To My Dad on His Retirement (not Retirement)
Tonight, my dad “officially” retires from his 40+ years of ordained ministry, serving as a pastor in the local church. I use the air quotes because he not only has a full-time ministry position he’s starting in July, but also because I firmly believe some of his very best year of ministry, professionally and otherwise, are still ahead. Nevertheless, there are too many moments we miss marking that should not be missed.
For more than 40 years, my dad has worked tirelessly and passionately to make Jesus known and to equip the people of God for real, everyday, life-giving ministry in the world. It is quite simply, remarkable.
The first time the taunt “pastor’s kid” was directed at me was during recess in elementary school. One of the boys (who, coincidentally, I had just beaten in a foot race) began to chant “pastor’s kid, pastor’s kid” while we circled on the merry-go-round. I remember being confused as to why that was an insult. I looked back at him and began chanting “accountant’s kid, accountant’s kid,” as I stuck out my tongue. Clearly, I did not yet understand the implications of having Jesus in my heart.
As I got older, I began to understand why “pastor’s kid” was its own category. I became less oblivious to the fish bowl we were living in, and I would be lying to say there weren’t moments I didn’t resent it. For example, my parents wouldn’t let us go to the movies on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t because they thought movies were a sin, or that we were fervently observing the sabbath. It was mostly because other people might see us and judge the fact that we weren’t observing the sabbath in the ways they thought we should. We argued that the only people who would see us were people who were also at the movies (someone please say, “amen”), but the issue was never one of logic. It was expectation, judgment, and the standards people didn’t abide by yet expected their pastor and his family to fill.
And still, somehow (and lets give my mom A LOT of credit here), my sister and I survived, and today we both claim a firm faith in Christ as the Lord of our lives, and we both still love the Church and believe in the Church, effectively beating the pastor’s kid odds. I once heard Andy Stanley say that he would hire anyone who applied to be on his staff who was a pastor’s kid because it meant they knew how ugly the Church could be and still had the faith to see why Jesus established it as the hope of the world and the desire to fight for it.
My sister and I proudly carry the moniker of “pastor’s kids” and that is because of the pastor whose kids we are. My dad didn’t just show up Sunday after Sunday and talk about a God who was love, and a Savior who laid down his life for us. My dad showed up on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and all of the days at home and at work and at the ball fields and all of the places and lived his life as though those things are true. He gave his best, pushed for more from everyone around him, and sacrificed himself again and again and again so that people would know God is with us and for us.
I never imagined I would follow my dad’s footsteps into vocational ministry. It wasn’t because I thought what he did seemed miserable, it was because it seemed ordinary. As kids, our parents taught us to work hard. They told us we were blessed to be a blessing, and that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” My sister and I grew up making plans and expecting to RULE THE WORLD (with compassion, grace and service, of course).We wanted to live extraordinary lives – we just didn’t realize the life we were already part of was anything but ordinary.
We didn’t know yet that not everyone grows up in a home where prayer is constant, unconditional love is practiced, and joy is found in all things. More to the point, we didn’t know that everyone’s parents didn’t take calls at all hours of the day and night because in ministry there are no such things as “office hours.” We didn’t understand when we saw our dad graduate with his doctorate that he had been up studying and writing late at night in addition to pastoring and leading a growing church, and showing up at all of our games and activities. We missed the fact that our mom worked a full-time job as a special education teacher’s assistant in addition to the hours and hours she volunteered at the church, directing VBS, putting together prayer ministries, leading small groups, filling in for the nursery when no one else showed up, directing the church choir (and this list could go on for a loooong time). And, she did all that because, even though no one ever ordained her, she also said yes over 40 years ago to God’s call on her life to ministry in the church. Frankly, we didn’t realize that eating spaghetti a few times a week wasn’t normal. We had no idea it was also because it was cheap (and a family favorite). All we knew was that we had everything we ever needed and somehow my parents always had more to give to our church, and to whomever they saw in need. Foolishly, blindly, my sister and I grew up in a home where this was ordinary.
We’re older now. We’ve seen more of the world. We’re married. We have kids. I am in my 11th year of full-time commissioned/ordained ministry, and my 8th year as a lead pastor. My sister is basically ruling the business world and sharing Jesus with everyone around her. And now, we know. Our dad and our mom are extraordinary.
And so, even with years of ministry left and more to celebrate and the finish line nowhere actually in sight, this is me, giving you a “standing O” today, Dad. I could have written this privately in a card, but it deserves to be noted publicly (and, I never remember to get cards in the mail in time – sorry, mom 😉
Dad, you are, and have always been, my hero. Well done, good and faithful servant.