20 September 2014

The Fishbowl Experience

I've been reading Barnabas Piper's new book lately and came across a great section, in fact an entire chapter devoted to the topic, which seems to match a lot of other papers that I'd been reading about the 'Fishbowl Experience':

"I can remember my mother telling me at a very young age that we were always being watched. That still stays with me until today." (Barnabas Piper's book 'The Pastor's Kid'). The basic concept behind the 'Fishbowl Experience' is much like its name; you can be watched from all angles.

Other American papers I've read also call it 'The Glasshouse'. Just as the minister is the head of a church, setting an example of Christian living, so the way they conduct their family life (and by association how their family members act) is also scrutinised for good behaviour, geniune living and strong faith.

"This sort of pervasive scrutiny is not an obvious thing. It is not composed of people snooping or spying or skulking. The primary result of scrutiny is awareness, or maybe what one might call 'hyper-awareness'...This is a subtle problem because people don't even realise their heightened awareness. Folks in the church just glean things about the PK's life from sermon illustrations...or from a conversation here or passing comment there. It is all innocent in motive and accidental in action." (Barnabas Piper, The Pastor's Kid, p34).

While it could be compared to the life of an actor/actress, it often comes with few of the perks that these wealthy people can have (private body guards for starters!). In essence, this sort of lifestyle has been found to have quite a few negative effects on clergy families. People lose sight of their own identity, or feel well-known but not known. There can be a struggle between living in such a way that represents the model Christian family while tackling the challenges that every family faces. Small actions can be scrutinised, snap decisions critisised, and behaviours, normal to various age groups, rejected as inappropriate.

There's a great phrase I keep coming across:
The minister is called to ministry.
Their spouse feels this call and follows.
The children follow mum and dad.

The fishbowl experience can be a reality of the complex dynamic of family life and a ministry calling. So the question has to be asked: Why is there such a noteable lack of support for clergy families as they balance this tricky calling?
~ Rachel

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