I have been meaning to write you for a while, but I never know quite what to say, but I’ve decided that it is past time for this pastor’s daughter to speak. I am a PK, a seminary student, and have been an intern and a volunteer in many churches, and one who loves the church dearly, but there are a few things I have to say…
It seems obvious, but your actions show that it isn’t — your pastor is a person. Maybe I need to say that again — YOUR PASTOR IS A PERSON. Your pastor is many things before s/he is your pastor. S/he is a mother/father, husband/wife, friend, sibling, member of the community and above all, a child of God.
It should then go without saying that your pastor has feelings. I have watched you treat your pastors with compassion and grace, and I have seen the love of Christ in your actions. There have been other times I have not been able to sing “They will know we are Christians by our love” with a straight face.
I’m gonna be really honest with you here, really honest, you ready? Sometimes I have loved the church of Jesus Christ despite its parishoners. Pastors’ children are the invisible watchers who learn what it is to be church by seeing how the church treats the ones we love. I have watched you come up to my younger siblings and tell them that you didn’t want us here (you thought/hoped we forgot, didn’t you?), I have seen you say things to my mom and other pastors that you wouldn’t say to anyone else and then tell him/her that “it wasn’t personal.” I have walked into churches where we were loved and cared for through the hardest times, but also had to pray that God would give me the strength to forgive churches who offered us no welcome. We are the children who see more than you think we see, who encourage and hug and build back up what you sometimes tear down — because pastors are people too, and some of them have children just like some of you.
Your pastor has a life outside the church. One with joys and difficulties. Pastors have parents die and children be a mess. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes their babies keep them up all night, but they still have to get up and preach the next morning. They have fears that keep them up at night, it’s just that they can’t dump them back on the congregation. They have people critique all aspects of what they do as if it won’t hurt their feelings, and then they have to get up in front of you each week and bare a little bit of their soul — and they can’t be selective, they don’t just bare it to the kind person in the third row who is one of the only ones who asks how they are — no, they also bare it to the person who can’t stand them.
The pastors I am related to, have worked for, am friends with, and have loved, for the most part, love what they do. They are pursuing the Kingdom for all they are worth in a thankless job. Pastors’ kids are almost a necessity because your pastor has to do more than is actually humanly possible. How many other jobs do you know that involve speaking in front of people, leading youth and children, being a janitor, event planner, funeral direction, counselor, and whatever else comes up? People often act as if their pastor spends all week writing a sermon. I, as PK and intern, have watched pastors scrub pews, run interference when a drunk/high person walked in during choir practice, and empty buckets and buckets of water up and down a ladder from the AC. If they let it, being a pastor would consume their whole lives, because the work is never done.
So to be really blunt — treat your pastors like people. They are the people who baptize your children, sit with you in hospital, officiate your family’s weddings, and you frequently act like that doesn’t matter, like you don’t remember or don’t care. Remember they have feelings and whatever you say is personal — you don’t treat other people like shit and tell them it isn’t personal, don’t do it here.
Following Jesus is really hard — leading a church in the process of following Jesus is especially hard. Extend them grace, remember that they may have had a hard week too. Maybe they haven’t gotten a lot of sleep or miss their children, maybe they aren’t feeling well, regardless, cut them some slack. Remember that they have been given a task that is physically impossible, maybe ask how you can help. They are teaching your children and visiting your grandparents. Sometimes they are doing the work that someone in the church should be doing but isn’t — ask them how they are and actually listen.
And if for some reason, your pastor’s humanity is not reason enough to treat him/her like a child of God with mercy, kindness, and respect — then remember that some of them have children, and how you treat their parent is the church that child will learn to love or leave.
Thanks be to God for the churches who taught me to love.