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How Not to Treat Your Pastor

How Not to Treat Your Pastor

Ever since I was little, people have seemed fascinated with my life as a pastor’s kid. I quickly grew numb to the “What’s it like to grow up with pastors for parents” and “What are your parents really like at home” questions.

To me and my siblings, our lives were normal. Our parents may have been stricter than most, but it was mostly normal.

So in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month, here’s a look at how churches can do a better job caring for pastors and their families.

Dehumanizing Those Who Lead

“Dehumanize” is somewhat of a buzzword, but until its emergence I couldn’t explain this hurt very well. It was difficult as a child to understand that the people around me didn’t like my parents and were teaching their children, my friends, to also dislike them on the basis of “church stuff” that I didn’t understand yet.

As an adult who does understand the “church stuff,” it’s even harder. Please believe me when I tell you that anything you say to someone about your pastor, their kids and their families will hear. People love to tell us what other people are saying and thinking about our parents. They love being the source of information, especially when the news is bad.

Even my friends would feel more comfortable speaking negatively about my parents than I ever would theirs. It’s an odd dynamic, but it’s easy to understand why.

Life in the Spotlight

To some, pastors are a figurehead: the leader of a group or the symbol of a mission or an ideal. They are a bit of a mystery because no one ever gets too close, and they are put on a pedestal that makes them easier to idealize, and even easier to judge.

So when something goes wrong—when they fail to meet expectations, there’s a breakdown in a relationship or a sharp theological dispute that causes a rift, it can be hard to remember that they’re just like everyone else. Not only are they people, but they are someone’s parents. 

Our family is oddly close. We know it’s weird. We know we’re borderline obsessed with each other and feel each other’s pain in a way that most people don’t. We learned at an early age to become fiercely protective of each other. None of us learned how to have friends well, because all of our friendships were in some way tied to the performance of our parents as pastors. 

We learned to never tell them the hurtful things we hear, because we see how much they hurt. They put on brave faces, sometimes even angry faces, so it’s understandable that people would think they aren’t affected, but we see it. We live it.

We are not oblivious to the faults of our parents.They make mistakes. I’ve seen them love people well and love people not so well. I’ve seen them parent well and parent not so well. I’ve seen them pastor well and pastor not so well. But I’ve never seen them not try to learn from their mistakes—and their mistakes are more visible than yours or mine will ever be.

What Comes With the Territory

My parents love their calling, and they love their jobs. They love everyone in this community, whether they’ve been hurt or done the hurting. They don’t complain, and they ask for forgiveness. They understand the consequences of living in the public eye and continue to choose it day in and day out, flaws and all.

They love and grieve, just like anyone else in any other job.

Maybe October isn’t just a month to appreciate our pastors, but also to evaluate how we treat them. How we encourage them. How we support them. Because beyond their position as pastor, they are humans, first and foremost. And everyone deserves a little grace.

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