How to Preserve Your Pastor (Part 4): Family Time

[This is part 4 of a seven part series on How to Preserve Your Pastor. I have organized this series around Dr. Tom Ranier’s article: The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors, in which he interviews 22 seasoned pastors. The top regret of pastors has to do with the lack of practical training for local church ministry which I blogged about in Part 1 of this series. Part 2 addressed how some pastors are overly concerned about critics. I was most surprised by the third finding (regret over failure to exercise faith when in ministry) and I wrote about that in Part 3.]

The next regret on Dr. Thom Rainer’s list of The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors is not surprising at all:

At the end of their ministries many pastors regret not spending enough time with their families.

Despite the apostle Paul’s counsel that men should remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8) and that those who marry will face many troubles in this life (1 Corinthians 7:28b), the fact is most pastors in the evangelical tradition are married men. Marriage, of course, carries with it many responsibilities and obligations, including the duty to raise children who fear and love the Lord. We all know that takes time … lots of self-sacrificing, quality, relationship-building time. One pastor in response to Dr. Rainer’s interview question stated:

“It hurts me to say this, but one of my adult sons is still in rebellion, and I know it is a direct result of my neglect of him when he was young.”

Many church members believe pastors have lots of private time on their hands because most people see them only once or twice a week. The reality is—and I speak from experience having served nearly eight years on the pastoral staff of a mid-sized church—pastors have very little usable family time because they have to be available to church members when those members are free from work, school, or other family obligations. That means a pastor’s evenings and weekends are almost always spent not with their own families but the members of God’s family: the church family needing nurture and care. My own experience was, on average, to be out visiting and counseling with church members or participating in a church meeting of one kind or another on average five nights a week and engaged most Saturdays and Sunday afternoons with church members and their needs and activities. That meant that when my wife and children were free from their own work and schooling on weekends, I was usually never there.

Most pastors take one day a week as their “day off.” That day is almost never a Saturday or Sunday, of course. It is usually a Monday or Thursday or some other weekday when the members of the church are engaged in their work, school, and demands of living in our modern culture. Those days can be very lonely for a pastor even though “free.” The pastor’s wife may need to be at her own job and the children at school. This is not usable family time. On my free day I was typically trying to catch up with household chores and theological reading. My wife was at work and both children in Christian school. Most pastors may experience a slightly different pattern but the basic problem remains…lack of usable family time to build and sustain the kinds of relationships that God calls all married people to.

Here is the real catch:

The most important and memorable ministry you will ever have, pastor, will be how you model your own marriage and parenting commitment to the members of your church.

It is not going to be your sermons or Sunday school lessons or even your pastoral counsel that will, in the long run, be what is remembered. (I once read a study that indicated that 80% of church members could not remember by Wednesday the main theme of Sunday’s sermon message!) Those substantive elements of ministry are very important and greatly needed, but what will be remembered is your character as a role model. How did you transparently live your life among God’s sheep as a model and example (see 1 Peter 5:2-3)? Our son tells a very touching and telling story about his church experience as a teenager. Our church’s youth pastor, a godly and gentle man named Mark, put a lot of effort into the youth ministry of our church. He was married with three young children. This is what our now 42-year old son tells me about the influence of his youth pastor:

“Dad, I remember going to many youth ministry meetings and events at our church when growing up, but what I really remember even at age 16 was thinking that even though we have lots of great Bible studies and lessons and activities, what I want when I grow up is a marriage like that of Pastor Mark’s. I want the relationship with my future wife and family to be what he has with his wife and kids. I remember very little of what was taught in any specific lesson or even what I did on youth getaways, but I remember what Mark modeled to me about marriage and having children.”

Do you think that pastor had a meaningful impact on the life of our son? That, in my book, is real pastoral impact!

What can we do as church members to help our pastors avoid any regrets over a lack of usable family time, and thus, be godly role models for us and our children? How can we encourage our leaders to live as God’s holy creatures, prioritizing the important over the urgent, even in these quickly passing days?

First, pay your pastor a salary that allows his wife the freedom to choose to work in the home if that is their preference. She should not need to bring in an extra paycheck through work in the marketplace.

Second, ask your pastor to become the “model” husband and father by engaging with his family in an intentional and time-honoring manner so that all of the relational lessons and dynamics he experiences can be shared and applied with members of the church. That means freeing the pastor from attendance at many evening church meetings that can be led by lay elders and deacons he has trained and equipped (see Ephesians 4:11-13).  Similarly, equip lay elders and other spiritually mature church members to do the work of pastoral care and counsel so that no leader is consistently required to be gone from his family more than two evenings per week.

Third, live out the very principles you are encouraging in your pastor’s life and family. Prioritize your family time and use that base of security and love to invest in intimate and redemptive friendships and relationships. As we do that, we will understand even more deeply the importance of encouraging such things in the lives of our pastors.

And, finally, free your pastor for the most important work of ministry by eliminating “busy work.” If there is something on his schedule that someone else could be doing—another leader, a paid staff member, a wise and trusted volunteer—get it off your pastor’s schedule. Don’t burn him out! Bless him and serve him and help him to lead you (and his family) well.

As our pastors minister well to their own families, they will model and minister well to their sheep. This reflects God’s ideal: lives lived in balance, growing in happiness and holiness. We may never actually achieve this model in our lifetimes! But it is a worthy goal and we should seek it together, day by day, as we walk together as God’s family united in Christ.

On behalf of burned-out pastors everywhere,
Dave Edling

Tara here—Just a quick note to let you know that I was quite surprised when I read Dave’s account of his time when he was serving full-time as a pastor because by the time we met and worked together on staff at Peacemaker Ministries, Dave had very different convictions and patterns regarding his family time. In fact, his wise and appropriate prioritizing of his family time (often by saying something to me like, “Tara? There is always more ministry to do. Go home. This will be here in the morning.”) really had a big impact on Fred’s and my life, especially now that we have small children. Even today, 10+ years later, Fred and I will reach the end of a busy day and try to capture Dave’s voice and parrot him to one another saying, “Stop. Go home. There is always more ministry to do. This will be here in the morning.” So I guess Dave listened to his own counsel and changed his behavior so that he lived a more balanced life! And he has definitely helped us to do so too.


About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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