Do not make the church your mistress.
In my last article, I encouraged pastors to avoid sacrificing their ministry for their families, but today I want to encourage you all to avoid the cliff on the other side. If you lose your family, you lose your ministry. There is great danger in idolizing your family to the detriment of your ministry, but there is as great (or even greater) danger in giving your ministry regular priority over your family.
As pastors we need to regularly be reminded that the character qualifications necessary to serve in ministry are related primarily to our engagement with our family. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 Paul writes,
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
You cannot care for God’s church if you do not know how to manage your own household. Your household must come first because it is the proving ground for your ministry. Further, your household must come first because anyone who does not provide for his household is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
Your wife and children should never feel that they have to compete to be your top priority. Your family should see you being as ready and willing to respond to their crises, as you are to respond to the crises of other church members. Your family should know that you are as willing to work long hours for them as you are to work long hours for others. Be as willing to say no to others for the sake of your family, as you are to say no to your family for the sake of others.
Recently I skipped a meeting to spend an evening with my kids. Honestly, I felt some guilt for skipping the meeting, but my wife and kids were overjoyed to see me sacrifice something else for them. Here are some steps you can take to make sure that you are not sacrificing your family for ministry.
- Make time to turn your phone off. You can stand to eat dinner without the constant interruption of text messages and phone calls. By turning your phone off you communicate to your family that they have your undivided attention.
- Take time off. Plan a vacation. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but if at all possible get out of town and make arrangements for someone else to fulfill your ministerial duties. As a side note, this includes funerals. If you interrupt all of your vacations to run home and perform a funeral, your family is getting a message, and the message they are getting is not that you treasure them. If you do not have other staff members who can perform funerals, call a pastor friend at a neighboring church and ask him to be on call for you (and for those of you who really love your pastor buddies, call and offer to be on call for them when they are on vacation).
- Go on a field trip. One of the great blessings of being a pastor is having a flexible schedule. You need to use that to your family’s advantage. Chaperone field trips, go eat lunch with your wife and kids, or coach a ball team.
- Involve your family in ministry. If you read my last article, you know that this is a repeat, but it’s a repeat for a reason. If your family is with you in your ministry, you have the opportunity to put them first and still accomplish the necessary goals of ministry.
- Make time for your wife. You listen to everyone’s problems. You are a counselor and a confidant. Please do not neglect to be that for your spouse. Imagine the alienation and hurt she must feel if you are willing to give a patient and listening ear to everyone but her. Make time to date her and hear her. It is amazing how supportive your wife will be of your ministry when she knows she doesn’t have to compete with your ministry to be #1.
The great news is that you can have a faithful, successful ministry and a successful a family life. In fact, God designed us to do both well. I pray that God will bless you as you seek to prioritize your life according to his intentions.