Sometimes, I’ll forget whether it’s Dad’s Sunday to preach or not, but as soon as I feel my way down the hallway toward the coffee pot, I know. If he isn’t reading in the armchair by the window, then his black dress shoes wait on the floor next to it. I like to see him there in his Sunday clothes, hair combed, and barefoot— as if, in poring over that morning’s text, he’s on holy ground.
The last two summers, I’ve found myself (by coincidence) reading novels about ministers and their daughters. The novelists are masterful writers, whose stories serve a needed dose of reality, but not without childlike wonder and hope. And yet— I couldn’t help but notice the dim, sad light they angled at the preacher. In both stories, the daughters (one middle-aged, one a girl) wrestled the cold-heartedness of her preacher dad. In each, the reverend’s kindness masked his hypocrisy or prejudice or indifference to the world outside his pulpit.
I know these stories reflect a sad truth in the church today, but I’m blessed to say that neither reminded me of my own dad.
I like to watch when Dad gets a piece of mail from the bank or electric company, addressed to Reverend Melton. One of us kids will sometimes hand it to him with a flourish: “To Reverend Melton,” and Dad will just shake his head like it’s a title he’ll never wear quite right— like the stiff, black clothes Father Brown would wear. The novels I’ve read don’t leave much room for a reverend who prefers to go by Pastor John— or better yet, Dad.
This summer, I’m reading a book called Ordinary by Michael Horton, which is a pushback on evangelicalism’s drive toward the radical and extraordinary— things like weekend revivals and worship services with smoky lights. In a chapter about pastors, he writes:
“The minister comes and goes, but the ministry endures—determined by the authority of Scripture rather than by the effectiveness or ingenuity of those who bear the office.”[i]
The flock Dad shepherds isn’t his own, and he knows that. In the truest sense of the word, he’s only a minister of saving grace, incarnating the Word by walking it into the homes and hospital rooms and hearts of his sheep.
Our church sits on the top seam of America’s Bible belt, where churches are increasingly unraveled by unfaithful preachers and leaders, and yet there are men like my dad, too: a pastor who admits his sins and humbles himself on the holy ground of our hardwood floor, who — when others shout, “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos”— says, “I follow Christ,” and does.
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:1-2
[i] Horton, Michael, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2014), 114