Balancing Ministry and Family Time

Sadly, many men leave the ministry due to erring one way or the other in what is often a delicate balance.

We must remember that ministry in the New Testament is life on life. For the Apostle Paul, the church was not a distant group before which he occasionally appeared.  They were his spiritual family, with whom he lived and ministered.

 

How does a pastor most healthily balance ministerial service with family time? This tension is felt by all who serve the church and resides just under the surface in many congregations. Sadly, many men leave the ministry due to erring one way or the other in what is often a delicate balance.

A few years ago, while interviewing a potential staff member, I was struck anew by this tension. The interview was going smoothly until a committee member inquired about the role the candidate’s wife would play in his ministry. The young man became defensive, insisting the church was hiring him, not his wife. That brief exchange nearly torpedoed his candidacy, and it left me puzzled.

In the previous months, I had gotten to know the couple personally. He was a great guy, and his wife struck me as one who fully supported her husband. In fact, in many ways, I viewed them as a model couple, well-balancing ministry and family. That is why I was surprised by the young man’s response.

After further conversation, I discovered the couple was not reticent to give themselves to the church. Both husband and wife were eager to serve. Rather, he had been coached up by others in ministry to protect his wife—an appropriate concern that was inappropriately expressed.  That scenario was indicative of a long-standing concern for the pastor and the church alike—how do we rightly balance ministry and family expectations?

A Swinging Pendulum

 In the mid-twentieth century—during the heyday of programmatic and event-driven ministry—churches prioritized pastoral presence. In many churches, the pastor was expected to be virtually omnipresent. The dutiful parson was always roaming hospitals, making house calls to church prospects, and presiding over every church function. In addition to limiting his time for sermon preparation, it often compromised his ability to lead his family.

In its most excessive forms, congregations expected their pastor to lead ever-growing ministries, even at the expense of their family. In fact, one of the 20th century’s most famous pastors once remarked, “A man has to choose. He can have either a great family or a great ministry. He cannot have both.”

Other, more budget mindful churches, may expect a “buy one get one free” scenario. If you hire a man to pastor, surely his wife will play the piano, coordinate the nursery, or direct the children’s ministry for free, right?

In other words, the pendulum needed to swing the other way, and, thankfully, in most contexts it has. Yet, at times I fear the pendulum has swung too far the other direction. We must protect our families, but we need not sequester them. Balance is hard to find, but perhaps these five principles will help.

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