I was lying on the floor pushing Thomas the Tank Engine around his wooden track when I realized my young son had been speaking to me for the past 30 seconds, but I hadn’t listened to a word he had said. Instead, I was too preoccupied thinking about the church. Those precious moments were now gone—-never to return. Sadly, I bet many other pastors can relate.
All of us know tragic stories of wives and children of pastors, church planters, and missionaries who grow up to hate the church. These stories could have been avoided, in many cases, if the leader in the home had not neglected his family.
I could offer you a moralistic, guilt-driven path toward self-improvement, marked by signs along the way exhorting, “Try harder! Do better! Quit your hobbies! Spend more time with your wives and kids!” But I’m not convinced this method would lead to true, lasting change and fruitfulness. Thankfully there is a better path, along which we’re propelled by faith in the gospel. Some of the same signs may appear, but the motivation and power for obeying their calls come from a different place—-the finished work of Jesus on behalf of the frail, fallen father.
Along this path, the leader recognizes that he must be led by the Spirit. As he pursues a deep, abiding love for God and his Word, he finds strength to persevere in both ministry and also the home. He sees his own failures in the shortcomings of his children and begins to develops greater humility and a deeper understanding of his ongoing need for grace. This father cries out to his Father and finds that God is more than willing to give all good gifts (Matt. 7:11, Jas. 1:17). This leader is now ready to lead his family, keeping in mind these three realities.
1. The church can get another pastor, but your kids can’t get another dad.
We only get one shot to raise our children. I talk to fathers all the time who lament being absent during their children’s formative years because of working too much. Even though this is often especially true for pastors, it shouldn’t be. Our biblical credentials for ministry deal mostly with how we lead our families and our own character, rather than our ministry effectiveness. Remember, no one reaches the end of their life saying, “I wish I had spent more time working on my blog or book.” May we never forget: The first flock you lead is not the one that gathers on Sunday, but the one that lives at your house.
2. The church can get another pastor, but your wife has only one husband—-and she needs a good one.
Our wives often take the brunt of the beating of our ministries: they hold us together, they hear us grumble, and they hear others complain about us. Take it from someone who has greatly failed before in this area: do as much as you can to set clear boundaries between the church and home. Frequently check up on whether or not your wife enjoys being a part of the church you lead. If she doesn’t want to attend the church where you are the pastor, this situation needs your immediate attention. Don’t let pride keep you from reaching out for help both inside and outside the church as well.
3. A day off is not just a good idea—-it is essential.
At our house, we call them “Monday Funday.” It is the day we play outside, eat Chinese food at a mall, and don’t talk about the church. Our church knows about “Monday Funday” because I mention it in sermons, tweet about it, schedule around it, and unless someone is bleeding out in their kitchen, I do my best not to violate it. The flock I pastor is happy to encourage this time, and I hope that yours would be as well. If not, it may be time for a short mini-series on the Sabbath for everyone’s benefit.
Though I still have a long way to go in this area of leading well in the home, Thomas the Tank Engine and I have made a lot of progress in the past couple of years. He goes around the track a little faster, and I pay better attention to my children. He and they will be gone before I know it, and I want to care for and lead my family as well as I can in the time that I have. This is what God wants, too. As the ultimate, loving Father, God is happy to lead his children as we seek to lead ours.