This week, I was asked this question by an aspiring pastor. There is of course, no magic formula. I did remind him that the patterns of balance he sets now for his family and the rest of the demands of life continue once you enter into the ministry. For example, do not assume you can neglect your wife and children while you are in seminary, having to work three jobs, serving at the church, and sleeping very little and that neglect will mysteriously vanish once you enter into full time ministry.
Although this is certainly a busy time for many men preparing for ministry, your life will not magically change when the great demands of ministry invade your family. It is also contingent on the kind of wife you have that will determine the adjustments that need to be made. So then, here are 3 suggestions that I hope will help you think through what a balanced family/ministry life looks like for you.
Quality time trumps quantity time. Though both are ideal, both are not always realistic. The best way to maximize the time you get with your family is to make sure every moment counts. This requires us to “leave the church” when we leave church for the evening. In other words, if we are physically with our family, but our minds and hearts are still at the church and in that afternoon conflict or counseling session, we are cheating our family of their time and that is not quality time.
Individual attention in the family is essential. Regardless how much or little time you are given in a week, make sure your wife and each of your children can reflect back on it and remember a time they each individually had your complete focus and undivided attention. A little of this kind of time goes a long way. My weekly efforts to accomplish this is described in this blog post about individually shepherding each of my children. I would recommend for your to establish a similar practice. Because the demands of ministry on us are so great, this is not an option for a pastor, but essential to make sure we capture this balance we seek.
Know both extremes and avoid them. There is the common tendency to neglect our family in the name of ministry and serving the Lord, which needs first to be avoided. However, there is a second extreme which appears just as noble but is just as harmful. That is a pastor who is so committed to his family that he does not labor faithfully and sacrificially in his task as a pastor. It becomes simply a job to him. The life of a pastor is a life of sacrifice for our families. The pastor’s family has to learn that to some degree realizing there will be busy seasons. Our families are to be our first priority, but there is a way to walk faithfully in this priority and still “spend and be spent in the service of our bountiful Master!”
Pastors, that is the balance we must find. Labor hard to determine what that is for you and your family. Avoid both extremes as either of them will indict us as unwise stewards of these great gifts of our families and ministries. Do what you must, dear brothers, to find the balance. Much is at stake!