On grace as a ballast for home and ministry life balance.
I am a staunch believer that the most important field of ministry in the life of a pastor is that of his own home. I have heard distressing stories about pastors of generations gone by who, in the name of “ministering for Christ,” largely secluded themselves from time spent with family. I believe, though I have no supporting evidence other than observation, that pastors who have practiced such seclusion and isolation in their own homes have bred churchgoers with a proclivity for disillusionment with the church itself. Perhaps you see that as a broad generalization of ecclesiastical history — but I don’t think it is a “straw man.” I think, rather, it is an unfortunate amalgamation of misreading Jesus’s remarks on family in Luke 14:26 coupled with a pious sense of “doing the Lord’s work.” But I agree with Derek Prime and Alistair Begg when they assert that a pastor “cannot faithfully expound the Scriptures without stressing the importance of the home.”1
Since I began in a life of ministry as my primary vocation, I made a firm decision at the outset to protect and preserve the time I would spend with my family. I want to safeguard their emotional and spiritual wellbeing by showing them that while ministry is my life, they are the most important ministry in which I’ll ever be involved. To that end, and to protect my ministerial endurance, I rigidly schedule my weekly hours in blocks, ensuring that each day I spend in the office is largely planned out, with “big rock items” scheduled first and the items of lesser importance filling in the gaps. Blocking my week in this manner helps me focus my time since it frees me to be able to give full attention to a particular task knowing that my other responsibilities will get similar treatments in their own time. A skill that I was able to develop while working in the corporate world was assessing my regular responsibilities and prioritizing them according to levels urgency. This is something that I have found to be very beneficial when approaching an ordinary week of tasks in vocational ministry.
I know, from my own experience, the ominous (and sometimes ambiguous) reality of “ministry” as an occupation. However, arranging weekly schedules helps me center my week according to what matters most and what needs attention, while also allowing for flexibility if the “unexpected” occurs (which it often does). Blocking my week also helps when it comes to prioritizing time with family. I have found that taking off on Mondays has best served my wife and kids, allowing me to devote an entire day of attention to and affection for them. The stresses of the pastorate can have far-reaching effects on a pastor’s health, spiritually, physically, and relationally. Thus, leisure time with my family allows for much needed recreation and rejuvenation each week. Such is why I also structure my days for early risings which allows me to come home from the office at a time when I can not only be most helpful to my wife but also most present with my kids.
It can be very easy to allow “ministry life” and “family life” to bleed into one another, creating an existence where the pressure is always on and the minister is never “off.” There’s a reality in which this is simply “the nature of the beast” that pastoral ministry presents, so to speak. For all intents and purposes, as a pastor, I am always “on.” At a moment’s notice, I am willing and able and ready to come alongside grieving, struggling, desperate sheep and point them to the true and better Shepherd. There will be days and weeks in which the busyness of ministerial responsibilities are unavoidable, outweighing the time that is free to spend with family. There are always more matters that need attention than there are hours or days. But, by the same token, it’s even easier to allow ministry to become the reason for familial or even emotional absence. Such is the reality and the tension of pastoral ministry. Such, too, is why there are those to whom I am accountable to ensure I am adhering to a sustainable church-home balance.
There ought to exist a healthy balance between home and ministry life. Weeks that are ministerially full ought to be augmented by time devoted to my family. That is a principle by which I’ve striven to abide, because for as much as I am fervently sold out for being wrung out for Jesus’s sake, ministries, and even those to whom I minister, will come and go. But my family stays the same, and they need the gospel, too. As a pastor, I am able to primarily model faithful ministry not by using it as an excuse to be away from those who need me most, but by excusing myself from it when those closest to me need me most. Any pastor who pursues the success of his ministry at the expense of his family has jeopardized both. “There exists not, among earthly institutions,” writes English churchman Octavius Winslow, “a diviner, holier, or more beauteous one than the domestic.”2 Therefore, indispensable to my long-term success as a minister is my ability to hold my roles as a husband, father, and pastor in equilibrium. And fortunately there’s more than enough grace for that, too. Indeed, grace is the ballast that stabilizes every structure in life, familial, ecclesiastical, or otherwise.
Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 246.
Octavius Winslow, The Ministry of Home: Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth (London: William Hunt & Co., 1867), 1.