything, my dad’s family found the bad in everyone. It was such a negative, scary life. Dont get me wrong, my parents arent horrible people and I love them very much but they were taught this and believe it. Anyways…it was good to hear others realized the negative impact of the AG doctrine. How damaging it can be to “work” for our salvation…in essence God saves us and its up to us to remain saved by being perfect as possible…because God forbid we have a heart attack and die while watching a PG-13 movie or something…just ugh. Its painful. Sad thing is I used to teach others this as well…its truly a miserable life and unless people are as miserable as you then they probably aren’t saved. Just crazy…
After reading your story I thought to myself boy that sounded like my life growing up. They were very good at giving you a guilt trip for almost any menial thing you done. I cannot for the life of me figure out why my parents thought this was a healthy lifestyle. Where a Church controls everything and you basically have no humanity to speak of. Thanks for sharing your story it is remarkable you seem so well adjusted now.