HOUSTON (BP)--Anyone who grew up in a parsonage knows that "PK" stands for "preacher's kid."
Early on, I rebelled against that label. But I wasn't rejecting my father, my family or the faith. When people called me a "preacher's kid," I told them that my father wasn't a preacher -- he was a pastor. There's a difference.
My father passed away March 5 at the age of 82 and I thought this would be a good time to say, once again, what I said to him and to others many times -- I have always been proud of his work, which included the pastorates of several Texas Baptist churches and seven years as an associational director of missions in Wichita Falls. Of course, it had been some time since Bert Mattingly’s post-retirement work as a hospital chaplain in Houston. That didn't matter. In Texas Baptist lingo, he was always "Brother Bert."
My father preached, but that wasn't what defined him. The joy, and burden, of the job is that there's more to it than that.
The job seems to be getting tougher. Ask Jim Dahlman, a veteran editor at Focus on the Family who has specialized in issues linked to the ministry. During one research project he read many letters from clergy and their families, some of which left him weeping. Some pastors weren't burning out -- they were crashing in flames.
"I read one letter after another from pastors or their wives talking about this overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation," he said. "Over and over, they'd write things like, 'We're totally alone. We can't talk to anyone about what's going on in our lives or the pressure we're under. We're out here twisting in the wind.'”
The big pressure is for pastors to be ready and available to handle each and every crisis, no matter how minor. With family and friends far away these days, who do people call? Oprah? The all-night therapist?
Dahlman said people also expect pastors to be "lifestyle role models" with perfect homes and perfect spiritual lives. But it's a problem if the pastor spends too much time at family events or on prayer retreats. Church members expect well-researched, practical and, preferably, entertaining sermons. But it's a problem if the pastor spends too much time studying and writing.
The clock is always ticking.
I'm convinced the main reason stress levels are so high is that so many people -- in pews and pulpits -- have forgotten that pastors are defined by who they are and what they stand for, not what skills they possess and what tasks they perform. Pastors can't be shepherds if people expect them to be superheroes.
Why was I proud to be a pastor's kid? This may sound simplistic, but I believe churches need to hear it -- again.
-- My father was a pastor -- not a preacher, CEO, entertainer, clinical counselor, self-help guru or crisis-management consultant.
-- He preached the Bible, not his feelings and experiences. Today, many urge pastors to make their lives open books -- often forcing a faked extroversion that has little to do with reality. This has more to do with life in an era of mass-media confessions than solid teaching or evangelism.
-- My parents were united -- for 58 years -- by their love and commitment to ministry. Today, many churches place so much pressure on clergy schedules and on their spirits that the very foundations of their personal lives are weakened. This has led to clergy divorce rates that are as shameful as in society as a whole.
-- My father wasn't a workaholic. It wasn't until college that I talked with other PKs and discovered how unusual it was that I spent many, many hours with my father. I'm convinced this was linked to a more balanced, realistic approach to ministry.
-- He kept on loving God, his work and his people. I have never known a pastor who didn't wrestle with fits of melancholy. Good pastors are realists who face the reality of pain and sin. And then many heap criticism on them, micromanage their lives and expect miracles.
Truth is, I rarely saw my father move mountains. But I did see him preach, teach, pray and embrace sinners. I was proud that he was a pastor. I still am.
Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Milligan College in Tennessee. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service. It is used in Baptist Press by permission.