The family of a leader is perhaps one of the most underappreciated, misunderstood, and even neglected in the world at large. Leaders are being pulled in so many directions and by so many people that it becomes easy to neglect their own family. It can be hard to strike a balance between leading the people outside and inside your home. But this is not an issue that only leaders in the workplace face. Christian leaders face the same struggles with their families. For many of them, their jobs consist of ministering to a multitude of families other than their own.
In my pastoral theology class, my professor told us that the old adage that some pastors in the ministry followed was, “Take care of God’s people and God will take care of your family.” The understanding behind this (horrible!) advice was that ministry leaders, especially pastors, didn’t have time to minister to and lead the family in their own house because they had to spend their time ministering to and leading the families God gave them in his house – their local church. The fallout from that advice is disastrous and unbiblical at best.
Taking a biblical approach to advising ministry leaders on how to balance ministry and family life Ajith Fernando has written The Family Life of a Christian Leader (Crossway, 2016). A Christian ministry leader himself, Ajith serves as the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka has had a successful writing ministry with seventeen books published in nineteen languages. Ajith’s advice and wisdom are geared towards men in Christian ministry as heads of their household.
Putting Family First
Telling Christian leaders that God will take care of their family for them overlooks the biblical teaching that a man’s first responsibility, whether a Christian leader or not, is to the family God has given him in his own house. He is the means through which God will care for his family. If God doesn’t want spouses to divide their marriage (Matt. 19:6) then men must not do things that will tear them apart.
Ajith wisely notes, “When leaders practice Christianity in their homes, this brings credibility to their leadership and ministry” (24). Practicing Christianity rightly in your home will result in putting your family’s needs first. In his list of qualifications for pastors, Paul tells Timothy that, “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?” (I Tim. 3:4-5, italics mine) It is a clear requirement of pastors and should be for all Christian leaders, to care for their families first in order to qualify themselves for taking care of God’s church. We must not get this backwards.
In his chapter, God’s Beautiful Plan, Ajith describes what can happen when Christian leaders neglect their families for the church:
When his wife complains about his neglect of the home, he tells her that he must follow God’s call. The wife, being a devout Christian, chooses not to “fight God” and bears with her husband’s neglect of the home. After some years, however, the wife realizes that this neglect was not God’s will but the result of her husband’s lack of discipline. The consequence may be unpleasant confrontations at home. The guilt-ridden husband, by now suffering something close to burnout as a result of his poor discipline, goes to the other extreme. He drops out of ministry or takes a job that brings material comfort to the home but takes him away from his call-or keeps his positions in ministry without properly fulfilling his responsibilities (60).
The list can go on and on as to the consequences of Christian leaders neglecting their families. When Christian leaders minister to their families first then they are truly free and equipped to properly minister to those in their care.
Taking Care of Family
Much of the advice and wisdom Ajith gives boils down to good parenting as applied to some of the specific challenges Christian ministry leaders face. There is advice on the proper balance between delighting in and disciplining your children, growing your marriage, knowing when to take time off, planning your schedule, dealing with pain and ministry disappointment, and prioritizing the needs of your children at each stage of their lives.
Perhaps one of the most neglected areas of focus within families is that of joy. Happiness comes and goes but joy is what sustains a family in the good and bad. When joy fills a home there is very little that can destroy it. Spouses and children who have been filled with joy from the leader of the home are better equipped to handle tough situations brought on by the ministry and they are better able to handle the sometimes extended absences of the husband/father when he has to leave and serve others. If the joy of the Lord is our strength as believers, then it is for believing families as well (Neh. 8:10).
In the adoption and foster care classes my wife and I took we were given a lot of training on how to parent kids who have come from backgrounds with abuse and neglect. I remember thinking to myself that the tools and advice they were giving us boiled down to solid parenting skills as applied to the special parenting situations we would encounter with these children. The Family Life of a Christian Leader is not unlike that. Ajith gives a swath of advice and wisdom for ministry leaders to lead and care for their families better in the midst of the demands of ministry. It is good parenting and spousal advice as applied to the unique situations families find themselves in when in ministry.