It is an enormous blessing to be a pastor. Serving as an under-shepherd to King Jesus is a high and holy calling that offers great rewards (1 Peter 5:1-4). But as every pastor will also testify, it carries tremendous responsibility (Hebrews 13:17). One of the great challenges of being a pastor is balancing a busy ministry schedule with family life.
It is not uncommon for pastors to come home from a crazy day of ministry and be emotionally exhausted. Many pastors wonder if it’s even possible to care for your family while at the same time meeting the demands of being a pastor.
There are no easy, quick-fix solutions to this conundrum, but every pastor must make his family a priority. It is neither wise nor biblical to prioritize everyone in your church over your own family.
Paul outlines the qualifications for pastors and elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In the middle of that passage, Paul tells Timothy, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
One of the most important questions a search committee should ask a pastoral candidate is, “Are you a family man?” They will have to unpack a little of what that means, but the committee must ask that question. Any man who is not shepherding and caring for his family should not even be considered for the ministry.
Caring for Your Wife
The chief responsibility of the pastor as a family man is to care for his wife. Countless pastors’ wives feel lonely and neglected. For many, it feels like their husband is married more to the church than to her. But God has called the pastor (and every Christian man) to love and care for his wife in a way that points to the sacrificial love of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33).
If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you know the unique demands and pressures that come with pastoral ministry. No doubt your wife will feel those pressures too, only in different ways. As a pastor, you are a man in demand. Pastors counsel, teach, lead, manage, and serve in countless other ways. At the end of the day, after relentlessly giving of themselves, pastors may feel like they have nothing left to give to their wives.
A pastor friend of mine told me about the time his wife came to him and said, “I want an appointment.” The pastor looked at his wife a little dumbfounded and said, “What do you mean, honey?” His wife went on to explain how he was giving time and attention to everyone but her. Thankfully, this was resolved over time by having regular “appointments,” where they could share and connect. The key, of course, is to leave margin in your schedule for your wife.
Over the years, my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed our “date nights.” Being away from the kids for an evening allows us to connect and actually “finish our sentences,” as my wife likes to say.
No doubt you are well aware that many pastors have gotten themselves trapped in a pornography addiction. Some even have affairs. But like any good husband, the pastor should be pursuing his wife romantically. Frequent sex is important within your marriage. Not only is sex a gift of God (Proverbs 5:18-19), but it also serves to guard the marriage against temptation. If you are pursuing sexual fulfillment in your wife, you won’t be looking for it elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5).
Be intentional about serving and nurturing your wife. Strive to show your love for her in various ways. Your wife needs to know that aside from Christ, she is the one star in your universe. And as you serve her in this regard, your love for her will deepen.
Caring for your children
Along with caring for his wife, the pastor must also give attention to his children, particularly pastors with young children. Far too many pastors’ kids end up being victims of ministry. They are neglected and eventually become embittered toward God and the church. This is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
When pastors see their family as a primary part of their ministry, it can be revolutionary. God has called every Christian father to discipline and instruct his children (Ephesians 6:4). It is imperative for pastors to model this in their own household.
Several years ago, when our children were very small, we started doing family worship, and have continued to this day. These special family times offer the chance for me to teach Scripture and basic doctrine to our children. We also sing, pray, and worship our Holy God. If you are not already, I would suggest doing family worship 3-4 times a week. If you can swing it, make it a daily habit.
It is also of great benefit to carve out individual time with each child. Take them out for ice cream or hot chocolate. Go to a baseball game with them. Talk to them about the Lord. Let them know that you care. Parents have only a short window of opportunity to invest in their children. You don’t want to miss that opportunity.
Our Sufficiency is in Christ
In no way do I want to downplay how challenging this can be. We can say along with the Apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Every day we must remind ourselves that our sufficiency is found in Christ.
Pastor Steve Lawson once said, “I give my mornings to God, my afternoons to men, and my evenings to my family.” Guard your evenings as much as you can. Be careful that you don’t have too many meetings and appointments that take you away from your family.
I would encourage you to approach this with a spirit of humility. No honest pastor would say he has mastered it all. Repentance may be needed in some areas. Perhaps you just need to be more intentional about investing in your family.
May God give us grace to be faithful in leading and loving our families. May we strive to set a godly example to the flock of God entrusted to our care. And may we always remember that our family is our most important ministry.
If you are looking for a good resource on this subject, I would recommend Brian and Cara Croft’s book, The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.
See also my book, Help! I Want to be a Loving Husband.