When I reflect on my life as a pastor’s daughter, the memories can be classified as overwhelmingly positive. One of my earliest and fondest memories is running out our back door very early on Sunday mornings and yelling for my Dad to wait so I could walk with him to church. Cupping my tiny hand in his, I would bounce from cobblestone to cobblestone down our backyard, trying not to get my little shoes wet with dew before we reached the parking lot. When my Dad would notice that I was unable to keep up, I remember that he would often slow down, turn his face towards mine and sing, “Daddy Don’t Walk So Fast,” – a rare listening opportunity for even the people closest to my dad.
Today, I am 30 years old; I have served many roles in my life thus far, but none have personally defined who I have become or shaped my ideas about life any more than my role as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid). There were incredible perks associated with this life that are worth mentioning that I didn’t even realize were perks until I reached adulthood. For one thing, we had a simplistic way of life. We were deprived of nothing, yet everything was built on a budget. My parents had frugality down to an art, which I unwittingly learned by living it, and it has served me well in my own adulthood. Secondly, I absolutely love that PK’s get to watch, first hand, what it means to serve and be dedicated to their local church. I must confess that, though I am continuously trying to improve on this, as an adult I have yet to have the kind of attendance record to my local church that I had as a child because I was there every time the doors were open! Certainly this isn’t what a relationship with Christ is based on, but it was a very healthy start. And last but certainly not least, the warm and almost familial relationships that we had with our various church congregations will stay with me forever. I did not – perhaps could not – appreciate any of these at the time, but looking back I see so clearly that my ordinary and service-oriented childhood was the most wonderful gift my parents could have given me for my personal growth. If I want my children’s lives to even remotely resemble what came naturally to mine growing up, it will take much purposeful effort.
Interestingly enough, though, when people first find out that my dad is a minister, they almost always comment on the pressure I must have felt as a PK to be a poster child for Christianity or they want to know how my upbringing scarred me irrevocably. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. My parents always emphasized their expectations for me came from their parental convictions and was completely separate from their position in the church. In other words, if my dad had not been a pastor, their expectations would have been the same. There was a clear distinction for me, and while I know this is not the position of all PK’s, I am grateful that it is mine. However, though I never personally felt judged or misunderstood in my role as a PK, I have at times felt these things for my father in his role as a pastor.
Pastors walk a lonely road, perhaps not socially but in comprehension of the pastoral life. They are expected to give as much of themselves as any profession but to need less. In every facet of their life, no time is too precious, no hour too personal. They are frequently stretched thin in their duties, but ironically, they are often treated as if their job is less than other peoples’.
When I was a teenager, I remember telling one of my friends that my family had a boat (and a used one at that). His dad quickly and with a smug expression, replied back to me, “Looks like I’m in the wrong profession.” I remember cringing and feeling speechless but also sad that so many people had come to think of pastors as deserving less than the rest of the world. They have very ordinary needs and wants, as do their families, and a mistake that is frequently made, I think, is not in treating them in such a manner.
While I was contemplating writing this piece, I asked myself this question: “What do I wish people knew more about pastors?” And without fail, what I kept coming back to was the ordinariness of the man himself. While most people saw my dad in the pulpit every Sunday, shook his hand on their way out, or called him when they needed a visit, I knew another side. I know what it’s like to eat dinner with him every night, listening to him tell my mom for the thousandth time how he would rather her cooking over Cracker Barrel any day. I can remember how his face lit up with pride when I brought home a “straight A” report card. Naturally, as his daughter, I know his wrath and his creative punishments too. (I learned the hard way that calling my dad a jerk would result in writing five hundred times, “Honor your father and mother, and your days will be long on the earth. Exodus 20:12.” I do not have to look it up any more. It is burned in my memory forever!) I have seen my Dad laugh until he cried, and then I have seen him actually cry. All of these things and more have helped me know him as the man that he is—a man of God, yes—but still a man.
I think it is safe to say that most pastors embark on their ministerial journey because they feel a calling to reach broken people and to help heal, in even the tiniest ways, their communities; however, it can become discouraging so quickly because it is very difficult to feel successful in this career. Whereas most professions have expectations, quotas, and deadlines, pastoring is quite different. Pastoring is far more like parenting. Pastors wake each day only to ask themselves over and over again if what they are doing is making a difference to anyone and whether they themselves are even enough for this incredible task. And even while they repeatedly ask this question, to themselves and to God, they often live without ever really getting their answer; pastors must wait, as parents do, and let time tell its story. And yet, even while I acknowledge that pastors simply do not get enough validation, I know that validation is not their true heart’s desire either. As my Dad always said to us, “To hear, ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant’ when I get to Heaven – that is what I want.”
Thank you, pastors, for your service. The gifts you have given your congregations are great, but the ones you are giving your children are immeasurable. In my darkest moments of need, I can still hear my dad’s voice reciting favorite Scripture verses or some of the key points of his sermons. I am so thankful that my young world and impressionable mind were shaped by a constant emphasis on prayer and God’s Word. Not far behind my appreciation for these things is my gratitude for having been raised by a father who was never too busy to walk to church with me while holding my hand.