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A Pastor’s Reflections: Family or Church First?

February 19, 2013


One of the challenges that pastors face is the dilemma of when to put family or church first. Many within the church never face this dilemma. When there is a church event or function it doesn’t really register in the minds of many, and if there is a scheduling conflict, family always comes first. If there’s a soccer game for one of the kids, well, they will miss the church picnic—there’s hardly a thought given to choosing one over the other. For the pastor, on the other hand, the dilemma appears quite regularly.

Unlike the member of the congregation, the minister typically has to be at most every church function. Unlike the member of the church, the pastor has many other duties to serve the church that will take him away from his family, such as session or consistory meetings, pastoral visits, counseling sessions, meetings of presbytery or classis, and meetings of general assembly or synod. In a number of these scenarios the tyranny of the urgent can also press in. The pastor will frequently face people who desperately need help immediately or the emergency session meeting comes without notice because a problem has quickly arisen in the church, and like a fire, is burning out of control. The pastor’s daughter may have a soccer game, and regrettably, the pastor will have to miss the game due to the scheduling conflict. The pressure upon the pastor in these scenarios is greater, I believe, than the layman’s job. It’s one thing to turn down a late-night meeting for work because money-making can wait. It’s entirely another thing to turn down an emergency counseling appointment with someone who has just lost a child to suicide. I liken the pastor’s calling to an ER doctor—sometimes time is of the essence in a way somewhat differently than for other vocations. So what is the pastor to do?

First, the pastor needs to be acutely aware of the needs of his family and church. He can never assume that his family can suffer absence. There are too many pastors out there who have neglected their family to serve the church and have paid a costly price—it should be no surprise that PK’s (preacher’s kids) are some of the biggest hell-raisers out there—their fathers are seldom present. On the other hand, the pastorate, unlike other vocations, is a regular call to die to one’s self and to carry the cross of ministry—the pastorate involves sacrifice. The pastor’s family will undoubtedly have to sacrifice the presence and participation in family life in ways that other families in the church will not. Given the challenges of the pastorate, I have heard on numerous occasions, and I have asked the question myself, candidates for the ministry asked: “Is your wife supportive of your pursuit of ordained ministry?” If the wife is unwilling to sacrifice, then a man’s ministry is usually hobbled from the outset and often doomed.

Second, you and your wife should discuss and prioritize your schedule regularly. Do not assume that everything is ok at home and that you can always run off to minister to others. If you make this assumption you can quickly find yourself coming home to a house in tatters and have to take a leave of absence or even demit the ministry to tend to your wife and children. I have seen this happen multiple times. If you don’t take care of the church under your roof, chances are your family and your ministry will suffer.

Third, as a member of the church, be mindful of the pressures that are placed upon the pastor and his family. Ensure that he is able to spend quality time with them. Does the pastor have adequate time for vacation? Does he have the finances to get away? It just might be necessary to tell your pastor, “We’ll be fine—you need to go to your son’s baseball game and spend some time with your family.” There will always be church fellowships and meals, but the window of opportunity for a pastor to minister to his own children is a narrow one.

In the end, setting priorities calls for wisdom, but there is a sense in which the pastor must put his family first. If his own house is not in order, then he will be unable to minister to others.