Pastors must prioritize family over the ministry. Period. End of story. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the same stories repeated countless times. Some pastors fail to take care of their family because they’re too busy taking care of their church. The details change, but the basic story is the same. Some pastors neglect their family because they’re too busy looking out for their church. In the end, these pastors lose both family and church.
I’m a millennial. I don’t know how much this problem was addressed in previous generations. I do know that I’ve received a steady stream of warnings about this danger from seminary, conferences, books, and blogs. Time and time again I’ve been warned, “Don’t lose your family by being a workaholic at church.” I think many of the young pastors I know have heard these same warnings. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the warning, I’ve also seen a disturbing trend among some of my younger pastor friends. Too often I see lazy pastors who justify their laziness by talking about the importance they place on family.
Challenges for Pastors
This is a tricky issue. Balancing family life and church life is hard for a pastor, especially a new pastor. There’s never enough time to get all your church work caught up, but life at home doesn’t slow down just because you’re busy at church. It’s a delicate balancing act for pastors to work hard and take care of their families. While I know some pastors have worked too hard at the office and lost their family in the process, I’ve personally seen more of the opposite. I’ve seen pastors take advantage of their position. They talk a good game about wanting to prioritize family, but really they’re just lazy when it comes to work.
The dynamics of a small to medium sized church make this particularly tricky. Most new pastors serve at this size of church. In small churches, it’s not uncommon for the pastor to be the only paid staff member. In this situation, accountability is often woefully lacking. In medium sized churches, you often find more paid staff, but you also find a pastor who gets to call most of his own shots. Again, there’s not a tremendous amount of accountability for most pastors when it comes to how hard they work during the week. In these situations, itis not difficult for a pastor’s laziness to go undetected.
Reminders for Pastors
I don’t want to imply that all pastors are lazy. Nor do I want to call pastors to be workaholics at the expense of their family. I do want to remind you, a new pastor, that you must be committed to working hard. Here are a few reminders to guide you in your new position.
First, realize that ministry is not a 40 hour a week job. If that’s a problem, find a different career. As a pastor, it really doesn’t matter what size church you serve. You can rest assured that doing your job well will require more than 40 hours of work each week. You can also rest assured that this is not a job you can leave at the office. There is no time clock to punch in and punch out. You’re always on call. Again, if this is a problem, or if you find yourself complaining about this reality, you may need to find a new career.
Second, remember that your people work full-time jobs during the week. When they “punch out” they turn around and give you their time and their money. They are business owners and teachers and farmers. They have to work odd hours, weekends, and overtime. The fact that you have a position and a paycheck is a result of their contribution outside of their regular 9-to-5.
Third, accept the fact that your job description includes many “miscellaneous duties.” Particularly at a small to medium sized church, you can expect to find yourself doing all sorts of odd jobs. As a pastor in Kentucky, I often found myself power-washing the church and taking care of the grounds. Yes, we had volunteers who helped, but as their leader, I had to roll up my sleeves as well. As a pastor in Oklahoma, I found myself working with a group of men to solve a drainage problem outside our sanctuary. That wasn’t spelled out in my job description, but it did fall under “miscellaneous duties.” When a flock of birds took over the porch outside our youth building, no staff member or church member jumped forward to lead that clean-up crew. Sometimes, in a small to medium sized church, you find yourself stuck with “miscellaneous duties.” Don’t be an ivory tower theologian who can’t get his hands dirty when something needs to get done. Just work hard and take care of the problem.
Fourth, office hours matter. We all know a sermon can be written at home in your recliner or at Starbucks on the couch. But being available to your church members and your staff members is essential. You need to spend time in the office. Even when the work could be completed elsewhere, there’s value in being available for those who need your leadership.
Related to this issue of “office hours” is Sunday morning. There’s really no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. The best pastors I know are the first to arrive and among the last to leave. Don’t be the pastor who walks in five minutes before church and who can’t wait to get out the back door for lunch. Show up early. Stay late.
Fifth, in addition to regular office hours, realize that the time you work during “off-hours” is highly important to the success of your ministry. For example, in Odessa, I began praying for a group of men to disciple. After several months I formed two discipleship groups. As I began planning our meetings, it became apparent that we would not be able to meet during the work day. Lunch was not a possibility. Evenings were booked because of family time. That left the morning. Early morning. 6:00 am before work mornings. So that’s when we meet. It doesn’t fit into a typical work day, but if you’re going to be a pastor, it’s the kind of hours you work.
Of course, as you process all of these reminders, you do have to make time for your family. You can’t become a workaholic, ignoring the principle of rest and Sabbath. You can’t prioritize the people you serve at church over the people you serve at home. You can’t ignore your need for a vacation. You need time alone and time away with your family. Like I said, plenty of seminaries, conferences, books, and blogs are talking about the importance of these issues. However, in my personal experience, I’ve encountered more lazy pastors than workaholics. So my charge to you is this: work hard.
Perception is Reality
A final thought about working hard. Perception is a reality. The people in your church are not stupid. You may be able to fool them for a while, but sooner or later they will know if you’re working hard or hardly working. As the spiritual leader of a church, you need to have a reputation for working hard.
In Kentucky, many of the men in my church met at a coffee shop across the street from my house. I don’t drink coffee, but it didn’t take me long to realize I needed to walk across the street once in a while. Those 5:00 AM alarms came early in the morning, but since my guys started their day that early, I needed to start my day that early.
In Oklahoma, many of the folks in my church worked in agriculture. There are no off hours when you’re a farmer or a rancher. You get up early and work late. In addition to these folks, we had many professionals who woke up early to make the 30-minute drive to Oklahoma City for work. When these folks were up early for work, they knew my car would be at the church. They knew I would be the first one to the building on Sunday. And they appreciated my commitment to work hard, just like they did.
In Texas, I serve in a community that depends on oil and natural gas. Many of my church members depend on overtime pay. Can you imagine how they would respond to a pastor who insisted on a 40 hour work week? My people are disappointed when the economy gets tight and their work week gets cut to 50 hours. They expect their pastor to work hard, just like they work hard. That means long hours. That means odd hours. That means “miscellaneous duties.” And yes, that means working hard to take care of your family.
Landon Coleman serves as the teaching pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, where he lives with his wife Brooke. They have four children, Emma, Noelle, Amelia, and Clayton. Landon is a graduate of West Texas A&M University (BBA), and a two-time graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv and PhD). He is the author of Pastor to Pastor: Practical Advice for Regular Pastors and Pray Better: Learning to Pray Biblically, both of which were published by Rainer Publishing. Landon has pastored churches in Kentucky and Oklahoma, and he has taught for Oklahoma Baptist University and BH Carroll Theological Institute.