In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
The strange thing about being a pastor is that lots of people think they know you. Pastors often become professional friends. Pastors consider very few people to be actual friends and yet many people consider their pastor to be a close friend. Lots of people made claims to my father, thought they knew him better than me. They would take time to explain things to me about my dad, as if I was misinformed, not around him in church enough or something.
The ironic thing is, no one knew my dad better than my mom and my sister and I. We lived with this guy for more years than anyone else, seeing him in all situations. My mom knows him best, as should be. My sister has a year and a half more with him than me, but I’m in third, pretty good. Maybe his parents know more, OK, I’ll be fourth. But it’s the everyday things that help you get to know a guy.
I was there when he was trying to get me to memorize my Awana verses and I was just struggling, didn’t really want to do it. He kept going over the verse with me, over and over and over and I was not getting it. I was playing with socks, because when you are memorizing verses, playing with anything is exciting. He took the socks away. I grabbed a pillow. Taken away. I started playing with the covers on the bed, still botching my verses. Finally he got up in justifiable frustration and kicked a shoe, which smacked the door with the sole and made the loudest noise I have ever heard out of a shoe, scared the life out of me. He left. About one minute later I had 6 verses memorized.
I was there when our bus driver, who was supposed to be at our bus stop at 6:45 wasn’t there, again, for the third time that week. I went to a Christian school about 15 miles from our house. It took a half-hour to drive out there. My dad had had it. That was it. Third time this week. My dad even showed up early. She had done this before and my dad had mentioned to her that she needed to wait a bit, he was always there on time. He was too, my dad couldn’t be late if he tried. But three times that week. She had to be doing it on purpose.
So my dad drove us all out to the school, half-hour there, half-hour back, not what my dad had planned for the morning. Oh, he let her have it. I still remember him standing there at the door of the bus with his foot in the door so she couldn’t close it and going off on her. Oh, it was great, I was proud of my dad. One of the few times I’ve ever seen him angry at someone, while they were there anyway.
Everyone sins and I certainly don’t intend to go through a list of sins that my father did. When choosing a pastor, Scripture is very clear as to what the qualifications are. The book of Titus lists some. What you will notice is that these qualifications don’t list schooling, experience, professional recommendations, or anything like that. They are all moral qualifications. Not soon angry, not given to wine, not a brawler, apt to teach, etc. My dad was all those things, including the “must rule his children for if a man cannot rule his own house how can he rule the House of God?”
Churches would be well served if they used this criteria for hiring a pastor than the usual ones. One of the reasons the church has suffered over the years is because of bonehead leadership by guys who weren’t morally sound enough to operate a hotdog stand. My dad fit the qualifications of a pastor as well as anyone, but he was still a guy.
For about four years, I would go down to my dad’s house in Aurora, Illinois in February. We would take the train in to Chicago and attend Moody Founder’s Week. This was a great idea and I’m glad I thought of it, especially now that he’s gone. It was, once again, time for him and I to be alone, father and son. But this time it was different. The last time we did that was when I was a kid. Now I was a pastor, a husband, and had kids of my own. We were able to talk on levels we never could before. We both enjoyed it thoroughly.
After listening to the speakers in the morning, we would go over to the Boston Market restaurant by Moody Church and critique the speakers. It was great fun.
For some reason, Boston Market is protective of their bathrooms. In order to get in them you had to get a key, which was tucked into a little corner by the soda machine. We, of course, sat in a booth about two booths away from the door of the bathroom. People would try the door to the bathroom, find it was locked, assume someone was in there, and just stand and wait. My dad, being a nice guy, would either actually go get the key for them himself, or at least tell them where it was. It was amazing to see how worried he got for these people.
The bathroom became a topic of conversation. We noted how many people had to use the bathroom there and how much easier it would be if the door could just be opened without a key. Lines would form with the key being passed on to each person. It was a hassle to have to go to the bathroom there. How dumb to make it so hard. I wrapped up our conversation after commenting on how unfortunate and tough it was to use the bathroom by saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” My dad literally spit out his food and fell over in the booth laughing. It was a brilliant moment. Real. My dad.
During the afternoon session at Founder’s Week, they meet in Torrey Grey Auditorium, which was smaller because no one came to the afternoon sessions because everyone was tired. My dad and I would go up to the balcony and sit behind everyone so we could goof off. The auditorium was rather quiet and noises echoed. If you coughed it would reverberate around in there for about 3 minutes. It was especially quiet in the afternoon because the actual Moody students were not required to go to this session, so they didn’t.
After a quiet session, they were closing in prayer, even more quiet. “Quiet” is the key word I want you to get here. My dad was sitting to my right and all of a sudden he literally jumps in his chair. I look over to see his hand over his mouth, his eyes huge and he starts bouncing with laughter. The jump was the response of his focused efforts to restrain himself from letting out a huge burp. We, of course, both started laughing and bouncing in our chairs. We could both envision what would have happened if he had released the burp in all its ferocity to be broadcast over the nationwide airwaves of WMBI radio. Real. My dad.
Pastors burp. They make bathroom jokes. They kill parakeets in sinks. The biggest error a pastor can make is to portray himself as perfect or above everyone else. They aren’t. Even the pope poops. I knew my dad as “dad” long before I knew what a pastor even was. Most people associated with a church see their pastor maybe once a week. A few people see him three times a week. They get an hour here and an hour there. They think they know the guy based on those few hours. But those hours are generally affiliated with church. Few people are the same in church as they are elsewhere. Seeing pastors in other roles can be destructive. I know a guy who left a church based on how he saw his pastor play softball.
My dad quit church softball; he said it was because of his shoulder. I don’t know, he did have shoulder problems. I think it had more to do with the fact that a pastor playing softball can be dangerous. Men are competitive. Pastors are competitive. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid a situation than it is to control yourself if you were in it. I’m not saying my dad didn’t play softball because of that, I just always wondered if it played in there. I’m a pastor, I used to like softball, I dread it now. I’m trying to get out of it by saying I can’t see the ball anymore. I’ve also had to apologize to several people over my behavior on the softball field over the years. It’s not worth it.
Or is it? Should pastors risk their reputation, testimony and even their job for softball? What if softball reveals that they aren’t “slow to anger?” Shouldn’t the people know that though? They should, but try being a pastor playing softball sometime and let me know how it goes.