I’ve seen more pastors fail at family than succeed. I don’t want to be one of those pastors.
We all say “family before ministry”, but on the ground, when that call comes in, when the meeting has been booked, when another need rises, it can seem like family takes a definite second.
If there’s a lesson I’m more convinced of than ever and yet one that continues to require my utmost vigilance, it is this: My family matters more than you do. I love you, I care for you, I’ll do whatever I’m able to support you, but at the end of the day, my family comes first.
Which means that there will be times when I won’t go to that meeting or attend that event. I’ll jam out early or refuse that invitation. Not because I’m “too busy” or have some other appointment. I might not be doing anything more “important” than having coffee with my wife, playing with my boys, watching funny YouTube videos or going for a hike, but at that moment, that’s more important than anything else. The value of family has to mean something on the ground, in the everyday decisions we make on a Monday evening or a Thursday afternoon, or they don’t mean anything at all.
I’ve often told my church leaders that when faced with a decision between failing the church or failing my family, my family will win, every time. You might be surprised how much this helps me make right decisions. And if I face that dilemma too many times, then something’s out of whack and I’ve got to step back and take stock of how I’m scheduling my days and prioritizing my work. Self-leadership is likely the problem.
Here’s the deal: I want my family to know that, at the end of the day, week, or my life in ministry, they were my first calling, my main priority. Not someone else’s kids, not somebody else’s issues, not some meeting or crisis or party or initiative–they were my first “ministry” priority and they never had to compete with someone else for my affection or attention.
I want my kids to grow up loving the church, appreciating the fact their dad was a pastor. I hope my boys value and love the church, not as a community they had to compete with but a community who loved them and supported them, as well as our family life. I want my family to know that while ministry is sacrificial, and there are times when we all have to push through, on the whole they were never second or third in my priority.
Do I do this perfectly? No, I don’t. Just a few weeks ago, caught between multiple evening meetings in a row, my boys expressed their feelings about my schedule. As our church has grown, the demands on my time and heart have also increased. And though I pastor an amazing church with super supportive people very committed to our family’s health, there are times when I forget to maintain a watchful eye on my schedule and my energy levels. Keeping my family healthy and well-cared for is a work in progress, a goal I keep in front of me, helping me make tangible, daily decisions.
At the end of the day, week or year, not only will I not be able to continue in fruitful ministry if my family is dying, but I will have failed to support and sustain the one ministry God has given me which extends beyond any one church community–my own wife and children. A healthy family may not necessarily translate into a healthy ministry, but the reverse is certainly true: an unhealthy family will lead to unhealthy ministry.
Family matters–that’s lesson #14.
If you are in vocational ministry, how do you make sure your family is cared for on a daily and weekly level?
How can we make sure families flourish, whether they be vocational ministry families (pastors, staff, etc) or volunteer ministry families (everyone else!)?
Why am I posting lessons? On May 1, I crossed the line into 20 years of vocational ministry. To mark that, I’m posting 20 lessons I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) through these 20 years, all throughout the month of May. Here’s what I’ve posted so far: