In the life of the average family, the months of May and June are the busiest of the year (closely followed, I’m sure, by November and December). During this time, families experience Mother’s Day, observances such as the National Day of Prayer, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, final exams and the plethora of happenings connected with end of school, school graduations and their associated activities, weddings, birthday parties, the beginning of summer endeavors and sports, vacation Bible school, family vacations, and perhaps even some church camps. And, if you are part of a pastor’s family, there are even more places you are expected to be. “Hectic” only begins to describe it.
It is very easy for a pastor to “disconnect” with his or her family during these busy months. And yet, it is also a time during which a pastor has more opportunities than usual to “connect” with the family if he or she is very intentional about it. Let me talk a little about your spouse and your children, but don’t forget to apply some of these things to your parents, siblings, and other extended family members.
The Pastor’s Spouse
My wife, Beverley, was a pastor’s wife for more than 30 years. During those three decades, she exhibited myriad emotions as she went about her role as a wife, mother, and involved laywoman.
In the early years of our ministry, we served a church that was unschooled in its treatment of the pastor and his family. A lot of unrealistic expectations were placed on Bev. Plus, congregants often made references or comparisons to former pastors and their families, and they commented on everything — from how she dressed to her attendance at church functions. We were pretty young and inexperienced at that time, so we just accepted the situation as part of the “pastoral territory.” But, as we matured in the ministry and assumed responsibility with larger congregations, we learned this kind of thing would take its toll on us if we didn’t set some parameters. I’ll share those in a minute.
I realize that not all clergy spouses struggle with the challenge of sharing their mate and family with a congregation, but I haven’t met many who have not had their moments.
This is what I commonly hear from many spouses: “Our family needs more balance. It seems we are owned by the church.” “Sometimes, when I see how my husband is treated by the church leaders, I wonder if it’s all worth it.” “I’m concerned about my husband’s health. He does not sleep well, eat well, or find time for himself”
When spouses talk about themselves, often it is in the area of their own identity or relationship. ‘‘I’m not sure who I can trust.” “So many of the expectations for me are unrealistic.” “If we didn’t work here, I’m not sure we would even attend this church.” “Sundays are my roughest day of the week.” “I feel a heaviness in my heart that I can’t describe.”
Well, you know the rest. As couples in ministry, you must keep talking and keep observing the one you love. Don’t be afraid to ask how the other is doing, and take time to be together. Ministry should be a joy — full of love and respect for one another. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Psalm 94:19).
Unfortunately and unfairly, the impression your spouse makes on the congregation can greatly impact your effectiveness. That’s a lot of pressure. So, I ask you two questions:
- What do you do as a pastor to take the pressure off your spouse?
- How have you encouraged your spouse to find an emotional outlet beyond the church?
Forty percent of the calls we received on our Pastoral Care Line while I was serving at Focus on the Family came from spouses. Many of those calls reflected anger, frustration, concern, and despair.
Pastor, have you taken time lately to thank your partner in ministry for his or her support? Have you attempted to help them find fulfillment by using their best gifts rather than simply handling chores pressed upon them by others?
There is a great deal of pain and stress in the lives of many spouses. We must take the initiative and show genuine care and concern. Where would we be without them?
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).
People in our congregations have a fascination with our children’s lifestyles and behavior. Unless you have been there yourself, it is nearly impossible to fully understand what they go through and how hard it can be. Most of our children do really well, but from time to time, we are faced with a prodigal living in the spotlight — and the judgment of a church family.
What do you do? How do you “train up a child” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV)? Here are a few general guidelines:
- Support your children. Convince them that your concern is for them, not what people say. Praise them when appropriate.
- Talk to them. Don’t avoid them. Stop what you are doing and make your children a priority.
- Get them help, especially if their behavior could be addictive. Don’t be afraid to confront and reach out.
- Evaluate their peers. Who are their influencers?
- Choose carefully the individuals in your congregation with whom you talk about them. Your problems don’t need to become public knowledge.
- Be in agreement as parents. Make decisions together.
- Pray for your child and love him or her, but do not minimize the seriousness of your child’s unacceptable ways and behavior.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
I read somewhere the following: “A son will forgive his father for almost anything if the son can hear — in whatever way, at whatever age — his dad’s genuine affirmation.” That goes for mothers, too.
I have two sons who do two things much better than I did as their father. They spend a lot of quality time with their children, and they talk often to them. Next in importance to one’s walk with the Lord is the effort we fathers make to become part of the life of our families. I know how difficult it is to find balance, but the investment you make in the “first family” of your congregation will have eternal ramifications.
Do you have any unresolved issues you need to address with your family? Have you told your kids lately that you love them, that you’re proud of them? Have you affirmed them? And one last thing, have you shown your children in word and deed just how much you love their mother?
A couple of thoughts to consider: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction” (Proverbs 1:8) and “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
As I mentioned earlier, after going through some difficult times with our congregations and within our own family, Bev and I talked it over and, in time, came up with the following guidelines to protect my wife and our children. I share them with you for your consideration.
- A family-before-ministry schedule should be considered a safeguard for your home rather than a detriment to your ministry.
- Your home should be your sanctuary, not a gathering place for the congregation. You should have the liberty to shut the doors and pull the shades of your house for uninterrupted privacy.
- The fact that your children are PKs does not make them fair game for the gossip of curious church folks. Your family, not the constituency, should determine what role each person in your home will embrace, in church and otherwise.
- Guard your days off and take vacations. While you are “off-duty,” don’t jump for the phone every time it rings. Monitor the calls and respond only to real emergencies. When possible, try to get away from the house for most of your downtime.
- You should set the tone for the whole family. Make it plain to the church leadership and congregation that your family is your priority, and they should be treated with the same respect and courtesy as any family in the church community.
Take my thoughts for what they are worth. These guidelines worked well for us. I hope you will seriously think a little bit more about your home and each individual who lives there.
“A [pastor] … must manage his children and his household well” (1 Timothy 3:12).