For my father, a pastor

Anyone who grew up in a parsonage knows that "PK" stands for "preacher's kid."

Very 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 bluntly told them my father wasn't a preacher - he was a pastor. There's a difference.

My father turned 81 this week and I thought this would be a good time to say that I'm still proud of his line of work. Of course, it's been some time since the Rev. Bert Mattingly retired from the pastorate and from his post- retirement work as a hospital chaplain. That doesn't matter. In Texas Baptist lingo, he's still "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.

It's tough work and seems to be getting tougher. Ask Jim Dahlman, who recently edited the first-anniversary issue of the Focus on the Family magazine called Pastor's Family. He had only been on the job a few weeks when he read some response letters that 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 always be available to handle each and every crisis, no matter how minor. With family and friends far away, who do people call? Oprah? The all-night therapist? Yet 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. And 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 ticking.

I'm convinced the main reason stress levels are so high is that too 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.

So why was I proud to be a pastor's kid? This may sound simplistic, but I believe many churches need to hear it.

* He 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 an era of mass-media confessions than solid teaching or evangelism.

* My parents have been married 57 years and I'm proud of their love and mutual commitment to ministry. Today, many churches are placing so much pressure on clergy schedules and spirits that they are weakening the very foundations of their personal lives. This has led to divorce rates that are as shameful as in society as a whole.

* He wasn't a workaholic. It wasn't until college that I talked with other clergy children 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.

* My father kept on loving God, his work and his people. I have never known a pastor who didn't wrestle with fits of melancholy. Pastors are, by nature, realists who know the reality of pain and sin. And many heap criticism on them, micromanage their lives and expect miracles.

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.