A minister finds his ministry in jeopardy because his wife has left him saying, “This is not what I expected when I married him . . . . I thought we’d have a life with lots of love, but I never see him because he’s always taking care of church programs and other people’s problems.”
Another wife complains that since her husband has retired from the pastorate, they don’t really know each other because they didn’t spend time together throughout the time of their marriage. Now they struggle because their expectations are so different. “I’d always taken back seat to church with my husband. Now he tells me that the way I do things around the house aren’t ‘right,’ even though it’s what I’ve always done. He just wasn’t around to know what I was doing.”
Children of ministers have complained, as children, adolescents or adults, that a lot of conflicts with their parents were the result of not knowing their minister parent because the church got more time than they did.
In recent conversations with ministers, I’ve been reminded of the importance of keeping marriage and family on the front burner. Church members have added comments of concern about the importance of being more the minister than spouse/parent to his own family. Being the loving spouse and parent that the family needs means more than just getting everyone to church and making sure the rules are followed. Having children that are obedient does not mean they know they’re loved. The wife being involved in church activities may look good, but she may be seeking approval and acceptance in an attempt to fill an emptiness at home.
Early in my ministry, my wife would occasionally remind me that, “God created the family before he created the church.” A good reminder of the priority of family. With the often times unrealistic expectations of the congregation pressing on any of the ministerial staff, the thought is often, “The family will understand when I have to take care of church business.’ I’m not so sure that they do! I also wonder how important it is when time passes and, whether at the same church or having moved to a new field of ministry, anyone actually appreciates the sacrifice of one’s family to do the wonderful ministerial things that comfort everyone but the minister’s family. Those congregants who appreciate the work done also respect the commitment to family. I think in the long run, this is true for most of those the minister serves.
Think about the personal benefits of investing in one’s family and protecting personal time:
- Minimizing problems in the home — Rather than contending with unnecessary problems, the investment in nurturing close family relationships, minimizing miscommunication and giving the time that encourages love in his or her own home avoids draining energy that is needed to cope with demands in the church.
- The reward of healthy relationships with spouse and children – The tension of less than satisfying associations with spouse and children is minimized. Fostering healthy relationships in the family is important for the individual in three ways.
- Productivity – Research indicates that people in all professions tend to be more productive in their work when their primary relationships are satisfying.
- Physical health — Studies have also demonstrated that those with satisfying relationships tend to enjoy better health in general.
- Emotional well-being — It seems obvious that when the connections with immediate family are satisfying, one tends to enjoy a healthier, happier outlook on life in general.
- Modeling the role for parishioners — When appropriate time with family is guarded and enjoyed by a minister, those observing the family can be encouraged to follow suit, seeing the benefit and respecting someone who models the role.
- Personal pride — While self-centered, self-satisfying pride is clearly to be avoided, the satisfaction of being the person who is living God’s will is a rewarding and personally gratifying commitment that is to be enjoyed and celebrated.
Pastors often speak of “keeping first things first.” For family, church and personal reasons, keeping family before church family is important for a variety of reasons. As a minister, give serious consideration to giving your family the priority God wants it to have. As a church member, encourage your ministerial staff to invest in their families in ways that honor God.