Monday, August 31, 2009

Ten Things a Preacher's Kid Needs to Know

1. Don't burn your bridges too quickly or too often. Someday you may be invited back to the place you left behind, and you want to return with dignity.
2. Learn to appreciate the sacrifices some people will make for you. They do not owe you special favors; they love you.
3. Get over the hurts and slights. Life is way too short to carry grudges. Some of the people who hurt you now may be your best friends later.
4. Accept the fact that some people do not know how to treat the pastor's kids, or what to expect of them. Be yourself, keep things straight between you and God, and everything will work out. If you mess up, remember that your parents still love you.
5. The best thing you can do for your Dad and his ministry is pray for him.
6. Never measure the success of your family or your Dad's ministry by the size of the church. God doesn't do that and neither should you. Besides, the apostle Paul never pastored a large church and he turned out OK.
7. If you really want to encourage your Dad when he is down, go with him on visitation.
8. Consider being part of a pastor's family a privilege rather than a burden. You probably get to do more things, go more places and meet more friends and experience more life than the average kid anywhere.
9. Take care of your own spiritual life diligently. Being part of the pastor's family does not give you a free pass.
10. Of all the methods and gimmicks you've ever tried, prayer works better than any of them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Missionary Kids and Other Strange Species, Part One

Our children had the rarest of opportunities in life - to be both "pk's" and "mk's" at the same time. That's "preacher's kids" and "missionary kids" for the uninformed. Our family served on the mission field for a number of years. It did not matter that we were "home" missionaries. We were in Louisiana, and by all accounts, we were in a foreign land. The weather was foreign (Whoever heard of sunburns in February?), the food was foreign, and most people spoke with a French or Cajun accent. Our daughter, who had looked forward to speaking with a southern drawl, was most disappointed. The rest of us were merely confused. Shortly after we arrived, I noticed a bumper sticker touting the New Orleans Saints football team. The sticker read "Geaux Saints" - a sort of French fried way of saying "Go Saints." But not being familiar with French spellings, I could not translate it. I stared at the bumper sticker for a moment, turned to my wife and asked "Who wants to Gee-ox the Saints, Honey?" There were other things to learn in the state dubbed "America's Banana Republic." We learned that fire ants can build a mound around anything at anytime and spring up over night. We learned that the mosquito is Louisiana's state bird. (Our neighborhood was sprayed regularly every Thursday by a pickup truck armed with a cannon full of bug spray that hung in the humid night air like thick, deadly fog.) We learned that Cajuns will eat anything that moves and can be seasoned with five gallons of pepper. We learned that we had moved into the bug-and-critter capital of the universe. The cockroaches live in the ground before they decide to move into your house and take over. They are humongous, and they fly. The Wright brothers could have saved themselves a lot of money and flown one at Kitty Hawk. Then there were the lizards that moved into the house to eat the mosquitoes and fight a turf battle with the cockroaches. All of this did not faze our kids, who thought it was great fun to be sharing the house with the wild kingdom. Most of our visitors, especially those from up north, were put off by all the roving critters, but our family accepted this as part of the mission field, and delightedly shocked our guests by our not being shocked. When we invited another missionary family to visit us for a week of meetings, the other "mk's" - who had spent lots of time in Brazil - were equally delighted. Rather than being put off, they joined our kids in chasing around the house after all the lizards. Missionary kids can be strange like that. There was one notable exception, however. One night when our older daughter woke up to drink from the glass of ice water by her bed, the night air was suddenly split by her shriek. We dashed into her room to see what had happened, and there, on top of the ice in her water glass, sat a cock roach the size of a battleship. All Angela could say was "IT TOUCHED MY LIPS!" To this day, she cannot bring herself to drink anything in the dark.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Twenty-six Mice Under the Oven

The first time my wife and I saw the parsonage in our first full-time ministry, it was like viewing the White House. "That," I said proudly, "is going to be our new home." Ahhhhhhh. We were smitten. Then reality set in, right after we moved, and we discovered that our new home came with as many landlords as church members, not to mention rules and expectations. For example, we were expected not to use one of the bedrooms. It was to remain perpetually as a "prophet's chamber" for any visiting preacher or missionary. So, in spite of the fact that we could have really used the room, we dutifully left it untouched except for the rare visitor. We've always had odd experiences with parsonages, and we've learned that our experience is not exceptional. One house we lived in was located so close to the church building that our basement (it was a bi-level house) was used for church offices and Sunday School rooms. This had a number of unintended consequences. First, we did not have privacy, especially on Sunday morning when people began to stream into their "classrooms." Vacation Bible School became a real adventure, as there were people in and out of our house at all hours. Add to that the fact that our church clerk had a key to the house but expected us to keep our home unlocked so she could come and go as she pleased. She had no idea how often we came close to dialing 911 when we heard the "intruder" in the basement. Then there was the parsonage where the previous pastor's wife had used a bedroom to dry fruit from her garden. If that wasn't enough, the house was overrun with mice. I quickly learned that the best place to catch them was -believe it or not- in the stove, especially in the drawer under the oven. I routinely emptied the traps each morning. After I caught twenty-six mice, I quit counting, but I kept catching mice. I have no idea how many traps - or mice - I went through. But that was not the worst place we ever inhabited. That honor probably belongs to the little shack where we lived before moving into the "mouse palace." The shack was owned and leased by a church member and was a temporary residence for us until (get this!) the church could clean out the parsonage for us. (Given the number of mice I caught, I wonder what they cleaned out.) The shack was just that. When the church member/landlord put up a new wood-framed screen door for us, I let him know it wouldn't close properly and needed to be remounted. No problem. He showed up the next day to fix everything - with an axe!! He might have noticed the stunned, speechless expression on my face as he committed atrocities on the door, chopping and flailing until the wounded door surrendered and closed. He asked me if there was anything else to fix. All I could do is look at the axe and declare "No" rather cautiously. If you've never lived in a parsonage, you just don't know what you're missing.

The Things People Say ...!

I recently received a letter from a college student "PK" ("preacher's kid") whose dad is suffering some serious health problems. Her letter contained the following account that actually happened in their home: "The deacons came over one night to 'pray for and encourage' my dad and started firing questions about his situation instead, even asked if there was sin in his life...It came off as accusing, and my dad had just told them that he had basically lost his will to live, and they start firing questions like that to OVERWHELM A GUY MORE. An assistant pastor told them to stop, to just pray and leave ... but some damage was already done." No kidding. Apparently, there is no end to the really ridiculous things people can say to a pastor and/or his family. There! I've said it. (And all God's preachers said "Amen!") I've said it for all the other pastors who wish they could say it too if they didn't have to deal with all the feathers they would ruffle as a result. But really now, do people think the pastor's job description includes a target for rude, thoughtless remarks? I know this sounds like so many sour grapes, and yes, I really do believe in being long suffering, but then I remember the time one bona fide genius said to me "I don't think, if your wife was disciplined by the church, it would have any effect on your ministry." The truest part of his statement was "I don't think." Of course the crude and outlandish remarks are not always confined to pastors. Other church members get in on the insults as well. When one of our members gave birth to a disabled son, born without a hand, another "believer" observed, "God is punishing you for some sin in your life." Sounds like some of the deacons from the pastor's home, doesn't it? The pastor's daughter had it right - damage is done. The wounds are real, and sometimes they are deep. The first time I became a target for the thoughtless remark, I felt crushed and recovery took a long time. By now, the words still hurt, but I have managed to get over most of them. Some of the people who said the worst have become my best friends and most fervent supporters. Forgiveness has to be part of the regular diet for all the preacher's family. Without it, we would not survive. We would be consumed by self-pity and discouragement. We have to get over being hurt and remember that, at some point, we also may make a careless remark. So forgiveness works both ways. Just consider this a plea to "put brain in gear before setting mouth in motion." Warren Wiersbe once observed to some seminary students (I was one) that a good pastor must have "the heart of an elephant and the hide of a rhino serous." We all said "Amen" to that too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Long Goodbyes

While my son and I were out enjoying the evening together recently, I began to reminisce about some of the places we've lived over the past thirty years of ministry. When we returned home, I discovered on Facebook that a pastor friend of mine was leaving his church for another ministry nearer the east coast. "It been," he wrote, "a very, very hard decision," hard on himself, his wife and children. "But God seemed to be leading that way." My family and I can sympathize with all the difficulties they face. Relocating is one of the problem issues the general public does not seem to grasp about pastors' families. A pastor arrives at his new church with his beaming wife and children, and the announcement "We are all pleased and excited to be here." No doubt there is truth in that statement. Finally arriving at a new ministry is a big relief in many ways. Yet there is so much behind the scenes that people do not realize, for uprooting the family is very hard. The challenge for every pastor is how to communicate to the rest of the family that his calling, his sense of God's leading, must somehow become theirs as well. The preacher senses that his present ministry is closing. He has the urge to move on, but no one told the wife and kids; and believe me, just telling them that "it's the Lord's leading" doesn't satisfy them. I've known pastors and their wives who nearly came to a divorce because he was ready to move and she wasn't. Our children came along with us of course, because they had no choice, but months and sometimes years passed before they forgave me for forcing them to leave friends behind. The truth is that saying "goodbye" takes forever in our hearts, and sometimes it never comes. My family and I have attended two anniversaries of former churches this year, and I could not help but feel like I should have apologized for leaving each of them. Whenever I return, the goodbyes become longer and longer because a part of our heart remains with all those we've left. They remain our good friends. We still pray for them, we still miss them and we still ache for them. My friend will go to a new ministry and do fine, I am sure. His family will adjust - we always do - but like all good pastors, a piece of their heart will be left behind. Being in the ministry means never really saying goodbye.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Offerings and Other Hazards

I'm not quite sure what this topic has to do with this preacher's family except that somehow my family has found a way to turn what is supposed to be a fairly harmless part of the church service into an adventure. Perhaps it all started with our oldest daughter, a toddler at the time, who became quite offended when the usher forgot to pass the offering plate to her so she could give her dime. When she realized that she had been rudely bypassed, she turned to find the usher - now a couple of rows behind her - reared back as if she were delivering a fastball, and threw the dime like a bullet at the usher. The coin landed dead-center in the offering plate. There was one time when I also found a way to "contribute" to the service. My dad and I were sitting in the midst of a very crowded service in the largest Baptist church in town when the offering began. As the ushers proceeded in our direction, I realized that they did not use plates, but offering baskets instead. I suppose they were expecting lots of money. Anyway, as the basket made its way toward us, I reached for it, and my dad, thinking I was going to drop the now-full basket of money, reached for it as well. He knocked it out of my hand. Money flew in every conceivable direction - lots and lots of money. I never dreamed money could travel so far. Dozens of people were on the floor trying to pick up and account for every coin, every dollar. The pianist, who had meticulously practiced his offertory to the last second, suddenly realized that his wonderfully planned, practiced and precise offertory was now out the window. He scrambled to replay everything and kept glancing in our direction to check on our money-recovery effort, now in full swing. At least once, I thought I saw him look my way with a "If I could hit you with a hymnal right now, I would" sort of stare. This had become the unofficial Longest Offering in the History of the Universe thanks to me and my dad. But there are other hazards in the church service as well. Like baptisms. When I baptized our pint-sized youngest daughter, she was so happy with the experience, she decided to celebrate in her own way. Immediately after I raised up from the water, she flipped over and began doing the dog paddle. As discretely as possible, I leaned over and whispered to her, "You can't swim in the baptistery." She ignored me, swam to the handrail, and got out on her own. It could have been worse. I have baptized impossibly large people in impossibly small baptisteries, all while praying "Lord, I can get him in, but You have to get him out." I baptized one lady outdoors in a pond - February - and it was snowing! My legs were never so cold. I don't see how she survived, but the whole thing was her family's idea. It could have been worse. One of my uncles was baptizing a fellow in a creek when my uncle lost his grip and the man floated downstream, so the family legend goes. At least I never lost one in the baptistery.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Life of Quiet Sacrifice

To hear my wife tell it, she was called to be a pastor's wife. Belinda is a pastor's daughter and knows the hardships and challenges of life in the ministry. Her father never had the opportunity to lead a very large congregation. He supported a family of seven children on tomato farming and carpentry while preaching in a variety of small, mostly out-of-the way churches from Texas to South Carolina. One would have thought a talented young lady would have been dying to get away from those struggles to a better life. But not Belinda. She always wanted to be a pastor's wife, and looked forward to it. The thing that impresses me most is that she has never changed her mind. And let's face it, she's had lots of reasons to change her mind. Like countless other pastors and their families, we have gone from one unenviable situation to another. Our ministry income has been small - even minuscule - by comparison with other pastors. That has meant my wife having to be employed outside the home to shore up our income and supply health insurance that most of our churches could not afford. Neither of us wanted her to work outside the home, but the Lord has provided many of our needs that way, so she has carried on without complaint. Thankfully, my wife is not alone in her attitude. Multitudes of pastors' wives go about their business with a similar spirit every day. theirs is a life of quiet sacrifice. They do not gather the public attention so often given to their husbands and prefer instead to stay in the shadows. They make routine sacrifices every day and find ways to make a little go a long way. They willingly accept less that others may have more. But there are other challenges and difficulties unique to the wife of a pastor. Some churches assume the pastor's wife will take on certain church responsibilities just because she is, well, the pastor's wife. One well meaning gentleman reflected that presumption when he asked me "Does your wife pastor the church with you?" I replied, "No, she takes care of me, and that's the way she likes it." He was surprised. My wife has had to sit quietly and endure unjust criticism aimed at her husband. She has remained silent and supported me in prayer when she knew I hurt, and that I, in turn, was hurting for her. She has had to be strong when I was weak. Belinda has been strong for our children when she was not well and I could not be there. She has done it all and yet to this day she still wants to be the pastor's wife. The only complaint I ever heard was when she wished she could spend more time with me at church. Perhaps someone reading this is the pastor of a small congregation and the husband of a wife who goes about her business in much the same way. They take care of both the home and ourselves, and we would be lost without them. The pastor's wife is the unsung hero under the pastor's roof. Right now, I have to hurry and publish this post because my wife is coming to meet me in a few minutes for lunch - one of our few opportunities in the week to be together for lunch - and I shouldn't be late. Do you think?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Like a lot of dads, I have had nicknames for each of our children, especially the girls. Andrew did not get in on this as much as the others because "Andy" was too available and too obvious. That was not the case with the girls. Angela was always "my little sidekick" who delighted to go with me on visitation. I am not quite sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way I began to refer to Jennifer as "Spud." It was a silly little name for Daddy's precocious little partner who always tagged after me whenever possible. Then one day she happened to ask me, "What is a spud?" Being caught somewhat off my guard, I started to answer simply, "Well, it's a potato -" Little Mount Jennifer erupted. "A potato!" Such indignation from a four-year-old, the world has never seen. "You called me a potato?" I tried a useless explanation. "It's only a name - " She continued fuming, "A potato!!" "I didn't mean to offend you-" (That's right, sound real pastoral!) "You called me a potato! UUUUUHHHHH!" That was always her last and most exasperated expression of total disgust. So "Spud" was tossed into the potato bin of history. I never referred to Jennifer as "Spud" again until the night of her wedding rehearsal dinner. She laughed hard at the name that night. I think she has finally forgiven me. She belongs to another man now, a big strapping fellow who overshadows me, literally. (I commented to my wife, "We're not losing a daughter, we're gaining a body guard."). One thing is certain. I'm not going to refer to his wife as "Spud" if the name offends him. I need him on my side. But there will always be a place in my heart and in my memories for "Spud," and the days when childhood innocence did not take offense. Those were days when it was just me and my little partner heading off somewhere in the pick-up truck. Just "Spud" and me - days I will never forget.

"Lady Talksalot"

When our small church was in desperate need of someone to be in charge of the vacation Bible school skit, the director hung the job on me because, well, there was no one else and I was the pastor. Pastors always get the jobs no one else wants. So he handed me a file containing the five names of those to be included in the skit. The only problem was that all the skits were written typically for two people. There was nothing else to do but create new characters and new dialogue for each.
One of the five to be included was our younger daughter, Jennifer, the truly born actress of the family; the one sure to be over-the-top dramatic (See her reaction in the post titled "Spud."). I was stuck for how to write for her special talents when a thought occurred to me. Both our daughters had developed an ability to speak at a rapid-fire rate that to this day leaves me replying "Duh" to everything they say. Suppose I wrote a part for a lady who could speak in Jennifer's typical machine gun rhythm? I tossed the idea to her and she lit up at the thought. Since "Sir Lancelot" wouldn't do, I gave her the name "Lady Talksalot."
When the opening night for vacation Bible school arrived, I listened with some trepidation to the skit, wondering what I had done. I had turned loose our daughter with the instructions to talk without a script (It was impossible to write one.). "Just talk until you run out of words, then someone else will step in and pick up the dialogue." Right.
Everything went well and normal until the moment her character was supposed to speak. Enter Lady Talksalot. Jennifer erupted in a blizzard of words. The other actors looked as if they had been beaned with an inside pitch. Jennifer never slowed. I kept waiting for the end, but it never came. The other actor (now totally confused) kept waiting for her to take a breath so he could say his lines, but she didn't seem to breathe. Jennifer just kept talking on and on, effortlessly, and - most amazing - she never repeated herself. When Jennifer finally paused (She did have to breathe after all), the audience fractured. Sensing his one and only opportunity, the other actor stepped in with his lines and the skit continued.
Our program was a hit and audience was hooked. From that night forward, the audience swelled with as many adults as kids, just to see what "Lady Talksalot" would do next.
Jennifer did not disappoint them. She rattled on at mind-numbing speed for the entire week and never missed a line. A legend was born.
"Lady Talksalot" was married this summer to a fine young man, another pastor in the making to bring under our roof. He has been forewarned - not that it will do much good. He seems intelligent enough, and I know he loves Jennifer. I just hope he gets in a word once in a while.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Update - I'm back ...

Well, I think I'm back. The last few days have been a combination of confusion and mystery for me because I am not a professional blogger. Most upsetting was my experience in trying to find this blog on Google, or anything else for that matter. The blog doesn't exist - not on Google anyway, not at the time I tried to find it. If you "Google" this site, you will find the blog I originally set up on Go Daddy, but it has no heading (Go Daddy would not allow it.), so I decided to construct this blog instead - only I could not find it. To remedy the situation I have submitted the URL address to several search engines. Hopefully and eventually, the situation may be worked out. Meanwhile, share our address with your friends and we will see what kind of following we can create. Check out the links and suggest a few if you like. This blog is for and about you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And What is Normal?

I recently ran across a very nice, formal looking sign at the local Cracker Barrel Restaurant that read "Remember, as far as anyone knows, we are a normal family like everyone else." The sign was funny enough by itself, but what really got my attention was the fact that it was being sold in the section where church and religious articles could be found. I could just imagine some pastor and his family buying that sign and reverently placing it in a prominent place in the home, or over a doorway to remind themselves whenever they entered.
Normalcy - what is it? My kids liked to wear shorts while growing up, and they still wear them. That probably bothers some people. My dad thinks the shorts look funny, but then he has dementia. Aren't Christians allowed to wear shorts, or is that normal for Christians? I remember hearing of one family - and they actually exist somewhere - who went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico; but they were a Christian family, so of course they swam a bit differently. The girls went into the water wearing dresses (or something very much like dresses - not pants!), and their dad went swimming in his jeans. Blue jeans. Levi-type jeans. The kind that shrink up enough when wet to raise your voice a full octave. And lest you think somehow modesty was saved that day, think again. Once the girls were sufficiently wet, more showed than they ever imagined, and more than any one's imagination cared to know.
Pardon me for being just a tad worldly right off the bat, but my wife and I allowed our family to dress for the water when we went swimming. Having lived along the gulf coast, we quickly learned how to find our own beach without having to resort to all the touristy locations, so we avoided the danger of gawking at some embarrassingly displayed person.
But we still wore swimwear. Why? It was normal. Pastor's families need the liberty to just be normal. That may mean allowing them to fail at times, or at least not expecting the tribulation when they do. As far as the preacher's family knows, they are normal like everyone else. Don't let them know any differently.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Well now ... What's This?

After receiving quite a number of comments from frustrated preacher's kids, an idea has begun to take shape. It began when one student wrote "I have no one to talk to. No one understands what I'm going through ..." Those were words of despair from someone who had spent her life in the unique bubble known as the parsonage.

Life in the ministry is a world unto itself. Thirty-two years after ordination, and a lifetime in parsonages later, I began to think that perhaps there might be a place for a blog like this - a place to share my own thoughts and gather the experiences and insights of other pastors and their families. If nothing else, it would serve to give me a little writing experience on the side and keep my mind fresh for further projects. But there is more here than an academic exercise. Perhaps someone will catch an insight, have a laugh, or share an experience. This blog is really not about me. It's about all those who share life under the pastor's roof. Come under my roof for a while. Make yourself at home.