Son of a Preacher Man

So there we were, at a table filled mostly with people we had just met. We were at a restaurant with my brother in-law’s church folks.

We had (accidentally) revealed to his friends that my wife was a PK (pastor’s kid) therefore, outing him as a PK. The guy sitting directly in front of me, his eyes widen and said, “Me, too!”

To which, I had to interject and say, “Well, yea actually, me too.”

He and I had made eye contact after our confession and in that fleeting instant– there was a mutual understanding, a “I feel you, bro” type of deal. And in that instant, we bonded.

I don’t know what it’s like for non-Korean PKs, but for us Korean PKs, regardless of denomination, when we learn what our fathers do– there’s an instant connection. We know what our fathers and mothers have gone through. Or more truthfully, we know what our fathers and mothers have suffered through. A lot of times, more our mothers than our fathers. We know the crap that Korean PKs are unfortunately dragged through. We know the immense amount of pressure and expectation that would drive an adult crazy, placed on us, as teenagers who are still trying to discover who we are, especially outside the context of being the “preacher’s kid.”

So, we rebel. Often, because we have to. It’s the only way we can exercise whatever little control we may have in our lives.

Be at Sunday school. Be at Sunday evening’s worship gathering. Be at the Wednesday evening service. Homework? Bring it with you. Teach the younger kids. Bow to this person. Bow to that person. Don’t talk that way. Don’t eat that in front of the church people. Don’t chew gum. Don’t wear that. Don’t wear this. Wear that. Don’t say this. Say that. Be good. No, be perfect.

You know, it might be bearable if those expectations only came from our parents. But those expectations come from the entire church.They seemingly expect us to be flawless — like Jesus was, apparently at the age of 12 when he was with the religious leaders.

Korean parishioners place immense amount of expectations on their pastors. I like to believe it’s out of the sentiment, “Since I can’t live that way, my pastor should.”

Many Korean churches seem to not understand the concept of grace.

In my first appointment (at an Anglo church), on a Sunday morning, my (then) senior pastor opened the worship service with a quick note.

“My son is not feeling well today,” he explained. “So my phone is on, and if he calls me, I’m going to have to go home. If that’s in the middle of the service, Joseph will take care of the rest.”

I remember how foreign that sounded. “Wow! Can he do that?”

Try pulling that in the Korean church.

“Is your kid dying? No? Then finish up here.” (Of course, I’m exaggerating. I think…)

It’s almost like the way our parents treated school attendance.

“You sick? You dying? No? K, you go school! What? You no feel leg? You have two! Use other one! Now go school!!!!”

Or maybe our rebellion can be a cry for attention. We know that we’ll get our parents’ attention if we do something crazy.

Sure, I never rebelled by doing “bad” things –like smoking, drugs, knocking someone up. But I did do bad things. Like, when I had to babysit church kids on a Wednesday evening church service, my friend and I picked 3 kids (each), and made them fight/wrestle as if they were pokemon and we were pokemon trainers. And, of course, there was strategy in which kid we picked to battle. No one got seriously hurt. Someone did end up having a bite mark… but, I can neither confirm or deny that it was result of a battle.

That’s one of the few things I feel comfortable sharing…

Eli’s story in 1 Samuel always fascinated me. Here was this priest of Israel yet, his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas were just horrible people. “Scoundrels” the Bible described them, who had “no regard for the Lord.”

In today’s culture, there are two reasons, I believe, why PKs can grow up with absolutely no regard for God.

The first is how the congregation treats their father, the pastor. If the kid continues to witness their father being treated so miserably with such disrespect by the very people of God and church, how do you reconcile the love of Christian with the graceless, mean-spirited people of the church?

During a church meeting, my dad got punched in the face. The love of God must’ve been so present in that meeting. The story in a nutshell was that this person was willing to donate a huge sum of money to the church in exchange for his son be an elder at the church. My dad refused, saying that is not how things work and that you cannot buy your way into leadership position. That’s not the answer the man wanted to hear.

I learned this story decades after it had happened. I don’t know how I would’ve reacted seeing that. I would be too young (under 11) to do anything, or possibly too young to even comprehend the event that I would’ve just witnessed. But I’m sure it would’ve affected me in some way.

Andy Stanley said he was 13 when he saw his father (a pastor) get punched during a meeting. “I wanted to kill [that man]” Andy writes in his new book, Deep & Wide.

The other reason, and I think this is the one that’s more impactful, is how the pastor is at home– the man behind pulpit is a complete different man behind closed doors.

Here’s this person preaching about honesty, integrity, grace, love and all that other Jesus stuff. But at home, he beats his kids. Maybe even his wife. Verbally abuses everyone. Cheats and lies.

How do you reconcile that man behind the pulpit, the one everyone calls “pastor” with the man behind closed doors, who you call “dad”?

The inconsistency might play a number in the psyche of the child. It might be different if the pastor was consistent. Even if it was consistently bad. He’s a jerk behind the pulpit and in front of the church. He’s a jerk at home to everyone else. He picks fights with parishioners. He picks fights with everyone at home. I think we could deal with that. At least he’s consistent. At least I know who he is and where he stands. He’s consistently a jerk. There’s no cognative dissonance there. He’s mean at home. He’s mean at church. He’s mean in public.

Who knows if either of these scenarios were in play for Eli’s two sons.

But, man, it’s hard being a PK.

It’s hard when everyone in the church judges you and expects you to be Christ himself as a teenager rather than love you.

It’s hard when your behavior may affect your father’s job.

At the same time, I don’t think that means our parents — our fathers, never loved us.

Who knows how I will balance who I am as a pastor, who I am as a husband and who I will be as a father. The last thing I want to do is live my life in such a way that God becomes a stench to my children’s noses and end up having no regard for the Lord.

And while I’m not quite consistent or always follow through on this belief, I believe the most important ministry we ever engage begins at home. And that goes for all Christians (and people of any faith).

I think I had a fairly good balance growing up — something I am grateful for, looking back. I have a good role model to model myself after in my dad.

But, wherever I go, no matter how old I get, I think I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for PK’s, particularly kids whose parents serve at an immigrant Korean church.

There seems to be a special connection that we all have… even if it is founded upon pain….

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