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John Ortberg Is My Dad, But Don't Call Me a PK


Oct 5 2011
My siblings and I managed to avoid the perils that come with having famous Christian parents.

I've always hated the term "PK." All my life, people have felt total license to use it with my siblings and me—a knowing glance, a faked camaraderie. "You're a PK, too? Isn't it the worst/best?"

Well, yes. And no. And why are we having this conversation in the first place? We never, after all, refer to a dentist's child as a DK or the child of a homemaker as an HK. Why do the children of clergy get such special designations—and such a specific template into which they must fit?

We PKs have two choices, according to television and popular belief. Either we grow up sanctimonious, carrying the mantle of our fathers—in the mold of Martin Luther King Jr., Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and Franklin Graham—or, we are Katy Perry or pre-conversion Jay Bakker, tattooed and seductive and rebellious and raising hell in ways specifically contrived to reject our parents' beliefs (call it the Pastor's Kids Gone Wild trend, as Jon Acuff recently did).

We have on our hands a Christian celebrity culture that runs counter to the gospel: that elevates the gifted communicators, teachers, and leaders and devalues the gifts of the volunteers: those who welcome people into their homes, the administrative assistants, and the janitors. A 2004 Biola Magazine cover story on pastor's kids noted, "When your dad is a famous Christian, there's a sense that people aren't putting him or you on the same level as themselves. It's this weird, super-Christian mentality," said one of the interviewees. And this sentiment is true, and it is sad, and it is wrong, and it is against everything that Jesus tells us and lived out about the crux of his gospel being located in service.

What is most important for me to say in this whole conversation, though, is not necessarily to indict certain people or phenomena, but to thank my parents.

We three children easily could have grown up with "pastor's kids" as our primary identifier. For the better part of our growing-up years, my mom and dad worked in one of the biggest churches in the country, a church prone to certain kinds of Christian celebrity worship. To be clear, that is part of its junk, and every church has junk, and the congregation is also an incredible place of service and community. People talked to us frequently about how our parents' gifts impacted their lives. And we all, I think, loved to hear that.

But had we not gotten freedom from our parents to be the people we were—to grow and learn for ourselves and even occasionally embarrass our parents, as good children do (a famed family incident at a church in Southern California that involves my then-5-year-old brother lying on his back, thrusting his pelvis to a children's worship song called "Jumping Bean," comes to mind)—we would likely have ended up feeling like our only two possibilities in life were becoming the mantle-bearer or the rebel.

Related Topics:Church; Parenting; Pastors

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John Ortberg Is My Dad, But Don't Call Me a PK