I often tell pastors they are first a pastor at home. Before their church. I am not sure they get it. Some do, but not all. I get the head nod, the grunting ascent, but I sense it’s something caught, not taught. By caught, I mean by trial and fire, not by epiphany. Few things come to us from God by way of epiphanies. Most come through refining fire.
A Bad Memory
I walked through that fire when my oldest son, Travis, turned five. My scorched memory of that day scathes some still. The small church I pastored in North Fort Worth, Texas always scheduled their elders meetings the second Monday of the month. That month it happened to fall on Travis’s birthday. Rather than change the date for the elders’ meeting, I changed the day to celebrate my son’s birthday to the next day. I know. Just terrible, right?
I am not sure at his age if Travis understood my need to put the church before him. Had I persisted in making ministry a priority over family, I know I’d be holding the pieces of three broken hearts today. These sort of things definitely shape family dynamics. Seemingly insignificant moments leave an indelible mark on children with the potential of even shaping their impression of God. Sometimes fortunately, it’s for the good. Like the pastor friend who shared with me how his father, also a pastor, took a separate car on family vacations to make himself available should a need arise at church. My pastor friend has five children, homeschools them, and often says no to the needs of his church for the needs at home. His church actually likes that.
I’ll Never Do That Again
Not long after that elders’ meeting, I was ashamed, and vowed never again to choose a passing ministry vocational obligation for the needs of my children. I gladly had many opportunities in the years that followed to do it right. Eleven years ago, when my son Brett was recovering from surgery for a cancerous tumor and chemo treatments that followed, we’d just moved to a new church full of responsibilities and obligations. Ironically, my commitment to family first did significantly impact my relationship with this church. I sensed it when on a number of occasions while leading a meeting, I dismissed myself to tend to Brett’s sobbing plea for his dad to come home and be near him. Several men even expressed their disappointment at my lack of attention to the church’s needs. I tell pastors, “Five years after leaving you church, your elders will struggle to remember your children’s names, but your children will never forget your name and that you put them first.”
I am not really suggesting here that family is more important than the body of Christ, the Church. I am actually arguing for a fullness of attention to both. The pastor who puts family first is a better leader to his congregation. On the contrary, the pastor who puts church first, cannot lead well at home.
Here’s how I summarize my thoughts on this matter.
Family First. Church Second. And Jesus over all.
A Great Balance Between Home and Minsitry
There’s a real practical reason Paul called for an elder, a pastor, to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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 Tim. 3:1-5). A pastor who is a family man with these qualities makes a phenomenal pastor. In the six churches I served as pastor in my thirty years of ministry, I do not remember once during the interviewing process much attention directed toward the health of my home. The interest lay more in my ministry abilities, my qualifications and my experience within the church. I would encourage churches, who are looking for qualified pastors to put equal attention on the home life as much as on past ministry experience. Ask questions such as, 1) Describe your marriage. 2) What do your children like about you being a pastor? 3) What are you like when you come home at the end of each day? 4) Describe what discipleship looks like at home? 5) When you pray together at home, what do you pray about?
After all, pastoring always begins and ends at home.