How does a pastor balance family and ministry?

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!

Posted in Home and Family, Training for Ministry
12 comments on “How does a pastor balance family and ministry?
  1. Michael says:

    Brian,

    Can you give us an idea of what your weekly schedule looks like?

    • briancroft says:

      In short, my schedule is:

      Mondays – Very little studying, meeting with folks, running errands, and admin. stuff.
      Tuesday – Thursday: Study in the mornings, meetings with folks in the afternoons (Bible Study Wed. night)
      Friday – Off (family day)
      Saturday – 7 am – 2 pm getting ready for Sunday, working with sermon, breakfast meeting with someone. By 2 pm, work is suppose to be done for the day to be with family the rest of it.

      Sunday – Well, Sunday is Sunday!

      I hope that helps in some way.

  2. Chad Beck says:

    Brian, great counsel for men who are considering the pastorate. I have served now almost 7 years as a pastor. After being called, felt as though I needed to attend seminary to get some training. Trying to work a job, raise three boys, and pastor a church (not considering the financial strain as well) decided it is best for the sake of my family to drop seminary. Often we feel as though this is something we “have” to do. But in reality seminary training does not make us any “better” or “worse” as a pastor. I realized if I gained a degree and lost my family what I have I gained? I also realized God sent Christ to die for His church, which He has place me over as a shepherd. Most of all He has entrusted to me a wife and 3 boys who need their daddy more than I need a degree. So, with that said, I believe the key word in all of it is, “balance.”

    • briancroft says:

      Well said. I do not have a seminary degree for similar reasons. Get it if you can, but it won’t make you a pastor.

    • Sam Bierig says:

      Great words there Brian and Chad! As i read this i randomly was listening to the talk that was given at The Gospel Coalition about passing on leadership and mentorship to the next generation. They (Mohler, Carson, Helm, Driscoll, Duncan) have alot to say to this same issue. If yall hav’nt checked out this talk its really good.
      its downloadable from Justin Taylor’s blog
      http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/

    • Sam Bierig says:

      Oh i forgot. The Justin Taylor post is May 17th. And P.S. The talk has nothing to do with balancing family and ministry, but rather it is speaking to the issue of Seminary vs. local Church training.

  3. Leisle Paulsen says:

    Dear Pastor,
    My husband works 8-5, 7 days a week and gets off every 2nd weekend. I work 8-5, 5 days a week. We have 3 daughters, age 10, 5 and 2. We are trying to do full time ministry after hours and at many times we had to take a rain check on prayer meetings and cell church because of our responsibilities at home. When I was at home all was in order but we had such a big financial burden. Please help!How do one do it all?

    • briancroft says:

      Thanks for asking. Let me know if you figure this one out, because we are still trying. I don’t think there is a perfect formula. This balance will look different for every family. My suggestion to you is to realize you can’t do it all and to make sure your priorities are in order. You have to live a pay the bills. Sacrifice all you can to allow the financial burden to be as less as possible on you. You can’t do all the church stuff, so make sure you are very deliberate in what you do so that you maximize your efforts in ministry. You also need to have family time away from church. Try to balance these things all you can and then don’t feel guilty about what you cannot do.

      Finally, make sure there are others in your church and out to help you find this balance you seek. May the Lord bless you as you make wise deicisons for your family.

  4. Maria says:

    Dear Pastor Brian,
    I was dating a very well known worship leader, and I started to feel very negleted because of all the traveling he does, he is in a different city everyday of the month, and the time that he was home, he was usually super tired of course with no time to pray or be in the word with me, and he also felt the need to share his time with other people and activities apart from me. So I finally had the courage to let him know that I needed more of his attention, maybe he didn’t need to travel as much as He did…and He told me that was the calling God had for him and he wouldn’t compromise it just to be with me…having said that he left me no other choice but break up with him because I kept thinking about the future…and I didn’t want to marry someone that is never present. I guess my question for you is does he have his priorities in order? Or was I suppose to accept the calling he says God has for him and support his ministry?
    Thank you….

    • briancroft says:

      Very sorry to hear what I’m sure was a hard and painful decision you made. What you experienced could be a mix in priorities, but could also reveal he is not ready for marriage. Every woman is different. Some accept this calling so that their husbands can do what they feel they should do. However, most women feel as you do and are not called to be that “special wife” who is able to be a second priority. There have been faithful women assume this role as their ministry (Spurgeon’s wife, Whitefield’s bride who he married in the middle of his traveling ministry), but most are unable to do so. Based on the limited info you have given, it sounds like you made the right decision as you would not be able to handle his schedule. If you were already married and this schedule came, then it would be a different conversation for him and you. But that is not the case.

      Additionally, most ambitious, single men even in the ministry don’t understand what it means to truly sacrifice and love a wife until they are married and have to learn by fire. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is in most cases. May the Lord give you grace as you struggle through this issue.

  5. Lee says:

    Pastor Brian
    Thank you for your encouragement and the wisdom of God you are sharing in each of your responses. I am a pastor’s wife and the sacrifices made to balance family and church are enormous. As a wife, recognizing the call of the ministry on my own life is what helped me to balance the schedule my husband keeps. I know not every wife realizes this calling. I have heard pastor’s wives say they are not called to the ministry – only their husband is called. I believe, if a married man is called of God and obeying God then God has a role in that calling for his wife. Finding your part in that calling and partnering with your husband to fulfill that helps to guide you both as you protect your relationship and family. Praying together and praying individually for each other allows the Lord to speak truths to you both – adding a check and balance. It helps to establish every word and strengthen the bond. Again thanks for sharing with those of us who are walking this thing out.

  6. Goddy Banks says:

    Hello! Thanks for your very helpful write-up. I am a pioneering Pastor of a new Church plant and have not been able to earn money for lots of months as the new Church cant pay me yet.
    Also, my efforts to make money from printing business and my application for jobs are yet to be productive.
    However, my Wife who has been helping and supporting financially myself and even our 3years plus daughter from money made through her business is getting weary because the profit from the business is not enough to cover our living expenses.
    The financial pressure is beginning to make me and my Wife consider that I pick up any job even if it will be so very demanding on my time and that may affect my pastoral assignment.
    I desire to make money and be able to take care of my family yet, I dont want that to rob me of the time I need for my pastoral ministry. Please, what do you advise?

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