As a pastor for the past 22 years, I have a great appreciation and understanding of pastor’s children — PKs as they are affectionately referred to — are familiar to me because I just happen to have a couple of those myself. Understanding all the nuances of the experience my children had, I have to admit they never went through what many others experienced. The fish bowl lifestyle, the incredibly high standard of behavior expected and the constant criticism that many preachers’ kids faced over the years was never the lot of my boy and girl. Their walk through the PK forest of life produced overall good and wholesome memories.
What I would say they experienced, and what I believe shaped them in their parsonage life, was watching their daddy and mommy go through — the challenges of ministry, a growing church and, perhaps most importantly, how their dad and mom handled the challenges and adversity every ministry faces. Their character was formed, integrity was shaped. I have always appreciated my good friend and former Congressman Bob McEwen’s definition of integrity: Integrity is something you can rely upon. In other words, it performs the task for which it was assigned. It is made up of morality, not doing what’s wrong. However, that’s not enough. As Sir Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for tyranny to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” So, integrity is not only made up of morality, but it is also made up of character. Character is doing what is right. Bob then really unpacks this truth by saying, “You cannot do what is right if you are doing what is wrong. You can be moral and not do anything wrong, but you cannot be a person of character and lack morality.”
This was on grand display this week at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where a futile attempt at comedy crash-landed on the pressed tablecloths of one of Washington, D.C.’s finest hotel ballrooms. The stellar example of character that evening was found clearly and with class in the life of the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a PK.
I believe the true test of character is not seen in the response to an injustice, but rather in the inner strength, to gracefully remain silent rather than striking out. This was certainly modeled for her by her pastor and then-governor father, but more than that, in the life of the Lord and Savior she was raised to serve. It was Jesus who taught us, “Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. For, indeed, your reward is great in heaven. For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.”
The Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards called gentleness “the Christian spirit.” He said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” The Bible goes out of its way to demonstrate Jesus’ gentleness. In fact, the Old Testament depicts the Messiah as unusually gentle, telling us that Jesus would not break a “bruised reed” or snuff out a “smoldering wick.” In the Gospels, Jesus affirmed His gentleness: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” And the apostles often reminded the early church of Jesus’ gentleness: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you.” Unfortunately, too many people equate gentle with weak. Unless you would call the heroic apostle Paul, the fiery Puritan Jonathan Edwards and the living Christ “weak” individuals, it is clearly a misunderstanding to assume weakness has anything to do with gentleness.
I remember like it was yesterday the day I stood in the back of the church building with my little PK. She was 22 and was ready for the doors to swing open and for her life to change forever as she walked down the aisle to become a bride. She looked at me that day and said something I shall never forget. She said, “Daddy, I want my marriage to be just like yours and Mom’s.” But darling, I could have responded, are you crazy? You want to face all that we’ve faced in our lives, careers and in ministry? That’s not what she meant, and I knew it. She wanted the joy in spite of all that life brought our way. The love that meant more than what others said, how the workday went or how bad the situation was, and there were some bad ones. What she wanted, I believe, was the joy in spite of the circumstance. That happiness and peace that was there regardless what anyone else said or did. And you know what? She got it. Oh, she’ll face adversity, I’m sure of it. But she has the strength of character I saw this week in another preacher’s kid from Arkansas. And let me tell you, when all the cameras are put away and media outlets are silent, that’s all that matters.
Tim Throckmorton is the former executive pastor for Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, and Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene. He is currently senior pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.