Living in the Principal's Office
Growing up, my classmates apologized to me more often than to the rest of my peers.
Their sorry words rarely followed an actual slight—a cutting aside, exclusion from a playground game, a collective turn of the cold shoulder between classes. Instead, they fumbled regrets after a cuss word or crude joke—anything you aren’t supposed to say in front of a pastor’s kid.
As I advanced in age and grade, the apologies assumed a different shape, something like a safe reputation at a safe distance.
Despite all the songs and stereotypes about preachers’ kids, no one viewed me as corruptible or dangerous. No one suspected a dormant bad boy disguised in modest clothing from mid-level box stores. Kids looked at me and saw an unfashionable haircut, a code of conduct, and a weak stomach.
Life as a pastor’s kid sometimes felt like living in the principal’s office. Everyone on their best behavior, using their inside voices, eyes darting around, trying to read any possible consequence before it crosses your face.
Sterilized reactions to my father’s profession and my goodness—real and perceived—never capsized my commitment to the church. But their power to erode something in the spirit became a part insealing my resolve. I would never adopt “pastor” as a personal noun or verb.
Missionaries and ministers of a certain disposition visited our church. Wildly gesturing and over-articulating their words. They told their stories, casting themselves as modern-day Jonahs. Past versions of them told God what they would never do, where they would never go. Anywhere but Africa, Lord. Anywhere but the inner city. Anywhere but back to my hometown.
Hear this story a few times and the plot no longer has any twist to it. The “anywhere but” becomes the mission field, and a sign of God’s zany sense of humor.
My “anything but” resolutions held until I sunk my feet into the
still-wet cement of an upstart Midwestern church plant. This little faith community won over me and my wife, tethering our destiny to the destiny of a city in which we never intended to live. I caved when asked to enter the incubator and begin a nine-month elder process—just long enough to deliver a newborn pastor.
Sweetness followed. So did heaviness. The path also cuts straight through the principal’s office. Responses to someone who shares a pastor’s name don’t change—they just take on more socially acceptable forms. Friendships change overnight and without a single conversation, straining against a perceived set of new confines and constraints. Invitations to keep company lessen—or take on weight. Balance shifts.
People ask for something before ever asking, “How are you?” Conversation-stoppers trade places with conversation-starters. An air of suspicion greets you, as if you delight in catching someone
off-guard. The word “pastor” is nervously invoked around you, much like someone repeats the word “officer” in a traffic stop.
Pastors who earnestly grapple with faithfulness want to live lives set apart for God’s purposes, not set above or apart from God’s people. We over-inflate their work and deny the Trinitarian shape of the church when we evade them as much as when we elevate them.
The pastors I know, at least the ones I know well, are worth bringing close, not holding at an arms length. They live like most other people I know. They struggle to parent their children, fight with their spouses, worry about money. They have bad days at work, and daydream about leaving it all behind.
They tie the laces of reasonably cool sneakers while listening to their favorite bands—sometimes, even bands who don’t receive Christian airplay. They don’t wilt when they hear a four-letter word—they might even loose a few themselves. They like to laugh, even developing a truly skewed sense of humor, owed to their line of work.
More than anything, they want to belong to a people. To God’s people. The pastors I respect treat their work as holy, but not holier than yours. In their clear-eyed moments, the sacredness of their responsibilities never outweighs one of the core convictions to emerge from the Reformation, the priesthood of the believer.
But we can only belong to one another if we fight to shrink the distance between your soul and his or hers. A laugh between equals beats a nervous giggle. Shared burdens feel better than top-heavy loads. A seat next to you in the pew feels more like home than the principal’s office.
Most pastors and their families aren’t looking for apologies. They look for the same qualities in a church that you do. Somewhere to experience the presence of God. Somewhere to belong.
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