Let us begin by taking a quiz.
Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
- Pastoral families usually protect their personal and family lives.
- The expectations of church members often impinge upon a pastor’s family and home life.
- A significant dimension to pastoral ministry is the modeling of healthy family relations.
- A pastor and/or the pastor’s spouse should be available whenever he or she is called upon by a church member.
- Pastors who turn off their cell phones or home phones in order to spend time with their families deny their church members access, which they have a right to expect.
- Pastors and their spouses often get so involved with helping others that there is no time left for their own families.
The pastor’s family
What do Scripture and the writings of Ellen G. White have to say about our responsibilities to our families?
“If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, ISV).
“Exploit or abuse your family, and end up with a fistful of air” (Proverbs 11:29, The Message).
“There is no more important missionary field than our own home”*
Rank the following list according to how your family currently prioritizes things:
- Work with church and church members
As a pastor, do you make a distinction between God and work? This becomes a difficult question when your work includes service to God. Too often we lump service to the church together with service to God when they need to be kept distinct, even separate. They are not the same. Our responsibilities to God should always take top priority over our obligations to the church.
But where do our obligations to our families come in? Do we meet the needs of our church members at the expense of our own families? If so, we are making a big mistake. In order to avoid this, the minister and his or her family must find the right balance between church and home life. What follows are eight principles to help you best prioritize your family in your life.
1. Balance the urgent with the important
Consider the following depiction of things that demand your attention and decide under which heading you operate most of the time.
a: Nonurgent and Unimportant: Here we find the pastoral demands of the trivial, unimportant, inconsequential, irrelevant—or what we might call the junk mail—which some have difficulty escaping from.
b: Urgent but Unimportant: This is the area that demands most of our time. These things seem urgent but are often unimportant in the overall scheme of things.
c: Urgent and Important: This may seem like the best place in which to operate; however, in this setting, you are in crisis mode. Who wants to be putting out fires every day? There must be a better way.
d: Nonurgent but Important: This is actually the best quadrant in which to minister. Deal with the important before the important becomes urgent. The best way to get into this quadrant is to plan, organize, and prioritize. Learning to operate here saves time that you can then give to your family.
2. Let others hold you accountable and help you
You may need some outside help to review how you are using your time. Talk to your local conference ministerial secretary and seek guidance and counsel.
Keep a journal for a 30-day period and review it. How do you spend most of your time? Have a mentor review the journal with you and give you feedback. You may need someone else to “give you permission” to take some time off.
Eliminate things that are not necessary. March to the mission that Jesus called you to do, not to the mission that others want you to do for them.
Involve the local church board and staff in your decision to make your family a priority. This does not mean that you ask their permission for time off; rather, it means that they are informed and involved in the process. Your church members should then be informed. Remember, your family can be a role model for other families in the church regarding this important topic.
Make sure that roles, expectations, and expectations of all your church officers are clearly defined. If it is not your job, cut it out of your schedule! Let other church leaders do their jobs, and you do yours. Do not take someone else’s ministry away from them. Every pastor needs to add one item to their current job description: commitment to my own family.
3. Set limits on time for regular church office/work time
What is a reasonable amount of time for staff development, to sit on committees, to meet with church members, sermon preparation, and other items? In one survey of lay people, the answers to this question averaged 82 hours per week—an incredibly great amount of time. One church member even proposed that the pastor may work 200 hours per week.
There will be those special events or times, such as during an evangelistic series, when you may have no choice but to work many hours. But at the end, reward yourself and your family with some special alone time together. This will give you all a treat to look forward to as you dedicate yourself to ministry at those particular times.
4. Guard and protect boundaries
Set and lovingly communicate parameters to your church family in order to protect your private family time, and encourage them to do the same. A good minister will always respond to legitimate emergencies, but it is important to define an emergency. Be candid with your church about how they can expect you to respond to various crises. What is an emergency? What is a crisis? Defining these terms ahead of time will help you identify those instances that may, or may not, need immediate attention. Some “emergencies” can, in fact, wait. Your clearly communicated responses will diffuse misunderstandings before they develop and often prevent the manipulation of your time. Establish a day off each week and make sure that all your church family is aware of what time has been set aside.
Guarding your boundaries requires action. Put your computer and phone aside when you are with your spouse or children. You do not have to answer every call immediately. Preserve your family meal times. Eating together as a family is an important time to talk and share about the day’s happenings, challenges, joys, and tomorrow’s events.
5. A regular schedule makes crises easier to bear
If you have a regular day off with your family and take time to give them a place of importance in your schedule, then when a real crisis arises that takes you away, these kinds of events will be easier to bear.
6. Mentor others
Delegate as much as possible to other church leaders. Trust and train them to do the job that the nominating committee has elected them to do. Allow them to serve. Do not take service opportunities away from your church members because you feel you can do it better or faster. Help out the church family and yourself by sharing in ministry.
If you are too busy, you are probably not delegating. Train and trust people to coordinate and lead programs and events. Investing time in the training of others will not only save you hours, but fulfill the scriptural guidance offered in Ephesians 4:11, 12: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (NIV).
7. Schedule family time in your calendars now
Schedule your vacation early in the year. Many of our ministerial families lose vacation time because they are too busy to take it. There may never be a “good time” but this must be a priority.
Schedule one night every week with your spouse, a kind of “date night.” When God created Adam, He said it was not good for him to be alone. So He gave Adam a wife, not a whole church family.
Here is a formula that may be good to adopt: Spend at least 30 minutes each evening together, one entire evening each week, one day each month, and one weekend each quarter.
Schedule one evening with the entire family. Remember to make each child feel special. Try to schedule time with each child alone. When you are traveling, remember to call home and speak to your spouse and to each child.
One minister offers his family his daily planner to have first choice for them to fill in the time they want with him. He sacredly guards the time they have agreed on, even declining to chair important meetings. He tells a story of a church board member spotting his car near the beach and seeing him playing on the beach with his kids when he had previously told him that he was not available to meet. This experience gave the minister an opportunity to testify to his own family and the church of the importance of making his family a priority.
8. Take time for yourself
Take time for yourself to renew and recommit your relationship to God. As a spiritual leader, you must take the time to grow spiritually.
Get needed rest each night. You will be profitable for no one if you are not mindful that your body needs rest and renewal through sleep.
Our families are our most important treasures and God-given gifts on this earth. How sad it will be when we get to heaven if our family members are missing. We must begin today to make them a priority so that we can spend eternity together.
* Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), 476.