Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vintage CC: I Was Watching

From March 2008, provided as backstory for the entry posted yesterday.

I’m a preacher’s kid. Before you go assuming things, I’m a preacher despite being a preacher’s kid. Some people might think that my career choice is the natural thing based on my upbringing. You see, I had seminary classmates with some very colorful, rich, at times painful stories leading up to their calls to ministry. By the time people got to me and heard the famous initials, “P.K.,” they thought they had me all figured out.

I’m not mad at anybody for their assumptions. Looking back, I should have told my story sooner. Still, if you think you know why a preacher’s kid entered the ministry him- or herself, you probably want to ask them just to make sure.

So having said that, here are a few things that you need to know about preacher's kids and the ministry.

My father’s ministerial career was what you might call a mixed bag of experiences. He can tell you the story way better than I can, so I won’t bother with a full recap. But I do need to tell you that by the time we wound up in northeast Ohio I was old enough to pay attention, and I can tell you what I saw.

Picture this: a 12-year-old boy in the living room, watching cartoons or playing with Legos or doing whatever else 12-year-olds do, with little sense of the world outside the one he’s creating for himself right here on the carpet. When the phone rings, he does exactly what he has been taught. Dutifully, he meanders over to answer and asks to take a message since his father isn’t around. It is at that point that the older lady on the other end who never did happen to give her name says to the pastor’s son, “You tell him that if he doesn’t change his tactics, he’s not going to have a church.” Make sure that you hear those words spoken so simply, so matter-of-factly, as if reality has just been defined for you and you have no room to question it.

While you’re picturing that, think about what you might say to this child about how the church is full of wonderful, loving, accepting people who are only interested in serving Jesus and building up the Body of Christ. Think about how you might try to reassure him that stories about good Samaritans and sayings about loving one another are still true in the face of an anonymous threat that he, all of 12 years old, is supposed to relay to his father. What words do you have that will warm his spirit after hearing such a cold declaration spoken from afar?

Still think that it’s obvious why I’m a pastor?

I hadn’t watched the church’s actions a whole lot up until that moment, but at that point you can bet that I was paying attention. In fact, I started watching very carefully. I watched the night two other trusted church members dropped by to talk about the phone call and options about how to respond. I watched the hurt and determination in my parents’ eyes the day they pulled me aside to explain that they’d fight what was going on. I watched the day the congregation gathered to take a vote on whether he’d remain as their pastor. All the while, I watched the changes in my father’s mood toward the whole ministry enterprise: how deeply this latest ordeal had injured him and how off guard this had caught my entire family. I watched a community professing one thing acting out something completely different, and you can bet that as I watched all of this I wondered what kind of people Christians really are and what kind of a place the church really is.

This type of experience doesn’t exactly get people eager and anxious to sign up for seminary.

As we moved to yet another community and yet another school system, I brought a lot of resentment with me. In fact, out of some hopeful longing I told myself over the first few weeks or so that this was all a temporary thing: that my parents were looking for a house back closer to where we lived before, that we’d soon be back with old friends and that becoming too comfortable or familiar with our new situation would be a waste of time because it’d surely be over soon. I cried over my morning cereal the day this illusion came crashing down. But I always knew who to blame.

It’s all that church’s fault, I told myself. This nameless voice and whomever was backing it up was to blame for forcing us to start over. I heard it and I watched what it started, and I was living its results.

Now, you have to understand something else about preacher’s kids, and that’s that the people who raised them aren’t just preachers. And you have to understand that the determination with which people tell their children that they’re going to fight the church’s darker elements is the same determination with which they resolve to ensure the well-being of their family.

That determination can turn a former pastor into a third-shift factory worker for a time.

That determination causes them to sit patiently with their oldest son crying over his Cheerios when he realizes that he needs to settle in at his new surroundings.

I was watching then as well. And that’s important to watch, because when you watch during those moments, you see that people of faith transcend the church. You realize that the real possibility exists for people of faith to rise above power players, above traditionalism, above even arguments over “tactics.” You bet your ass that I was watching when this happened, and it was one of the many things that helped me figure out that this was one church, perhaps even one small group within one church, that causes these types of injuries.

It’s because I watched the entire thing, from beginning to end, that helped renew my own faith in the church’s possibilities. It was one of the many things that I watched that helped me decide that I wanted to take a chance on those possibilities myself.

So when preacher’s kids go into the ministry themselves, it’s because they were watching.

They were watching, and they saw it all.

They were watching, and they knew God was still calling.

They were watching, and they answered “yes” anyway.


Scott Alan said...


The first time I read this, I thought it was a pretty good post. Today, it's like you've been with my wife and our family for the past year.

This is incredible, brother. Thanks for posting it again.

Tripp Hudgins said...

Amen and amen.

Mark said...

I was a few years older than 12 when a similar situation happened to my father, also a pastor. I resonate with your story and the emotions shared in it. Somehow, despite that, I ended up in the ministry, too. Thanks for sharing your story.

Mike Pancoast said...

This is so money.

Fortunately, as a PK, I don't have any memory of these kinds of things. Not because they didn't happen as much as I think my parents were excellent at insulating us from them. But I certainly didn't go to seminary with rose colored lenses on because I definitely remember emergency calls in the middle of the night, meetings every night, etc. But I also remember the perks of growing up in a parsonage--hams at holiday time; access to hunting land; etc. And maybe this was the way my folks insulated us: by lifting up the giftedness over and above the hellishness.

My son is now 12, and I have been through my fair share of conflict in the parish. It makes me want to ask him "what he's been watching."

Thanks again for your candor.

Jan White said...

I don't personally know you but I saw this post on Scott Johnson's site and was drawn to it.
As a Pastor's wife I want to say that every word is so true. We have served 4 congregations and in each one there was the same sort of actions. It has had the oposite reaction for two of our three children, neither of them wants any part of the organized church.. the pain is too deep. There father still has hope for the church and as a retired pastor is now doing interim work and cleaning up some of the messes that have been caused by these episodes. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger certainly comes to mind. Praise God that there are people like you who continue this work inspite of what our children not only hear but experience.

musicmomma said...

Thank you for this sensitive analysis and GOOD writing. As a wife who raised four PK's I can say that I have observed many of these situations. Thankfully, there are also many kind, supportive folks in the ministry that help to balance the other.

Kristy said...

As a fairly new pastor's wife and mother of 3, I have already gotten to experience quite a bit of this church yuck. We have already ended our time at one congregation due to such difficult problems. It makes me scared for our children and their walk with God. It also makes me feel a great deal of frustration for my own walk, at times. Thanks for your post and your honesty!