I have been in ministry for nearly twelve years now, and I’ve not heard this issue addressed in pastor’s meetings or ministry conferences. In fact, now that I think back over my ministry training, this issue was either ignored or overlooked in my pastoral theology class (if my memory serves me correctly).
Why? Why are pastors and professors prone to sweeping this dirt under the proverbial ministry rug? I may not be correct, but I have a few ideas as to why family/ministry relations are rarely discussed:
1) Shame. Personal guilt and embarrassment may keep this problem from being addressed. As pastors, we find it rather difficult (and convicting) to address the issues with which we personally struggle. I am convinced this is the primary reason pastors tend to be hush-hush on family/ministry relations – too many have disqualified themselves from doing so – and they know it (BTW, I do not claim to have this issue solved in my own life. My children are rather young, with the majority of their lives ahead of them. Therefore, my parenting success is yet to be determined.)!
2) Naivety. Some pastors (and congregations) are probably unaware that any problem exists. I do not understand how this could be true; nonetheless, I am sure it is.
3) Priorities. Let’s face it … how successful would a How To Not Be An Eli: Balancing Family and Ministry conference be? Pastors would rather discuss ministry when they get together. Too often we enjoy swapping stories of ministry success, exchanging ministry ideas, and discussing the pros and cons of the latest trends in evangelicalism. And rather than being encouraged in loving our wife and raising our children for the glory of God, we’d rather be encouraged in our preaching and teaching and leading … at church.
Men, we DO have a problem (dare we call it a crisis?). Neglected pastors’ families are far too common. We are all-too-familiar with the growing number of PK's (preacher’s kids) who have forsaken the faith of their fathers ... and grown to resent the church because it was their daddy's bride! Others, children of distinguished fathers in my Baptist circles, have shared with me (or my family members) how detrimental the ministry was to their family. While understanding that wayward adult children are prone to rationalizing their sin, I can’t help but wonder if preacher-daddies share a good bit of the blame. And while these well-known men lead prominent denominations and congregations, they aren’t so well-known at home.
So, as I tie the loose ends of this series together, I want to offer up some solutions to this pastoral predicament (some, of which, I have alluded to previously):
1) Involve your family in the ministry: While I don’t condone dragging your wife and children with you everywhere you go, inviting them to come along may offer you some precious time with them – all while fulfilling your ministry responsibilities.
2) Eat together … and turn off the television: Several months ago, I wrote a post on this very issue (the following thoughts originated here). How can eating meals together have such an eternal impact upon our families?
First, eating dinner and/or supper together as a family promotes an environment that's conducive to effective communication. Eating in front of the television does not. Eating with my family (5 of us with children 9, 6, 5) is rarely quiet. I like it this way...it means my children (hopefully not with their mouths full) want to talk with me, and want me to talk with them.
Second, eating dinner together as a family promotes unity in relationships. I want my children to hear me tell Joanna how delicious the spaghetti is! I want them to see me help her clean up the table, and to thank her for her work, and even give her a smooch on the cheek as a token of my appreciation.
Third, eating dinner together as a family gives my children opportunities to learn how to work, and then to enjoy the fruit of their labor. In our house, our son, Noah (6), loves to make our favorite orange salad. Last night, our youngest daughter, Hannah, helped her mom make the spaghetti sauce. It is rewarding to watch my children's eyes and mouths light up when everyone enjoys something they have prepared!
Fourth, eating dinner together as a family (at the dining room table) enables us to focus on others. My children like eating together as a family because (this is not meant to be funny) they get to see their daddy's face! I mean it. I know I like to eat together at a table because I like looking into the eyes and faces of my children. I get to know them this way. It's the same reason I like to play ball with my son (and still love playing catch with my dad), or ping-pong with my daughters. When we face each other, we are able to look into each other's eyes, and connect. Eating together helps us to focus our attention on someone we love.
3) Involve your children in your household projects: Every pastor should have a hobby … something he does as a diversion. Pastors suffer burnout at mind-boggling rates when they fail to make time for break time. Having a hobby not only preserves his sanity, it gives him an opportunity to involve his children in an activity he enjoys. So, when you go fishing and hunting, go together. When you mow and garden, mow and garden together (my son, Noah, has taken over the riding lawn mower – he turns seven in June!). Whatever you enjoy doing, allow your children to enjoy it with you!
4) Plan your church schedules with families in mind: Everybody in your congregation has a family, including you! Busyness is never equated with godliness in Scripture (this, by the way, does not excuse laziness). If you are the pastor, you should have a great deal of say in regards to the church calendar. Take advantage of your pastoral privilege and declare a family month, and suspend all extra-cirricular, non-essential church activities. Moms and Dads will thank you, and so will your wife and children!
5) Do youth ministry with the family in mind: I am a huge proponent of family-based youth ministry. Age segregation in church has probably done more harm than good (that’s another post)! Family-based youth ministry will afford you even more opportunities to spend time with your teen-age children, in a setting that’s enjoyable for them!
6) Teach your congregation to expect you to be a family man: This may require some time and patience on your part, but in the long run being a family man will benefit your church as much as it benefits your wife and children. We all know men who have lost credibility in their communities because they first lost credibility in their home. And no church wants this to be true of their pastor.
7) Teach your congregation to love children for the sake of the kingdom: Do this by example. Each of us have children in our congregations who don’t have a daddy, and as this child’s pastor, you are responsible to minister to them. So do it – with your own children. Take that fatherless boy to the ballgame with your boy. Treat that fatherless girl to a Build-A-Bear Workshop trip with your daughter. It’s ministry to that boy and girl … and to your boy and girl at the same time!
8) When you are at home, be at home: Leave your ministry-work at the church. Leave the problems at the deacon’s meeting and in the counseling room. When you come home, be there mentally and emotionally – your wife and children will know when you’re not!
These are my conclusions … some may be right, others may very well be wrong. Still, we must all agree that there is a problem - a growing problem of pastors being married to the ministry. We would all do well to remember that the church doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Christ. The church is not our bride – it’s His – and we all know what the Bible says about falling in love with someone else’s bride …