Pastoring is tough business. How, as a pastor, do you keep the Lord happy, your spouse happy, your kids happy, and your congregation happy (and if you’re part of a denomination, headquarters happy)—all while making sure you’re healthy and happy too?
Well, that’s the riddle, isn’t it?
As a 50-plus pastor’s daughter (and niece and cousin and sister-in-law), I’ve known many pastors and evangelists and their families through the years. Some of these ministers—male and female both—have had happy, healthy, well-adjusted families. The children are loved and nurtured, and they grow up to serve God, many of them following in their parents’ footsteps—into ministry. These pastors’ marriages are strong, and the love between husband and wife is apparent, in and out of the church.
But other preachers I’ve known have had great ministries but totally messed-up families. How on earth do you get it right?
It comes down to priorities.
I once heard a pastor say that ministry comes first, before family. I disagree. God comes first, yes. Absolutely. But God and ministry aren’t the same thing.
This particular pastor’s family was a real mess. One child had gone absolutely wild. Another developed a substance abuse problem that she never kicked. One just moved away, as far as she could get from her family. The children’s lives became lives of anger and resentment and alcohol and divorce. The pastor himself had a loveless marriage. The church, you see, was his priority. The wife in this marriage felt like an accessory.
A good example of a minister whose family was a mess was Eli, the high priest of Shiloh. Nothing in Scripture suggests that he was bad at his own job, but his “family affairs” were out of order. He had sons he couldn’t control, and the bad thing is, they, too, were in ministry. According to 1 Samuel 2, these boys bullied the congregation and slept around—and Eli didn’t stop them. Oh, he wagged his finger at them—“Why do you do such things?”—but he failed to take any decisive corrective action. One wonders if he ever had. Perhaps he had spent so much time ministering to God’s people that he had overlooked his number one “congregation”: his own family. As a result, his sons didn’t respect him, and they paid no attention to him at all when he tried to counsel them. The Message says that “they were far gone in disobedience and refused to listen to a thing their father said” (v. 25). You’ve probably seen that more than once: an “on-fire-for-God” preacher whose own children can only be described as hellions.
No pastor is perfect, and kids—even pastors’ kids—will make choices with which their parents don’t agree, but when all of a preacher’s kids are out of control, it gives one pause.
I’m thinking of another pastoral family. The pastor’s marriage is an inspiration to all who observe it. The children are adults now, and they all love the Lord today. One is a pastor; another, a minister of music.
Another pastoral family I know is equally exemplary. This man was warm and loving, and his wife a model Christian woman who adored him. The children had a loving home and were not forgotten while the pastor did “his thing.” Though he faithfully served the church for years, he found time to wrestle with his kids, take vacations with them, love their mother, and teach them practical things, like how to plant tomatoes and how to use a hammer and even how to sew. That man has gone on to be with the Lord, but his children adore him today and are following in his footsteps as pastors and Bible teachers.
My own dad, though a busy pastor who also worked full-time in a manufacturing facility, faithfully served the church for decades—yet still found the time to be with his family at suppertime. Rare were the times when his place was empty at the table. Often he’d have to make a mad dash to the hospital or a funeral home afterward, and he frequently got midnight calls. My point, though, is that although God came first, his family—not the church—came second. My mother was a happy, fulfilled wife. My sister and I were cheerful, secure girls who knew they could count on their father.
Pastor, can your kids count on you?
No judgment here. As I said, no pastor is perfect, and no pastor’s family is either. A man or woman can do everything right beneath the steeple, and still have a kid go astray. Even those who don’t go astray won’t all become preachers. Don’t even expect that. But if an entire pastoral family is messed up, it begs a closer look.
So take a look. Are you losing your kids? Do you know more about the deacons’ sons than your own? Do you spend more time with the church guitarist are pianist than with your own wife or husband or daughters? Are you ever home for supper?
These are critical questions. Don’t ignore them. If you feel as though your family is slipping away from you, ask the Lord for wisdom in setting your priorities are right: God first, then family, then ministry. Talk to your spouse. “Am I meeting your needs?” Ask your children if they feel you’re available. And listen to their answers.
They’re worth it.
Article by writer and editor, Renee Chavez.