I have lost count of how many times I have been warned, “Do not sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.” I plan to write on that later, but for now, I want to encourage you not to sacrifice your ministry on the altar of your family.
I do not deny that many pastors have lost their families because the church became their mistress, but I’ve also seen many pastors lose their ministry because they made their families an idol or simply because they created an unnatural divide between their family life and their ministry life. As a Christian minister you must resist the temptation to separate your family life from your ministry life.
You must also resist the temptation to idolize your family. It is true that if you lose your family you will lose your ministry, but what leads a pastor to believe that it is essential for you to spend every waking hour with your wife and kids?
The idea of a forty-hour workweek is not necessarily bad, but it is not biblical either. Pastors are blessed to have flexible schedules that allow them to eat lunch with their wife and children on occasion, to get away from the office and attend school functions, and even to work after the kids go to bed when necessary to allow for more time with them during waking hours. This flexibility is a blessing that must not be taken for granted nor taken advantage of.
Your wife and children should come before your church in your order of priorities, but that does not mean that they will come first every hour or even every week. Sometimes the needs of ministry necessitate that others receive my attention rather than my kids.
Occasionally, I need to attend late meetings or minister to families in crisis late into the night. On some nights the stress and needs of ministry can even call me to my knees in prayer or a separate room in study rather than playing with my kids. The call to pastor is a call to sacrifice and the responsibilities of the shepherd must not be shirked.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid sacrificing your ministry for your family.
- Involve your family in the ministry. It is a blessing to minister as a family. Why wouldn’t you want to have your family at worship with you, accompanying you on visitation, or praying with and for you? Taking your children with you when making visits is a form of discipleship.
- Do not separate family time from church time. This is a pet-peeve of mine that is not restricted to pastors. The idea that real family time can only be had when you are alone with your nuclear family is false. There are wonderful times of family fellowship and fun had among our church family.
- Cling to biblical ideals. A forty-hour workweek was instituted to protect American laborers. Farmers have always labored more than forty hours, as do bankers, presidents, and many others. Active leaders in your church work at least forty hours each week and then devote 8-10 hours to church activities. Demanding a forty hour work week is a slap in the face to those who work forty hours on their secular jobs and then serve faithfully in your church.
- Enlist your family to support you. Does your wife know how to pray for you? Have you invited your children to pray over your ministry? Not only do you receive the support, when they are praying for you, your family members become investors in your ministry.
- Use your home for ministry. Some ministry needs are best met over coffee and cake. New guests to your church can be welcomed guests in your home. Pre-marriage counseling happens best over coffee and desert and in all of these situations, you can perform the important duties of a shepherd and still get to tuck your kids in bed or help out with calculus homework.
- Model a healthy marriage before your people. Another way to involve your family is to remember that the necessary character qualifications to serve as elder pertain primarily to the way that you relate to your family. Godliness is first shown at home. Your church needs to see you relating to your wife and children in healthy biblical ways.
I would never urge anyone to prioritize their ministry over their family, but I would urge all pastors to do the hard work of ministry. Don’t use your family as an excuse for pastoral laziness; that isn’t even putting your family first.
The call to shepherd is not a call to lounge, but to protect, feed, and guide the flock of God to which you have been entrusted (and vice versa). Do not take God’s call lightly and do not sacrifice your ministry for idol worship of your family.
Read the follow-up piece: Don’t Sacrifice Your Family for Your Ministry.