Confessions of a Pentecostal Kid

I am a “Pastor’s Kid,” or a “PK” according popular church parlance.  But not just any pastor’s kid.  No, I grew up in the home of a Pentecostal preacher.  I guess that makes me a “PPK” – a Pentecostal pastor’s kid (trademark pending).

Pentecostals were, at least during my adolescent and teen years, considered fringe Christians.  Some might say – rather, did say – fanatics.  The churches my dad pastored were relatively small, “other-side-of-the tracks” churches, which was not uncommon at the time.  Pentecostalism has come a long way since then.

Growing up in Pentecostalism during the 60’s and early 70’s was, to say the least, interesting.  I developed some perspectives, beliefs, and understandings during this period.  Many of these I now consider misbeliefs and misunderstandings.  Indeed, many of these I now consider quite weird and humorous.

I describe a few of these perspectives, beliefs, and understandings here.  If you grew up in Pentecostalism you may be able to relate.  Then again, you may not.  If you did not grow up in Pentecostalism, you may just be confused.  You may even be offended (such a trivial word these days).  Regardless, and I want to make this quite clear, these perspectives, beliefs, and understandings were solely the products of my adolescent mind.  They were not taught to me by my parents nor anyone else.  They were just, as I said, the products of an immature, adolescent, maybe even warped, mind.

That said, here are a few of my somewhat contorted (hopefully humorous) childhood perspectives.  Enjoy (or not).

Rapture Fear
No matter how many times I asked God to forgive me and for Jesus to come into my heart, I was never sufficiently confident in my salvation.  I lived in constant fear of missing the rapture, of being left behind with all the other “heathens.”

I remember numerous times coming home and not being able to find anyone.  Immediately, my thought would be, ‘Holy crap! Where is everybody? Did the rapture take place, and I’ve been left behind?’  My next thought would be, ‘Okay, who can I call or quickly find to alleviate my concern?’  I would then go through a short mental list of people. Some I had doubts about, and quickly eliminated, others I was sure would also be gone if the rapture did indeed occur.  When I was finally able to contact someone who I was sure was a solid rapture candidate, my fear quelled, and I once again repented.

I am so glad to be over that.  Well, I’m pretty sure I am . . . for the most part.

(You’re still there, right?  Are you still reading this?  Oh, shoot, who can I call?!)

“Holy Roller” Confusion
When, on rare occasion, I told my young friends where I went to church, I was often told (maybe the word “accused” is more fitting) that I went to a “holy roller church.”  I never fully understood that label.  I mean, not once did I see anyone rolling around in church.  Well, I think me and my brothers may have done so on occasion, but we were just causing a ruckus, and not a “holy” one.

I never saw anyone swing from a chandelier or any other light fixture.  I never saw anyone do cartwheels or any other gymnastic exercise.  I never saw anyone jumping pews.  And I certainly never saw anyone handling a snake!  Yet, for reasons I could never figure out, my church was a holy roller church.

If half the shenanigans the people in my church were accused of doing when I was younger actually occurred, we could have sold tickets and made a bundle.

Losing My Salvation
See “Rapture Fear” above.  As I stated there, I lived in constant fear of committing a sin and thereby losing my salvation.  I was afraid of, in the parlance of the day, “backsliding.”  What if, in my momentary backslidden state, I was in an accident and killed?  What if the rapture took place?  What if . . . ?  Well, the answer, in my mind, was that I would spend eternity in hell, separated from God.

Such nonsense.  But that was my immature adolescent understanding.  I am SO glad to be over it.

Evangelist Evader
I was around quite a few itinerant evangelists during my childhood.  They would sometimes visit the churches my dad pastored, or we would sometimes visit other churches that had invited them.  No matter, I always lived in fear of them.  I was afraid that one of them would “call me out” during or after the service.  ‘About what?’ you might ask.  Well, I was never sure.  Perhaps, to point out some secret sin I was harboring in my heart (what that might have been as an adolescent is beyond me).  Or, to prophecy over me about my future.  Maybe to just let me know I was on the highway to hell.

Irrational?  Yes.  But I had seen it done before to others.  Not a lot.  But when you’re young, once or twice is enough to strike fear in your heart.

Most of the evangelists I remember would wear relatively fancy clothes.  They would speak with authority.  They were seemingly revered by congregants.  I figured they must be special.  I figured the “words” they had for others must be true, holy, and righteous.  Well, true anyway.  No matter.  I wanted no part.

“Please, please, Mr. Evangelist, don’t look my way, ‘cause I ain’t looking your’s!”

The Devil is in the Details
The devil was everywhere.  When something – anything – went wrong (no matter how big or small), it was his (her? its?) fault.  Whenever my mind wandered to something it shouldn’t, it was because of that fiend.  Whenever I disobeyed, it was that jerk’s fault.  Whenever I lied, it was that creep who made me do it.  Whenever something broke; whenever someone got sick; whenever someone died; shoot, whenever I spilled something (which I happened to do a lot when I was young), it was all a sick plot of the devil.  Dastardly!

Believe it or not, I remember some goofball evangelist recounting a story of how the devil (or maybe it was one of his minions) opened the front door of his house, walked upstairs and into his bedroom, and began choking him.  That is, until he rather authoritatively rebuked his attacker in Jesus’ name.  Whereupon, his attacker immediately stopped, turned around, calmly walked down the stairs, and exited out the front door.

Was that story true?  While I loathe to call someone a liar, I have my doubts.  Regardless, it resulted in a lot of sleepless nights for me as a boy.  I thought for sure I was the next victim.

Knuckleheaded evangelist.  I’d like to choke him.

Religion Ranker
This one just kills me.  How, why, and where I got this notion is beyond me.  I actually had a ranking of various denominations/religions in my head.  What I find even weirder, is that I would, at times, share my rankings with my friends.

I don’t remember the exact order, but I do know that my denominational affiliation – Assemblies of God – was, of course, “numero uno.”  I mean, come on, we were (at least in my mind) the only Spirit-filled, full gospel denomination in town!  I also remember ranking Catholic as the worst.  Why?  I have no idea.  Going, now, in reverse order, I believe Lutheran followed closely behind Catholic.  Then came Presbyterian, then Methodist, and then Nazarene.  Baptist?  Not bad.  It was a close second behind the Assemblies of God.  It was a good denomination, but not quite up to par with the A/G.

Man, how weird was that?

Church Exhaustion
Sunday morning.  Sunday night.  Wednesday night.  Is the church hosting an evangelist?  Then tack on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday?  What? He’s going to be here for multiple weeks.  Crap!  I may as well live at the church.

As a Pentecostal, and especially as a “PPK,” you knew that if the church doors were open, you were going to be there.  Period.  End of story.

I used to envy my friends who had to go to church only once a week, if that.  I used to think I was missing so many good TV shows, so many parties, so many neighborhood baseball and football games, so much free time!  Whether that’s true, I’m not sure.  It’s certainly what I thought.

As I’ve stated elsewhere and at other times on this blog, I resented this practice as a child, but not so much as an adult.  I do think less church in my childhood wouldn’t have negatively impacted me.  But, it has certainly paid dividends.

Oddly, most Pentecostal churches now have only one or two Sunday morning services.  Many have no Sunday School, no Sunday night service, no Wednesday night service, or service on any other night for that matter.  And when was the last time you heard about days-long revival services?  I can’t remember either.

Today’s PPKs have no idea . . .

Pop Culture Pretender
Because, as I just noted, I was in church a lot, I missed a lot of TV shows, especially on Sunday nights.  Because, as I’ll explain below, we did not go to the theater, I did not see any of the popular movies of my adolescent years.  So, on Mondays, whenever my friends would talk about, say, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” or the movie that was on TV the night before, or the movie that they went to see over the weekend, I would simply nod my head, and give a quick ‘Oh yea. Uh-huh’ at opportune times.  After all, I couldn’t admit the truth.  I couldn’t let them know I’d missed out because I was in church.  I couldn’t admit that we didn’t go to movies.  How absurd.  How embarrassing.

Yep. I went through much of my young adolescent years pretending to have my finger on the pulse of popular culture.  Lying, ever so discreetly, to keep my church attendance covert, and avoid being labeled a freak.

What a dork.

Don’t drink.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t go to movies.  Don’t dance.  Don’t wear makeup.  Don’t get your ears pierced.  Don’t get tattoos.  Guys, don’t have long hair.  Gals, don’t have short hair.  And on and on it went.  While I now abhor such legalism, as an adolescent these “don’ts” didn’t bother me too much.  It provided me an easy way to “discern” whether one was, or was not, a “true Christian” (yea, right!).  I also recall legalism rescuing me from an embarrassing situation when I was in elementary school.

For some odd reason, when I attended elementary school (I don’t remember which grade) our teacher got the bright idea that we should learn to square dance.  But not just learn within the context of the classroom.  No.  We were going to square dance in some sort of schoolwide extravaganza – in front of everyone, students and parents alike!  I was paralyzed with fear.  That is, until I remembered . . . we don’t dance!  Indeed, we CAN’T dance.  This revelation almost made me do a dance.

Naturally, I hurried home after school and shared the horror with my mother.  She unhesitatingly wrote a note to the teacher requesting (perhaps demanding) that I be excused from such debauchery (my word, not hers).  I quite proudly delivered it to my teacher.  I was the envy of every other boy in my class.

The downside is that I could not bring myself to dance in public until I was well into my forties.  Now, I think my wife would prefer I just knock it off and sit down.

So Over It
So there you have it.  A peek into the my warped little adolescent mind. Fortunately, I no longer think this way.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor. 13:11, NIV).

I no longer hold to most of the thoughts and reasoning I had as a child (especially those outlined above).  While it was fun to reminisce about these childhood perspectives, I’m so glad to be grown up (well, mostly).  I’m so glad I got over each of these beliefs, understandings, and perspectives.  I’m so glad I put these childhood ways behind me.

If you can relate to any of these, or have your own childhood Pentecostal predilections, I’d like to hear from you.  Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments.