Leading the Church While Leading Your Family

Can we really be effective pastors and good husbands and dads?

Serving the church is not merely a job; it is an all-consuming responsibility that can threaten a family. The emergency hospital trips and the frantic calls from a heartbroken spouse never come when you are sitting at home, caught up on your to-do list, bored stiff, and hoping for a crisis to break the monotony. For most of us, our bodies may be home, but our full attention is slow to arrive.

 

Seventeen years ago I went on a two-week trip to India and Korea to teach in a Bible college and some churches. Security at the airport was not as tight pre-9/11, so my family accompanied me to the gate. As I left my wife and three young children in the midst of a Michigan winter, my youngest daughter cried out “NOOOOO!” so long and so loud that the echo followed me down the jet way into the plane itself. She wasn’t the only one who cried that day.

As I sat on the plane and tried to catch one last glimpse of them, I wondered, “What was I doing to my family? Was this trip really worth it? Was I right to do this? Couldn’t someone else have taught this course and preached these messages?” It was not the last time I would ask those questions.

Serving the church is not merely a job; it is an all-consuming responsibility that can threaten a family. The emergency hospital trips and the frantic calls from a heartbroken spouse never come when you are sitting at home, caught up on your to-do list, bored stiff, and hoping for a crisis to break the monotony. For most of us, our bodies may be home, but our full attention is slow to arrive.

There are always more visits to schedule, more people to counsel, more calls to make, more meetings to attend, more functions to pray at, more books to read, more emails to answer, more blogs to write (and read), more classes to take and teach, more work for the sermon(s), more degrees to finish or pursue, more, more, more, meaning that your family will get less, less, less. How many times have you come home late knowing that while you were trying to save your church, your wife was left alone trying to save your kids?

Can we really be effective pastors and good husbands and dads? Do we really have to choose between the church and our family?

In this article I’ll argue it does not have to be an “either/or.”

How to Lead Well in the Church and Home

Leading a church well and leading a family well are not mutually exclusive: “[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3.4).

However, Paul is not only saying that an elder can lead both family and church well, but that he must. But how? Through the gospel! The gospel protects you from taking yourself too seriously and exposes the idols of your heart.

Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

The gospel reminds me that I am a sinner prone to self-centeredness and self-righteousness. The fact that I am a pastor does not mean that I don’t have to confess my sin with my family when I have blown it. In fact, I need to take the lead in confessing when I have sinned against my family.

Your kids know that you are human. They see your underwear in the laundry and smell your breath in the morning. They’ve watched you try to fix that faucet, replace the water heater and drop your cell phone. You are not a perfect parent. You are going to overreact, over-promise, and forget. You are going to fail. You are a sinner. On many occasions, I’ve had to go into my kids’ bedroom and ask forgiveness for being a jerk. They forgave me. Some of my most humble moments in life have been sitting on my kids’ bed, while being patted on the back, hearing one of them say, “It’s okay, Dad. I sin too.” Respect is best earned through relationships built on love, rather than rules that can only make demands.

Christ Is a Better Savior than my Image

I am tempted to believe that if I am a perfect pastor, then others will think well of me, and I worship that approval. And in order to be a perfect pastor, I need to have perfect children. Therefore, I need to get my children to cooperate with my desires to be respected.

Thankfully, neither God nor my children have gone along with my desires. When my son was about four, we went to a funeral home to visit the family of an influential lady in the church who had died. After looking at her body in the casket, my son announced to her daughter that the lady had died because, “She ate too much.” That evening I updated my resume, believing that I would need it shortly. There were many situations with my children when I was forced to ask, “Am I more concerned about my children and the gospel, or about how their failures will reflect on me?”

Again, the gospel is clear. Christ alone is my hope, not my children. If I expect perfect behavior from them, I am demanding from them what only Christ can provide, and that expectation will crush them. They need to have the freedom to fail, so they too can experience grace. Along the way, my church family has seen our warts and imperfections. They did not have a perfect pastor, but that’s okay. They have a perfect Savior.

Four More Principles To Ponder

With those two things in mind, here are four more specific matters that have helped me navigate the leadership of my home while leading the church.

Read More