Last night I came across an article by Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Seminary, on the importance of an orderly home for ministry leadership. I loved the candor, wisdom, and honesty he brings to the table about the connection between a ministry leader's home life and their impact on the local church.
One thing he quoted jumped out at me, and I'm so thankful this mindset has been changed. “A man has to choose. He can have either a great family or a great ministry. He cannot have both.” I don't know who said it, and it doesn't really matter. As Allen points out, this is unhealthy, unsustainable, and wrong. Sadly when we look at the family lives of many of our "heroes" in ministry, we see in many cases an unbalanced work/home life. As much as I'm writing this to ministry leaders, it's a necessary reminder to myself as well: ministry makes a poor mistress. The important thing is striving to strike a balance, and doing that means keeping your ministry and your family away from the altar.
Don't Sacrifice Your Family for Ministry - I had lunch recently with a pastor who shared a heartbreaking story earlier in his ministry, watching a pastor let the ministry consume him to the point that his wife left him because he'd chosen his mistress (the church) over her. One of the things I constantly share is that your church can find another pastor, worship leader, youth pastor, etc., but your family cannot find another you. It helps us stay humble knowing that we're not irreplaceable in ministry. But we are irreplaceable at home. Danny Akin once remarked in a class "Guys, if it means choosing an A in class and a C at home or a C in class and an A at home, always go for the A at home." Your wife and children need to know they still matter to you, and that they're the most important people in your life.
Don't Sacrifice Your Ministry for Family - The difference between when someone surrenders to ministry leadership and most other fields is that it will be a glorious inconvenience. I once heard a pastor jokingly remark "I wish he'd checked my calendar before he got cancer." The reality is, when you give yourself to leadership in ministry, especially pastoral ministry, you will find yourself inconvenienced. My counsel would be to learn to enjoy it. God has entrusted people to you for their spiritual welfare and care. Sometimes that means rushing to the ER in the middle of the night after a horrible car accident, or a recovering addict texting you during your kid's soccer game. God has called you to care for those people. That's why the call to ministry is in many ways a family call. Your wife and kids are part of your ministry, and one of the great gifts to a pastor is an understanding family. Your family is your first priority, but that doesn't mean they come first every hour. Don't sacrifice a healthy, long-tenured, fruitful, faithful ministry in the name of your family when it's really pastoral laziness.
So where do we go from here? How do we find the balance between being a faithfully committed family leader and a faithfully committed ministry leader? Here's 5 things I've learned that have really helped:
1. When you're there, be there - When you are home and investing in your wife and kids, be there. Don't be distracted checking every text message that comes. Don't let your mind wander to your meeting or your most recent crisis. When you're home, be home. I use my drive home to decompress and I'll sit in the driveway for a couple minutes so that when I open the garage door and hear "DAD!" I'm there to be there.
2. Communicate - Communicate with your church, your other leaders, and your family about what's going on. If you're stuck in a meeting or have a crisis come up, communicate that with your wife. Don't leave your family in the dark on what's going on around you. Likewise, communicate with your leadership at church when you need to be unavailable because of family time. Almost everyone (don't worry, there'll be someone in a business meeting who thinks you need to be accessible and on-call 24/7, but they're the minority) will get it.
3. Delegate - It's hard for us to swallow our pride and admit this, but we're not as important as we think we are. A lot of what we spend our time in leadership doing could be done by someone else. So rather than spread yourself thin, spread your leadership and influence out. It brings more people on board, allows people to flourish in their giftedness, and frees you up for what God has specifically called you to do.
4. Embrace the Flexibility - Most of us in ministry leadership don't have a time card to fill out, so our hours can be flexible. Sometimes we'll be working late into the night or having early morning discipleship meetings. Ministry is not a 9-5 calling. But with that flexibility comes a certain element of freedom. Pop into your kid's school for lunch one day. Surprise your wife with flowers and an afternoon away from the kids. Work away from the office in a coffee shop so you can make connections with people in the community.
5. Ask for Help - One of the fears I think a lot of us have in ministry is we don't want to disappoint or let anyone down. So in response we overload ourselves and never ask anyone for help. Pastor, you can let someone else preach a couple weeks for you so you can rest and worship with your family. Leader, you can ask for someone else to come alongside and help you. The Body serves to complement each other, and you never have to go at it alone.
How about you? What would you suggest for striking that balance between ministry leadership and family life?
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.