There may be no greater issue to speak of in the life of the pastor than the balance and sensitivity that must be given to his ministry and family. Though I am not currently a pastor or a father, I am preparing for the ministry and these reflections on the possible future that lies ahead of my wife and me have sobered my mind. Pastors and pastors’ families are looked to for much and often supported little. I hope this leads you to pray for your pastor and seek tangible ways to serve him and his family. The great burdens that can often be on a pastor when balancing church ministry with family are often glamorized in this discussion, but I believe that despite the dilemma of balancing church with family, the pastor can find tremendous grace in the God who called him into this work for the kingdom.
The calling of a minister is a high and demanding calling. In fact, when one thinks of all the work that goes into pastoral ministry, it is easy to conclude with Charles Spurgeon when he said, “Don’t do ministry if you can do anything else.” While this may be a bit over-the-top, the demands of ministry coupled with the demands of family can seem overwhelming. Every marriage and family will face problems and hardships. This is unavoidable when two, three, four, or five sinners live together. However, problems in marriage, parenting, and general familial issues are heightened in the life of a minister because his life is under a microscope viewed by the eyes of his congregation and community. While every husband and father is to lead his family in the way of the Lord, love and protect his wife and children, and guard them physically and spiritually, this task is heightened for ministers due to the nature of the calling.
However, at this point it is important to remember the nature of the Caller and not just focus on the nature of the calling. While the calling can seem burdensome, particularly when it comes to balancing pastoral ministry and family life, it must be remembered that our Caller’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Our caller abounds in power, grace, mercy, and love. And it is by his grace that we labor. We are enabled to do all that God calls us to by the One who has defeated all sin and death. The pastor will often feel weak and inadequate to perform the ministerial duties and balance them with familial duties. However, so contrary to the world, this is good, for when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). Paul was content with all of his hardships and weaknesses because of the greatness, power, and grace of his Lord and his God. The grace of Jesus is sufficient for pastors to fulfill their duties as pastor-husband and pastor-father.
Despite the fact that the ministry is demanding, Derek Prime wisely notes, “but God’s will is never that we should be so busy that we neglect those closest to us” (On Being a Pastor, 268). This is very important to understand. Our family takes priority over our pastoral ministry. We are to sanctify our wives and children first. Our family takes precedent over our church. However, the two are linked. Prime and Begg assert “New Testament qualifications for church leaders link spiritual usefulness in the home with spiritual effectiveness in the body of Christ” (Ibid. 261). They continue with an insightful and bold statement: “If we neglect our families, we eventually undermine our entire pastoral and teaching ministry” (Ibid. 262). Inexplicably, a pastor’s leadership in the home directly correlates to his leadership in the church.
The Pastor as Husband and Father
With all of this in mind, the pastor’s relation to his wife and children is of utmost importance. The pastor must give proper attention to and be sensitive to the needs of his wife. The wife of a pastor is often under just as much pressure as the pastor. Prime and Begg make an astute observation when they write; “More is required of our wives than wives of men in other callings and professions. They cannot be separated from our work as other wives can be from their husbands’ employment” (Ibid. 270). She is often looked to lead the women’s ministries and teach the women’s Bible studies and small groups. She also has the pressures of maintaining a hospitable home constantly. There will be many unplanned and unanticipated visits from church members needing counsel. Particularly if the pastor works out of his home, there will be times of frustration where his wife will feel neglected, as he will be at home, yet absent.
The wives of pastors will know all aspects of his work and will therefore not only deal with the pressures of maintaining the home, but will also deal with her husbands pressures as well. There will also be more pressure on the pastor’s wife in the raising of children. More judgment and less grace are often shown to the parenting of the mother whose husband is the pastor. Due to these realities, the pastor must be focused and intentional on giving his wife and children the attention, love, and leadership they need and deserve.
A pastor’s wife and children need attention from her husband and their father. This means that the pastor needs to be faithful in taking a day off from ministerial duties. An entire day needs to be given to his wife and family. Barring emergencies, all the attentions of the pastor must be given to his family joyfully. And that is the key. It should be a joyful means of grace for the pastor to get to walk with, talk with, laugh with, and play with his wife and children. A pastor’s wife and children must see that they take priority over the church.
Pastors must love and lead their wives and children. I couple these together because a husband who loves his wife and a father who loves his children will lead them. Practically, nightly Scripture readings, times of prayer, and catechism exercises should be implemented and taken seriously and joyously. A time to love and lead your family in the ways of the Lord is not something to take for granted. Not only should pastors pray for their families in their own devotion/prayer time, they must pray with their families. There is no better way for children to learn how to pray than from their father. Wives also desire to be led in the truths of Scripture, so time should be taken either before bed or early in the morning to read with her, pray with her, and counsel her.
Pastors Need Grace
In closing, it is a daunting task as a pastor to balance pastoral ministry with family. I hope you have seen how, much like you, your pastor has a lot on his plate. What makes the pastor and his family more stressful than most other families is the fact that his family is under a microscope. Help your pastor and his family by holding a telescope up to their eyes pointed toward Christ, instead of holding a microscope to dissect their lives. Like you, pastors need grace. Pray for your pastor today and seek opportunities to lighten his burden. Pastor, remember you have a loving Chief Shepherd who empowers you as under-shepherd to fulfill the task that he has called you to. The ultimate question pastors face is this: “How can I structure my day so that I fulfill my pastoral duties and give time to my family (Ibid. 267)?” How pastors answer this question is vital to both his faith family and his immediate family.
I am humbled by the possible future that is ahead of me. The more I prepare for ministry, the greater the realization is that I may have a faith family and family at home to love and lead. I know I will need grace. May all pastors walk in the empowering grace and love of Jesus and faithfully love and lead their families while loving and leading their flocks.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.