If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of the pastor’s immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. An effective pastor long-term will learn to protect the family.
How many pastors do we know who have adult children that don’t even attend church anymore? Lots. I’ve heard from many who resent the church which stole their family time.
There were seasons as a pastor where this was the case for me, especially on abnormally stressful days. I decided, however, I wanted it to be the exception and not the rule. I decided years ago, before I was ever a pastor – actually when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards – that my busyness would never detract from my family life on a long-term basis; if there were anything I could do about it.
Cheryl and I are now in a different season as empty-nesters. It is easier to protect our time. My heart, however, goes out to the young families in ministry. My role now is helping pastors and ministry leaders full-time. I hope some of them will heed my advice.
Here are 7 ways I protect my family as a pastor:
Disciplined down time.
Saturday for me is a protected day. I normally worked 6 long (up to 10 hours and more) days a week. I’m wired to work, but to take a true “Sabbath”, according to Exodus 16:26 at least, I had to take one day where I did nothing. For me this was usually Saturday. This also means I agreed to do fewer weddings or attend other social events on Saturdays. There were only a few Saturdays a year I allowed this part of my calendar to be interrupted.
I realize this is not the case for most pastors. We were blessed with a large, qualified staff. Pastors, it doesn’t have to be Saturday for you, but there should be at least one day in your week like this. And, if you are wired for two – take two! The Sabbath isn’t just a command for the people you are trying to shepherd.
Cheryl and the boys trumped everything on my calendar.
I always interrupted meetings for their phone calls. If they were on my schedule for something we had planned together it took precedence over everything and everyone else. These days, my boys can still reach me when no one else (other than Cheryl) can. Sometimes I’ll quickly text them back if I can call them later – but they always have access.
There were always emergencies. That’s the life of a pastor, but it was rare for me to break a “date” with my family for non-emergency invitations.
Scheduled time with my family.
I knew if I was going to protect time with my family then they must be a part of my calendar. I was told by some this seemed cold and calculated, and maybe it was, but especially when the boys were young and into activities with school, those times went on my calendar as appointments first.
As a result, I was at almost every ballgame and even most practices, unless I was out of town. It was possible, because it was protected by my calendar. It was easy for me to decline other offers, because my schedule was already planned.
Cheryl and I have continued those scheduled times after our boys left home. (Sometimes, in really busy seasons, Cheryl, who has access to my calendar, has placed them on the calendar for me – without my advance notice.)
I don’t work many nights.
Now it’s just a habit and my boys are grown, but when my boys were young, I also wrote on my schedule nights at home.
This is the one where I get pushback from people. The bottom line is I’m a professional. You likely wouldn’t want my time if I weren’t. Have you ever tried to meet with your attorney, banker or doctor at night?
Of course, there are exceptions – I had some monthly meetings where I had to work at night. I was very active in the community and so we attended a lot of community functions. Plus, life has seasons which alter this somewhat, but in a normal week I worked 6 full daytime hours a week and that was usually enough to fulfill my calling.
Granted, there is no way, especially in a large church, where I could physically be at every event that happened in the church. When I first arrived as pastor I did more of this, because people were getting to know me. One night I attended 6 Christmas parties hosted by Bible study classes. (I had to turn down just as many other invitations.) But this wasn’t a practice I could sanely continue long-term.
Even for those in smaller churches, remember this post is about protecting the family and there is simply no way to do that if you are never at home with the family. And, in most families, the family is home more at night.
I am not everyone’s (primary) pastor.
This is hard for members of my extended family or friends to understand sometimes but I pastor a large church, so if someone is already in a church elsewhere I didn’t try to be their pastor. I was simply their brother, son or friend.
Obviously, if someone didn’t have a church at all then this was a different story, especially since my heart is to reach unchurched people. And even in our own church, there are others on staff who take the primary care role for some people. (In smaller churches, this could be a Bible study leader, deacon, or elder.)
The word “primary” is key here. I can be pastor to anyone. But to be effective I can’t be everyone’s “primary” pastor.
I delegate well.
We have a great staff. If something is better for them to do, I let them do it. Every event doesn’t require me to be there, nor my wife. I try to support the activities of the church as much as possible, but not at the detriment of my family.
I realize smaller church pastors struggle here, but part of your leading may be to raise up volunteer people and entrust them with responsibilities and leadership. It also may be to lead people to understand your family remaining strong is just as important as other families in the church and part of having a healthy church is having a healthy pastor and family.
I try to stay spiritually, physically and mentally healthy.
It would have been hard to lead my family well and engage them when if I was always stressed by ministry. This was a constant battle, and required great cooperation and understanding by my family and by the church, but I recognized it as a value worth striving to attain.
Pastors, I have heard from you – and sometimes your spouse. Some of you are drowning in your ministry and your family is suffering. Many are going to say you have no staff or a small staff, but I encourage this same approach to ministry for every person on our staff. I would expect no less of a commitment to their family than I have to mine.
Used with permission from Ron Edmondson.