I have yet to meet a young man who enters the ministry with the intention to neglect his family. No one begins this way. However, some come to the end of their ministry and their greatest regret is how they led their family. We are not pastoring our church well if we are not pastoring our family well. They are part of the church and the first flock the Lord has entrusted to us. He is a foolish pastor who forsakes the one for the other.
We could give a long list of the ways a pastor should care and provide for his family while laboring in the ministry. Here are just a few:
- Be careful what you share with your wife. Some men in the ministry make the mistake of telling their wives too little about their day, the church, and their ministry. This leads to wives that feel disconnected. However, in our day it is more common for pastors to error on the other side of the spectrum by telling their wives too much. It is an easy mistake to make. We love them and want them to know where our struggles lie. They are our confidants, and yet, there are things that our wives just shouldn’t know. Here are two rules to live by: if it could disrupt their worship then don’t share it; and if it could lead them to struggle with envy, anger, or hatred toward an individual or a group of people within the church, then keep it to yourself. She is a worshipper in the church and a member of the body. Always reflect upon that.
- Be unmistakably clear about the expectations you have for your wife with regards to serving the church body. Make this plain not only to the elders of the church and the congregation, but also your wife. Everyone should know, especially her, that you expect nothing more from your wife in the body of Christ than you would expect from any other woman in the congregation. She is first and foremost, your wife; second, she is the mother of your children; and lastly, she is to serve like any other member of the church–not less, but also not more. She may serve more, but that is not your expectation and that is not to be the church’s expectation either. She will need to hear it over and over from you. Your voice needs to drown out the voices she hears to the contrary (whether internally or externally). Affirm this often and encourage her liberally.
- Be home in the evenings. A family that is never home together is a family that is in jeopardy. When I entered the ministry, I promised my wife that I would not be out of the home more than three nights a week. Now, there are some weeks that this doesn’t work, but that is the extreme exception. And this rule has worked well in our home. Be home. Lead family worship, play with your kids, read in bed while your wife is watching a show, cook dinner, and tuck the kids in. It is impossible to shepherd if you are seldom with the sheep.
- Be astute to your own family’s needs. Wives are different and families go through different seasons of life. Know your family and what they need at this time. The pastor across town may read a new book every evening, because his wife needs little conversational time. Your wife may need more, so you may need to put the books down. He may be able to travel for days at a time, but you have five children under the age of six and it is a heavy burden for your family when you are absent for days. If that is the case, then those conferences and even speaking requests will just have to wait until the next season of life. A faithful shepherd knows his sheep. Know your family; keep your family.
- Be flexible. The pastoral life is filled with long hours, short weekends, and evening meetings. However, a pastor can adjust his schedule in a way that the banker, customer service manager, or grocer can’t. Be flexible around the needs of the church and your family. Never forsake the church for your family, but also don’t forsake your family for the church. Though our calling may involve long hours, weekends, and evenings, we also have the flexibility of taking a lunch hour to visit our children at school, adjusting a morning to assist our wife during a stressful week, and coming to the church late if our child needs to go to the doctor. Count your blessings and use them.
- Be wise. Don’t try to overprotect your family. They will experience not only the joys of ministry alongside you, but also the suffering. That is part of their calling as well. You can’t safeguard them from every conflict, rude comment, harsh word, or critical opinion. And though in our love we may desire to, in wisdom we know that it can be for their good as much as it is often for our good.
Pastors who pastor their family well are usually those who pastor the church well. They go hand-in-hand. Care for your smaller flock and the larger flock will benefit as well.
This post first appeared at Kevin DeYoung’s blog and is posted here with permission.
Jason is an ordained pastor in the PCA. He is an Assistant Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. Jason is a regular blogger on the Gospel Coalition and Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals websites. He is also the author of A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home. He is married to Leah and they are blessed with two wonderful children, Gracen and Ethan. When he isn’t pastoring or writing, Jason enjoys spending time with his family, laughing, watching a good Chicago Bears’ game (as rare as they are), and feasting upon Chicago-style pizza. He is also a man marked by great faith and hope as he awaits the realization of a Cubs’ World Series championship within his lifetime.