My father’s best gift to me was his obscurity. In the 20+ years in which he pastored churches and his children grew up, he never published anything other than a newsletter article, spoke anywhere other than a church pulpit, or was known by anyone other than those who had met him or us. Whatever the opposite of a “celebrity pastor” is, that’s what Dad was in those years. And it was the best thing that could have ever happened to a son.
I was a man when I first encountered the pressure that is on ministers to create something for people to remember them by. And in my life I’ve known some sons of pastors and ministers who did indeed have large platforms, impressive CV’s, and the like. I’ve known some children of these “celebrity” ministers. Of all these children I’ve known and talked to, not one of them expressed gratitude for their father’s celebrity. Most of them loved and admired their dads, yes. Most of them weren’t bitter and resentful (with some exceptions). But none of them actually said they were glad their dads were as famous and accomplished as they were. In fact, most of them who still tender-hearted toward their fathers and faithful to the gospel intimated that it was despite their fathers’ successes, not because of it.
Don’t read some imprecatory analysis into this. I write only what I’ve seen. For this pastor’s son, coming to grips with my own Dad’s struggles in the ministry has not always been easy. There’s been temptation to blame hard seasons of life on him, or on the church, or on God, or on myself. Obscurity is not an elixir. Life is hard and painful and mysterious no matter how many people know your name. The problem of suffering is history’s great equalizer.
But I do know that my Dad’s obscurity has taught me something I’m not sure I would have learned otherwise. It’s taught me that what most people, even Christians, mean by “success” is perilous. Success for the celebrity pastor might mean failures for the celebrity pastor’s son. Failures for the struggling yet faithful minister might mean success for the son. My own life might have even to this point looked very different if Dad had valued his own success the way some of the books and conferences wanted him to. But he didn’t. And now, in his 60s, with no book contracts to his name and none on the horizon, with no legacy of expertise to leave behind for strangers, the whole of my Dad’s faithfulness is known only to the objects of it: His savior, his wife, his children, his flocks.
I cherish my father’s obscurity. In the moments I find myself not aspiring to it, I aspire that I would.