In his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson told how his own daughter awoke him to the realization that he was neglecting family obligations because of his busyness in pastoral ministry. "I was sitting in the living room after supper on a Tuesday evening in June when she came to me asking me to read a book to her. I told her that I couldn't because I had a meeting at the church. She said, 'This is the thirty-eighth night in a row that you have not been home.'"1
Or how about this? "We dash here and there desperately trying to fulfill the many obligations that press in upon us. We jerk back and forth between business commitments and family responsibilities. While we are busy responding to the needs of child or spouse, we feel guilty about neglecting the demands of work. When we respond to the pressures of work, we fear we are failing our family."2
Perhaps you can relate to Peterson's portrayal? You find yourself torn between family obligation and pastoral work. Which one should you choose?
I remember when I was teaching full time in college, while at the same time I was pastoring a local church near our university on weekends. In addition, I was a freshman husband and a neophyte father to my newborn daughter. I wanted to be a perfect husband-father and a competent teacher-pastor, and fear of drowning in the sea of conflicting roles and goals tortured me.
As I look back, I realize that I simply survived and moved on to another assignment without getting answers. Only recently did I stumble upon Richard J. Foster's Freedom of Simplicity, which gave me the help I needed.
Foster suggests that to experience freedom from the entanglement of conflicting roles, we must "live in the Center."3 In effect, he's suggesting that every aspect of a pastor's life, whether chairing a board meeting or reading a story to your five-year-old child, must be God-centered. "Gardening was no longer an experience outside of my relationship with God I discovered God in the gardening. Swimming was no longer just good exercise it became an opportunity for communion with God. God in Christ had become the Center."4
Living in the Center
What does it mean to live life in the Center? How can a pastor-spouse with such demanding work both in the church and at home practice life in the Center?
1. Living in the Center means viewing all aspects of our lives in relation to God. This is holistic living. There is a tendency for us to dichotomize our lives into two separate realms: the secular and the spiritual.
We tend to think that helping our wife wash the dishes or helping her do the laundry is not part of our ministry because we assume that it is not part of our sacred duty. It's out side the scope of our job description as a pastor. Any menial work not included in our pastoral portfolios is viewed as unsanctified or irreligious. Note these words, however: "The greater part of our Saviour's life on earth was spent in patient toil in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. Ministering angels attended the Lord of life as He walked side by side with peasants and laborers, unrecognized and unhonored. He was as faithfully fulfilling His mission while working at His humble trade as when He healed the sick or walked upon the storm-tossed waves of Galilee. So in the humblest duties and lowliest positions of life, we may walk and work with Jesus."5
One of my students in a Bible class I taught wrote what she felt about the class and the teacher. She indicated that she valued the teacher very much, not so much for the things he taught but more on the life that helived, especially when she often saw her professor hanging a basketful of clothes on the clothesline.
Because of what my student wrote, I realized that doing the seemingly ordinary task becomes a medium of extraordinary witnessing.
2. Living in the Center means considering every aspect of a pastor's life both at home and at the church as worship. The apostle Paul admonishes us, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31, NIV). "Whatever you do" these are important words. Again, they include all the mundane tasks of a pastor in the home life and in the church life. If ever there is an invitation for us to speak on an occasion that would conflict with our regular family day, we should not worry when we feel obliged to say no. In my Filipino culture, it is difficult to say no. At times, out of extreme politeness, we consent even if it's against our will. But living in the Center calls for us to say "No" in such a situation.
Our definition of worship is typically limited to singing praise songs or going to church. But when we view worship as more than just a celebration of God's presence as honoring Him with our lifestyle as well, our outlook will change. Paul reminds us to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God this is your spiritual act of worship" (Rom. 12:1, NIV). From the biblical perspective, worship encompasses the whole life, whether we are spending our time giving Bible studies or playing basketball with our kids. Everything we do in our life is done because we love God and desire to honor and worship Him.
Spending time with family is considered an act of worship. But many feel guilty for doing otherwise. "Because they [people] are not connected with some directly religious work, many feel that their lives are useless, that they are doing nothing for the advancement of God's kingdom. If they could do some great thing how gladly they would under take it! But because they can serve only in little things, they think them selves justified in doing nothing. In this they err. A man may be in the active service of God while engaged in the ordinary, everyday duties while felling trees, clearing the ground, or following the flow. The mother who trains her children for Christ is as truly working for God as is the minister in the pulpit."6
3. Living in the Center means extending our pastoral ministry even into our own homes. It is a great Christian paradox when we are very soft-spoken and tender to our counselee in the church, while we shout and bicker at our children and wife at home. If we are patient and understanding to our parishioners, we should also be patient and understanding to our family members. At times when we don't behave as a pastor to our homes, our influence with our children and our wife will be compromised. Our children would look at us as pharisaical and hypocritical.
Larry Burkett tells this story: "Evan was the pastor of a large evangelical church and spent almost every waking moment there. Although his family was having problems, he prided himself on never allowing those problems to interfere with his ministry activities.
"Then one Sunday morning the local police chief called. The pastor's 16-year-old son had been arrested for drug possession, again. The previous day his wife had suffered an emotional breakdown and had been commit ted to the psychiatric ward at a local hospital. As Evan hung up the phone that Sunday morning, he realized his whole life was a lie. He was in bondage to his own ego and pride. He would have counseled any businessperson in the same situation to drop the business and get his or her life straightened out."7
Thankfully, the story of Evan does not end there. He was able to recover from that problem. He was able to redeem his relationships with his wife, with his son, and with his God. But the story speaks volumes to all of us pastors. We should not wait until the same tragedy strikes us before we begin to change our personal and pastoral reference point from one that is arbitrarily divided to one that operates from the Center.
If we could do counseling and pastoring with our church members, we should do the same for and with our family members. Our work as pastors should not be confined to the church but equally include to our own home. In doing this, we will indeed be living in the Center.
1 Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: an Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 35.
2 Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), 77.
3 Ibid., 78.
4 Ibid., 80.
5 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), 81, 82.
6 Ellen White, Prophets and Kings (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), 219.
7 Larry Burkett, "Overcoming Being Overly Committed," in Profiles of Success, ed. Ronnie Belanger and Brian Mast (North Brunswick, N.J.: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1999), 185.